Saturday, July 30, 2005

Suicide for Proper Guys

Yukio Mishima - a real man, unlike some Muslim terrorists we could mention.

In honour of the two crap, pitiful, Islamofascist cry-babies, who were forced onto the balcony of their flat in their underwear yesterday, and who notably failed to kill themselves as promised, I thought I'd post this quick guide to Japanese ritual suicide.
Next time, guys, do it this way. Like a real warrior.

How To Commit Ritual Japanese Suicide

Seppuku, vulgarly called hari-kiri in the west, is a formalized and gory act of ritual suicide which has been performed by Japanese nobility since medieval times. It is still occasionally used by disgraced Japanese businessmen. Seppuku became popular when samurai warriors came to see suicide as being preferable to death at the unclean hands of an enemy. Seppuku was not considered suitable for plebs, who only got to jump off cliffs.

Yo Sushi
Presuming you aren't on a battlefield, and have plenty of time to top yourself, the procedure for correct seppuku is lengthy and complex. First you must dress in a white robe or kimono. Then you should walk to a calm, quiet space, in a temple or garden; Tescos carpark is far from ideal. Now you kneel, and compose your special death poem, before munching some pickles and knocking back a few gulps of rice wine.

Ah, so
Allow the kimono to fall from your shoulders, exposing your stomach. Take the twelve inch steel knife, or kozuka, and plunge it into the left side of your stomach. Rip the knife across your belly, left to right, trying not to let too many of your intestines spill out. After a quick breather - this is hard work! - you should drag the knife upwards, tearing open the right side of your torso as far as the ribcage. Now sit back and wait.

Easy peasy Japanesey
At this point your assistant, or kaishaku-nun, should come up from behind you and sweep his sword sideways, so as to chop off your head, and complete the seppuku. It is important that your assistant use the correct daki-kubi cut, which is where a small flap of skin is left to connect the neck to the dangling head. Entire decapitation, where the head goes merrily sailing through the air (as happened to novelist Yukio Mishima, who famously performed seppuku in the 70s) is considered naff as well as unpleasantly messy.

Sayonara, Zarqawi!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Hanky Panky School

I interviewed this woman a few months ago, in Amsterdam. She runs the world's only training academy for prostitutes. Here's what she said.

The Headmistress of Whore School

Q. When did you open the Hanky Panky School?
Q. I've been an Amsterdam escort for twenty years. A few years ago I became a madam, running a string of girls of my own. Over time I taught these girls all I knew about the business - then I noticed that these girls were going on to earn lots more money than their rivals. I'd obviously taught them pretty well. So last year I decided to open a proper academy for prostitutes: the Hanky Panky School.

Q. How many girls are enrolled at the Hanky Panky School?
A. Hundreds.... But they're not necessarily all here at the same time! They make appointments to do a course with me. Sometimes I teach in seminars, ometimes one-on-one, a kind of... tutorial, I guess.

Q. What do you actually teach in the lessons? Not much chemistry or physics, I
A, No, not a lot...

Q. But lots of 'woodwork'? Fnarr fnarr?
A. Sorry?

Q. So how do these lessons function?
A. The courses total about six or eight hours, spread over as many weeks. In that ime I teach the girls.. to make the most money: I give 'em the tricks of the trade. For instance I teach the girls never to be too keen, always to lay it cool. A good hooker has to press the man's 'hunt button'. By this I mean she has to make the man feel like he's chasing her, that there's actually a chance he might not have her. That way he'll want her more, and pay more.

Q. What's that minibar doing over there, in the corner of the classroom?
A. As part of the course, I demonstrate how to use a hotel minibar to the hooker's advantage. I tell her she should turn up her nose at the minibar bubbly, be a little bit more demanding, ask for vintage champagne. That way she makes the man... slightly unsure. So he takes her out to an expensive dinner and the hours start clocking up, and then the fee goes up too. If a girl makes it too easy the guy gets bored and then it's over way too quick for both of them

Q. What kinds of pupils do you have?
A. All ages, sizes, and experiences. But they're usually between 18 and 35 years old. I had a woman in here who was 56, wanting to be a whore. Of course I had to... let her go. There are men who like much older women, but there aren't enough of them for a girl to make a proper living.

Q. So you get complete novices?
A. Yes. And a few.. graduates, wanting to do post graduate work! But mainly it’s new girls in their early twenties, wanting to get a good start in whoring.

Q. Do they get diplomas when they finish, do you have a degree ceremony?
A. No.. the diploma is the money they make. Girls who come out of here can make
£200,000 a year. You know, some of my clients have started to say they can immediately tell a 'Hanky Panky Girl', a girl from my school, because these girls are so professional, so well groomed and charming. Top quality hookers.

Q. Do you have any star pupils? Famous alumni?
A. Can't name names, of course, but yes some of my girls are the best in the business. You know, the most successful whores aren't staggeringly beautiful, just very pretty. A sweeter version of the girl next door. The most beautiful whores, the Russian girls for instance, they actually don't earn quite so much, because they are lazy, they rely on their looks..

Q. What about naughty pupils? Do you have detention?
A. No, there's no punishments as such.... Bad girls do flunk out. If I can't teach them I can't teach them. Some of the very young ones, 18, are a handful. Low self esteem, drug abuse, so on. If they touch drugs they're out - out of Hanky Panky School. Expelled!

Q. Is there a head girl? Someone really good at giving head?
A. No.

Q. What about fagging? Do you have fag whores?
A. Next question.

Q. In your books such as 'Escort Girl with Turbopower', you talk about some of the sex tips you teach your girls, the little tricks of the carnal trade. Do you mind giving us some of your advice on nookie? Some top erotic tips?
A. I'll do my best

Q. What's a good sexual position for giving your girl a quick orgasm?
A. Depends! Can be anything. My advice to men is to be confident, do what you want. You don't necessarily want to take too long over foreplay. I think there's too much emphasis on men spending hours on oral sex or whatever. Often what a girl wants is a man simply to pick her up and throw her over the desk, she wants him to be a bit of a barbarian. But of course she's too nice to ask! So my advice is just follow your own desires and that will turn her on. But if you really want a position specifically good for female orgasm I'd say sex-on-the-dishwasher is very effective.
Rinse cycle.

Q. How can a guy teach his girl to give him good head?
A. All men are different in this respect, some men like it quite rough, with a lot of powerful sucking, some other men like it incredibly gentle. The one thing you can say is that the woman should watch the man's expression, she should look in his eyes, see if he's having a good time. That's her guide. And if a woman has long hair its often good if she gently drapes the hair over the man's dick, that's highly arousing for many men.

Q. What are the most neglected parts of a man's body? The hidden erogenous
A. Nipples. Men's nipples are very neglected. A lot of men like to have their nipples nibbled. Especially the English. You English, you really like girls to twist your nipples right off! It's weird. And so many English guys are into spanking!

Q. That's a vile calumny. Are there any obscure erogenous zones on a woman we
should know about?
A. Yes: her body. Don't just go straight for the pussy, touch her everywhere, particularly on her face. Touch the face! Then head on down to the pussy.

Q. OK, back to spanking. How can a man introduce the idea of kinky sex. How can he get his girl to try something a little.... adventurous?
A. Tease her. That's the key. Every time you go to do something, do it, and then pull back. Kiss her, then suddenly stop kissing her. Penetrate for a short while, then stop. Confuse and tease her, and soon she'll be begging for more. A woman
who is really aroused, really begging for sex - she can be persuaded to try anything.

