Friday, 6 May 2011

El Tiburón, part 1

I don't know about you, but I rarely have profound, existential revelations in the privacy and comfort of my own home. On the other hand, I quite often have them when I'm travelling abroad. I don't know why this should be, but it can be a bit of a nuisance.

I was reflecting on this following Tony_C's reminder of our hitchhiking experiences as teenagers. In retrospect, it was an extraordinary thing, the way large numbers of young people -- actually, little more than children, boys and girls -- would take to the roads of Europe in a sort of mass rite of passage every summer. The queue of hitchhikers lined up on the slip-roads out of popular destinations like Amsterdam could be hundreds of yards long, back in the early 1970s.

In recent decades, I simply can't remember the last time I saw a hitchhiker in Europe, though it's true I've mainly driven in France and Spain, which were always regarded as hitchhiking limbos. As I've mentioned before, the numbers of aimless travellers were large enough to cause a logistical problem for local authorities on the main arterial routes, who would open schools and other public buildings as temporary "sleep ins" where clueless and vulnerable teens could spend the night on a hard floor and have access to basic facilities.

Familiar title, 1971 edition...
Et in Europa Douglas Adams

"Clueless and vulnerable" is perhaps an understatement. The thieves and predators of Europe must have been having some fat years, back then. Everyone has their horror stories, though I and my several travelling companions were probably just streetwise enough to avoid any serious problems. But, in many ways, the whole point of the exercise was to go in search of "anxiety as fun". A few brushes with the law or the seamier side of life, plus some memorable mishaps, added spice to what otherwise could be a rather dull preoccupation with getting lifts, food and finding a place to sleep.

I mention this, because it occurs to me, 40 years later, that maybe those years laid a foundation which has sometimes given a bit of a wobble to my later journeyings. At times, I realise now, I was both more scared and in more danger than I knew at the time. Being prodded awake at 3 a.m. with a night-stick and questioned aggressively by American MPs looking for deserters, as you try to snatch some sleep on a railway station platform, is not fun. Neither is losing your passport in Rome, or finding yourself alone and incapably drunk in a back street of a town you don't know in a country whose language you can't read, never mind speak.

Don't misunderstand me: I had more than enough compensating moments of fun, even exhilaration and excitement. During my Wanderjahre I was lucky enough to suffer nothing more disastrous than a few bruises, a few moments of pure panic, and a few more character-building humiliations than I'd expected. But perhaps the unconscious mind is wiser than our teenage bravado, and there is a delayed reaction to the suppressed, scarier side of this sort of adventure. You don't have to have stared at a loaded pistol (as happened to one friend of mine) to become a young adult subject to anxious aftershocks.

Which brings me to El Tiburón. But it's late, I'm tired, and I have an episode of West Wing to watch, so I'll do this one in two parts. (Did I say I've been watching West Wing on DVD? That's why posts have been a bit thin lately...)


Bronislaus Janulis said...

Mike, you got us all "involved", and then you drop us for some damn TV show ...???? WTF Dude.

Well, from my personal experience, the handcuffing and general delivery to some form of incarceration, was a most maturing experience. Especially the part where a professional bank robber pointed out to me that I ought to be straight, as I did "hard" time.

So, post two, ???? DUDE???

Affectionately, Bron.

Mike C. said...


"Previously on Idiotic Hat" ...

But don't get your hopes up, part 2 is not going to involve any kidnappings, crimes or indeed anything much. This blog is all style without substance...

We've got something of a West Wing cult going here -- we bought a box set of series 3 and 4 for my son's birthday, and I'm now filling in with series 1 and 2. For a non-TV watcher like me, top-quality HBO-style drama is a powerful drug. More, I need more!


Kent Wiley said...

"West Wing" is an unknown for me. I like to stay away from politicians & lawyers. On the other hand, when you're done w/ that, you should take up "The Wire," indisputably the best US tv show ever created. Only five seasons total, so it only takes a couple months to get through at a reasonable pace.

Mike C. said...


Thanks, but I did "The Wire" last year -- bought all the series on DVD, one after the other, and loved it (like everyone else). "Shakespearean" is the word that comes to mind. I also went on to read David Simon's "Homicide" and "The Corner".

"West Wing" is good -- it's the characters and the quality of the script that make it, though it can be infected by that sentimentality that plagues drama from the US.

I started "Deadwood", too, but have so far only managed the first series. Unfortunately, to UK viewers, Ian McShane will always be antiques dealer Lovejoy... My favourite scene in Deadwood was where the Chinese elder explains to "Swinjun" (Al Swearingen) how his opium consignment was stolen, using mainly the word "cocksuckah".


Kent Wiley said...

Interesting... We were unfamiliar with Ian McShane. Al is pretty incorrigible in the first season. Probably due to the sentimentality factor you mention, he gets somewhat more "community minded." Again, it's the language and the characters that are the draw for "Deadwood." On the other hand, pretty boy Timothy Olyphant's single note performance is mostly hilarious.

Mike C. said...


It's very distracting to start with -- "Lovejoy" was prime-time MOR TV in the 80s, and it sometimes amuses me to think how many elderly folk with a morbid fear of "bad language" may have watched Deadwood, anticipating a cosy, "Lovejoy as cowboy" series... It's making me chuckle even now.

I am an admirer of Al's staff management techniques -- so much easier to drown your staff and feed them to the pigs, than go through appraisals, and disciplinary procedures...


Kent Wiley said...

Those are some well fed pigs!

Tony_C said...

Oi! That's MY copy of Hitchhikers' Guide, isn't it?

[Checkword: malinc - an insidious American corporation?]

Mike C. said...


No, I don't have one, I pinched the picture off the Web... That doesn't mean it's not your copy, of course, just that someone else out there now owns it (it seems quite scarce -- I guess they all got used to bits).