Amsterdam Space Cadet
Ahh! Now here was excitement. I, and my fellow friends and ‘travellers’, Andy, Tim and Wodi, were at Coventry Airport: a big air hangar with all the home comforts of a shed. But wait, we were getting on a plane to Amsterdam. We were going on a six week European adventure. We were heading to a port famous for its cannabis, prostitutes, stag weekends, and little windmills (real culture vultures, I know.) We were young, too. Yes, my friends, this was excitement.
We arrived in Amsterdam under the cover of darkness and went straight to a bar for a pint; they were selling drugs on the corner. We were collected by a friendly Aussie bloke who delivered us to the campsite and presented us with a jar of weed, which was something of a shock, but we felt it best to embrace these local customs – we wouldn’t want to offend anyone. The tent Wodi ‘inherited’ from his Dad soon became an item of ridicule – every time he turned his back I could see Tim and Andy convulsing with silent laughter, their faces illuminated by the artificial light of their headtorches. The tent was an unshapely relic of the ancient world – an ugly old wrag. I was soon banned from sleeping in the tent anyway, after a few sarcastic remarks. I glanced enviously at Tim and Andy’s hi-tech, spacious sleeping quarters.
We spent the rest of the evening, and much of the early morning, sat in the campsite’s ‘lounge’ tent, smoking sleepily and laughing about how Wodi’s tent was actually an old skirt of his Mum’s. I envisaged a young Mrs. Rapaport swirling round in a big dance hall, wearing this big green canvas – her little legs poking out at the bottom. At one point I couldn’t even look at Andy, as every time our eyes met we burst out into uncontrollable laughter just at the thought of it. It was a good night, we sat there in this foreign place, everything new to us, tired and happy, excited about the possibilities and adventure of the next six weeks. In a strange way I felt comfortable, content. Then they made me sleep in the porch of the tent. The bastards.
We spent the next morning relaxing at the campsite and acquainting ourselves with the new surroundings. Me and Tim played table-tennis, Wodi hired a bike and cycled into the local town to buy a replacement tent. About half an hour later we walked in ourselves and did some shopping. I enjoyed the provincial nature of the town, the neat little suburbs and quaint centre, shops and streets bustling with life by the placid canal. We met with Wodi, had our first Amstel sitting outside a pub, and watched everyday Dutch life pass us by. Wodi cycled off again, this time to a camping store; we set off on the mammoth trek back to the campsite, arms aching with shopping, Wodi to meet us on the way. After a failed ambush attempt on him, that cheeky bastard Andy jumped on the back of his bike, leaving me and Tim stranded and angry, as they wobbled off into the distance. We decided to spite them by trying our hand at hitchhiking, and after a few half-hearted attempts managed to cadge a lift with a bloke who took us right back to the campsite. The fact that he worked there and always picked up people walking back lessened our sense of victory somewhat, but didn’t stop us from cheering and hollering, fingers waving, car horn blaring, as we sped past Andy and Wodi on the bike.
We went into Amsterdam late that evening: the boundless, frenetic optimism of the previous day subsiding slightly to the fatigue of travel. After arriving by train we wandered around the backstreets for a while, desperately searching for any sign of life, or even better – a red light. We eventually managed to find a coffee shop called the Dolphin, and were taken aback at the bongs laid out on the counter; a pricelist for weed, hash and skunk, hung above the bar. Wodi and Tim rolled, Andy had a coffee, and I purchased a ‘space cake’. It was then that my space cadet experience began.
The dÃ©cor of the Dolphin was surely designed to spin you out – the walls were plastered with mock coral, the floor wooden like a deck. There was various sea paraphernalia scattered about, and pictures of dolphins painted on the walls. We sat there smoking (and eating) whilst a Bohemian underwater beat shuddered through the room. Wodi, Tim and Andy seemed tired and chilled but I was itching to move on someplace else to find other kicks. I was disappointed with my space cake – it was as if I was expecting some great transformation to take place as soon as it passed through my lips, and so was left deflated in the wake of no such event.
After a drink in a somewhat nondescript bar in the city centre we found ourselves in a place anything but characterless: an effervescent shrine to The Doors, and a memorial of the whole cult era. I chatted to the pretty barmaid, got a drink, and sat down at a table in the gloomy half-light of the room. I was quiet then – the place had a potent, eerie, atmosphere, almost claustrophobic in its power. In my hazy state it was like a lucid, yet morbid portal to the past; it inspired in me a vivid, overbearing feeling of loss, not only at the fact that I had missed this unique, unbelievable era – when everything was transcending, wild and bright – but also the fact that, with its cataclysmic impact, its elevated ideals, its euphoric liberty, its inspiring counterculture; sweeping the world with a psychedelic, revolutionary spirit, a tide of transformation, freedom; after all of that, it still didn’t last. I looked at the walls plastered with pictures of cult figures, posters, headlines, events. I felt haunted by it, thought of hippies, flowers, civil rights, Woodstock, Martin Luther King, Hendrix, Hunter S Thompson, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley. It was all dead now: stagnant, unfulfilled, watered-down and modern. I looked up at the balcony, to the floor above. From my seating position – with some twisted optical illusion – it looked as though there was actually a street, with pillars and posts, adjoining the upper floor of this building, as if it was actually an open-roofed edifice, a further dimension. I was convinced, and told Tim, who looked at me as though as was crazy. We went upstairs for a game of pool and to check it out. I think it was about then that the space cake kicked in.
