Thursday, 20 December 2012


To celebrate 'the end of the world', I thought I'd post the prologue to something I've been working on for a while. It's far too long to go up in it's entirety, but here's a teaser: 

“And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that accendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them... and shall overcome them... and kill them.”

The beast that stood before them towered nine feet tall and growing. It morphed as it grew, its face swelling crimson. Two more faces appeared out of its cheeks, one of yellow, one brown, an unholy trinity of voices intoning the words in a phased, discordant chorus as they emerged. Its clothes fell away to reveal hoofed legs of thick brown fur, pendulous testicles and a cock standing proud and veined and purple. It continued to grow, now twenty feet high, great horned leather wings unfurling at its spine, chilling the air around them with each monstrous flap. And as it reached the apex of its transformation, it leaned back and held its clawed hands out to the sky and gave a blood curdling howl of delight.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear NO evil, for thou art with me, they rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

The woman that faced the beast had fallen to her knees. She stabbed a crucifix in its direction, her flamed red locks sodden, already blowing in the sea breeze and blowing all the more in the vortex of the beast’s wings. Though terrified, she faced the thing bravely, her chanting all but lost beneath the mockery that echoed back at her. The words whistled through the gap in her top teeth, a wild stare fixed on the creature, tears streaming from unblinking eyes.

Dan stood twenty feet away and watched the scene as from afar. Like the dreams and fantasies of his youth, time had slowed to a crawl, giving rise to those same feelings of dislocation and fear. He took it all in: the showdown between impossible creature and insane preacher, the volley of biblical passages, the rumbling of the storm clouds. The rain was pelting down, but the very raindrops were deflected from the beast’s form. The grass began to smoulder beneath its feet, grains of sand rose from the dune like dust in a static field, crackling in the air around it. A discarded motorbike lay on its side a few feet away, handle bar buried. A sailing ship bobbed in and out of view on the horizon.

All this Dan saw, yet watched not through his own eyes, but as through a TV screen broadcasting live from behind his retinas. Reality, not for the first time, seemed distant and unattainable. How had he arrived at this point? He thought back through the disappearances and the global panic, through the requests to meet his elusive relative, way back to the nightmares of his infancy and saw that he had overshot himself. Was there a moment when he could say all of this had begun? Was he really responsible for what had happened? What would Jim have to say about all of this? And when would this women realise that she didn’t have a prayer?

The heavens rumbled, the sky cracked, the flow of time resumed its natural course. Dan lifted his eyes to meet those of the triple faced thing and witnessed oblivion.

He closed his eyes.

We Heartily Recommend... Moby Dick

Moby Dick is one of the pinnacles of English literature. Which is to say, steep, inhospitable and littered with pitfalls for the unwary reader.

The actual plot of the novel, Captain Ahab's obsession with hunting down the eponymous white whale, occupies only a fraction of the novel's length. The rest of the book is dedicated to diversions and digressions on every aspect of whales and whaling life. It's a dense, complicated book, employing a variety of styles from Old Testament damnation to sailor's yarn to scientific journal, the narrative taking on the obsessive mania of Ahab in its need to give the very last word on whaling.

It's tough going and a lot to take in, you will glaze over in places, but if you can last the course then you should find a tour de force in storytelling. It's not a book to read idly on holiday. It is a fine instructional manual for the budding writer. Melville shows great mastery of a number of styles and there's a lot to be learned on how a writer can bend the medium to tell his story rather than wedging the story into the confines of the medium. Indeed, many of the techniques Melville pioneered in Moby Dick weren't rediscovered until the great modernist writers of the early twentieth century.

It truly is one of the most remarkable performances that English literature has yet produced. Not one for the casual reader, but worthy of an obsession. Ahab would understand. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Hill of Howth

Oh there once was a babe born of fire and ice and Andy was his name oh.
And he vexed his mother for the things he drew all upon her kitchen table.
And he drew in the yard and he drew on the walls,
And he drew on her skirts and he drew on her shawls.
And he drew all over our Queen Vic's halls.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.

