I wish I could say that this year I’d manned up and joined Gimpo as he patrolled the borders of London.
Sadly, I wussed out, and the Spin remained yet again a Rob-free zone. I console myself with the fact that there’s still a chunk of time to go. There are seven Spins left for me to make my mark.
This year, Gimpo was largely on his own. It is, I guess, inevitable that at some point the mission will boil down to its essential elements: a man, a sacrifice, a journey mapped as much in time as in distance.
Gimpo was, however, joined for one lap of the Spin by Mark – Iron Man Records, who has been a regular and enthusiastic chronicler of the way of the Spin. With his permission, Excuses And Half Truths is proud to present his illustrated witness statement of his time on the road with Gimpo.
Strap in, get comfortable. This one could take a while.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I had been working on the release of the new John Sinclair record “Mohawk.” By the time I climbed into the car and started the engine it was 10am. I drove to London and dropped the car in Brentford. I picked up the keys. I had a 9 seater VW Splitter van on hire from DYC Touring and headed to Shepherd’s Bush. I wasn’t due to meet the band until 3pm so I had a bit of time to park up and make phone calls.
If I was applying for a job I’d probably tell you I’m a tour manager, a music manager. I can drive a splitter van and tow trailers, and I have a clean driving licence. I could tell you I’ve been running a record label called Iron Man Records for 18 years, I play in a couple of bands, I run a few websites, I work freelance and so on. In reality, I don’t apply for jobs, employers find their way to me on personal recommendation because no one else, in a right mind, will take their work on. The day was looking no different to any other. The phone was ringing.
I have to do many things on a daily basis just to keep things moving, some of it for money, some of it for free, some of it because I have no other choice and some of it for reasons of pure nonsense. Don’t ask me to explain.
Gimpo was due to start the 25 hour M25 Spin at midday, so by now he should have completed a lap and be half way round the next one. The time was 2pm and my phone was lighting up with messages from people asking if I was on the Spin this year. Not this year. I was driving a band called Tenterhook to Hereford for a gig at The Jailhouse. They needed a driver and had a small budget to work with. I had no money, and on that basis I was “available” to do the work. Gimpo was planning to do the M25 Spin solo this year. You can’t reason with someone like Gimpo. He thinks things up and goes and does them. No discussion. No explanation. The Tao of Gimpo.
I had decided to leave him to it for now. For various reasons Tim, who usually drives the van for the whole 25 hours, was unable to make it this year. Sharon, who handles navigation and supplies while Tim is at the wheel, was stuck in Guatemala with no money for a plane ticket. Todd, who looks after the website www.GimpoGimpo.com was in New Jersey. I already had several messages from him asking “What the fuck’s going on?”
Did I know what was going on? Can anyone know what’s going on in Gimpo’s mind? I managed to speak to Tim: he had been in touch with the man himself. Gimpo had made a start, but had only got half way round. Tim was worried about progress. Gimpo hadn’t got very far and Tim had been questioning Gimpo at length. “Half a lap? What are you doing? Selling ice cream? Get a move on, there’s work to do.” It seemed to me that Gimpo was having technical problems. Gimpo was driving his own car this year in an attempt to do the M25 Spin solo for the first time. This might all sound pretty good, but the reality was a little different.
The CD player was broken in Gimpo’s car and the radio doesn’t really do it these days. Gimpo had fixed up the video camera with cable ties, and had a stock of blank mini DV tapes at the ready. But, there were a few other issues that hadn’t been thought through. You can’t drive and text, can you? You can’t drive and take pictures, can you? You cant drive, take pictures, text, answer the phone, send emails or reply to requests, can you?
So what was Gimpo to do? He was already on the M25 spin. Solo. No support. And how was he going to document the event? He had stopped at Clacket Lane Services to discover this was going to be a long and complicated day. He had an iPhone, with a SIM card, which gave him free internet access but the camera on his Nokia phone was better. For some reason the Nokia wouldn’t send emails so Todd wasn’t going to get any picture updates for the website.
