I hope I die before I get old

This is an extract from one of my books on the life and times of Rough Red and our sojourns to the far flung corners of the earth. The book is tentatively titled, ‘I hope I die before I get old’.

Our first port of call is Amsterdam to pick up the amplifiers and other pieces of sound gear that would travel with us for the rest of the trip.

Sean has pre-booked it all and Leisbeth takes us into the city. The highway is a jungle of cars going at any speed that they are able to produce. Driving is an instinctive thing and there is no place for the faint hearted or the ditherer which suits me fine.

The car has always been a weapon to me and I am one of those people who instinctively hates everyone else on the road so I quite enjoyed the mayhem that was occuring around me.

We organised the gear and had our first coffee in a Dutch coffee house. Everyone was anxious to get into the city as soon as possible to sample the delights of the world's most liberal city. I stood and imagined the Germans marching into these very streets, the people watching from the very verandahs that they now watched us from.

The sense of history in the place is palpable, the small alleyways seemed to me to be full of ghosts and etched imagery. The ancient cobble stones that have rung to the sounds of wooden wheels and jack boots rang on regardless under the heels of a new generation of conquerors, albeit much more peaceful ones, as we walked in leather jackets and reflective sunglasses along those ancient streets.

I was finding it difficult to contain my joy and excitement. My writer's soul was bursting with the life and energy that was unfolding around me.

This was so different to anything that I had ever experienced before. I knew that I had been waiting for this for a long time and I revelled in the colour and the smells and the pallid hurrying faces of the Netherlanders as they scurried about their lives totally oblivious to the effect that their magical city was having on me.

I could have been a German invader or a British saviour walking those cold wind blown streets in a dozen different eras savouring the magic of the moment and the delights still to be discovered. History has a wonderful way of repeating itself and so we were there chasing our own Holy Grail and the city watched on as she would always do.

The heart of Amsterdam beats with a pulse so strong and vibrant that it captures and carries you with it. It is a celebration of life and wonderment, a riot of colour, you are engorged by it in seconds. It has a fantastic, chaotic, polluted magnificence that is almost impossible to describe.

I thought as I first walked into the middle of it's fire that this is a place that everyone should see. This is not tiny, peaceful, sleepy Brisbane with it's political correctness and forlorn people standing on the apron of highrises guiltily puffing on cigarettes.

This is thousands of years of wisdom and life and the sheer exuberance of just being.

Everywhere you look there is joy and beauty, not the sterile suburban utterances of Munt, Bunt, Funt and Cunnington, modern architects of the contemporary and the humdrum.

Buildings, ancient beyond imagination lean at impossible angles. Hotels of olde worlde grandeur lay like voluptuous, bloated courtesans along the canals. Cathedrals rich with the fear and loathing of old religion still cast a pall across the gay bars and dope cafes and the furtive Moroccan hash peddlers and the stunning imperious blonde girls on bicycles.

Tubs of gaudily beautiful flowers hustle for space on the footpaths with the beggars and the downtrodden and the sellers of strange artifice. The shop selling the most vulgar postcards I have ever seen sits next to the museum of torture instruments from the middle ages.

A woman gets her bicycle wheels caught in the tram tracks, not a healthy option in lunchtime Amsterdam and stands transfixed like a rabbit in a hunter's torch beam as the unyielding tram bears down on her.

There is a squeal of tortured metal and a soft crumpling sound and she goes down hard. The ubiquitous French loaf sticks up from her shopping bag like some obscene marker.

People stop and lift her to her feet. She grins embarrassedly and dusts herself off, lifting the remains of the shattered bicycle and limping off into the crowd. The busker playing the congas under the arch doesn't miss a beat.

In Australia she would have been counselled by at least five different agencies, sold her story to Ray Martin, she would have sued the tram company for ruining any chance she ever had of becoming world macrame champion and been pursued for eternity by members of Anti Cruelty to Bicycles League- In Amsterdam life goes on.

We go and check out Mulligan's where we will return to play after our trip to Skagen.. It is long and narrow and very old. It sits facing a canal a little down from the centre of the city. It sits between a gay bar and a strange little coffee house which sells varieties of coffee with unusual names like Black Moroccan, Portugese Red and Turkish Green, not all that tasty but very relaxing and efficacious nonetheless.

The playing area, as in many of the pubs we would play in was to say the least cramped but the atmosphere was definately there and the walls were littered with the signs of the bands that had gone before us. Many famous and familiar faces, we were in good company.