And when he was a boy-child, beasts of burden folk would bring.
And he cured them of their ills all and learned them how to sing.
And the priest called him heathen and brute before God.
And he packed up his things and away he did sod.
But he still had time to heal one more dog.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.

And when he was a young man to the Yankees he gave aid.
Sawed bones and sewed their wounds shut and at night the nurses made.
And he sawed off their feet and he sawed off their arms,
And he bound up their wounds with his ointments and balms.
But he washed his hands 'fore he worked his charms.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.

And he became a wise man and through the seas he set to roam.
Felled trees and gathered lumber and carved the ship of stone.
And he threw up the decks with a flick of his wrist,
And he found him a ship that the seas daren't resist
Bent the sails to his will with his mighty fist.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.

And as he was thought an old man, an inn and wife he kept.
And from hill and o'er dale they came and sang and danced and leapt.
And he poured for them porter and he poured for them stout,
And he dished out his council and cooked them his trout.
And he filled up their wives when 'is weren't about.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.

And oh they laid his body down. Way down. And I pray you remember people, I think you do. They laid him out in that big old airship he liked to fly around in all day, having his adventures. Placed brandy bottles at his feet and at his head and all around him until his whole outline was in cognac and bathed in bronze. And they jigged and danced till dawn and sent him on his way into the grey sunrise. His ship did rise and float out to sea and folk cried and they moaned. Andy. Andy. Andy.

And an age went by, another life it did seem.
And all across town folk had the same dream.
And weren't long then till folk said he were seen.
Andy. Andy. Andy.
Andy. Andy. Andy.

And he returned a new man to teach what he did know.
And gathered 'round him students wide and learned them how to grow.
And he found them a college and he built them a school,
And expounded at length about freedom and rule.
And Fridays gave his lectures from the pool.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.
Dark shades on a Lillo like some fool.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.
Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy.
a(n)d(y) Infinitum

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Point Pay Scam

Sadly, this isn't a story, but true and ongoing. Stay away from this company at all costs.

So the other day I had to write this email:

Refund of Subscription Money

SupportID: #14050
Ticket Type:  Other
User ID: Not-Provided
Ticket Status: Closed
Ticket Raised By: Robert Maher /

14 december 2012 at 12:41...
Dear Sirs,

I am writing to complain that you have taken £46 from my bank account for a subscription that I did not ask for. When I spoke to your customer support center I was told that I had paid £1 for a toothbrush, which I have not received, and signed up to a monthly subscription.

I do not remember agreeing to this and as I am currently unemployed £46 is an amount I can ill afford at the moment and would like this money refunded to my account as soon as possible. I would also be grateful if you could would confirm which regulatory body regulates your company's activities, should I need to escalate the matter.

Thank you.

Rob Maher
I received this reply:

14 december 2012 at 16:18...


Your membership status is currently: UNSUBSCRIBED (14-12-2012 12:31:55)

The campaign you have used is called get a Braun electric toothbrush for £1. Here you tried PointShop VIP for 14 days for £1

As a welcome bonus you for trying the membership you received 4660 points, which from our webshop could be exchanged into the welcome gift.

As mentioned on the site, is the PointShop VIP membership is a subscription service which is automatically renewed unless you unsubscribed in the meantime.

I have below listed a couple of the most frequently asked questions, which probably would help you to find answers for your questions:

Why has there been made a withdrawal of £45 from my account?
It happened when we renewed your VIP membership. As we have not registred that the membership had been cancelled, our system has automatically withdrawn £45 after the end of the trial period.

I have never accepted that I would get signed up for a membership
That is not correct. It is not possible to make the order, without accepting our terms. We have done as much as we can to make you aware of the fact this is a subscription service:

How do I unsubscribe from my VIP membership?
This can be done from the VIP-member area.