Upstairs, in reality, was just a dingy room with a couple of pool tables. On the adjacent table was a weighty man with slick back hair grinding up against his middle-aged girlfriend, which was certainly inspiring to watch. Who said romance was dead? We played pool and made our way back down the uneven, wobbly stairs. I felt light, almost detached. We sat back down with Wodi and Andy. Conversation wasn’t exactly sparkling: we had hit a bit of a lull, which is one of the worst things to hit. I was once again swept away in the music, in the past: said some babble about how I had come here too late, but it was before my time. I got some strange looks. I looked left to a statue of an Indian next to me and my eyes did a kind of jolted zoom in on his face; I tried to make him speak, tried imagining he was going to turn his head and talk to me. He didn’t, but I believed he could if I just stared hard enough.
I looked back at the wall again: names, dates, jumped out at me. I wished I was in Bob Dylan’s snow-covered New York, in the heart of winter, huddled in some smoky, back-street jazz club, watching him perform; wished I had been around when Taxi Driver had been released. I thought of a thousand things, concentrating immensely. I occasionally glanced back at the Indian. I thought of the poignancy of A Walk On The Moon, with Vigo Mortensen, when a traditional fifties family is blown apart on their habitual holiday camp – times are ‘a changing – the repressed housewife, trapped into motherhood, married too young to her childhood sweetheart, breaks free amid the tide of the Freedom movement, and has an affair with a travelling hippy. I was sat in a by-product of that whole glorious age; a last, lonely outpost, seeped in nostalgia. Something was calling me back to the present. I awoke as if from a dream, Wodi was laughing, asking me if I was okay. My mouth was open, eyes were glazed. I was completely wasted.
Suddenly I was in a haze, a haze of a daze; they were all laughing at me. I went outside, quick, for a breath of fresh air, glancing conspiratorially at the Indian. Outside people loomed by, we were in the Red Light District; across the street there was a dancer in the window who looked like a man. I wanted to hide. I found that I couldn’t feel my lips – wouldn’t know if my mouth was closed or wide open. I checked if my tongue was still there – it kept disappearing, then folding over. I laughed out loud, grinning stupidly, tripping over a step as I made my way back inside. Sat down. They started probing me, excited. I started to get paranoid, told them about the Indian who kept looking at me, moving his lips whenever I turned my back. I couldn’t feel my lips. Told them. Stuck out my tongue. They were laughing their heads off. It was funny. Ha! I laughed.
We left the shrine, wandered off into Amsterdam – it was dark, and light – the occasional seedy red glow piercing the gloom. We tried to find a taxi. I was very happy, but very scared. I was talking gibberish – but No! I must stop to find my tongue. I was talking with a lisp, or was that lips? A lisp! I knew it, my tongue had folded in three, in six, it was dancing on the roof of my mouth to the rhythm of the beat. I must find my real voice – “No, nooooo (deeper), Noooooo (higher), nooooooooooo!” I could speak posh, I could, I was Hugh Grant on ecstacy – “I am a polar bear” – I was talking in every accent known to man – in a new hybrid accent that I had invented, cleverly. My tongue had gone again, no, it was back! I showed them. I was proud. I was happy, free as a bird! But scared. What was I doing?! How long would this last? But they were laughing, it was okay – Wodi told me it was all in my head…my tongue was in my head – he was right! Ha ha ha! I was loud, a kite on the moon, I wanted to cackle – they were asking me questions – those bastards were filming me on their phones!
I found my arms – a little man sober and sane was trapped inside me, trapped inside a netball in my head. But Wodi said that was okay. They went to get a kebab – a kebab? I needed the toilet…but I couldn’t feel if I was holding it in or not – oh God, I was going to piss myself! The dam will leak. And in Amsterdam! How horribly ironic. I expected any second to see a wet patch forming on my trousers, urine streaming down my leg. It didn’t happen; the defences were still place. But it was inevitable. I told Wodi, his face broke instantly into an unbelieving smile. The bastard didn’t believe me: this was going to be the end of me – I needed to run, to hide! Find a dark alley and piss before it was too late. I took off – “Where the fuck is Tom going?” – I ran across a road, down a street…there were no doorways anywhere – I thought everyone pissed in the street in Rome. Was this Rome? I no longer knew. Oh God, I would have to go back. There was no privacy anywhere in this godforsaken place. But Wodi said it was okay again. I would have to cross my legs in the taxi and pray.
The taxi driver was a loony – a dingbat! He was going 300 miles an hour, jumping red lights and whizzing past cyclists. I needed my seat belt but knew God would protect me. He would not let this taxi crash after I had just prayed not to wet myself. He knew the score. Suddenly we were back, walking up the long footpath to the campsite. I told Tim I was a dishwasher from Finland, Wodi said Payney had stolen my hair – the bastard!! He was always saying it was falling out. I clutched my head to prevent any further attacks – ha. I could hear pigeons – “Coo, coo, doodalaada, doodalaada” – but wait, it was those three making silly noises to scare me. They whispered my name, so I checked the bushes. That would fool them. I needed the toilet. And where was my tongue?
They asked if I was going for a smoke in the lounge tent – I said yeah, but crept off to the toilet. That would buy me some time. My bodily functions were working as normal – that little man in the netball must be controlling them. I hid in the tent, and waited. I looked up: it was better than sideways. They were back, had been there for a while. They were cackling, laughing hysterically – there was a flashing light outside, burning my eyes and pounding my head. They had left a head torch outside, on flash, and pointed it at me. I moaned, but they wouldn’t listen. I would not be their guinea pig. Wodi gave me some pita bread but I couldn’t feel it in my mouth. I wanted my lips back. They were all asleep – wait for me! …what was I on about?! The haze was ascending, but man I was stoned – never again. I laughed and shook my head; hung up my helmet, and took off my suit. My adventure as a space cadet had come to an end.