Tim invited us to Leiden, his home city which is located about thirty minutes outside Amsterdam. It is also an ancient place built on canals and blessed with a charm and beauty that takes the breath away.

Tim's house is four hundred years old and the carpenter's mark can still be seen on the roof beams which have withstood the test of time and are still in good nick.

It sits in a little cobbled laneway across from a very cosy little pub, it's front door is directly onto the street.

Tim has a mate who owns a small motor boat which takes tourists up and down the canals. Tim rents it for the afternoon and we head off for the centre of the city where the boat will leave from.

The city centre is a maze of ancient stone bridges and interconnecting canals dotted with brightly painted house boats. Shops with headers that are dated- 1558 and 1614 sell all manner of goods in between thriving pubs and restaurants.

We stop for lunch in one of the many canal side cafes and it is here that I first discover that the Dutch men and women use the same toilet. It was a very small toilet and not blessed with any windows. I had just deposited yesterday's fare and was glad to be leaving the stinking little room when a beautiful blonde girl banged on the door and went in straight after I had exited.

I was so embarrassed at the legacy that I had left her that I bolted back out to the others and tried to hide my face from the restaurent lest she come outside and tell the whole world what a smelly swine I was.

The toilet bowls are also very amusing, they face back to front so that the results of your endeavour sit uncomfortably close to your bum. Deft control of the toilet paper is necessary to avoid nasty accidents. Very unsatisfactory.

Tim's mate turns up with his little putt-putt boat and we head off for a grand tour of the canals.

The canals off Holland are an interesting composition of three main ingredients in roughly equal parts.One third mud, one third muddy water and one third discarded bicycles. The Dutch have the endearing habit off stealing a bicycle when they come out of the pub drunk and then riding it home and ditching it in the canal to conceal the evidence.

There are apparently hundreds of thousands of the things littering the bottom of the waterways. The habit goes right back to the times that Mr. Malvern and Mr. Star first introduced the two wheeled contraptions into the Netherlands. I wondered as we traversed the canals what the child mortality rate must be for these people who choose to live their lives so close to the water.

Many of the houses had flourishing marijuana bushes growing in their yards and the temptation was there to pull in and raid one of them. Tim however convinced us of the folly of the scheme. We settled instead for beers at all the little pubs that faced onto the water.

Tim was keen to introduce the boys to the local delight; raw herrings and Geneva. Unfortunately we couldn't find a place that was serving the aforementioned taste treat and we all looked suitably sad for his benefit though I suspect that most of them were breathing a sigh of relief.

When we returned to the centre of the town Tim's mate asked us all to crowd up to the front of the boat and he disappeared beneath an overhanging road and took us beneath the city.

It was an eerie, dark experience. There was centuries old graffiti on the ancient stone walls and things best not discussed slipped and slithered along the walls.

After another six hundred or so beers we returned to Leisbeth's place and planned our night time forray into the heart of Amsterdam's redlight district.

It is an amazing reality that a city that offers every perversion of the human spirit in whatever quantity you can handle, can feel so absolutely safe.

The Red Light District is a small city in it's own right.

It nestles beneath the baleful glare of an ancient cathedral and throbs with colour and life all night long.

The most amazing aspect of it of course is the window shopping that is available. There are hundreds of little window bays where girls of every shape, size and colour display their wares for the wandering hordes of desperates that inhabit the place.

Some of them are stunning and some of them are not. Some of them obviously enjoy the work and many of them look bored or scared, staring above the heads of the prowling wolves with a mixture of disdain and resignation.

There are little alleyways barely a person's width across with windows on either side. Men prowl back and forth relishing the sights on offer in celebration of the oldest game known to mankind. One incident will stick in my mind forever as proof positive of the power of the pudenda.

In one of the windows was a stunning Nordic blonde with a body that men would kill for. Ouside the window prowling in the fringes of the light was a bunch of lager louts.The World Cup of Soccer had been raging in Europe while we were there. In fact Tim had considered suicide the day before because The Netherlands had been eliminated by the French,I think. The lager louts were howling and moving back and forth before the door. The Nordic Beauty stood in the doorway in long black boots and very little else, struck a provocative pose and stared them down. They wheeled and shrieked like hyenas but none of them would dare venture any closer.

