Snuff

Book Review (kind of): Snuff, by Ch...

Six hundred dudes. One porn queen. A world record for the ages. A must-have movie for every discerning collector of things erotic. Didn't one of us on...

livingend

Turbo Living End in Modern

By: Dom Harvey Now that the Modern PTQ season is over, it's a great time to explore some more decks that I can't be tempted to waste a PTQ shot on ...

bojackHorseman

September Vices

by: Jason Waddell Here's some shit I'm into. BoJack Horseman I don't know if this is actually a good television show. Do we still say "televi...

icm1

Optimizing Poker Decisions using IC...

by: Jason Waddell Poker is a hard game. Tournaments payouts add a layer of complexity to the process. Chips won do not directly correlate to dollar...

Book Review (kind of): Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk

Six hundred dudes. One porn queen. A world record for the ages. A must-have movie for every discerning collector of things erotic. Didn’t one of us on purpose set out to make a snuff movie.

This book is gross.

It’s not often that I read things that make me physically uncomfortable. There was a scene in Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicles that made my skin crawl, in stark contrast to the imagery of the rest of the book. Snuff is filthy from cover to cover.

The proverbial curtain opens at the start of a 600-man gangbang, as a washed-out porn starlet from decades past attempts to redefine her legacy by breaking the record for most number of sex acts performed in a single, err, sitting. One of the guys is trying to kill her, maybe. Who knows. It’s not the sort of premise that would usually direct me to the checkout stand of the local bookstore.

Tangential Bullshit

The book was loaned to me by a friend, a girl who previously featured in the blog as “the English woman” in an OkCupid blog entry, a series which curtailed on account of an ongoing undefined relationship with a wide-eyed and effervescent Belgian girl we’ll call Katrin.

Previous dating summaries served as eulogies of sorts, the records of dead relationships. The Katrin saga carried me from January to the end of August, as I endured the tail-end of what became a hellish 13-month cohabitation with my ex-wife while she navigated her next step in life.

It was an on-again off-again affair, characterized by Katrin pushing for more commitment and me infamously using the words “good for now” during a 2am “define the relationship” talk. Even in the absence of an official title, we filled our weeks with each other’s company. In my mind I had written her off as “not a long term match”. Our goals are different. She’s in her prime, trying to start a family. I’m escaping the cloud of an overdrawn eight-year relationship.

But emotionally, as months of our faux boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic passed, I grew rather attached.

Katrin had warned for months that she would start trying to see other people, and as her dates started to trickle onto the calendar, I became surprisingly jealous. My ex was days away from moving out, and the added emotional turmoil of my home life meant something had to give. I did what I thought was best: end things with Katrin.

Days later my ex-wife moved out with our two dogs, and everything combined into a perfect storm. My ex was gone. My dogs were gone. Katrin was gone.

And I was alone.

I spent more than a year consumed primarily by an anticipation of the day when my ex would move out, but when the moment came there was no relief. All those closest to me were gone, and my mind flooded with thoughts of Katrin. She had wanted more from me for months, and suddenly, desperately, I was willing to give it to her. My mind swirled with competing hypotheses. On the one, I had been too blinded by living with my ex to appreciate what Katrin had to offer. Suddenly I could imagine a future together, to see past my ex’s move-out date.

On the other, I was simply afraid to be alone. Was I just setting myself up for a long-term mistake to avoid short-term pain. I didn’t expect losing Katrin to hurt so much, but was the pain of my ex and dogs moving out being projected onto Katrin? Those problems were irreversible, but the relationship with Katrin was, in theory, salvageable.

In the end I made a desperate plea to win her back, but she stood firm. I was acting out of emotion, she claimed. Sit on these feelings for a few weeks, and if they’re still there, we’ll revisit the issue. And besides, she’d met someone new. He deserved a chance. Supposedly.

As the weeks have passed I have come to realize that I do, genuinely, deeply care for Katrin. As the shock of being alone wore off, my feelings for Katrin remained. I think we could work, long term. And she agrees. But in the Monte Hall problem you always switch. She’s moving on.

The Book

I took in Snuff  curled up on my terrace with a blanket as the first signs off fall started to fill the air. The book opens in a wearhouse, where 600 guys are going to town on the buffet table while waiting for their allocated minute with porn star Cassie Wright.