Q. OK, the girlfriend's come home in a strop after a hard day's work at the office. How can we interest her in a spot of horizontal jitterbug?
A. Pamper her, spend money on her. I often get into trouble for saying this, but... all women are hookers! By that I mean they all love to have money spent on them. So if your girl's a bit bored, try buying her a nice, expensive bottle of wine. Or just a bottle of wine. Being drunk always helps....

Q. Is there a foolproof way of detecting if an orgasm is faked?
A. Hmm... not really. The upper part of the chest often flushes during a female orgasm, that's quite hard to fake. But a really professional girl, like one of my girls, she can fake an orgasm so well even her doctor wouldn't know. It’s a very useful trick if you've got some client on top of you: huffing and puffing away...

Q. Now that we're back on the professional side of things, can you tell me if a whore ever orgasms? A.... close friend of mine claims that he once had a whore who actually climaxed. Seems unlikely. Is it?
A. No, it's not that unlikely. Believe it or not some whores really enjoy their work, and yes sometimes they do climax. Often it's with the guy you wouldn’t expect to be arousing. The older ones, I mean. The young, great-looking guys, they just lie on the bed with that 'hey I’m God' attitude, and you have to do all the work. But the older guys, they can be really expert, have really interesting techniques. And so yes sometimes you find you really are compatible in bed with a customer and you do have really great sex!

Q. You make whoring rather a good career move. £200,000 a year, plus perks?
A. I know. It sound weird. But it's true: whoring can be an interesting and lucrative career. However, before you can start really earning good money, you've got to be properly trained.

Q. You mean, you've got to enrol at the Hanky Panky School?
A. Exactly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Hell's Bells: the biography of Dystopia

In 1868, in a speech to the House of Commons, political philosopher John Stuart Mill coined the term 'dystopia' - from the Greek for 'bad place'. He also used the phrase 'cacotopia', or 'evil place'. But they essentially mean the same thing: a nightmare future world, a vision of society gone wrong.

Since Mill's speech, this frightening concept has gone on to fascinate us all, through dystopic novels and dystopic movies, even dystopic rock albums. But this in turn begs a question. Why is the genre so popular? Why do we like spooking ourselves with these depressing premonitions? A good place to start looking for an answer is one of the greatest fictional dystopias - the film Metropolis (which is released this summer in a new DVD edition).

The silent German movie was directed by Fritz Lang in 1927. It cost millions of Reichsmarks and employed 36,000 extras - which made it, at the time, a landmark in epic cinema. But that doesn't mean its ancient virtues are instantly apparent to the modern eye. They aren't. The acting in Metropolis is arch. The hero wears knickerbockers. And the story-line is saccharine and absurd.

Then you come to the moments of sheer visionary cinema. Eighty years old they may be, but the special effects in Metropolis are still eye-popping. Huge aerial motorways sweep between giddying skyscrapers; biplanes buzz amongst the hi-tech Gothic towers. Meanwhile, droves of identical workers toil in vast underground turbine halls, keeping the elite in their poncy satin pantaloons. It is presumably these remarkable scenes of unflinching state power, as well as the mighty nature of the filmic ambition, that appealed to the film's most notorious fans: Hitler and Goebbels.

But the admiration of the Nazis was deeply ironic. Lang's intention in Metropolis was not to write a paean to industrial might and Hitlerite authoritarianism, but to warn us against it. Metropolis is a dystopia of mechanisation, a nightmarish idea of what the future might be like, if scientific progress is allowed to run riot. Metropolis therefore explores one of the four main themes that can be found, in various combinations, in all artistic dystopias. The other themes are genetic manipulation, 'post-apocalypse', and totalitarianism.

Where and when did these themes emerge? The first dystopic visions were probably religious. St John, in his Book of Revelations (the last book of the Bible), imagines The End of Days, when terrible dragons menace mankind, amidst a landscape thick with brimstone. This dystopic theme of divine judgement was refined by medieval painters, such as Hieronymous Bosch, who liked to imagine his sinners being crucified on giant harps, or having their testicles gnawed at by toads. Such works might seem repellently morbid to us, but they were as popular as Planet of the Apes in their time. Arguably, they were the precise equivalent.

But the world had to wait until the 19th century, and the time of John Stuart Mill, for the birth of the true dystopia - in the sense of man-made nightmare worlds. The rise of the doom-laden dystopia at this time, amidst the political progress and social reform of Victorian Europe, appears on the face of it paradoxical. Yet a quick analysis of the intellectual climate shows why it happened.

The slow death of literal faith through the 19th century meant there was a Hell-shaped hole in the human mind, ready to be filled with horror-shows of scientific negativity. Meanwhile, the advent of genetics, mechanised warfare, and radicalism - an awareness that political oppression was man's common lot - added to the sense of impending doom. And so were born the four principal themes of the 'evil place'.

Once the concept was up and running, the artists got to work. French writer Jules Verne conjured a vile, Stalinist steel-city in The Begum's Fortune of 1880. English author Walter Besant produced a chauvinist dystopia in The Revolt of Man (1882), in which, catastrophically, there's no one left to make the tea - as the women are now ineptly ruling the world. H.G.Wells published a whole series of dystopias in the 1890s.

By this stage, it could be argued that the dystopias were feeding off each other. The fantasies were getting more lurid, the concepts more daring and desolate - almost an arms race of pessimism. Whatever the truth of this thesis, there are provable links between the significant literary dystopias of the 20th century.

In 1925 Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin's published We (My in the original). The key aspect of this dystopia is that it is post-apocalyptic. The novel is set in the 26th Century, after a Two Hundred Year War that turns society into a blank slate. Other writers, notably H.G.Wells in The Time Machine, had used the idea before. But We was innovative in making the backstory integral to the dystopia's structure. In Zamyatin's gruesomely logical dystopia, everybody eats the same thing at the same time with the same kind of spoon; the regimentation is a bulwark against man's disastrous irrationality.

One of the greatest fans of We - and it had many - was British writer Aldous Huxley. In 1936 he built on his reading of Zamyatin's dystopic work by conceiving a society that is rigidly stratified into five castes by eugenics. At the top are the genetic celebrities, the Alphas, at the bottom are the mulish chavs, the Epsilons. The fact that Huxley's imagined world is also playful, sexualised, and consumerist, somehow adds to its sinister quality. This is a world that, to a modern Western mind, seems horribly believable.

Amongst the many admirers of Brave New World was George Orwell. He was such a fan, he sent Huxley a copy of his own dystopia, 1984, on its publication in 1949. Huxley immediately realised that Orwell had outbid him, just as he had once outbid Zamyatin. When Huxley replied to Orwell, thanking him for the copy of the book, he wrote, "in 1984 the philosophy of the ruling minority is a sadism, which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it."

In this judgement, Huxley was indubitably right. Orwell's genius was to take the theme of a totalitarian dystopia to the max. Previous to 1984, every other fictional dystopia was based on the idea that man might strive, Icarus-like, for social or technical betterment - and fail, with terrible consequences. In 1984 the opposite is the case. The horrifying vision in 1984 is of a society founded, from the outset, on Satanic principles, on the deliberate thwarting of all human passions.

It is arguable that 1984 is therefore the greatest of all dystopias. But it is not necessarily the most influential. In some respects cinema has provided us with the most vivid, awesome and harrowing visions of the 'evil place'.