I rang Gimpo, as time was moving on, to find out what he was up to. Gimpo would not be stopped by anyone. Gimpo was doing the M25 Spin and he would do it solo with or without anyone knowing about it. I had to go. It was nearly 3pm, the band needed to be in Hereford for 6pm. I told Gimpo I would come and find him when I got back after the gig. He would have to go it alone till then.
3pm arrived and I found myself collecting a band, who are being managed by one of the few capable music management companies I know. They look after Madness, so no joke, they are going to do good things with this lot. The band are actually a singer and songwriter with a great voice who plays the guitar and goes under the name of Tenterhook. He’s 19. He works with some other musicians who play drums, guitar, bass and keys. The van was loaded and by 3.15pm we were on the road to Hereford. The gig was just like any other I’ve been to. Headliners took for ever getting their soundcheck done, they didn’t really speak to anyone and then vanished. The lot I was with sound checked and agreed last details like set order, start and finish time, and made a start on the limited rider provided by the venue staff.
By now there was a long list of messages and emails asking what the fuck was going on? Where was Gimpo? Was he OK? What did I know? Had I heard anything? The Spin was on, nobody needed to know. Gimpo was at the wheel and with that thought in mind, it’s probably better not to know what’s going on.
Tenterhook didn’t go onstage till much later than planned. The band had a good one. It was their first gig and the applause gave the band the endorsement they were hoping for.
Outside the band members gathered to load the van while people came out of the the venue to chat and find out who they were, and where they had come from. It was their first gig together.
On the way back to London beers were opened, and the talk was of the gig and what had just gone on. The band knew how much work was ahead but it seemed like a good start to the process.
I dropped the band back at 5am and taxis were waiting to take people home from the meeting point. “Where are you going now, where are you staying?” came the inevitable question. I unloaded the gear and handed it to the exhausted band members. “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know” was my reply. I could see there were a load of messages that had come in on my phone while I was driving back from Hereford. I dared not even look till the van was parked, the gear unloaded, and the band already gone.
The phone was full of madness. I called Gimpo and found him at Clacket Lane Services. He had just pulled in to try and send some pictures to Todd. No change there then. I suggested we meet at Cobham services, only 30 minutes further round, to talk through what was going on.
I arrived at Cobham around 6am having dropped the splitter van back to DYC Touring on the way. The parking at Cobham is free for 2 hours then its £25 for up to 24 hours. As I despaired at the parking situation, Gimpo arrived. “Don’t worry about parking, Mark. Let’s book a meeting room for £8, the parking is free with that.” Nice try, Gimpo. I wasn’t about to try booking a meeting room at 6am on a Sunday morning. Neither of us looked in any way believable and if we booked a meeting room and then vanished it may generate suspicion. We defaulted to the only option available, a cup of tea from Greggs and a meeting in the comfy chair area to work out what sort of plan might be possible under the circumstances.
Gimpo started emptying his pockets of leads, head phones, charger cables, car keys, phones and assorted other items. He explained the problem. “I’ve got this iPhone but you need two hands to work the camera. This Nokia has a better camera, and you can work it one handed, but I can’t get it to work. I can’t send emails to Todd.” I looked at both and tried to have a go at getting the Nokia to work. It was full of pictures, but no, the internet wasn’t working and I couldn’t work out how to get it to send and receive.
We finished the tea and returned to the vehicles. Gimpo said, “Let’s drop your car off on the A3. I know a place where Bill and Jimmy took a load of journalists in the middle of the night. Ockham Common. It’s where we showed the money nailed to a piece of wood.” That sounded like a great idea, even if no one would even remember or believe the basis upon which the suggestion had been made. I digress. I refused to pay £25 to park my car. That’s a waste of money, isn’t it?
I followed Gimpo back onto the M25 and just one stop further on we turned off onto the A3 and headed south for a few minutes. On the left is Ockham woods and there’s a car park with free parking. I parked my car and took what valuables I had with me. The early morning doggers looked on as Gimpo explained at length and in detail about his previous visits with Bill and Jimmy. I listened with interest as the story poured out and I transferred my stuff to Gimpo’s car. I didn’t have to time to think about the rest.