The story is divulged through a cast of interwoven perspective characters. Game of Thrones in a gangbang, if you will. The personalities are there. An 18 year-old virgin with a bouquet of flowers in tow. A primetime television star trying to put to bed rumors of his homosexuality. A fictionalized Peter North-type trying to reclaim the spotlight.

I’m going to give it to you straight and admit I don’t have a tremendous lot to say on this book. I powered through its 200 pages in one sitting mostly to distract myself from Tangential Bullshit. The book seems to demand skimming, and despite its relative brevity, I found the narrative to be overdrawn and plotting at parts. About three-quarters of the way through the book I started skipping entire pages just to reach its conclusion.

The book is raw, gross and at times discomforting. My friend told me that, after finishing it, she couldn’t watch porn for a week. I can’t say I’ve been similarly affected, but I also don’t know if I’m better off for having read it. Perhaps I have a deeper smut tolerance? I’m sure there are those out there who can come across goatse its ilk without flinching, but I don’t know if that’s an admirable goal.

If there are lessons to glean from the book, I’ve yet to synthesize them. But it did distract me for a few hours. Mission accomplished?

 

More RipLab Book Reviews:

Paprika
Ready Player One
How to be Black
The Road

Turbo Living End in Modern

By: Dom Harvey

Now that the Modern PTQ season is over, it’s a great time to explore some more decks that I can’t be tempted to waste a PTQ shot on for another 8 months now! Let’s set the stage first:

With the release of Alara Reborn, players quickly found ways to exploit cascade by using mechanics with wonky costs such as suspend and split cards to bypass cascade’s CMC restriction. At its most ‘fair’ this involved Shardless Agent into Ancestral Vision or Bloodbraid Elf into Boom // Bust, but this quickly moves into unfair territory once you carry this idea to its logical extreme. If you’re willing to contort your spell base so that only one card is on or below the CMC threshold, you can guarantee that a cascade spell will hit that card every time and so build your deck accordingly. In Standard, this meant the delightful Seismic Swans deck:

Lands (41)
Battlefield Forge
Cascade Bluffs
Fire-Lit Thicket
Ghitu Encampment
Graven Cairns
Mountain
Reflecting Pool
Spinerock Knoll
Treetop Village
Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
Vivid Grove
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Meadow

Creatures (8)
Bloodbraid Elf
Swans of Bryn Argoll

Spells (11)
Ad Nauseam
Bituminous Blast
Captured Sunlight
Primal Command
Seismic Assault
Sideboard (15)
Aura of Silence
Countryside Crusher
Maelstrom Pulse
Primal Command
Vexing Shusher
Wickerbough Elder
Wrath of God

In Extended, you could live every Timmy’s fantasy:

Lands (21)
Calciform Pools
Forbidden Orchard
Fungal Reaches
Gemstone Caverns
Gemstone Mine
Reflecting Pool
Tendo Ice Bridge

Creatures (21)
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Angel of Despair
Bogardan Hellkite
Progenitus
Simian Spirit Guide
Sundering Titan

Spells (19)
Ardent Plea
Demonic Dread
Firespout
Hypergenesis
Thirst for Knowledge
Violent Outburst
Sideboard (15)
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Firespout
Fungal Reaches
Ingot Chewer
Meddling Mage
Putrefy
Venser, Shaper Savant
Vexing Shusher

And there’s always that guy who loves playing Restore Balance:

Creatures (14)
Greater Gargadon
Riftwing Cloudskate
Simian Spirit Guide
Thassa, God of the Sea
Vendilion Clique

Planeswalkers (7)
Ajani Vengeant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Relentless
Gideon Jura
Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (22)
Ardent Plea
Detention Sphere
Dismember
Fieldmist Borderpost
Firewild Borderpost
Restore Balance
Violent Outburst
Wildfield Borderpost

Lands (17)
Arid Mesa
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Misty Rainforest
Mountain
Plains
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Detention Sphere
Ingot Chewer
Kor Firewalker
Krosan Grip
Leyline of Sanctity
Mistveil Plains
Ricochet Trap