Metropolis came first, as we have seen. But since 1927 we have had dozens, maybe hundreds of cinematic dystopias. Indeed a list of these myriad dystopias would be as long as Winston Smith's scream in Room 101. The last thirty years alone have given us Mad Max, Minority Report, AI, Gattaca, Brazil, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, I Robot, and so on.

In this impressive roster, two films nonetheless stand out. The first is Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott. This vision of a dystopic Los Angeles of the near future, where the dirty work is done by cloned androids (called replicants), is a conscious hommage to its venerable German predecessor. Ridley Scott's LA is a clattering and kinetic place, where huge neon signs float through the Pacific drizzle - much like the biplanes and freeways in Metropolis. Yet Blade Runner goes further than that. Its design incorporates ideas from cyberpunk and film noir; its plot embraces our fears about genetic manipulation and man/machine conflict.

One of the many fascinating aspects of Blade Runner is the ambiguity of the hero, Drecker (played by Harrison Ford). In Blade Runner the dreams of the replicants are fabricated - inserted in the androids' minds so as to make them more human. At one point the question is raised as to whether Drecker's dreams are real or not. Maybe he is therefore himself a replicant: non-human? This terrible possibility darkens the whole dystopia, by introducing the idea that we cannot even trust our own judgement. Perhaps we are all helplessly paranoid? Worse still: maybe we are conditioned by society to accept an immoral world?

This theme was adapted in The Matrix. Directed by the Wachowski brothers, this 1999 movie might have been cheapened by its hugely inferior sequels - but the original remains absorbing. It is also very literate. Through its 136 minutes of violence and despair, it manages to reference cyberpunk (of course) along with Buddhism, Gnosticism, Taoism, Hinduism, Greek mythology - and a little known episode of Doctor Who called The Deadly Assassin.

The Matrix builds on the blurred reality of Blade Runner, as it narrates the strange fate of a boringly normal computer programmer, Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves). One day Anderson's apparently hum-drum world. of chit-chat, coffee cups and office-work, turns out to be a huge and terrifying delusion. In truth, the fabric of 'reality' is a computer programme, devised by demonic aliens to keep homo sapiens in eternal slumber, so that human body-heat can be sourced for the aliens' technology.

The science of this may seem ludicrous. That’s probably because it is ludicrous - detractors have pointed out that the energy you could derive from a human body is less than that needed to keep a body alive. But this does not mean the central allegory of The Matrix is not gripping, and chilling. What if this world - our world - is already a dystopia? Maybe, without realising, we have already been enslaved: into a dreary world of soul-killing jobs, and confining social norms? Many people must sometimes look around - perhaps on the Northern Line at 8am on a rainy January morning - and wonder if this is one dystopia that has already come true.

With The Matrix it could be argued that the dystopia had reached its endpoint. It is difficult to see how you can imagine anything more hellish than the idea that the world is already a cruel, dystopic nightmare. But history shows that, whenever the genre of dystopia looks like running dry, someone will always come up with fresh perspectives. Right now there is probably a writer, or a moviemaker, imagining something far worse than anything experienced by Thomas Anderson. Or Drecker. Or Winston Smith, for that matter.

And here we return to the original question. Why do we keep conjuring these scary visions? Why is the dystopia so 'popular'? A simple answer is that we just like being frightened - we dig the endorphin rush. But a subtler answer is, perhaps, that we know that dystopias are good for us. As warnings. In this light, when we read and watch dystopias we do it not because we expect that the world will one day be like this, but because we fear it might one day be like this, if we don't watch out. The fact that the western world, in the last 50 years, has stayed relatively free and relatively civilised, could consequently be seen as a vindication of the dystopia's role. That is to say: they've worked.

Put it another way. One of the reasons we have not entered a Brave New World is because of Aldous Huxley. The reason 1984 was not like 1984 was because of 1984. And no one is wearing creepy satin pantaloons - possibly because they look so stupid in Metropolis.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ou Sont Les Bombs d'Antan?

Remember when there were bombs going off in London? It seems like yesterday, but in fact it was Thursday. So long ago - yet so near in our hearts.

Am I the only person who - I know this is going to sound a trifle weird - misses the bombs, in a silly, soft-hearted way? I mean: remember how they brought us all together? How we stood united in our grief and shock - and most of all, united in our defiance and stoicism? Even as they mowed us down with their homemade gelignite?

Sigh. I miss those times, I really do. The Blitz spirit. The way everyone had to walk home all the time. The snarling at anybody with a rucksack. The way we'd all climb off one Tube carriage and move to another, whenever a Pakistani appeared. Yes, I know there was a downside to that strange poignant era - the mass killing, the undiscriminate slaughter - but the camaraderie was a wonderful thing. And there was real charity: sometimes you would get a free coffee, if you had soot on your face, or perhaps a kindly passer-by would assist you into hospital, if you were copiously bleeding from several major organs.

And - come on, let's face it - the bombs were fun! A lark! Sitting by your screen and TV all day, waiting to see which Tube Station would be next. What could be more amusing? Look, they've taken out Aldgate! Boom! - there goes Edgware Road! Whoops! - the cops have shot an electrician! Were me and my friends the only people who would sit around an A-Z, taking bets on which Tube line would be next? Were we the only ones to play a new version of Monopoly, with Chemical Attacks instead of Community Chest? I don't think so. A lot of people had a lot of fun during the bombs, we just don't like to admit it.

And here's another thing. It was sunny during the terrorist outrages. Now its raining. Or is that just the power of nostalgia, as we look back to those distant halcyon days of suicidal barbarism, now barely remembered.

Until the next time, that is.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Another Day, Another Bomber

So, we got bombed again. Another burning cross, another North South East West attack, only this time the bombs didn't go off, only the detonators - and the bombers ran away.

But even if the bombs didn't go off, they still managed to cause a fair bit of disruption and nerve-jangling. They also got me thinking, has Osama got a grudge against me, personally? The bombers have now struck three times within a minute of my flat - three different bombs a few hundred yards from my street. Not only that, they seem to be targetting places significant in my life. The Tavistock Square bomb was right by my old college, the Warren Street bomb was where I lost my virginity. But if this is the bombers' intention, to rattle Sean Thomas in his favourite haunts, I've got news for them. These places were important in my life TWENTY YEARS AGO. Osama, dude, I've moved on. Maybe you should, too.

Anyway here's a quick photo trip. The above pic shows Tottenham Court Road a couple of hours after the bomb. The street was closed off so everyone was walking home in the middle of the road. Weird.

Here's another view of Tottenham Court Road, devoid of cars, full of walkers. There was an odd atmos after this bomb, different to last time. Cheerier, but more fatalistic. Less grim determined stoicism - more: fuck, I'm gonna die, but maybe I'll have time for a last pint in the sun. Not sure this is healthy.

At the end of Tottenham Court Road, near where the bomb actually detonated, a media scrum. Quite a few fanciable girl-journos here. In fact there were quite a few fanciable girls everywhere. Because the whole city was walking home, lots of young women were on the street, rather than the Tube. Made me realise just how HOT the girls in London are.

There was a CERTAIN amount of calm stoicism. Here are some people having a nice coffee in the sun, right by the police cordon, right by the bombsite. Again, this made me wonder if all this calmness is healthy. Apparently some of the bombers, having failed to maim and murder hundreds cause their bombs sputtered, ran out of the Tube Stations. Whyd didn't anyone catch them and beat their murderous Arab arses to death? I'd have done that. I'd have torn their windpipes out and fed their eyeballs to the fucking pigeons.

