So I thought coming to Wales, my place of sanctity, my true love, would really do me some good. Knowing how many happy memories I have here, it was a sure thing that I would feel relief and some relaxation.
But no! Not the case. Arriving here was fine, but no drive to go to my favourite places, just headed for the cemetery to pay my respects and lay flowers.
Then off to see Chris and Dyfrig, the friendly old couple who have given me so much comfort over the years. Plan just to drop a card in, say hi, and go. Obviously I had to exchange a few words, but a minute in and I was shaking, breathing hard and wanted out. Thankfully I had managed to say I wasn't staying by that time. Dyfrig saw I wasn't comfortable and helped me with my exit.
Wow that felt crappy, but I promised to return as soon as my head is better.
An epic adventure like that could only mean one thing (for me anyway), another roadtrip to collect another epic ink from the amazing Craig Foster.
Following the trip to Carrollton, GA (USA) earlier in the year, and hearing Craig would be just over the water in The Netherlands, it was a no brainer, and the planning for the trip begun. In fact the planning begun before Craig had even confirmed he had a slot free for me, but be prepared and all that.
About a week ago Craig confirmed that the wonderful Veerle London of Kingdom Tattoos in Alkmaar who was playing host to Craig for his trip, had agreed to let him open up on the Sunday (usually closed) and for him to do my tattoo for me. I can't thank the guys enough for making this happen.
So, after lots of planning, we decided on the 3.40am ferry to Calais from Dover. Getting up that early feels so wrong, and knowing you will be up for a long time to come yet boggles the mind, but it had to be done. Just after 1.30am we left my house on a miserable morning, and headed for the port. My companions on the trip were my as ever wonderful girlfriend Chantal, and a great friend of mine, and tattoo lover, Jason. The first leg of the trip was horrible and slow, but we made it in time, just about.
The weapon of choice for the trip.
Health and what? Smoking in the booth.
Made it with minutes to spare.
Waiting to board.
Park up tight now.
Once on board, and finally starting to wake up, we had a short walk around before stumbling across the food court. Serving hot food from 2am, well thats just dandy now. As we approached it was clear breakfast was being served, so it would be rude not to. Now being used to rip off prices on most transport systems, I was shocked when I was told that a 7 piece breakfast could be had for £7 and a 10 piece for £10. Aiming for a 10 piece I got picking, but gave up at 7 with a full plate. We all ate well, but here was mine. Delicious too I must say, well done P&O Ferries
One of the best full English breakfasts I have had in a long while.
Tummy full, and boat docking, it was time to get going. Our route would take us through France, into Belgium, and then onto The Netherlands, past Amsterdam and finally onto Alkmaar. Starting out in the dark, and Chantal's first time driving a RHD on the right side of the road, we slowly built up our pace. As we crossed into Belgium the sun started to rise, and the day was really starting, finally something to see.
Obligatory sunrise shots.
With full daylight reading roadsigns became easier, and seeing the sights became more pleasurable. One thing these countries have really embraced is wind turbines. Personally I love them, they can make a dull landscape come to life, are an amazing feat of technology, and after all, are green. Sadly all this excitement caused one of us to need a little nap... Jason !
On went the journey, and on marched my enjoyment of the scenery, and the taking of pictures. Bridges were the next thing to catch my attention, and some very artistic ones at that. Trying to snap shots from a moving car on a mobile phone, as it bumps and bounces over the roads is a challenge, but I managed here and there to get a few nice shots.
After what seemed like a short trip, even Chantal commenting that it had gone really quickly, and Jason having no idea how long it had taken due to sleeping, the sign we had all been waiting to see finally appeared. Alkmaar 44km
A short while later, we rolled into the cobbled streets of Alkmaar, and with the guidance of good old Google Maps found our way to the destination of the day, Kingdom Tattoos. Only down side was it was now about 9am on a Sunday morning in a town which barely opens before midday, if at all on a Sunday. Parked and ready to go, we decided for a little walk to familiarise ourselves with the area, and soak up some culture. First up, confirm where we were going later.
Kingdom Tattoos, 27 Dijk, Alkmaar
Now it was time for a little adventure, and a walk around the town. First off I have to say, quite simply beautiful. Full of lovely places to see, buildings old and new, canals, bridges, and of course.... the odd windmill. The next thing we noted was just how many people cycle around. I know its the stereotype of the Netherlands, people ride everywhere, but they really do! Old, young, trendy or plain, everyone zips around on their pushbikes, and very few of them on anything expensive or super high tech. The bike style is very generic and of years gone by. Function over form for a place which embraces the method of transport, and no lycra warriors.
So let me share with you a few of the sights we found on our morning walk. For which the weather was truly beautiful.
Windy Millers house
Look carefully, there is someone standing there
Calmer than the River Thames for sure.
Adventure over, and after a long and somewhat painful search for a public toilet to use, It was almost 1pm and time to hassle Craig to see if he was ready. Speaking of public toilets, they are really not easy to find, but after a long search we (I say we, I mean Chantal) found a shopping centre and there was one to use. The irony was, there was a toilet about 50ft from where we had parked the car, but instead we walked miles in search.
