England (The Rest)

I had such lofty ideas of keeping a detailed journal of my time in England, and posting it here. If falling short of my best intentions isn’t the story of my goddamn life, I don’t know what is. I’ve been home for a month now. I flew home on a Sunday. Rested for the afternoon, and went straight back to work.

I have been working so much and so hard the past weeks, that most nights I come home exhausted, blurry eyed, just wanting to fall into bed. The details of the last month are starting to blur. The details of my time in England blur even further. So for posterity (For whoever even reads this shit) I am going to get to recounting the rest of the trip and get on with other writing.

Xy snuck this photo a few hours before the Cock Sparrer gig, when I was so jet lagged it felt like my soul might leave my body, but they could have taken it yesterday. I’m always tired.

We started the day of the Cock Sparrer gig walking around Highgate Cemetery for a few hours. We saw a lot of old graves, walked around ancient masonry and saw Marx’s grave. We got so lost in the cemetery that we had to use GPS to find Marx’s grave. Luckily it was listed. When we found the grave, we had to wait a few minutes for some cranky old man to finish complaining about how a communist had no right to be buried in a British cemetery, or something.

Highgate

I started to write some long, self important post just about the Cock Sparrer gig. It’s lost somewhere in my notes and files now, and I don’t feel like finding it. I guess I wanted to articulate what it meant to finally see a band whose music has been with me my entire adult life. When I was 15, I bought that orange Oi! The Greatest Hits! compilation CD that seemed to be in the punk section of every single record store my friends and I visited. The compilation was my introduction to so many of the greats, bands I have listened to and loved for my whole life. Something about the gruff, straight to the heart, never expecting life to be anything other than what it was; a hard landing and the frustration that accompanies a hard slog through hard years.

Cock Sparrer always embodied the “Having a laugh and having a say” ethos of punk that spoke to me as a kid. The music wasn’t heavy, but it was packed with attitude and determination, and even a little humor. Their records were just kind of always around. When I turned 30, a few of my friends got together and played a set of Cock Sparrer covers in the living room of some long forgotten Asheville punk house. The years I spent washing dishes at Rosetta’s, Cock Sparrer were the one band the entire kitchen staff agreed on. We listened to Shock Troops at least once a shift.

All dressed up and ready to go!

We were running late to the gig. I don’t remember why. We took a cab to the venue and got food at a Jamaican restaurant across the street. Watching the punks and skins file out of the tube to the gig, I felt a sense of relief seeing so many older faces. As my 30s have given way to my 40s, I have found myself feeling more and more out of place in a subculture primarily driven by disaffected youth. It’s not that my sense of anger and hopelessness have gone anywhere, maybe I have just become more resigned. Or less able to relate to punks half my age. I don’t know.

My point is, a bunch of near geriatric punks and skins was a welcome sight indeed.

The venue was packed. The show sold out right after Xy and I got our tickets last year. We grabbed a spot up front, and I tried not to stress too much about the two of us being the only people at the gig wearing masks. Cock Sparrer played two sets. The first being a set of deep cuts and rarely played songs interspersed with video bits projected on a screen behind the band where the members offered band history and humorous anecdotes. This was my favorite part of the gig. Xy and I both joked that it was just so wholesome that you couldn’t help but love it. Think your grandparents being unsupervised with a camcorder while making the corniest jokes and skits you can think of, and you kind of get the picture.

Out on an Island!

We eventually got tired of being crushed and a drunk dude kept pushing against Xy too much, so we watched the rest of the gig from the balcony. Cock Sparrer’s second set was full of the hits and the standards, all the songs that we wanted to hear. There was something so magical about seeing the band play songs I have spent my life singing along to. The gig ended. Xy and I bought shirts and and posters and walked out onto the street. We decided against a cab, and walked the mile or two back to the hotel, happy to have some quiet time on the streets of London before passing out.

The next day we walked around, visiting every cathedral on Xy’s bucket list and stopped at a Goth flea market at some venue. The flea market smelled like what I remember Goth clubs smelling like in the 90s, sans clouds of oxygen choking cigarette smoke. Clouds of incense and the scent of leather and hairspray permeated the air, penetrating my mask. Nostalgia overtook me for a minute, and I couldn’t help but remember the first time I set foot in the Goth club that anchored much of the subcultural gatherings that happened in the small, industrial city in Central Pennsylvania that I grew up outside of.

I was 14, going on 15. Queued up with the rest of the outcasts outside the club on a frigid January night. I got a ride to the show with some older kids. The rumor I had heard was that you had to be 16 to enter the club, but nobody ever actually checked IDs. I stood there in my boots, trying to stand taller with my charged hair, hoping nobody noticed my baby face. Nobody checked my ID (or lack thereof), I paid my $4 and walked into the club. The rest as they say, is history.

We took the bus to Bristol the next day. I caught up with Erica, who I haven’t seen since both of left Olympia for good. We caught up. Talked shit. Talked about what we’re doing, how our lives have changed, and changed for the better since leaving that dismal little city. I’ve been gone long enough, that I find little to reflect fondly on about my time in Olympia, but I’m grateful for the friendships that have endured.

We took the bus to Bath and stayed at some ancient hotel. I had a night terror the night we stayed there. I don’t remember the specifics of the dream, only that I woke up screaming. Xy said I looked “possessed” when they were trying to wake me. I don’t know. I couldn’t see. They spent the rest of the night on their phone trying to research the history of our hotel, if any murders had occurred there, if it was haunted.

I fell back asleep.

We caught the bus back to London. Walked around the city. Did last minute tourist shit, and went to see Covenant at some Goth club. The light show made me feel like I was going to pass out in the best way. Xy caught their flight home the next day. I spent another day wandering around London by myself. I took the tube to random stops in the city and walked around. I wrote in my journal, spent too much time reflecting on heartbreak and the last few brutally hard years. Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels, and there are days even a year and a half out where the ache of the last years rises up from memory and punches me right in the chest, taking my breath away.

A break from routine, an ocean between me and the pain of patterns and years hard lived etching their way across my face didn’t fix my janky life, but it was nice to have a break from worrying about the hard years ahead of us all, and my very American sense of impending doom.

That’s all for now.

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