There are many examples of people that have decided to go on a great journey of discovery. They have sailed boats through uncharted waters, climbed to the most hostile mountain tops, dragged sleds through snow and ice, walked, cycled or swum vast distances sometimes in company but often quite alone. They often return home with colourful stories and pictures, write a book and gain notoriety. The media says 'They've had the adventure of a lifetime'. Whilst reading these books, full of hardship, isolation, deliverance and relief as they are, one question keeps bubbling up at the back of my mind. Isn't the whole title thing wrong? Surely you should read it the other way around. It shouldn't be called 'The adventure of a lifetime' but rather 'The lifetime of an adventure'. They go on an adventure, have an adventure and finish an adventure. The eternal cycle of Birth, life and death. Once it's over it's over. Time to move on and become re-socialised, re-urbanised.
I find this tragic and it spoils my enjoyment of their tales. I look at my own life and see it as one continuous adventure, a never ending journey of discovery. Surely that is what is meant by 'The adventure of a lifetime'. A lifetime jam packed from start to finish with highs and lows, hardship, trials, tribulations and irony. A lifetime that is an adventure in itself. I can't help thinking that maybe that is an even better kind of story to tell.
Burger'n'Fries is my story. Everything I write about is true. Every event really happened. The one compromise I have made for readability is that it is not always in strict chronological order. I don't want this to simply be 'A history of me'. I want it to catalogue the experiences of my life so that we can learn from them. In the words of a successful investor 'My good decisions come from experience, my experience comes from my bad decisions.'
I was born in a swamp. It is not something I am particularly proud of nor do I try and deny it. It wasn't an active choice on my part. It is simply true. It's a simple fact, I was born in a swamp. It is part of who I am. Born and raised in a swamp, I'll never be able to wash it out. I'll never be able to aspire to any other than this single factual beginning. It defines, even now so many years later, who I am, what I am.
In terms of comic book super heroes, it's my origin story. It not only imbues me with whatever super-hero powers I may possess but also defines my flaws and weaknesses. It is even the creator of my nemesis, my personal, eternal and unconquerable enemy.
In about AD43 troops, under orders of the Roman politician and military commander Aulus Plautius, forsook the relative safety of the beaches of the known world and sailed across the open waters of a great ocean to mount an invasion upon a legendary island. After landing, they successfully subdued local resistance and rapidly expanded into the hinterland. Before long, they came to a wide river. It was slow moving but wide and tidal. Thick with estuarine sludge the inhabitants had dubbed it Tamesas meaning dark and muddy.
At a conveniently narrow point the Romans built a bridge and, in the marshes on the northern bank they erected a settlement and fort. They named it 'Londinium'. There doesn't appear to be a clear reason for this, but the name stuck, more or less, and its been there, on and off, ever since. A lot happened in between that city's founding and my own. There's been a lot of time, a lot of events, a lot of history, but deep down it hasn't changed, not really. Oh sure, superficially its completely different nowadays. Gone are the wooden palisades and shacks, long since replaced by concrete and marble, glass and metal. It hardly looks like a swamp at all but deep down, below the surface, it still is. Like they say 'You can build the city out of the swamp, but mud sticks'.
There's a popular fallacy about modern cities. People call them 'concrete jungles'. That's just plain wrong. Big cities aren't jungles they're swamps. It doesn't have to be wet to be a swamp. That's not what makes it a swamp. What makes it a swamp is what it does. Swamps pull you in, drag you down, smother you in their quagmire, envelope you in their waters, preserve you in their depths. That's the point. Things that fall into a bog don't rot or decay. In the absence of oxygen decomposition slows to as stall.
Instead a swamp ingests and preserves, consumes and assimilates. Nothing that falls into a swamp is ever lost. It is bound to forever become a part of the swamp itself. Accumulation and expansion. The stench of a swamp is its warning sign, hanging over the turbid water as clear as any black on yellow builder's sign.
'Caution!', it says 'swamp work in progress'.
So it is with my home town, my involuntary place of birth. It's: the first great metropolis; the capital of the greatest empire the world has ever known; arguably the first world city, London. Turgidly, it has grown out of the marshland of the Thames estuary. Century after century it has expanded, swollen, distended and, all the while, it has revelled in its own bloated pomposity, but it can't escape its beginnings. No amount of tarmac and pavement can suppress that. Even at the top of the ever higher skyscrapers you can't get away from it.
Of course, nowadays its not the smell of the old marsh water that hangs like a miasma over everything. That's long gone, like the water itself, pumped and channelled underground into subterranean rivers. In fact, and bizarrely for such a damp place, London is uncommonly dry. It struggles to keep itself hydrated. The old marsh water is collected, processed, sanitised and assimilated again and again in order to keep the new marsh water alive. They say, every glass of water you drink in London has been drunk by 5 other people before you.
No the old water doesn't stink any more. Its been civilised, urbanised and re-purposed. It's the people that stink now. They are the new marsh water. London swamp has moved on, diversified, climbed up the food chain. It no longer merely assimilates organic material. Nowadays, it assimilates everything. Water and food, energy and materials, art and culture all are sucked in and converted into the substance of this swamp that is and ever shall be London.
This is where I was born and, like everything else that touches it, London made me part of itself. I can never escape.
I am Swamp Boy and this is my story.