Fans of 5th-pick draft commons have had it good in Modern and its predecessors since 2010, when Living End arrived on the scene. Since then it’s been the subject of occasional PTQ/GP Top 8s and frequent mockery, both of which it deserves. This year it appeared on Magic’s largest stage in the hands of Michael Hetrick, who booked a 8-0 start at Pro Tour Valencia before falling back into the pack on Day 2:

Creatures (29)
Architects of Will
Deadshot Minotaur
Fulminator Mage
Jungle Weaver
Monstrous Carabid
Pale Recluse
Shriekmaw
Simian Spirit Guide
Street Wraith

Lands (19)
Forest
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Grove of the Burnwillows
Kessig Wolf Run
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Verdant Catacombs

Spells (12)
Violent Outburst
Demonic Dread
Living End
Sideboard (15)
Ingot Chewer
Shriekmaw
Sin Collector
Leyline of the Void
Jund Charm

Hypergenesis was much more explosive than Living End and was capable of much more busted starts, but in trading Emrakul for Deadshot Minotaur you gain a certain consistency. The conceptual beauty of Living End is that your cyclers both put themselves where they need to be for Living End and get you one card closer to a cascade spell. This helps the deck tremendously against discard and in any kind of long game. Want to match the control deck land drop for land drop? Seeing at least one extra card a turn lets you do that. Need to find a sideboard card to answer their hate? You may be drawing to two or three outs, but you have many more streets to hit them on.

(And of course, there are the games where Plan A is called off and you start hardcasting Valley Rannets, or you resolve a small or ‘desperation’ Living End and get to relive Alara Limited. The fact that Living End has a failure rate – that manifests itself in hilarious ways – is a knock against the deck from a pilot’s point of view, but speaks well to its contribution to the format).

One big problem with the deck is that, in a format of ruthless and quick combo decks, Living End usually makes a cursory effort of winning around turn 4, and doesn’t close out the game immediately. If you only bring back two creatures with Living End, a removal spell and any respectable blocker is enough to put the game back in their corner; and if you take time to power up your Living End, they have more chances to advance their own game plan. What if we traded in that staying power for racing stripes?

Creatures (24)
Monstrous Carabid
Deadshot Minotaur
Architects of Will
Glassdust Hulk
Street Wraith
Faerie Macabre

Spells (13)
Violent Outburst
Ardent Plea
Demonic Dread
Living End

Mana (3)
Simian Spirit Guide

Lands (20)
Mana Confluence
City of Brass
Gemstone Mine
Forbidden Orchard
Darkslick Shores
Seachrome Coast
Llanowar Wastes
Shivan Reef

This is a no-frills list built with the sole aim of resolving a big Living End as soon as possible. The most common way to stock your graveyard quickly outside of Street Wraith is:

T1: 1-mana Cycler
T2: 1-mana Cycler x2
T3: Living End

Hetrick’s list is better at this than most as he has Architects of Will alongside the Jund-tinted cyclers, but Glassdust Hulk gives us the full 16 ’1-drops’ and Faerie Macabre pitches for free too. Hetrick has only 8 cascade effects, and Demonic Dread spends a lot of time complaining that it has nobody to play with. This list has 8 unconditional cascaders, rising to 10 when Dread is relevant. All this is possible thanks to Mana Confluence, which allows us to play 16 rainbow lands and only have a few gaps to fill with fastlands/painlands.

With this manabase we can take our pick of sideboard cards as long as they fit the 3 CMC constraint. Ingot Chewer and now Wispmare are additional 1-mana ‘cyclers’ and efficient answers to hate cards (though beware of tension between Ingot Chewer and Architects/Hulk) and Shriekmaw is a more heavy-duty answer to creatures, Ricochet Trap is the go-to card against counterspells (Hetrick’s Sin Collectors complement these well, but with a rainbow manabase we get to upgrade to Vendilion Clique), and Beast Within is an all-purpose answer that lets you tax their mana. Timely Reinforcements is a possible safety valve against aggro decks. The 4th Living End belongs somewhere in the 75 as you don’t want to cascade or draw into them all when the game goes long against blue decks. The 3rd Demonic Dread in the board might be right too, as using it as a 3-mana Wrath is perfectly fine in some matchups.