Every time there's a bomb in London (nice to be able to use that phrase) these orange-coated fuckers appear. They are Christian Scientists, out-reaching for recruits. what do they want? what do they expect us to do? Are they hoping Londoners will suddenly say, Oh, there's some bombs in my city, I think I believe the world is run by a bunch of forty-foot high lizards on Pluto? Where's the nearest Christian Scientist worker so I can convert?
Fucking morons.

And finally, the weirdest sight of all - for Londoners. This is Euston Road, a massively busy urban motorway. Yesterday it was closed off, and everyone was having to cross it on foot, and clamber over the central reservation. This was fun when the climbers were girls in short summer skirts. I stayed quite a few minutes.

And that's that. Hope I haven't bored you. I think these photo-essays are a kind of therapy for me, they help me offload my anxiety.

Thanks for listening, Doctor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Opening Chapter from Abandoned Memoirs

I've just finished the first draft of my memoirs: Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You (Bloomsbury Books; May 2006).

Obviously I can't post any of that, as it is going to be published in a proper book. However, as I know this will be very disappointing to all toffeewomblers, here instead is the opening chapter to a previous stab at my memoirs.

Unlike Millions of Women, the theme of this book was to be my drug life, all my mad escapades. I may one day return to this theme; one day quite soon.

But I'm not sure about the format of this: past tense, ironic style, footnotes. Hmm. See what you think.

My Life on Mars

Chapter One

Holborn, London, 1995

- Shouldn’t you be on your way to Vladivostok?

Said David. I looked up from my sheet of burnt foil.

It was summer, high summer. I was sitting in my friend’s flat in Red Lion Street in London WC1. My friend’s name was David Hutson. David was a public school Englishman with a French mother. At various times in his life David liked to sport a dark, bristly moustache which made him look like an archetypal Royal Air Force hero; the kind of good sort who should have a flowing white scarf fluttering gallantly from his blue-uniformed neck. At this moment in his life David did not have a moustache; he did have a smear of soot from the burnt foil, right across his upper cheek. As I looked at it it, it somehow reminded me of an Apache brave’s warpaint.

- I mean, Terry - David looked down at his own burnt foil, looked up again - Your air-ticket, it’s for Moscow, today, correct?

- Got another lighter, this one doesn’t work?

Dave grinned, and tutted, and handed me another lighter. I had been obviously been doing quite a lot of heroin if I had managed to break the yellow Bic lighter I used to cook up the stuff. Taking the new cheap garage lighter from David, I clicked and played its flame under the flap of Alcan foil, and, through a tube of more foil, I lustily inhaled the resultant puffs of heroin-smoke. A few expectant happy moments passed. Then, yes, I heard the old languid saxophone riff... The heroin rush. Mmyes. Mngyesssss.... Once again I had successfully pulled the soft, warm, lovely duvet of not-caringness over my 32-year-old face.

- Nice stuff?

- Nnyesss...

With a gratified yawn, I slumped back on Dave’s multicoloured sofa. I felt good, sated, languid, ripely indolent. And is there honey still for tea? You fucking bet
In this mood I idly gazed around my friend’s flat. In one corner there was an old dentist’s chair, salvaged somehow and brought up the rickety three flights of early Victorian stairs unto David’s smallish one-bedder. On shelves and bookcases around the flat I could see antique spanners, old sextants, shiny brass things, burnished steel telescopes. Alongside these last masculine gewgaws sat my plane tickets for London-Moscow, and my sea tickets for Vladivostok-Yokohoma.

With the telepathy of the smack addict, or perhaps just because I was staring at the tickets, David piped up:

- Who gave you the tickets, anyway?

Looking back at him:

- This smack tastes like petrol

- It was that Russian travel company, Intourist, right?

- Got any French Fancies?

- They gave you the tickets ‘cause you’re writing a piece, but

Snapping at Dave:

- But what? I am writing a travel piece

- For the Telegraph. I know. BUT - David held up a firm hand - But the real reason you’re doing this journey... - His smile faded - Is so you can come off heroin. Correct?

- Wellll...

- That is why, right? - Dropping the hand - And I take it you’ve told them all this? That you’re actually using them to come off?

- What about mini Battenbergs? Got any mini Battenbergs?

D’s chubby face was grinning. For a moment I wondered why we weren’t both thinner. Wasn’t heroin meant to make you thin? Another myth.


- OK. So I didn’t tell ‘em. But so what?

I stalled, expecting him to retort. But he was busy finishing off a smoke; so I went on:

- Anyway, gimme a break - I paused to watch David exhale, filling the room with satisfying smoke; then - Really. Hutson. How else am I going to clean up? I’ve tried everything else. I’ve tried busting my dealers, and running away to Cornwall, and taking Naltrexone and...

He laughed, smokily:

- So now you’re gonna sit in a train for eight days, before sailing across the Pacific? To Japan? Right?

- The Sea of Okhotsk - I say - Not the Pacific. The Sea of Okhotsk

David smiled; and sighed. We both went quiet for a moment, examining the tracks of treacly ash on our slips of foil. And then he said:

- Diesel lorries

- What?

- The heroin. Comes across the Channel in diesel lorries. That’s why it tastes this way, bit petrolly

And with that we returned to our day jobs. Simultaneously picking up the wraps of burnt foil we chanked our little lighters, and then flourished the little flames of our lighters under the foil, and bent our heads to the puffs of smoke that coiled and sublimed off the half-shiny Alcan. As I smoked, out of the side of my eye I half watched Dave: also smoking, also chasing the dragon. We were both really intent, really working. We almost looked studious, or selfless, enlightenment thinkers doing something tricky for science. An experiment with a dangerous new element...

Sitting back, once again, on David’s strangely coloured sofa, I looked across at my chum.

- Dave

He didn’t respond. His head was slumped.

- David?


I looked at him. I regarded him. He was sat there, slumped, barely breathing, slip of burnt foil still clutched in his sleeping hand. As I scoped him out, it occured to me this was exactly the same pose that they found our good friend Patrick in the previous month: the only difference being that Patrick was dead. Patrick had overdosed. The first of us to die because of heroin.

A thought. I leaned across.

- Dave???

Nothing. Nothing at all. Hmm. It was possible, though extremely unlikely, David was overdosing, even dying. Theoretically it could happen just like this: the heart simply stopping, unannounced, the heart just ceasing and yourself just dying with your drug-buddies blithely nattering away around you.

Far more likely, though, was that David was ‘gouching’ - doing the narcolepsy of heroin addiction. The instant trip to semi-consciousness.

Either way this meant I was now able to steal his heroin.

This was what I thought; this was how my mind worked. And it didn’t occur to me to be ashamed of this selfishness, this Darwinian urge for drugs. It was just the way we all were. All of us addicts. For instance: it was actually being rumoured that, on the day my friend Adam came back and found Patrick dead - dead and with his foil still clutched in his stiffened blue hand - Adam went through Patrick’s pockets, and found Patrick’s wrap of drugs, and took out and finished Patrick’s heroin. Then, when he’d done that, Adam took the silver tube out of Patrick’s white and frigid lips, and unravelled the tube, and flattened it, and then smoked the accreted heroin dust off that, too.

And then Adam rang for the ambulance.

So: steal D’s gear? If I was going to thieve his smack I had better check that’s he comatose first. Firmly nudging my friend's knee with my foot I said:

- One last score, Hutson?