In a few minutes Gimpo was back on the M25 and the Spin continued. Gimpo looked worn out but determined. This was his M25 spin, he was the artist here, and no one was going to stop him. This was his first solo M25 spin. The phone rang and Gimpo activated his hands free set. It was Tim. Tim sounded like he was checking in to be sure that nothing had gone wrong. Gimpo passed the phone across. “Hi Mark, is everything all right?” he asked. Tim and I chatted a while longer and I handed the phone back. Gimpo continued on with the story about the phone versus camera versus driving solo problem. And then Tim was gone, and the Spin continued.
Next up was the “Give Peas a Chance” Bridge, just north of J16 where the M25 crosses the M40. We headed North while Gimpo endlessly flipped from one radio station to the next, attempting to find anything worth listening to, whilst broadcasting his irritation at the fact the cd player was broken and he had no “modern music” to listen to.
Gimpo drove at a steady 56 miles an hour. “The price of bloody fuel these days Mark, it’s a rip off,” he said. “The Spin gets more and more expensive every year. The only thing I can do is drive at what the car manual says is the most economical speed. 56 miles an hour. It’s not a race.”
Gimpo turned off at J23, South Mimms. He wanted to get some fruit juice and have a driving break. He parked up and as we both walked into the services he spotted four “Beat The Street” double decker tour buses parked up. “That’ll be Elton John or some other shit I bet,” he said. “Who do these people think they are?”
Once inside I got a dissertation on the pros and cons of Krispie Kreme Donuts and Gimpo’s theory on who buys them, how, and why.
Back outside Gimpo showed me how he had stuck his signs to the roof of the car with gaffer tape. Only the truck drivers or bus passengers would see. We got back in the car and Gimpo set to work labelling and loading the next tape to go in the video camera. We headed back onto the M25 and I got the full account of Spin Island, the only island on the M25. Gimpo wants to plant an Argentinian flag on it. He says he’d like to buy it and give it to the owners of Stott Hall Farm, between J22 and J23 on the M62. The story goes they refused to sell up and move house when they built the M62 Motorway over the Pennines so by rights, they should have Spin Island too. Gimpo says there’s a hot spring on Spin Island. That’s why they had to split the motorway to go around it.
Onwards through a couple of tunnels then it was up over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. Traditionally the Spin starts there at midday on the Saturday, top dead centre. Descending on the other side Gimpo only uses toll booth number 23. Gimpo paid the toll and as the barrier went up it was almost exactly 9am.
Next stop was Clacket Lane Services. “Doggers Delight!” Gimpo declared. “They put a rat trap in the hedge just there but the rat dug a hole underneath it.” More fruit juice and a quick driving break before moving on to Cobham and the lap was completed. Gimpo still couldn’t find anything to listen to on the radio. He switched it off in despair. “Where’s Tim?” he shouted, “He always has the music, we need Tim here to put the music on.”
Gimpo explained he wanted to do the last lap by himself so he dropped me back to my car. A committed artist. I collected my car and followed Gimpo back onto the M25. Some things just can’t be explained. Gimpo is making the world’s longest road movie. He wants to know where the M25 goes. His plan is to drive round the M25 every year on the closest Saturday night/Sunday morning to 21 March each year for 25 years. Gimpo has 7 years left to completion.
I looked across at the other drivers as they passed by on their way to nowhere, circling the nation’s capital. Another ruin of a world city. Gimpo was ahead at a steady 56mph, unmoved in his commitment to the work. Who would know who was in the car in front? An artist alone at work. An artist without a name or a country. An artist who has nothing in common with you. An artist filming the world’s longest road movie in an attempt to find out where the M25 goes. An artist with no gods and no masters. The M25, the London Orbital Motorway, 117 miles of open road where Gimpo is the artist. One man, just getting into it for himself.
Thanks again, Mark. Sterling work. More to come on the subject, of course. Seven years to go. The Spin prevails.
For more on Mark and Iron Man Records, hie thee to his website: http://www.ironmanrecords.co.uk/