The unsubscription cannot happen by writing, as we cannot guarantee that the unsubscription will happen at the exact moment you want it to be unsubscribed. From the time you write an email with your unsubscription request to the time a PointShop staff member deals with it, there can be a while (up to a couple of days) from this happening. We do not want your membership to be renewed in the meantime, against your will.

Therefore it is only possible to unsubscribe the membership from the VIP area, where the unsubscription is registred automatically and at once. click here to log on to the member area.

I have not received my welcome giftWhen you ordered VIP, 4660 points were deposited into your PointShop account. It is the account transaction that is called "VIP ordering bonus (Braun electric toothbrush)". You can use those points to order your welcome gift from our shop. You can find it by searching in the shop under the name of the product.

It is not me who has ordered
As the order has been paid with credit card, it sounds like in this case, that others have access to your credit card information. If this is the case, we recommend, that you contact your bank and close your card and the amount anulled. At the same time you should cancel your VIP subsctiption, here on the site.

Beside that this information was entered upon sign up:

Where can I see my order confirmation?
When you ordered we send your order confirmation to you. We have saved a copy. This can be seen by clicking here (opens in a new window).

I wish to regret my purchase Since we have delivered a service (a VIP membership) that has been taken into use/activated at once, it is not possible. This is mentioned in the temrs you accepted when you ordered, and in the order confirmation we send you, when the order was completed.
I hope this solved your problem, otherwise you are more than welcome to contact me again.

I have replied:

Dear Pointpay,

thank you for your reply. However, it has failed to answer my questions or resolve my complaint. Having looked at your website I am unclear what service you claimed to have provided to me for this extortionate rate and indeed the FAQs you have included in your reply do nothing more than serve to confirm that your company achieves money through these means on a regular basis and is fully aware of what it is doing.

Now, I am a freelance journalist with 10 years experience in regulatory compliance, a laptop  and an internet connection and not much going on at the moment. I was writing an article about the bank I used to work for, but I guess I could put that on the back burner for a while and focus on your company instead. Oh I know it won't do much good, but as long as the costs to you in administration and negative publicity are greater than £45 that will suit me just fine.

Alternatively you can refund the subscription money, made up to £50 to cover my time and inconvenience and we can all go back to doing something productive with our time. It's up to you, you can remain in the shadows where you apparently prefer to operate or I can summon ever scree of energy I possess to render you luminous for all to see.

Rob Maher

PS: I have posted copies of this correspondence on my blog ( and will be putting in on Twitter under the hashtag #pointpayscam

See Also

Inside Smaug's Lair

Friday, 14 December 2012


Shit. Mistake this was. Who are these people? Faces keep changing. Morphing. One person one second and another the next. How long is it? Two months maybe. Always happens this way. Always have to go through this one time and then its fine. Better now than tomorrow. No. Not here. Not in front of strangers. What are we doing again? Why are we here? Oh yes. Stop looking at them. Cold. Look at the fire. Visions in fire. Figure in the backlight. Stay still. Long stare. Eyesight narrows. Blinds out the corners. Limbs gone numb. All that remains of the world is this fireplace and its occupant. Silhouette glowing in cherry red. Red Knight. Flanked by rock guards. Pieces of fake plastic coal make their head and torso and arms. It all hones into sharp focus. His helmet comes to a point. Flames flicker at his visor, lighting up his eyes. They bare into me. Only two points left in whole universe. Heart pounding. Look away. Have to. Look away.

Look at Jeff. Know Jeff. His house. But Jeff's three people at the moment. In three pieces. The top half of Jeff is from his head down to the v neck in his hoodie. You can see the separation between Jeff's hoodie and his t-shirt underneath. Sections two and three of Jeff are split down a crease in his hoodie in a left to right diagonal across his stomach. He looks like when the magician cuts his assistant in half and pulls the pieces apart. His face is changing too, his red cheeks and shaved head for an instant turning into a man at a party I once saw who threw up into a pint glass. Nauseous. Jeff's features morph on but the acrid smell still in my nostrils. Reminds me of playing Fish. Fish? Fish, where the person holding the blunt shouts 'Fish' and next person shouts 'fish' gets the next toke. Then people start using fish in sentences, only the most alert getting a go. Leads to such hilarious variations as 'I think I've pulled a mussel', 'Oh, I'm getting a bit of a haddock' and 'As a mackerel fact, I'm vegetarian'. Best I ever managed was, "You sea horses, right?" I tried, "You sea cucumbers?" but they were on me before I could finish the sentence. Stop carping on. Change the tune-a. Short of breath. Not enough air. Chest tightening. Need to get up. Can't sit here anymore. Shivering. So cold. Must find bathroom. Just for a moment. Have to be alone.