So we grabbed snacks and drinks, and headed back to the shop to wait for Craig, the wait was a short one, and within minutes we were in the warmth of the shop, and being greeted like old friends. The conversation carried on from where it last left off in Carrollton, and the fun began. I say fun as its the only word that describes spending time with Craig Foster. For a recognisable face, in the public eye (maybe not so much in Holland), he is such a grounded and friendly guy, who both me and Chantal enjoy being around. Not sure which is more addictive, his tattoos and art, or his personality. They are both equally as colourful.
Having sent reference pictures to Craig a week before, the basic idea for the tattoo was already out there, so now it was time for the master to get to work drawing another unique piece. With continual conversation throughout, in what seemed like no time Craig was having over his sketched and perfected design, signed and ready to add to my collection. Without having ever mentioned a few aspects of the desired design, I was delighted to see that he had put them in anyway. ESP or what! So here it is, the design.
A cartoon based, ScoobyDoo inspired, Alaskan Malamute by the master of Snactoos
Wasting no time, it was time to get this turned into a work of art, add some colour and go on a journey. On to the chair I hoped, and the fun started.
The bare canvas, complete with the original Gummy Sushi Bear Snactoo
Stencil placed, larger than envisioned, but fitted perfectly, without ever measuring.
Sushi Bear looking a little beaten up from a couple of healing issues (induced by me)
As the machines started buzzing, and the ink splashing, so the conversation started flowing. Obviously Ink Masters Season 5 came straight up, but over the course of the day the conversation would vary wildly, from stories of days gone by, to the future. Always a pleasure speaking to such an open and honest guy. Nice to be on the level with someone, rather that trying to see through a face or an ego. I look forward to the next conversations already.
Work continued, and the piece started to come to life. A few pictures of the journey below.
Craig Foster hard at work.
Outline done, lets get some colour in this
Colour, greys, and shading going in, someone is concentrating.
Starting to come to life.
Almost there, missing a little character.
And done... Finally all the colour in, and I am delighted!
After 6 or so hours in the presence of a true gentleman, and with Veerle and co back in the shop, it was time for cleaning up, wrapping up and farewells, and all the hugs anyone could want lol. The invite was made to go for dinner afterwards, but with time not on our side we had to sadly decline. Gutted, if we were staying over night it would happily have continued the fun late into the night. Genuinely sorry about that Craig, honest 🙁
Still in shorts, and about 7 degrees outside, I was looking a bit strange, so got my gangsta look on and made our way back to the car.
Back at the car, address punched into the nav, it was home time. Already a long day, there was a long road left ahead, but once again Chantal decided she would be the one driving, and got us underway. Fuelled up and ready to go, we hit the motorways, and before we knew it we were making good ground, oh and Jason... Well he was sleeping, again!
Finally after a few adventures we made it to Calais. Having been due to check in at about 9.45, arriving at just before midnight was probably a little late to catch the ferry we had booked. Facing a £90 charge for booking onto a later ferry, we pulled up at check-in to try our luck. And it was with us! After a comment of 'you're late' the kind man put us on the next ferry for no fee. In fairness after the wait for border control who had...... ONE booth open, it was karma repaying us.
Once on the ferry, we once again sought hot food and comfort, and sat down to 1 x Fish and Chips for me, and a roast chicken dinner each for Chantal and Sleepy , oops Jason. Belly full, and boat underway, sleep was calling. But with every bottle in the food court clanging together for the whole trip, a good sleep was unlikely. Astonishingly for a short while we all dropped off. I could like to say it helped, but it was not long enough to, probably 5-10 mins in reality.
The last leg of the journey once off the ferry started with torrential rain, enough to wake anyone up, well 2 out of 3 at least. Finally arriving home around 2am I think, it brought an end to what I can only describe as an epic adventure, and one I would happily do again if any one of us was set to come away with such satisfaction. Did I mention I love my tattoo?
So I will finish up with a few pictures that didn't fit anywhere else, and some thanks. Thanks to P&O Ferries for great food, good service, and the waiving of the rebooking fee. Thanks to Jason for providing company, conversation, entertainment, and of course being a great friend. Glad you came along for the journey. Thanks to Lou too for the hall pass. Huge thanks to Chantal for putting up with my stupid ideas, doing so much driving on the day, and just being an awesome girlfriend. Thanks to Kingdom Tattoos in Alkmaar for playing host to us on a day which they would usually be closed. Its great to meet people like Veerle, happy , fun and easy going, as well as generous. You can see her own work on Instagram here Craig Fosters work can be found here. And last but by NO means least. A MASSIVE thank you to Craig Foster, the Snactoo master, of Skinwerks Amazing work as ever, so very accommodating, an has a way of just making a day of tattooing something special. Can't wait til our paths cross again, and in the meantime I wish you good fortune and good health.
The walls of the shop
6ft tattoo machine in graffiti. Amazing
My small but growing collection of Skinwerks art.
And........ The finished piece. Both original Craig Foster pieces, and just the start of what is to come.