As for possible resistance, you will face down countermagic at some point. Traditional Living End tries to pick fights with cards like Fulminator Mage or Beast Within that threaten to mess up the opponent’s mana. We can’t mimic that approach – we could sideboard Fulminator Mage, but most of the blue decks can also switch plans quickly with Snapcaster and Lightning Bolt, which happens to be great against our City of Brass/Mana Confluence deck; drawing out the game just plays into their hands. Instead, we have attack when their shields are down. They have to live in constant fear of Violent Outburst: you often get more time than you ‘should’ because they can’t afford to tap out as long as you have 3 mana open. You can exploit this with the help of Simian Spirit Guide: if you cycle mainphase when you have two land and play the land that you ‘topdecked’, most opponents will assume they have a turn of safety. Even if they know the premise of your deck, they often won’t be watching out for Simian Spirit Guide; and if they are, they may assume that it’s unlikely you have Outburst *and* Guide right here. In any case, EOT Outburst into a second cascader on your turn is the best way to fight through countermagic. The sideboard gives us Ricochet Trap, an efficient way to force through a spell that has random but useful applications against Snapcaster Mage.

Discard is much less of a concern than it is for most combo decks. Old favourites like Hive Mind and Enduring Ideal get written off, whatever their other strengths, because it’s so hard for them to beat a naked Thoughtseize. By contrast, this deck is as homogeneous as it gets for a combo deck – you have only have cyclers and cascaders. They’re gunning for your cascaders, but they have maybe 6 discard spells that they have to draw naturally while you have ten cascaders and can tear through your deck to find them. Discard is a worry when it’s stripping away your answer to a hate card, but beyond that it’s refreshingly easy to fight through.

Graveyard hate is in short supply at the moment – there’s no established ‘graveyard deck’, and there are so many bases to cover in Modern that you can’t waste sideboard slots on fringe decks. That means you rarely see full-on hate like Rest in Peace, which requires an answer; instead, the most you’ll face is Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus (and formerly Deathrite Shaman though, as Hetrick pointed out, the presence of DRS wasn’t all that bad as it forced graveyard-based decks out of the format and so reduced the need for dedicated hate). Most decks running Ooze either will often have non-green lands in play when they cast it, so you’re looking at two or maybe three activations on one turn. Rather than cycle every turn and let them use Ooze to full effect, it’s best to sandbag cyclers and fill your graveyard in one turn – you may only get to Living End for a few creatures, but that’s often enough. Alternatively, you can burn a cascade spell as a Wrath of God, and then cycle to your heart’s content. If you’re on the play, you can also just resolve a Living End before they get to untap with Ooze.

Relic of Progenitus is a little harder. If possible, bait a Relic activation with a ‘small’ Living End, and then with Living End still on the stack you can bin cyclers (typically the free cyclers in Street Wraith and Faerie Macabre) and proceed as normal; and, as above, you can sometimes just power through it with back-to-back cascade spells. If you want other cards in your graveyard to feed to the tap ability, deliberately ticking down Gemstone Mine can do the trick.

The deck is a blast to play – ‘drawing’ tons of cards, a splashy combo finish, and the occasional bizarre game that degenerates into primitive combat. It has a lot of raw power – you get to cast a thermonuclear Martial Coup on the third turn in most games – and can easily steal games even in ‘bad’ matchups. I highly recommend giving it a try.

September Vices

by: Jason Waddell

Here’s some shit I’m into.

BoJack Horseman

bojackHorseman

I don’t know if this is actually a good television show. Do we still say “television”, even with a complete disassociation of the physical technology? The phrase “do you want to play Nintendo” outlived my ownership of a Japanese console.

BoJack Horseman is a Netflix produced cartoon about a has-been horse-man, washed up and former star of of a tacky Full House-esque nineties sitcom. The voice acting selection seemed hand picked to pique my interests, starring Will Arnett, Alison Brie and Aaron Paul. I’m well aware that my taste in actors reads like a listicle from Stuff White People Like. The casting got me in the door, and a general need for escapism kept me there.

I don’t know if BoJack Horseman is actually a good show. If you’re looking for something on par with the quality delivered by Arrested Development, Community and Breaking Bad, this isn’t the place. BoJack deals in relatively dark themes for a cartoon, but more often than not misses the emotional mark. Despite my misgivings, I endured the entire first season, which is perhaps a testament. It doesn’t “get better”, so if you’re not sold after an episode or two, I’d give it a pass.