She began to beckon them one at a time, daring them to approach the glass. As her deep blue eyes settled on each one he would stare at the ground and move further out of the light, moving to the back of the scrum where he could howl epithets anonymously.

She was magnificent and in total control of the situation. She then began to hold up her thumb and fore finger with a gap of about two inches between them suggesting that their willys were not up to the task. They then shuffled about embarrassedly and howled more insults as they moved off into the darkness at the edge of the canal.

Sad eyed lady in a window
on an Amsterdam Saturday night
Lager louts and cocaine touts
hyenas in the light...........

As they moved off Doyle and I applauded her wonderful performance and she bowed to us falling out of the outfit that she wasn't really wearing. I nearly fainted.

JB, who is a very taciturn looking fellow stopped in front of a window occupied by a drop dead gorgeous black girl and stood looking at her straight faced. She adopted a pose that left nothing to the imagination and began rubbing her ample bosom on the glass.

She became more and more erotically animated as JB stood stock still showing no emotion at all.

There was a few moments of stand off then suddenly she put her hands on her hips and poked her tongue out at him. He returned the gesture and they both collapsed into hysterics.

It was one of those moments that takes the seriousness out of an otherwise serious situation. It is hard to imagine that happening in Kings Cross or Fortitude Valley.
At every street corner there are Moroccan dope dealers selling anything that can hammer you. Coke, hammer, acid, weed, crack, speed, it's there and it's cheap.

There were deals going down all round us. White, gaunt looking punks and shrivelled hippies.

Out of gleaming Mercs with black tinted glass stepped impossibly beautiful women with hardly anything on who stepped into their little glass cocoons to start work.

Lights flashed and touts tried to lure you in off the footpath to witness things that Brisbane boys had only ever fantasised about. There were sex shops and book shops everywhere, movie houses, dope museums, tattoo parlours and sex museums.

Married couples stroll hand in hand into the live sex shows or go and visit hookers together. The restaurants and coffee shops are full of people and lines of men piss into the canal.

All in all a very exciting and interesting place for a young fellow to visit.

I couldn't help but think that in a country with very relaxed sex and drug laws there is a noticeable absence of trouble. In fact in all the time that we were in Amsterdam we didn't see any kind of trouble at all. There were no street gangs or wandering loonies and I don't think I've ever felt safer anywhere.

Amsterdam is a city of wonderful contrast. On the one hand in the seething red light area one can avail oneself of every kind of sexual thrill available to mankind and just down the road there are art galleries and museums full of mankind's greatest achievements.

To finally stand in halls full of the works of Rembrandt and Van Gogh is a special moment that stays with you long after you are gone. The Reijksmuseum was a revelation and we spent hours in there just wandering the hallways discovering wonder after wonder. It is the kind of place that you could spend days in. I remember especially standing in front of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch, I was so close I could lean out and touch it, to finally see it in the flesh was a great thrill but the real coup de grace was a gigantic painting (I can’t remember the artist’s name) of a group of cavaliers sitting around the table having a couple of cheeky chardonnays together. Harve and I spent probably an hour glued to the thing. The artist had manged to paint wine glasses and make them appear to be so life like as to be undetectable. He had even painted tiny flaws in the lace cuffs of the shirts with tiny stray threads and you could see the reflection of his mates in the burnished breast-plate of one of the boys-An extraordinary and breathtaking piece of work.

I was especially drawn to the weapons section and the solid silver, jewel encrusted muskets that the Dutch used to give as gifts to visiting potentates. There was also a suit of armour ensconced in a glass case that belonged to some legendary Dutch war hero and the amazing thing about it was that the average 12 year old girl would have trouble squeezing into it.

Everywhere there is music. We saw buskers from every part of the globe performing masterful music on all manner of instruments and people just sat anywhere they liked and played to the thronging crowds.

The buskers take their music and their profession very seriously in Europe.
If you are sitting in one of the roadside coffee shops and one arrives to play there is no way you will be able to leave without contributing to his evening meal.

They regularly down instruments and move among the crowd demanding that you pay for the privelege of listening to them whether you were or not.

Nobody seemed to mind this brash behaviour they simply paid up and he would move on. We were always happy to pay anyway as we considered them brothers in arms and in most cases they were playing to bigger audiences thatn we were used to!

We were finally ready to go back on the road. That was the time when I was happiest. We had started to stagnate sitting around Alphen and Sean was starting to get really edgy because he was worried that we would become too rusty.