White. Gone white. And grey. Feel like I'm having a heart attack. Always this way. Need a distraction. Had a girlfriend sit on me during a panic attack. Poked me with her fingers until I screamed at her to get off. When I asked what the hell she was doing she smiled and said well it got rid of the panic attack didn't it? She was not wrong. Not sure that was why she did it though. She took it to the extreme. Usually just play a game on my phone. Or flick through an atlas. Get lost in the places. Or splash of cold water. Lost my place by now. Five second rule in operation. Everyone's gonna know. Why not just say? Remember what Jeff always says. If you feel yourself having a whitey, tell someone. It loses its hold over you if you admit it 'cause then you don't have to hold on to it anymore. Most people are sympathetic. It's only very rare you get sat on.

I'm out. Walk of shame. Ok. Said everyone would look. Jeff asking if I'm ok with that wry smile of his. Ok then. Time to fess up.

Laughter and ribbed that I only fessed up 'cause it's so obvious from my face. My grey corpse face. True what Jeff says though. Feel easier already. Faces still morph, but it's a slower cycle. The faces become friendlier. Start telling stories. Heard this one before but it's worth hearing again:

Jeff, Kev and Clarkey dropped acid once and went for a drive. They did it before Bill Hicks made it cool. And they didn't get pulled over by the cops. Not on the country lanes of Gloucestershire. Only thing they found was a junction. Dusk. Off to the right they see some lights and wait for the car to pass before they pull out. Three hours later they realise that the lights are really the porch lights of someone's cottage. It was that point they realised how fucked they were, Clarkey gone white and humming to himself in the back seat, and decided to go home.

The first time I tripped I had a massive whitey on the come up. Standing still I felt like I was moving at 60, my legs were on one side of the room and my head the other side and this voice came out of the heavens to announce to me that in the grand scheme of things I was nothing. Then we just played Magic the Gathering all night, falling into long silences, then both looking up at the same time and having an epic conversation about something random. In my head we became a sitcom, the next big thing after the Fast Show. Two stoners who say nothing for most of the episode, but when they do speak, it's dynamite.

Kev starts saying how gutted he was when Richard Whiteley died, 'cause he wanted to pitch him a show called 'Whiteout' where two teams got stoned in increasingly bizarre ways and the winner was the last one not to have a whitey. We play a few rounds. There's taking a toke and holding it in till it comes back around the circle. A game for sadomasochists. Then there's the blow back into a chilled pint glass. The smoke just sits there in the glass and you take it back like a drink, throwing it back like a shot.

Then we're on to building things, putting a hole in an apple to smoke through and making complicated joints using the instructions from the 'Spliffs' books. Me and Jeff's bursts into flames and for a second I see the Red Knight's hand in its combustion. A fleeting paranoia and then we're on to making buckets. Finally a piece of toilet roll is stretched over the rim of a pint glass, coin placed in the middle, and we take turns burning the paper. Burn two holes into one big hole and you do a shot of tequila. Suits me, alcohol relaxes me. Drop the coin in the glass and you have to shotgun a whole can of beer.

Jeff loses and jabs a pen into the tin and it comes over his face and he swallows the lot. Then he falls back down into his chair and starts off on a rant about decriminalisation and how the Dutch have got it right and that we should stay out there when we go and not get the flight back. Kev says nah, we have to fight for it to be decriminalised in our own land, not hide in a corner of someone else's country like we're ashamed of who we are. Have to fight for it where we live.