Recommended for: People who don’t need much comedy in their animated comedies.

 

Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour

toddbarry-thecrowdworktour-585x439

I first discovered Todd Barry through his appearances in Season 4 of Louie, where Todd regaled a bar crowd with his retelling of a petty victory over a local comedy club owner who had mistakenly typed his name as “Todd Berry”. Todd Barry practices a perfected style of dry comedy, but here discards prepared material for a script-less crowd work tour. With some comics crowd work can feel like a hack collection of canned barbs masquerading under the guise of improvisation, but Barry’s work is truly entertaining and hits all the right notes.

You can buy The Crowd Work Tour for a fiver over at Louis CK’s site.

Recommended For: People who claim to “love to laugh” in their dating profiles.

This Shirt from Pull and Bear

IMG-20140909-WA0012

 

The above picture is a product of a misguided attempt to win a girl back with the flirtatious guessing game “what’s in my mouth”, hoping she would someday return the favor. We’d been watching Project Runway together in recent weeks, and I had hoped she would appreciate the aesthetic alignment of the shirt pocket with the (spoiler alert) Kinder Surprise capsule. The whole thing was a failure, which goes to show, there’s no accounting for taste.

Recommended for: Losers.

 

Zinedine Zidane

Recommended for: People who feel the robbery scene from Spring Breakers didn’t live up to its potential.

Optimizing Poker Decisions using ICM

by: Jason Waddell

Poker is a hard game. Tournaments payouts add a layer of complexity to the process. Chips won do not directly correlate to dollars earned. Let’s take a relatively simple hand.

icm1

 

We are in the top 3 of a tournament with the following payout structure:

  • 1st: $30.15
  • 2nd: $18.10
  • 3rd: $12.05

The player on the button folds, and we are left with a rather binary decision: push or fold. Although our hand is terrible, the cards are live, and letting the small stack double-up for free by taking the blinds isn’t a terribly attracting. How can this hand play out? Discretely there are 4 possibilities:

  • We raise, are called and win.
  • We raise, are called and lose.
  • We raise and our opponent folds.
  • We fold.

How do we make that decision? Enter the Independent Chip Model (ICM), a model which translates the players’ tournament holdings to their expected tournament winnings in dollars (or any other currency). Basically, plug in the payout structure and each player’s stack size, and ICM gives you each player’s expected winnings.

The above four outcomes result in the following stack sizes at end of hand:

Starting Stacks:
1682 (Button)
1790 (Hero)
1028 (BB)

Stacks if we raise, are called and we win:
1652
2848
0

Stacks if we raise, are called and we lose:
1652
762
2086

Stacks if we raise and villain folds:
1652
2150
698

Stacks if we fold:
1652
1610
1238

In terms of ICM for the hero (that’s us!), we have:

ICM pre-hand: 21.4

  • ICM if called and we win: 25.6 (+4.2)
  • ICM if called and we lose: 16.6 (-4.8)
  • ICM if raise and villain folds: 22.90 (+1.5)
  • ICM if we fold: 20.6 (-0.8)

Broken down like this, the decision is purely mathematical, as a function of two quantities:

  • The probability villain folds to our shove
  • The probability that we win, given a call.

This is a simple expected value calculation, bread and butter for any statistics student. Villain’s cards are unknown, and using simulation we know that the probability our hand (57 offsuit) beats a random hand is 40.5%. This is a bit of a simplification, as villain’s probability of calling could change as a function of his hole cards, but in this situation it should be fairly representative.

What is the probability villain folds? Well that’s a true unknown, and one we have to guess at. But first, let’s see what our expected ICM looks like as a function of villain’s probability of folding. The weighted expected value calculation is:

icm2

 

Next, we visualize this formula by examining expected ICM as a function of our villain’s probability of folding (p_fold).

icm3

 

If we fold, we know our expected ICM: it’s fixed at $20.6. Thus, we want to pick the option that maximizes our ICM. Here, we can calculate where the black and blue lines cross. Solving for p_fold, we get a value of 0.134, or 13.4%. So the question is, do we expect villain to fold more than 13.4% of the time?

