My life in travel: John Cooper Clarke

'The Dalí museum in Figueres was better than any amusement arcade'

Performance poet John Cooper Clarke appears at Festival No 6 in Portmeirion
from 13-15 September ( His new UK theatre tour starts in
late September and runs through to December (john

First holiday memory?

Rhyl in North Wales, the one abiding memory being that it's where I had my first hamburger. I'd always wanted one, because I was a massive fan of the films of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as a child, so all things American were very attractive.

I bought a meat sandwich, from Wimpy, and it was like the gold standard in food for me at that time. I also remember freedom, the seaside and the sight of the ocean.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Essex, because it's where I live. It's synonymous with comfort, security and the love of my family. I chose to live there for a woman, who's now my wife, so I'm on safe ground in Essex.

Best holiday?

I'm very fond of the Spanish people and I've always had a good time there. I once visited the Salvador Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figueres, which was unforgettable. My wife is French, so we were over in the South of France first for a big family wedding and then we spent a week in Spain and made a point of going to the museum. It was better than any amusement arcade.

What have you learnt from your travels?

If possible, try to sail there. The days of the gentleman aviator are long gone. Air travel is a thoroughly despicable, horrible experience. I have to get planes for my job, but in the future, if I was going anywhere, I would be inclined to sail.

Ideal travelling companion?

For work, Johnny Green, my delinquent road manager, because he's cheerful in all weathers and he gets up before I do. For pleasure, my immediate family.

Holiday reading?

Something that you can dip into. At the moment, I'm reading Museum Without Walls by Jonathan Meades. Each chapter is self-contained, about a particular architectural phenomenon or a particular location, the basic premise being, there's no such thing as a boring place. With the possible exception of Finland.

Where has seduced you?

New York. I like the feeling of the place. I'm from a very Jewish part of Manchester, so whenever I see Hasidic Jews I feel slightly at home. It's a long time since I've been to New York, the last time was 1981, so I'm sure it's a very different place now. The mayor's cleaned it up since then and it's now a top-dollar spot.

Worst travel experience?

I don't really like the act of travelling, unless it's in a car. I consider my time spent in the passenger seat of an automobile to be golden. Whenever I get where I'm going, I don't want to get out.

Worst hotel?

A place just outside Northampton, on the Grand Union Canal. I've never had a guy more delighted to tell me that I couldn't have anything to eat in all my life. He couldn't disguise his joy. Given the fact that there's only the service industry standing between me and utter penury, the future doesn't look good.

Best hotel?

The Hotel Du Vin is a good chain. Also, the President Hotel in Moscow was terrific. You got the impression everybody was listening in.

That whole trip was a great journey. I did a gig there and travelled home in one day, so I didn't have much time to take in the sights, but crikey, talk about the Eighth Wonder of the World: the metro system in Moscow is unbelievable. Just looking at the stations, with all that heroic Soviet statuary and didactic mosaics. It was like Stalin's shop window – it took your breath away.

Favourite drive?

The Côte Sauvage on the Atlantic Coast of France. You've got jagged rocks and some pretty fine scenery, which the road follows for a long time between La Palmyre and La Tremblade.

Best meal abroad?

There was a lot of caviar after the Russian gig. They took us out for dinner, which was a pretty good meal. They drink vodka like it's chardonnay over there.

Favourite city?

Genoa in northern Italy. I did a show there with Johnny Thunders [the American punk rock guitarist] back in the day and had a great time. Johnny speaks a bit of the language which was a lot of help when it came to ordering food. You can always get something to eat in Italy, but in Genoa we ate like kings.

Where next?

I'm going to spend time in France with my wife's side of the family. She's from the north, but we're staying with her sister in St-Nazaire on the west coast.

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