And it’ll happen eventually, Jeff says. Legalisation I mean. ‘Cause eventually a generation will come into power that realise the truth. That in spite of its side effects, compared to coke, heroin, alcohol, tobacco, Prozac, Valium, Tomazepan, Big Brother, X-Factor, religion, New Labour, the Democratic Republican Party and the myriad other narcotics and carcinogens which saturate our society, Marijuana barely even fucking registers on the fucking scale man.

Everyone goes quiet as Jeff's words hang in the air. He gets ups. Puts some music on. AC/DC, 'Powerage'. And by the time 'Gone Shootin' comes on I am floating through space in a bubble in my mind and Jeff is draping a duvet over my corporeal form on the sofa. Ba da, dum dum. Ba da, dum dum. Ba da dum dum. Early start. Ba da dum dum. Amsterdam by lunchtime. Say it's changed. Saying that for years. Clarkey snoring? Red Knight still staring out the corner of my eye. Oh come on now, don't stop me getting any sl

Coffee Shop Blues

Selections from the journal of Danny Roberts

Welcome to my favourite observation post in all the northern hemisphere. The second floor of a certain coffee shop, St. Antoniesbreestraat, Amsterdam. The walls are painted a medium shade of blue. Ganesha, the god of new age cliché reclines, serenely, in the corner. The stairwell leading from the street bisects the room. One side contains the bar and pot counter, the other is the chill out/lounge area. Both halves are glass fronted and partly enclosed by Plexiglas like the crystal turrets of a high street castle.

A large brown, L shaped sofa dominates the lounge area. The coffee table in front is littered with the various accoutrements that every good pot smoker requires: Ashtrays, lighters, tobacco and papers, a full size hookah and of course the gear itself. Skirting the Plexiglas there is a semi-circular, Formica table which sweeps out past the windows as far as the jukebox in the corner. Nina Simone’s ‘Mood Indigo’ is playing. And there I am next to it, staring out the window and into space.

I love to just sit here and do nothing. Not only can the finest green and black be bought from a few feet away, but the view is splendid. Everywhere you turn everything is perfectly framed. The open window before me to the pavement below. The archway across the street.  The stoners staring blankly through the glass from the other side of the room. An arcade runs underneath us, through which people pass, gaining a precious few seconds respite from the ubiquitous Amsterdam rain. And it seems that I myself am framed for the delectation of the shoppers passing beneath.

I could sit here for hours (I probably have). Allow the world to orbit in an ellipse with me at one foci and the spliff smouldering in the ashtray at the other. And as it rushes past my eye-line I’ll let my attention roam and relax on individuals and try to discern as much as possible before they exit stage left, stage right. The girl on the bicycle in the sky blue jumper. The acid casualty tramp who jogs past holding his cupped hands to his face as if carrying some precious cargo. The guy in the white shirt, business suit and a Rasta hat. He staggers through my field of view, arms in the air and shouts in the poshest way imaginable, “Hey, where are all the white women at.”  He’s paler than me.

And as below, so all around. The two women who look out of place outside of Hampshire who eat space-cake and swap icing tips and wait for something to happen. An entire family occupy the sofa behind me. Seriously, father and son, nanna and granddaughter. Fuck knows what that’s all about. Maybe one of Bill’s rants got through. You see son, the thumb is opposable, that’s why we can use tools and  live indoors. Cool dad. And sat next to me, an American. He looks like Hemmingway, but as he speaks (“Hey look honey, the walls have babies in bubbles in space.”), he sounds more like Al from Home Improvement.

All these people have stories to tell. Most are just passing through. Since the rupture (I refuse to call it the 'event', it sounds so fucking stupid), there are a few places like Amsterdam, Venice, Timbuktu, San Francisco, Singapore and a handful of others where the local space, time and reality shattered during the rupture and later stabilised. Throughout the city there now exist places where you can walk from one version to another.