Let’s step into his shoes for a moment. His remaining chip stack is 698. If we shove, he faces calling his stack to win a pot of 300 + 300 + 90 + 698, or 1388. This is giving him odds of almost exactly 2:1 to call, which means he is properly priced to call with basically any two cards.

Thus I expect villain to fold less than 13.4% of the time, and we go ahead and fold our cards.

 

Discuss this article in our forums.

Notes from the Road: Switzerland

By: James Stevenson

Back in March I was filling in my “Reason to go Switzerland” list, as one does, and it was looking pretty good:

1) I have dear friends there I haven’t seen in a while.

2) It’s not London.

3) It’s my birthday soon, and after I waste lots of money on birthday presents for myself it would be a good idea to miss some work and blow more money on a short trip.

4) I need to hitchhike so I can blog about it and my friends can tell me what a great writer I am.

These were all good reasons but the real reason was number 5:

5) My friend Andrew wants to give me his record collection and he lives there.

I collect records so that I can look cool. I’ve got a bookshelf filled up with records and second hand books so that when people come visit me they’re impressed with my intelligence and material wealth. “A man that devoted to archaic media must be a manly man indeed,” they think. I bought some expensive looking music equipment to complete the effect, and I even bought lights for the room to make it clear that I do actually read.

Sometimes, though, I notice people don’t even glance at my amazing possessions, and that really annoys me. The solution is obviously that I need more records, so when Andrew very generously offered me his collection I gleefully accepted.

My first thought was to hitchhike to England with them, after all, the cheapest way to move stuff between countries is definitely to get other people to pay for gas. I’d never hitchhiked with that much baggage before, though. Would anybody give me a lift? I wasn’t sure until I heard about this:

As the story goes, Tony Hawks, the author, accepted a drunken bet to hitchhike around Ireland with a refrigerator. He started in Dublin and made it all the way around the coast, up through Northern Ireland and back down anti-clockwise. If he could do that then I could do my trip with a couple bags of records. Easy.

So it was settled. I got up early and headed to the spot, an intersection in Sidcup. As far as I know, Sidcup is a pretty nowhere place in south London, but it’s quite dear to me.

I first discovered Sidcup back in 2012, when I was hitchhiking for the first time. It was after a long day of bad luck. I’d been stuck in a gas station in Belgium that morning, trying to get a lift for 5 hours and getting a horrendous sunburn instead. When I ended up on the ferry to England that night I was exhausted and red like a lobster. It was late and dark and I didn’t really have any idea what I was going to do when I got to Dover.

On the ship I met a group of English guys and they offered me a lift. They were five or six rough looking London guys, dressed in leather or whatnot, and they had names like Jacko, Panache, Rizzo and Moses. This one guy Joey was constantly joking around and laughing and the whole scene made me nervous. I honestly thought they were gunna rob me. “What the hell,” I thought, “at least it’ll make a good story”.

As it turned out, they were 1.5 bands (The Vex and The Supernovas) travelling back to England after playing some gigs together in Europe. We piled into their van, and the guys were all holding amps or guitars on their laps just to make room for me on the last seat. They were all super nice, but I was still scared. Once we got on our way they started blasting Chas & Dave, some ridiculous old English comedy music. They were all singing along at the top of their lungs and laughing as we sped down the motorway. I started to laugh too, long and loud and deep, and all my fear just went out of me completely. These were excellent people.

We ended up pulling into Sidcup some time after midnight to drop Jacko off. They asked me if I’d ever heard of Sidcup and laughed when I said I didn’t. I got the impression that nobody has ever heard of Sidcup. A couple days later I was on my way out of London again, and the spot for getting a ride to Dover turned out to be in Sidcup. I was overjoyed.

And so once again I found myself waiting there this March, holding my sign for Dover and watching cars blow past me in the morning air. I nibbled some stroopwafels and waited, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back. A mass of cyclists drove past me and cheered. Later someone drove by and threw a rock at me. After a couple hours, around 11 o’clock, someone pulled over and offered to take me to train station and buy me a ticket to Dover. I turned him down, assuring him I’d get a lift.

By then the traffic was starting to thin a little and I really wasn’t sure I would get a lift, but just as he pulled away a lady pulled over and offered me a ride. She gave me a cup of tea and we sped happily away. My driver was in her early 60s, on her way to a new home outside the city. She’d lived in London her whole life, including a year or more homeless. She’d lived in a building full of squatters, whole families raising children and whatnot. It sounded very communal and friendly; she said the kids were all kind of raised together by the whole group.

