When they say slow boat, they mean it! It was 11am before we reached port in Girne in the northern half of Cyprus. Northern half? What, like in St. Martin/Sint Maarten? Well, kind of, but in a much less hilarious fashion…
Warning – history lesson alert!!
You can skip this bit if you like…
Back in the mists of time, Cyprus was ruled by a succession of all the usual suspects in the area – Assyria, then Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome and eventually the Byzantines… that was up until Richard The Lionheart turned up like a great big flowery nonce and gave the island to his ‘friend’ Guy de Lusignan. That was good for Cyprus for a while, having a ‘guy’ in charge who was good with colours helped with the aesthetics no end and before long, Cyprus was enjoying a golden age. That golden age was damaged by the meddling of the Venetians and then completely blown out of the water in 1570 by an invasion by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a bunch of ne’er-do-wells and didn’t really care for their new possession, which languished in a state of entropy until BRR-PAP-PAAAAAH!! The British returned to the island in the late 1800s to get the place ship-shape, Bristol fashion and more than a little camp once again.
Anyway, after 300 years of not liking the Turks much, the original inhabitants now decided they were all Greek (this was news to anyone who had bothered reading a history book). This led to the concept of ‘enosis’, which is the reunification of the island with Greece. The fact that the place had only been (kinda) Greek for a few years under Alexander (who was a Macedonian) and then had been ruled from Egypt by the Ptolemaic Dynasty (the one that ended with Queen Cleopatra, pop-pickers!) didn’t seem to phase them – you know what people are like when they get a foolish idea in their heads… and something to moan about.
A victim complex is something that’s a bit alien to me, being white, British and middle-class, sorry I know that sounds terrifyingly blunt, but there you go, at least I’m honest about it. I supposed I get a bit miffed that America steals all our best ideas and makes loads of money out of them and I wish Everton would win a few more football matches, but if I started portraying myself as some sort of victim, I would (quite rightly) be shouted down by people who have far bigger grievances than I. However, it seemed to the ‘Turkish’ Cypriots that playing the victim card had done the ‘Greek’ Cypriots well and so they played it themselves. Although when the Turkey army invaded in 1974, they may have played it a bit too well.
In situations like this, I draw a cartoon in my head of women and children in trenches throwing bombs at each other, the caption being “No- WE’RE more persecuted!”
But once you start down this road, where does it end? That’s right! IN A ROADBLOCK! One slapped down in the middle of Belfast, Jerusalem or Cyprus, it doesn’t matter – in a situation in which both sides see themselves as the victims, neither will be interested in seizing the moral high-ground, nor organising a big music festival and getting stoned together.
So here we have a divided island. One half of which is an independent state and a member of the EU and the other half is controlled by Turkey, and single-handedly thwarts their own ambitions to join the EU at every turn. This is one of the last (and daftest) conflict-zones in the world and that’s possibly why Banksy Moon, the graffiti artist from Bristol who is currently Secretary General of the UN, is here at the moment attempting to thrash out a deal which will ensure sovereignty and peace for a re-unified island. It’s a nice dream – let’s call it Cynosis, the reunification of Cyprus with itself.
In the meantime, though, to cross from one side of the capital city Lefkosia (Nicosia to us Anglophones) you need to get your passport stamped. Seriously. Imagine a roadblock running the length of Hanover Street in Liverpool and you needing to bring your passport along in case you want to walk from the Cavern to the Jac. It’s that silly. But that’s exactly what I did when entering the ‘European side’ of the city with Sylvan, the French musician guy from yesterday.
Having said all that, it was nice to feel I was back in the EU, and I guess another passport stamp isn’t going to hurt. I went to a cash machine and got out some real money for a change and then blew it all on an outrageously expensive pint of beer. Wow, Cyprus is expensive. Beautiful, but expensive.
The city walls of Nicosia are amazing – a perfect circle surrounding the old town, how they pulled it off, got it so precise, blows my mind. And walking about, you really do get a sense of ancient history that is sadly missing from other capital cities. Sylvan had bigger fish to fry, so we said our farewells and I headed off to meet with Zafer, my CouchSurf contact for the evening.
