Where I’ve been. Part one. The road to Vilnius. Part One.

In 2010, I was invited to appear at the Lithuanian Festival of Concrete Poetry in Vilnius. I’ve always been big in the Baltics; ‘Centre Point’ was translated into Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian, and in 1978 I was invited to read ‘On The Opening of the Scunthorpe Power Station’ at the re-dedication of the submarine pens in Kaliningrad. There are those who feel that I lost out on the Laureateship because of this all-expenses paid and hot-and-cold-running-ladies-of the-night laid on trip. Mimsie’s old colleauges at the Circus (where she worked on the switchboard between stints at the Windmill)tipped me off that I had been photographed in a compromiing position with an accommodating young lady, a stirrup pump and a large waterproof tarpaulin. This had nothing to with the succession of the Laureateship; Ted got it because of a bet he won from me back in the late fifties. (see blogs passim).
As touched as I was by the offer to attend the festival in Vilnius, I faced my habbitual problem of cash flow. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, concrete poetry has lost most of its funding in the old Warsaw Pact countries, even in enlightened states like Lithuania. While they could accommodate me for the duration of the Festival, they could not afford my travel expenses. It seemed as though spume’s hopes of a return to the Baltics were doomed, until dear old Ritchie Edwards out of the Manic Street Preachers stepped up to the mark. Ritchie and I go back a long way (‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ was written in the library here at Botoplh Hall), and he could see that I had my heart set on the trip. Since he’s alright for a few bob, and has lots of time on his hands, he offered to drive me in his Quattroporte. He thought that we would be best off going through the Channel Tunnel, up through Belgium and Germany and into Denmark, from where we could catch a ferry to Klaipeda on the Lithuanian coast.
I made the mistake of announcing our intentions in the Turk’s Head, Botolph St. Otto the night before we set off, and then of course, there was no dealing with old Sid Nolan (Australia’s greatest living painter) until we’d agreed that he could come too.
The first morning of our trip dawned bright and early, to the horror of old Sid and me, if I’m honest, as were hungover like fucking goats. But Ritchie insisted that we get underway, and he was kind enough to tell old Sid not to worry about throwing up in the backseat since the Quattroporte has fully washable upholstery.
Through the tunnel and into France threatened to be awkward for our driver, I thought, but what’s the point of being dead if you can’t get fake passports, as Ritchie insisted. He asked that we call him ‘Nat Lofthouse’ for the duration; and on showing his fake credentials, we were through. Old Sid tried a few sketches on the way up through Belgium, but looking down just made him sick again, until we stopped in Osnabruck for a few beers, which seemed to settle his stomach.
We stopped the first night in Hamburg, where I hadn’t been since 1960, when old Mimsie had a season in the Star Club, and fell hideously in love with drummer Pete Best. She it was who ‘did his hair.’ Sadly, the band chucked him out a few years later just because he insisted on sticking with Mimsie’s do, the silly boy. I’d come to Hamburg to bring her home at the urging of the group, as they felt that having her hanging about in the studio while they recorded ‘My Bonnie’ was counter-productive. I was worried that this return to Hamburg after so long would bring back powerful memories, but a night up the Reeperbahn with Sid Nolan soon drove any memories away, and in the morning when ‘Nat’ urged us back into the car, we were soiled but happy. A fairly short run up to Kiel where we would catch the ferry to Lithuania seemed to flash by, and when we saw the bar arrangements on the ferry, Sid and I began to unwind from the rigours of the night before. Little did I know that this was where the difficulties would begin.

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