She let me out at a service station very close to Dover, and I started asking everyone if they were driving to Dover. One man got out of his car and started walking towards the shop, moving in a bit of hurry. I figured I had nothing to lose and asked him if he was heading to Dover. He said he was.

“Any chance you could give me a lift?” I asked.

He laughed to himself, as if he’d wished he said something different but hadn’t thought fast enough.

“All right. Wait here and I’ll be out in a moment.” He hurried away into the shop, with a funny little smile on his face.

This turned out to be one of the most interesting rides I’ve had. My driver was a doctor on a way to a meeting in Dover. He was in charge of a region of hospitals in the south of England, and he struck me as a very smart man. He often had that little smile, as if the world amused him in many little ways.

We were somewhere in the meat of our conversation when we got to talking about suicide.

“You know, doctors have the highest suicide rate in the country,” he said.

“Oh really? I guess it’s pretty stressful, right?” I asked.

“Well it is, but it’s not really that. I think when a doctor decides to kill himself he knows how to do it. You almost never get a doctor that tried to kill themselves and failed.”

“Do you know what you would do?” I asked after a pause.

“I know exactly how I’d do it,” he replied. “I’d inject myself with morphine and insulin.”

“How does that work?” I asked.

“First morphine to take away all the pain,” he told me. “Then I’d inject myself with insulin and my blood sugar would start to drop. I would drift off and my heart would stop. It would be very peaceful and easy.”

We didn’t speak for a short minute.

I told him about how the Celts used to throw themselves off cliffs when they got old and decided they’d become burdens on their families. (Come to think of it, I have no idea if this is true.) They also used to go into battle almost completely naked, wearing nothing but a golden torc. I said I had this crazy idea to get up on a building, get naked, put on a torc, and jump off when I was old and thought it was time. He was afraid of heights and didn’t like the idea.

We agreed that there’s never really a point in your life when you think it’s time to die. The desire to live is buried so deep in us that it is very hard to reject. That said, there is a beautiful French phrase: “L’appel du vide”, or “the call of the void”. It’s the temptation some people feel in high places, on top of a building or a cliff, the temptation to just take that plunge. I’ve had that feeling before. It’s terrifying.

In Dover I made my way to the ferry terminal and tried to get a lift with someone. I never have much success here, as most people already have their tickets booked and just drive straight to the ship. I didn’t waste too much time and bought a ticket pretty quickly.

On the ship I asked every person I could find, and all but one kind man turned me down. He was driving south to Paris, and could take me about one hundred kilometres before we’d have to part ways.

We got on the road and settled in for a long ride. Brian, my driver, lived on a houseboat in Paris and was a pilot for EasyJet. He must have been sixty or more. Years ago, he’d studied aeronautical engineering, and he was telling me all kinds of things about the degree he did. He loved to tell me stories about the things he’d studied, since I knew a little about the mathematics he’d done. He told me about proving little mathematical things during his degree, and I got the feeling he rarely talked to anyone that he could tell these stories to. Now that I think about it, he strikes me as a little lonely.

He told me he was hitchhiking once and had been picked up by a one-eyed man in a Jaguar. One-Eye was on his way to a date, and he was pretty nervous, so he brought Brian along with him. They went to a pub and had a few drinks, and when the girl arrived she turned out to be stunningly beautiful. One-Eye was still a little nervous, and they invited Brian along with them. Brian could tell it was going to work out and left them to it.

He told me later that he wanted to get a motorbike when he retired, and ride around like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

“When I leave the plane after a flight I always say to the crew ‘I’ll be back!’, but they never get it.”

Brian ended up going out of his way and taking me another 80km to a gas station near St. Quentin. He let me out and we said a warm goodbye. After a good ride the goodbye is always a little strange. You’ve been friends for a few hours and now you both know you’ll never see each other again. You both feel like saying “Hey well I’ll see you again soon, right?” but you don’t, and there’s kind of a hole in your words where this sentence is supposed to go.

Brian drove away and I went into the shop. I idly watched the TV, where Daniel Radcliffe was doing a dubbed sex scene in French. It was pretty late; not many cars were coming through and the truckers were all bunking down for the night.