If you want to go back to the 1870s, get the 51 tram from Amsterdam Central and stay on until Westwijk (although you may find yourself doing the last couple of miles by horse and trap). The Venice Bridge of Sighs can be accessed via Admiralgracht. Hendrix is busking in the market around the corner from here. Oberon and Titania and all the other fairies have taken up residence in the Vondelpark and may receive you. The shopkeeper from Mr Benn has a place near the station and people stumble into his poorly animated premises all the time. He's either malevolent or means well, I've yet to decide which.

If you want to see zombies take the ferry at the back of the station and head up to the campsite in the woods up there. The army pretty much have the place in lockdown but there are breaks in the fence and enough guides prepared to take you zombie spotting. Hunting them costs a little more.

Many come through the city on their way to try and join Star Fleet. Fuck knows who discovered this route but I am reliably informed that you have to head down to Max Euweplein, where the Hard Rock Cafe is located. You approach from the main road, up to the precinct and out through the arcade, passing the giant chess board on the left.

Then you get a train to Schiphol Airport, fly out to San Francisco, take a guided tour of Alcatraz and once there use the men's room on the second level, first stall. Once in the stall, hop two over to come out in the third one along. You emerge into a vision of what people in the 1980s imagined the future might look night. At most any other time in my life I would have jumped into a Star Trek universe without giving it a second thought. But damm it if Andy hasn't made a sailor out of me. I guess it was inevitable. If my parents hadn't met serving in the Royal Navy, I wouldn't be here at all.

Andy is the reason I'm in Amsterdam. I've sailed all over looking for a clue to his whereabouts. Been at sea so long that the feel of solid ground beneath my feet still seems unnatural. For a while I gave up looking altogether and spent years sailing around and around the globe, coming near land only rarely. It was useless, Andy deliberately makes people forget him, so how was I supposed to pick up the clues to find him?

Mostly I read and marvelled at how even the most magical plots now seemed tame compared to what I had been through in recent times. Yet the new world was created out of these flights of fancy and I resolved that if I didn't have Andy around to help me then I needed to know as much about what possibilities were out there. Books seemed like a good start.

Besides, if you've spent as long as I have staring at the pages of Finnegans Wake, trying to make any sense out of great swathes of its 'narrative' and its dense arcane syntax, then any other text in the English language is a piece of piss by comparison. The Wake powers the most powerful engine on my ship and with a bit of trial and error I've found a couple of hundred secret routes through the bounds of reality and beyond.

Eventually though even a man as misanthropic as me craves the company of others and it occurred to me, rather than running around looking for Andy it would be better to drop anchor in one place and wait for him to come to me? Amsterdam seemed the obvious location for a number of reasons. Not least of which that if I'm going to be sat around waiting for the man, I'd like a smoke while I do so. I also heard of a couple of people that were able to remember Andy that pass through these parts from time to time. Haven't heard a peek out of any of them in months.

And yet a hyper-dimensional crossroads like this is a gift for a writer. This spot isn't just perfect for its visual treats but for the things you hear. I come here every day to hear people talk of triumphs and disasters, narrow escapes and nightmare endings, new worlds and fresh realities, rekindled passions and lost loves and childhood dreams realised and discarded in the blink of an eye. All these tales deserve a chronicler and as I've not been doing much else of late, I've taken the task upon myself to the point where finding Andy seems a secondary mission at this stage. You will excuse me if I have occasionally used some artist licence, but I have that Joycean strain in me and I do so hate to do things the same way twice...

I’m thinking about my first trip here. It was my first time in a coffee shop. First time abroad. Me and a mate popped in for a couple of hours. But the sofa devoured us and we ended up staying six. I forget what we were smoking, but for a moment there time seemed to speed up and slow down and stop.

The whole thing freaked me out to begin with. Sat in a public place, smoking gange and no one gives a fuck. In fact it’s actively encouraged. The first spliff always takes me by surprise and this was no exception. You have to treat it like a roller-coaster. If you tense up, you’ll hate it. But if you lie back and let out a healthy laugh from the pit of your stomach, you enjoy every second of it.