At last, David started, and woke. The smut of black soot was still on his face. He shook his head:

- Jesus Terry

When he was stoned he always called me Terry. Terry Thomas.

- Jesus Terry, you really want to score some more?

- Er.... - I sighed - Yep

- But why? You’re just making it worse. How much are you going to suffer in Russia? How long have you had a habit this time?

I shrugged, annoyed:

- Maybe a year and a half... maybe more

- And you’re going to come off clean, on the train, just like that?

- I’ve got some green

- How much?

- ‘bout ten mils

He snorted:

- Ten mils of methadone! Less than a bloody spoonful - He shook his head, did a pity-you face - Won’t touch the sides. You are going to be in a lot of pain, Terry

With a toss of the head I said:

- Fuck it

Fifteen hours later I woke in the flat. It was still June. It was still London. the only thing that had changed was that David was now sprawled, unconscious, across the living room floor.

Looking around the flat, I winced at the mess. There was burnt foil everywhere, dead matches, used-up lighters, stuff. A good time to go. I looked at my watch. It was now Tuesday. I had to be in Moscow in a few hours. If I wasn’t in Moscow very soon, I would miss tomorrow’s train. The other very good reason I had to be in Moscow was that I was spending all my money, meant for Moscow-Tokyo, in London. Over the previous few days I’d probably bought that Last Bag of Smack at least a dozen times.

Getting up, yawning, I went over to the prostrate figure of my pal, tapped the side of his pale face and said:

- I’m off to.... Vladivostok, Dave-o. See you

He vaguely stirred, but did not wake. He was twitching, sighing, half smiling, dreaming his glorious, De Quinceyish smack dreams. I glanced around the floor looking for heroin to steal. I could see a packet of Mister Kipling’s French Fancies next to Dave’s head. I could see he had eaten them all in the night.

No smack...

Out the door and down the steps I dragged my bags. In my mind I could hear the song. Leaving on a jet plane. I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’ know when I’ll be back again. This was like me, I decided. I too was leaving on a jet plane. Saying goodbye to smack. Hold me like you’ll never let me go...

Collecting my cases I paced the crowded pavements of summery, recessiony, post-Thatcher London. Then I turned left and took the lift down to the Tube. At last, I was doing it. Actually doing it. Escaping. I was getting out. I was on my way. I was on my way to Vladivostok.


Also known as Naloxone, Naltrexone is a ‘pure competitive opiate antagonist’. In other words it’s a drug very similar to heroin, without the euphoric qualities, which, because of its analogous molecular structure, uses the same receptors in the brain as heroin. This in turn means that if you take Naltrexone, there is absolutely no point in taking heroin, because the heroin receptors will be blocked. In the mid-90s a number of smack addicts, like me, were prescribed Naltrexone in the hope that the ‘blocking’ effect would obviate the need to take heroin.

Unfortunately, what doctors didn’t realise, or refused to admit, was that Naltrexone also blocked all other endorpins (the body’s natural opiates) and consequently many people who tried it went into a complete funk of depression. Like me.


Also known as Dolophine, this petroleum-based synthetic analgesic was developed in Germany towards the end of the Second World War, as a substitute for diminishing supplies of morphine. It was supposedly called ‘dolophine’ after one of its users: Adolf Hitler. Lost in the ruins of vanquished Germany, the formula for methadone was rediscovered in the records of IG Farbenindustrie after the war, and carried back to America as war booty.

Methadone is a potent analgesic with some similarities to heroin. Like Naltrexone, though, it has no euphoric qualities - which is why it is considered a good way of treating addicts who are coming off heroin: it weans them off their psychic addiction to the ‘rush’, while insulating them from the worst pains of withdrawal - the muscle aches and nervous spasms, and so on.

There are at least two drawbacks of methadone treatment. Long term it is more addictive than smack; also you need lots of it. Relying on a paltry ten mililetres to see oneself through a serious withdrawal - as I was doing on that summer’s day in Paul’s flat - is arguably a downright lunatic thing to do. Disaster would be almost inevitable.

As will become apparent in the next chapter.

Incidentally, it’s weird how many serious recreational drugs were invented or refined by German scientists, often as part of their general war effort. Quite apart from methadone, heroin was so-named by a German scientist in 1897, Ecstasy was invented to help soldiers in the German trenches, and Cocaine was perfected as a stimulant for German troops in WW2.


Monday, July 18, 2005

All Souls, London

I was walking through Marylebone two days ago, on a warm sunny evening, when I saw this smartly dressed homeless man, sleeping in the circular porch of John Nash's All Souls Church, Langham Place. His head was fitted neatly in a cardboard box.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The English Opium Eaters

Poppies in Surrey, yesterday.

I went for a lovely walk yesterday, along the North Downs in Surrey. And I saw these poppies in a cornfield.

This reminded me of a friend of mine, who was once a total drug fiend. He used to smoke English opium. Apparently there is just enough opium in the English poppy to get you high - what you have to do is harvest the pods, mulch them down into a golfball sized dose, then dry them, then smoke the residue. According to my friend, who was living in rural Berkshire at the time, a lot of rustic tramps do this. When they can't afford cider.

The only problem is you need about 2000 opium pods, as the English poppy has a fraction of the narcotic strength of its Middle Eastern cousin.

That said, I'm not sure the strength of Middle Eastern poppies is all its cracked up to be. I once spent an entire afternoon collecting poppy-pods by the Krak des Chevaliers, the famous Norman Crusader castle in Syria. I got back to my hotel and squished the poppies into a sappy ball, and tried to smoke them. It took me about three hours to prepare the pods, after four hours of collecting, and in the end I felt like I'd taken two aspirin.

Perhaps its better just to look at them.

The Krak des Chevaliers. Not a great place to get high.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

And You Thought New Zealanders Were Hard?

The National Flag of Poofs. And that's official.

I was searching the web for news on the London bombs, as you tend to do when your coffee shop was recently deluged by victims of a hideous suicide attack, and I came across this delightful piece of journalism. It's by one Willy Trolove, the London correspondent for the New Zealand Herald.

It appears our Willy (or should that be our lack-of-willy? or our total gaylord fuckwit?) has been a little unsettled by the recent 'incidents'. Incidents, I may remind you, which have frightened the average Londoner about as much as the popcorn going off a trifle early in the microwave.

Here's what 'Willy' had to say about his personal reaction to the bombs.


Willy Trolove, The New Zealand Herald

On September 11, 2001, I was in London. I still remember the eerie sense that seized the city of a world turned on its head. Everyone thought London would be hit.

They closed the tall buildings in the Docklands and imposed a no-fly zone over the city. We logged on to the BBC online and waited for an attack to come.

It didn't. At the end of the day we struggled on to the trains and the buses - the longest trip I have taken. London's commuters were even more silent than usual. We willed each other home.

That night we watched the television and saw the planes fly into the buildings. The next day the broadsheets printed special editions with huge double-page spreads showing the havoc in Manhattan. We tried to get on with our work but none of it seemed particularly meaningful. A voice nagged at the back of everyone's minds: When will London be hit?

Over the weeks and months that followed, Londoners tried to silence those voices. It wasn't easy. Every Tube, every public gathering, every landmark was a target. Whenever we were near these things, we felt like targets too.

Two months later I watched the fireworks with friends on Primrose Hill, overlooking Regent's Park. Guy Fawkes Night celebrates the defeat of an attack on parliamentary democracy. That year it held a greater resonance.