Eventually the place closed up and the staff kicked me out of the café. There was still one little hallway open in the back of the building, so I found a corner where I could hide and curled up to read a book and get some sleep. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to sleep there, so I didn’t get my sleeping bag out or anything. I lay down under my sweater and shivered nervously all night, wondering if the door next to me would open up and some janitor would step through, see me, and kick me out into the cold. It wasn’t until around 4am that I realised how dumb I was being. I got out my sleeping bag and got comfy, but before long a group of truckers started hanging around the coffee machines, chatting loudly. I couldn’t get any sleep, so as soon as the café opened I went back inside and got a cup of coffee.

The early morning traffic was coming in and I asking around for a lift. I wanted to head south to Reims, then cut east towards Alsace. Last summer I’d been on this route. I’d actually been picked up by the police because I was standing on the edge of the motorway trying to thumb a lift. They’d taken me to a big service station and there’d been loads of drivers heading to Switzerland, so I wanted to head that way again.

Around 7am I met a young Dutch couple on their way to Geneva. Their car was jammed full of baggage, and they told me they didn’t have any space. They were pretty friendly, though, so I was disappointed. I went back inside the café. Later I saw the man, Jeffrey, again and struck up a conversation. We were just chatting about travelling and whatnot when his wife, Rosmili, came by and joined us.

“We were talking before about maybe moving some of our stuff over and getting a seat for you,” Jeffrey told me.

“But we need to know that you’re not going to murder us,” Rosmili said.

I laughed and promised not to kill them. I guess they were satisfied, so we went to their car and looked at our maps. Geneva was not where I wanted to go at all, but I liked them so much I decided to go with them. They didn’t seem to mind. We piled in and sped away!

“I just want to apologise, in advance,” I said, “but I didn’t really get any sleep last night. If I fall asleep please don’t think I’m rude.”

In the end we rode together for five hours or more, and we talked the entire time. They were absolutely excellent people, interesting and friendly and smart. We bullshitted about all the things I love to bullshit about: films and books and music, travelling, people, and of course the standard intellectual conversation things like religion and death and happiness and whatnot. They’d been married twelve years, but they seemed to me still very much in love, and very happy. They told me they’d decided not to have kids. They were perfectly happy enjoying the world together as the two of them. They were very refreshing; I wish there were more people like them.

When we reached Geneva the goodbye felt very wrong. That hole where one of us should have said “Hey, we should keep in touch” was gaping and obvious, but we both resisted. We hugged and they pulled away. “Be safe!” Rosmili shouted.

I was finally in Switzerland, and I was starving. I bought a gigantic Easter bunny and a loaf of zopf, which is this amazing Swiss bread made with some inordinate amount of butter. I made my way lazily toward the train station, eating happily. My weariness started to set in, and I began to feel terrible. I kept eating.

I thought about hitchhiking to Zurich, but when I reached the train station I got jumped by a bunch of ticket machines. They beat me up and emptied my wallet. They threw a ticket to Zurich at me and said if they ever saw me around there again there’d be trouble. I got on a train, stuffed my mouth with butter bread and chocolate, wondered why I felt even worse than before, and fell asleep.

Four days later I was back on the road with fifteen kilos of vinyl that I could barely carry. I managed to get home to London in one day: 19 hours and five lifts door to door. Not much of this trip stands out in my memory, except this rich Swiss hippie telling me about his expensive music equipment and how he preferred LSD and DMT parties to cocaine parties. I remember one of my drivers telling me to go to Laos and rent a motorbike. I also remember taking the train home from Dover with this random dude I met on the ferry. We didn’t have much to talk about except this other little kid who walked passed and said “You’re a couple of cunts, aren’t ya,” then disappeared down the train.

Now it’s midnight two months later and I’m in a café watching old guys play chess. I’m trying to work out what my closing thoughts are. There’s something hypocritical about a guy with a top mathematics degree sticking his thumb out and asking for help, getting total strangers to carry his Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd albums six hundred miles across Europe. There’s also something strange about meeting amazing people and deciding never to see them again. There’s something wonderful about that funny little smile my second driver wore. I don’t know what it all means, I’m just going to keep hitchhiking until I work it out.