That’s what I did. Went with the flow. Turned on my scanner and took in everything in around me. The Dutch guy selling the dope. He had the look of Brian May mixed with Stretch Armstrong. The girl serving drinks. Dreads half way down her back, nose ring. The epitome of Dutch beauty (And as I’m watching her, she turns and winks at me - but it’s just that time’s broken free of its mooring again and she’s only blinking).

Then there was the clientele. The Filipino boy, with his dad (‘Look father, this is what passes for opium in Europe.’). The local popping in to pick his stash up for the weekend, complete with dog on lead. Can spot British tourists a mile off. The German fallen asleep in the corner. And a couple of twenty-something lads who seem to my pot-addled brain to be a kind of Jeeves and Wooster pairing. ‘Sir, I have purchased half an ounce of the finest Nepalese White.’  ‘Excellent Jeeves, now let us depart with all due ambulatory rapidity before we are observed frequenting this working class establishment.’ (Only in Dutch).

However, the star of the show almost defies description. He works here. He’s dressed in skater jeans and sneakers. Boomerang t-shirt and rainbow suspenders dangling from his sides. He’s white, American I think, with a mushroom afro and goatee. There’s a half finished joint permanently balanced between his lips that I haven't seen him light once. I’m not quite sure what his job is, but it must qualify for laziest occupation on Earth. Having watched him for the most of the evening, I narrowed down his main responsibilities to the following:
  1. Emptying ashtrays
  2. Shouting, ‘No cameras near the counter.’
  3. Lighting four candles at about half seven.
  4. Greeting people at the top of the stairs, shaking their hand, nodding his cocked head and saying,   ‘Awright man.’ in his best Jamaican accent.
And you just know to look at him that he came to Amsterdam for a week and he’s been here ever since. He's an absolute star!  I picture him fifteen years in the future when cannabis is legal and not merely decriminalised and space-cake is served to visiting dignitaries as a Dutch delicacy. He’ll be dressed in a tux and cumberbund, the same joint pursed between his lips. He’ll greet visiting ambassadors, shake their hand, nod and say, ‘Awright man’, in twenty five different languages.

In the middle age of Awright Man  he'll be perpetually slumped in the corner of some coffee shop. Muttering to himself about  how Amsterdam’s became too touristy and the best place to toke skunk is now some cabin at the northernmost tip of Norway, 'cause it’s permanently dark there for three months of the year. Then they'll throw him out and he'll trudge home to slump in front of the TV, one hand down his pants, spliff in his mouth, snoring and muttering ‘Awright man’ with every exhale.

I was so high that night, I lost the power of speech for most of the evening. Claire had a conversation with a Parisian about speaking French. Something about how you don’t have to speak French, just believe you can and you will. People talk such bollocks when they’re stoned. Probably true these days. Most things are possible with enough time and space.

We left at midnight. When we arrived back to the street level I turned around and said, ‘Brilliant night.’ and we went off home to our hostel.  You never forget your first love...

My God, that spliff’s massive. Oh, hang on. Hang on. No, it’s just closer.

Of course, eventually I’ll tire of sitting still and drift out into the parabolic streets to wander lost, defeated once more by Dutch street design until I either stumble into another coffee shop or walk off the map or onto another map. Or more likely, I’ll walk in a straight line for forty minutes, turn left and be back where I started. Which will be here.

This place is like a lighthouse to me. Whenever or wherever I get lost in the city, I can always find my back here even if I get lost trying to find anywhere else. Like the second-hand American bookshop with a portal to a fantasy adventure world in the back room. Found it once by accident, meant to go back, can't find the bloody place now.

Then there was the time I was watching the snooker in a coffee shop, left my bag in there and by the time I realised I'd forgotten it, I'd walked in a complete circle and was standing outside the same place. My bag was still tucked under the chair.

But enough of such nonsense. Especially when there are real tales to tell. Like this one...