Tens of thousands of people gathered. While the sky darkened and we waited for the rockets to be lit, a lumbering jumbo on approach to Heathrow seemed to be flying unusually low and straight for us. It turned away, but the same thought went through everyone's minds. When will London be hit?

Living in London became a calculated risk. Every week an attack seemed inevitable [etc etc] Boarding the Tube, uncomfortable and unpleasant at the best of times, brought on a sense of wall-clinging dread. We felt we were under siege. [etc etc etc].

As for New Zealanders in London, the attack on New York had a different effect. We weren't used to this. Our thoughts were not "we have to live with this", but "how much more of it can we bear?" Two or three years of waiting for an inevitable terror attack was two or three years too many. We became like so many other New Zealanders and decided we didn't want to live like this. We willed each other home.

Now, tragically but inevitably, the "if" has become "when". London has been hit. It is a small blessing that the attacks were not as bad as they might have been. But that won't diminish the trauma of the victims and it won't reduce the effect on New Zealanders living there.

Thousands of them will decide, like we did, that now is a good time to come home.


Let me get this right, Willy love. You say you were on Primrose Hill during Guy Fawkes night, and you were shit-scared of.... a low flying jumbo? And you felt that everyone around you felt the same 'wall-clinging dread'?

I've got news for you, nancyboy. The people around you, those Londoners, they weren't experiencing 'wall-clinging dread'. They were worried the pubs were gonna shut before they got down the Hill.

And now you say you're buggering off home, before you poo your nappy? Yeah? Well I say good riddance to you, you mincing queen. You piece of pantyhose. You man in a skirt. You quivering mass of human jello. You bag of gay. You daisychain. You jessie. You big girl's blouse. You desperate fartypants. You sad-sacked nonce. You colander of fritness. You pathetic, cacking-himself kiwi. You twirly-faced balletomane. You huge great crate of shivering timbers. You TWAT.

Go on, fuck off. Fuck off back to your benighted sheep farm. Your land of the long white coward. Your dismal little country in the armpit of Nowhere. All Blacks my FUCKING ARSE!

You know, we Brits are brought up to believe that the Kiwis are a chip off the old Commonwealth block. That - like us, and the Americans, and maybe the Aussies - you guys down there are made of the Right Stuff.

Seems we were sadly mistaken. Softboy.

Just Another Sunday in London

Sunday morning, three days after the bombs, I woke up with a melancholy hangover. I don't think it was just the beer I drank the night before, it was also a memory of the bombs. Sensitive, me. So to cheer myself up I thought I'd go for a walk around my city, see how everyone was doing. So I did. Here's what I saw.

First place I went was Regent's Park. Well, it was a lovely sunny day. And what did i find there- the most tragically mistimed festival in the history of toast, a Bangladeshi Muslim Festival, a 'Mela'. I'm all for multi-culturalism, but I can think of better times to celebrate Islamic culture in London than three days after some jihadists have just scythed down dozens of Londoners. Then again, maybe it's good it went ahead. They were serving nice curry.

Not surprisingly, there was a massive police presence at the festival. Also unsurprisingly, the atmos was just a little subdued. Lots of cute Bangladeshi girls looking nervous in their shalwar kameezes, gazing at white people with odd expressions, as if they expected to be interned any minute. My local MP Frank Dobson was there. He remains a bearded buffoon, bombs or no bombs.

This is going to be a quick photo essay. So, hurrying on, before you get the idea that all of London was listening to Acid-Bangla and eating popadums on Sunday, this is what the rest of the park looked like. Londoners doing what they always do on sunny Sundays, sitting around, nibbling stuff, soaking up the Vitamin D, drinking beer and trying to stare up girls' skirts.

From the park I walked south, through the quiet and beauteous streets of Marylebone. And I came across this, which i took a snap of, just to show that - although we may be calm and stoical - we haven't forgotten. We won't forget for a long time.

That said, we are cracking on with things. This is St Christopher's Place. Just north of Oxford Street. A sense of burning terror notably absent, I feel.

From Oxford Street I paced south, fuelled on Diet Coke (this is a long walk if you don't know London). I headed into Mayfair and just wandered around. And then I found this place. Mount Street Gardens. Named for the mount built by Cromwell's civil war troops in the 17th century (you can still just see the rise in the earth here). What got me about this lovely garden was that i had never been there before. I have lived in London for twentyfive years (gulp!), but I have never come across this gorgeous and historic little corner. That's how incredible London is. It is inexhaustible. It never ceases to amaze. And that's why we're very fucking fond of it, you terrorist assholes.

Actually - when I saw this Arab antique shop in Mayfair - a thought occurred to me. Perhaps the bombers have made a strategic mistake in bombing London. Not just because it's a tough old place, but because it is loved by people across the world. Including, and especially, the Middle East. In attacking London you attack the world, and therefore you attack yourself. That maybe wishful thinking. I did have a hangover.

Of course, London has been through worse before, too. This is a sign on Purdeys gunsmiths, in Mayfair. It was a poignant moment when I saw this, made more poignant when I saw...

... these people, in Berkeley Square (yes, where a nightingale sang). This crowd was dressed in 40s gear, Blitz fashions, Second World War hairstyles. Some of them were carrying gasmasks. Why? I couldn't work it out, so I carried on south through St James's Park and then I came across this...

... the VE day celebrations, in the Mall. We were all celebrating the victory over the Japanese in the last war. Of course. There were maybe 200,000 people here, quietly cheering the queen. I joined in for a few minutes. And then I headed home...

... and walked past Nelson's Column. Says it all I think.

And now that's the last I'm gonna blog about the bloody bombs. Time to get on with life. Like our forefathers did. Cheerio.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Thankyou, World

If you don't understand this image, or find it unsettling (and you have my sympathies) please check out

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ongoing Scenes of Horror in London

This is the chilling claim made by the people who bombed London yesterday.

'The heroic Mujaheddin carried out a blessed attack in London, and now Britain is burning with fear and terror from north to south, from east to west.'

- The Secret Organisation of Al-Qaeda in Europe.

Crikey, pretty scary, no? Not only have they sown fear and terror in London, they've sown it right across Britain, from north to south, and from east to west as well!

Strong stuff. But can it be true? A few minutes ago, a day after the bombs, I had a little trot around my area. This area is, of course, half a minute's walk from where two of the biggest bombs went off. If anywhere is 'burning with fear and terror', it should be my part of London.

Let's see what I found.

So here we are at a pub maybe three minutes walk from the Russell Square Tube bomb, and the same from the Tavistock Square bus bomb.

Jeepers, yes. Take a gander at the terror. Look at these people, they're quivering, they're panicking, they're jangled they're... well actually they're just having a pint, aren't they? Just kinda sitting around, having a nice drink on a summer evening, or reading the paper, or chatting about football, or doing the things Londoners do every night.


Of course, one of the main aims of he bombers is to divide London. To turn race against race, creed against creed, turn the world's must multicultural city into a boiling cauldron of internecine hatred. Let's see if they've achieved it.

Mmmmm nope. Fraid not chaps. Here's a Muslim waiter calmly serving a curry to a punter. Behind him black, white, Scottish and Chinese people are all having a pint. Beyond them Yanks, Canucks, Nigerians and Argentinians are sharing wine on the tables outside the Hotel opposite.

Not quite what you expected, my bearded friends? Seems pretty... orderly, calm and pleasant doesn't it? Not the tenth circle of Hell you envisaged? Not the stinking pit of civil war and racial strife? About the nastiest thing in this pic is the price of a Martini at the Charlotte Street Hotel bar. Now that's frightening.

But maybe it's just the pubs and restaurants that are full? Maybe the rest of the city is quivering in terror, cowering at home, hiding with unconquerable fear? Let's check the local supermarket, one of the nearest to the bus-bomb. Tescos on Goodge Street.

There it is above. Look at it. Seems to me to be pretty much as normal. In fact ultra normal. There's the usual nutter in shorts, and a bizarrely lanky girl with weird hair. But hey - that's London for you. Eccentric, tolerant, diverse - and NOT EASILY COWED.

Are you getting this yet, Zarqawi? What about you, Bin Laden? By the way, how's the endless hiding in caves going? Enjoying it?

Well, let's go back to a different pub. Christ yes, it's a scene of carnage. Look at these people burning with terror. Horrible isn't it. Actually, I do think the guy on the right is going to chuck up, but I don't think it's terror. More like too much lager top.

So there we have it. The triumph of al Qaeda. They've reduced London with just a few well placed bombs to.... to.... er pretty much what it was before. A vibrant, messy, proud, aggressive, self confident, resilient, punchy great capital of the world, which certainly likes a drink or two. Well done guys. Nice one. Big up for the loons in the beards. You deluded scum.

You chose the wrong city this time.

Says It All, Mate

A friend of mine visits a strip pub, once a week, down by the Gray's Inn Road. Despite the bombs, he went along this afternoon, as usual, and was the only guy with four strippers. But, he told me, he had to go - 'otherwise the terrorists would have won'.

Anyway, I thought I should share that with you. Bit of British humour and pluck, the kind of resilience and toughness that will protect us through these dark days, and see off these Islamo-wankers. If those verminous scumbags think they can cow us into submission by putting some suicidal dipshit on a doubledecker, they can think again.

Eat crow, Zarqawi.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Day They Bombed Bloomsbury

Between 9 and 10 o'clock this morning, there was a series of terrorist explosions in my hometown, London. Not only were these bombs in my hometown, they were in my borough, my hood, my manor, practically my street. When I came out of the shower this morning, my flatmate said: 'I think I just heard a bomb'. I turned on the TV and she was correct.

As of this moment, the police say four or five bombs have been detonated across town. Two have gone off about a couple of hundred yards from where I live. A bomb on the Tube at Russell Square, and a bomb on the top deck of a bus in Tavistock Square. I can walk to these places in thirty seconds. As I write, the silence here is overwhelming - apart, that is, from the endless blaring sirens, and the police and hospital helicopters.

They say dozens are dead. The bus was apparently ripped open like a tin can, I imagine everyone on the topdeck was terribly maimed or killed. The local hospitals are coping, but they're only taking serious injuries.

You know, I love my city, the greatest city in the world, I hate the bastards that did this. But London Can Take It. We saw off Hitler, we can see off a bunch of sexually insecure weirdo peasants. Anyway... to take my mind off the unsettling scenes here, I thought I'd go out and try and record these scenes, as best I could. i don't know what else to do. Displacement activity, maybe.

So, here is a picture of Gower Street, on the corner of my street, a minute from the bus bomb and the Russell Square Tube Bomb (where they say a train is still trapped, and hundreds are being rescued). Notice the total eerie silence. No cars. This is eleven a.m. In the centre of the busiest city in Europe.
Within an hour or two of the first bombs, London has been closed down. The Tube Stations are shut - as here at Goodge Street. All buses have been halted and evacuated. The airport trains have all been cancelled. Many mainline stations are entirely shut. The whole city is, as I take this picture - a few minutes ago - in lockdown.

What the F. I don't know whether to be scared or stoical, or just surprised at the uncanny calm that is prevailing. Maybe I need a beer. I notice the pubs are full - and full of people staring at the TV screens. They're gulping whiskies and looking at images of carnage. Of course... they could walk out of the pub, cross the road, and see death and mayhem with their own eyes. I don't blame them for not wanting to see it in the flesh, for wanting to see it through the protective medium of TV.
It's really weird, in these situations, how normal life goes on. This is a fashionable Thai restaurant on my street - maybe three hundred metres from the bus bomb, in the middle of the city where dozens have just died and been maimed and many hundreds injured in a hideous terrorist outrage. And here's a bunch of people, choosing whether to have swordfish steaks or duck in tamarind sauce. I don't blame them, but it is odd.
This is Russell Square, where the bus bomb went off. The bus itself is just around the corner, but you can't see it - because the whole place has been roped off and I can't get nearer. Not sure I want to - the sense of peculiar silence here is incredible. Mournful and apocalyptic, yet tranquil at the same time. Apologies if I'm sounding bonkers. A totally unnerving day.
The police effort was pretty impressive. This is about two hours after the four bombs went off. The bus that was ripped apart is about two minutes from here. In this pic you can see police calmly handing out maps to puzzled tourists, showing them how to walk across the city. An eerie calm, again.
And finally another pic, this time of Tottenham Court Road, about an hour ago. Normally this is one of the busiest streets in the city. Perhaps in the world. I took this pic standing right in the middle of the street; there wasn't a moving car to be seen. There were lots of people though - wandering around, chatting and thinking, eating sandwiches, staring into space in a troubled way, looking at helicopters overhead, trying to be normal.

And all the time people are dying - in UCH and Middlesex Hospitals - not a minute's walk from this scene. What a horrible and surreal morning.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Clotted Cream and Guacamole

A Cornish mine, lost in the deserts of Mexico...

This piece appeared in the speciality magazine, Cornwall Today, last week. As only about 37 people read this magazine - and they read this startling personal story in a very truncated form, - I think I am justified in reposting it here: in full and glorious length, with lots of extra photos. Kernow bys vyken!

How I Found the Lost Cornish of Mexico

I am on a rattly bus heading past a huge ancient pyramid. The southern sun is high in a fierce blue sky; all around is dusty scrubland, and desert cacti. This place is about as far away as you can get from green and drizzly Cornwall, yet it is Cornwall that has brought me here. I am on the hunt for the lost Cornish of Mexico, for my ancestors, for a little bit of me.

As the bus heads on into the pine-clad foothills of Sierra Madre mountains, I think back to how my quest began. With a very tiny clue.

It was late October 2003, and I was on holiday in my home county of Cornwall - idly wandering around a disused churchyard, in a damp valley near Truro. The place was a mess of brambles and graffiti, but amidst the wreckage I found a fine piece of Victorian statuary. When I scraped away the moss, the still legible inscription on the gravestone recorded one Captain Richard Skewes, 1824-1885, ‘late of Pachuca, Mexico’.

My mother’s maiden name being Skewes, I was intrigued. Could this man be a relative? If so, why the reference to Mexico? When I headed back to Truro Library, a bit of research told me two things. One, we were probably related. Two, Captain Richard was not a military man, as I had presumed, but a mine-captain: an expert in tin-mining who sailed to the biggest silver mines in history. In the Sierra Madre, Mexico. In other words my distant cousin was part of that poignant but little-known chapter in Victorian history: the great Cornish emigration to Latin America.

According to the Truro Library history books, this unremarked exodus began in the 1820s. Following years of revolution and strife, the new rulers of Mexico found that their famous silvermines were dangerously waterlogged. At a loss for what to do, they called upon the world’s best hard-rock miners: the Cornish. As the Cornish tin-mining industry was at the time in recession, the plea was answered. Over the next decades thousands of tin-miners, and occasionally their families, sailed out of Falmouth for Mexico.

The voyages were terrible and arduous, many miners died of the dreaded ’black vomit’. On arrival in Veracruz the survivors faced even more terrors: a month-long trek across a lawless land. But the Cornish were tenacious, and determined - and tough. When they eventually reached Pachuca they set to work, and fixed the mines. In time the Cornish began to flourish: living happily amidst the Mexicans even as they sent money home. It was several more decades before the exodus came finally to an end; mainly because conditions back in England had improved.

An intriguing story in itself. But one aspect of it was, to me, even more tantalising: various sources hinted that some of the Cornish miners stayed on in Mexico - because they had taken local wives, and produced Spanish-speaking children. Consequently, if my reading of the history books was right, that meant their descendants must still be there: a surreal but exciting thought. Could there really be pink-faced Trevithicks, Pascoes, and Pengellys, living amidst the dark-skinned Mexicans? Walking out of Truro Library into the autumnal cold, I resolved to find out.

Fast forward a few months. Here I am: in Mexico. I've quit the drizzly winter of England for the eternal spring of Mexico City. From the Mexican capital it is about sixty miles to Pachuca, capital of Hidalgo State.

This two hour bus journey takes me past through the enormous shanty towns around Mexico City, past those famous ancient pre-Columbian pyramids of Teotihuacan, and into the green barren hills where the Aztecs mined obsidian - the black glass the Aztecs used for their heart-ripping knives. To me this journey is something of a culture shock; God knows how it must have appeared to an illiterate tinminer from Penzance, circa 1840.

Finally we reach Pachuca. This turns out to be a charming and buzzing Mexican city, where the first ghosts of the Cornish past are not hard to find. On almost every street corner there is a bakery selling oval-shaped pies called pastes. It seems almost too good to be true: but it is. These pastes are a direct descendant of the steak-and-potato pasties favoured by Cornish miners for centuries. The only difference here is that the pastes are full of pineapple, or coconut, or even mole (it’s pronounced moh-lay), the Aztec sauce comprising one half chilli, one half chocolate.

Another Cornish leftover is the architecture. There are lots of Cornish-looking stone buildings in and around Pachuca, their thick masonry and manly proportions stand in stark contrast to the local adobe shacks. Then again, the ugliest building in the city is another Cornish legacy: a huge, louring, redbrick Methodist chapel - which is now a school full of noisy, giggling Mexican children, as I discover when I creak open the door.

The sea of universally dark infant heads gets me wondering. Where are the Mexican-Cornish? Where are the suspiciously freckly Pachucans of my imagination? Back in Truro Library, I had happily pictured a town full of long lost fifth cousins who would feed me saffron buns with salsa. But in Pachuca there are, in truth, only ghosts.

On my last day I consult the history books again. They tell me that the greatest legacy of the Cornish in Mexico was football. The tin-miners introduced the sport to Mexico in the middle of the nineteenth century; it’s been a national passion ever since. The books also tell me that the very best place to find any remaining ‘Cornishness’ is actually a few miles north of Pachuca. Here, between the fir-clad hills, nestles the little town of Real del Monte. This is where the bulk of the Cornish lived, mined, married and died.

A taxi takes me up into the sunlit mountains, into the neat and flowery mining town. Up here the air is notably sharper, fresher, more Cornish in fact. But will there be anything other than air to remind me of my emigre cousins? My first visit is to the silvermines themselves. Although the glory days of the enormous Sierra Madre silverlode are long gone, some of the shafts are still working - apparently. I am mildly hopeful that I might find something.

Crossing the town I head for the biggest mine-head. Here I rattle the old wooden door, and am let in by a wizened security guard. Inside, the place looks pretty much disused. Then I see that clouds of warm steam are billowing from the yawning black mineshaft. This, the guard explains to me in halting English, is the concentrated breath of the miners still hewing silver half a mile below. But are there Cornishmen down there? The security guard laughs and says no. Nada. There are no more Cornishmen in Mexico. ‘All gone. All...’ He smiles sadly. ‘In the cemetery.’ And he points up a hill.

Half an hour later I climb up to the ‘English cemetery’. After a quick visit to the key-keeper, I enter the pine-shaded graveyard. Immediately I come across a grave with the name Jory. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Jory. Nearby is a grave with the name Moyle. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Moyle. Remarkable. Half my ancestors seem to be buried on this tranquil hilltop in the remote mountains of sunny Hidalgo, central Mexico.

The feeling is weird, in fact almost melancholy. I had hoped to find living, breathing Cornishmen, not just lonely graves. Slightly disconsolate, I trudge back through town towards the taxi rank that will take me to Pachuca. But in my gloom I get slightly lost and take a different turning. This brings me past a pretty church, past some dark-eyed girls munching red mole pastes, by a miners’ monument.

And it’s there I see it. Directly opposite the monument is a big sign: Doctor Henry Baltazar Skewes. Dr Henry Skewes?! This man is surely a distant cousin; probably a descendant of Cap’n Skewes! I am seriously excited. Nervously I knock on the door. At the last, a fifty-something man answers. His hair is dark, but perhaps in that Celtic way. His eyes are brown - but lighter than the Mexican average. Or am I just kidding myself?

The doctor looks flatly at me. In extremely fractured Spanish I try to tell him my mother’s maiden name; stammering, I explain that I am probably his relative. The doctor shrugs, and burps a mescal-y burp, and goes to shut the door on my face. And then, suddenly, his eyes light up. ‘Skewes!’ he says, pronouncing it skoose, rather than skew-ez. ‘Skoose! Cornwaal! Inglese!’ And then he embraces me as the long lost cousin I probably am.

Inside his little office we drink tequila. I try to explain to the doctor my delight in finding him, one of the ‘lost Cornish of Mexico’, the most obscure of British emigrants. My cousin Doctor Skewes nods at me, and smiles. Lost Cornish? Laconically he leans into his desk, and gets out the phone book, and then he points out a few names. Diego Pengelly, Enrique Trewortha, Juanita Skewes. There are hundreds of them, the Mexican-Cornish. All very much alive; all living hereabouts. And all with names as gloriously hybrid as I had fondly hoped, way back in Truro Library.

Then the doctor tells me, mainly in sign language, about his family. It turns out most of them are dentists or doctors. I ask where they live and
work; the doctor replies: 'Pachuca, in the mines. Helping the miners'. As I sink my last tequila, I ponder this thought. The last mines in Cornwall
may have closed down, all the miners of Camborne may be stacking supermarket shelves, yet halfway across the world, another Cornishman, a
relative, a Skewes, is still working the old underground trade - in the famous silver mines of Mexico. Y Viva Trelawny!
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The surgery of Dr Henry Baltazar Skewes. My long lost cousins in Real del Monte, Mexico. Posted by Picasa

A Mexican shop selling 'pastes'. Yes, pasties! But with chili in them. Posted by Picasa

The 'English' graveyard in Real del Monte, chocka with my rellies (dead). Posted by Picasa

That classically ugly Methodist Church in Pachuca. Now a school. With very noisy kids. Posted by Picasa

And finally, here's what kicked itoff. I'm staring at my ancestor's grave - in the disused church of Baldhu, Cornwall. Nice zip-up top, no? Posted by Picasa