He met me on the Turkish side of the ‘border’, being a Turkish citizen he’s not allowed in the south of the city. If he’s desperate to go to the Nicosia branch of Debenhams, he must first fly back to Turkey, then apply for a visa to Greece, fly to Greece, apply for a visa for Cyprus and fly back to Cyprus, you know – the country where he lives.
Madness, sheer madness.
Zafer was a really interesting guy, a Christian Turk of mixed Turk/Armenian heritage… and you thought the Armenians and Turks hated each other! There must have been some proper West Side Story going on there with his grandparents – ah, the power of love. Zafer has travelled all over the Middle East and while I envied his Turkish passport for allowing him to travel to all these places without having to wait weeks for approval, he envied my British passport more. I suggested we swap, but I doubted we could pull it off (although I have to say I’ve seen a good few ginger Turks…!)
After a traditional Turkish dinner, we headed out to Girne to see if anything was happening in town, but the answer was a resounding no. Out of season and a Monday night? Forget about it! But that’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, Girne waterfront is really quite picturesque and hell with it – I couldn’t afford the beer anyway.
The best bit? Not only did I find a kebab shop called Kebabistan (love it!), I also managed to find the perfect kebab – not in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (although they were really good) Iraq or Turkey… they’re in Cyprus. Adbul would be proud.
Dragged my carcass off Zafer’s couch a few minutes after seven, said my thank yous and goodbyes and soon enough I was down at the port clambering onto the fast ferry back to Turkey. And twist my nipples and call me Frank what a fast ferry it was. While the Calypso had taken a good eleven hours to cross the sea to Cyprus, the fast ferry took under two hours to get back.
If only these hydrofoil things existed elsewhere… I could have been to Crap Verde and back within a day! The return leg from Mauritius would have taken a six days, not six weeks! The Caribbean?! Oh, if only…!
Excuse me, Mr Branson, once you’ve quite finished fleecing the British commuter of every penny to travel on your disgustingly over-priced train ‘services’ (you know, the ones that actively punish the spontaneous and bereaved for having the audacity of not giving two weeks notice to ride your tilting toilets) can you buy a few of these hydrofoil things and set them to good use in the Caribbean? Cheers.
Back in Turkey, I returned to my cafe with the super-fast internet connection only to discover that the floodgates had been firmly closed and the best I could hope for was a thin trickle of one and zeros out of which to curry favour with the internets gods. Naturally it didn’t happen, so I still haven’t seen the second half of the Lost Season 6 opener. Bah! But they can’t keep me in this plastic prison forever, right Professor?
As I left the cafe to catch the bus for Istanbul, my eye was caught by a camera crew outside. Do you speak English? asked the rather fetching Dutch girl who I guess was the presenter. I can do you one better… Turns out that I’m not the only idiot running about annoying people by not speaking the lingo – these guys have set themselves the task of getting around Turkey without spending any money. They’ve been here for three days and where, up to this point, doing quite well. Now, however, it was dark, wet, utterly miserable and nobody is Tacusu was up for helping them out… small wonder – there were nine of them. I would think three people on a blag was taking the mick, but NINE? Crazy Dutch.
Anyway, after a quick chat with the Dutchies, I headed back to Silifke to get the bus to Istanbul, the oh-no-it-isn’t capital of Turkey (yeah, it’s Ankara, but who’s heard of Ankara?). The bus I got on was AMAZING! The usual free cups of tea and flat-screen tellys where trumped by something I had heard of in legend, but was yet to experience – free WiFi! Honestly. What have you to say to THAT, National Express, Greyhound, Eurolines or any of the other utterly dreadful bus companies many of the people reading this have to put up with?? Your buses suck, you treat us like cattle and developing nations in Latin America dis you from a great height. YOU SUCK!
Hurrah for Turkish buses, they truly are a delight.
And so I contentedly tapped away at my laptop until the wee small hours, safe and warm from the blizzard raging outside in my little internetty world.
The bus arrived bang on time in good ol’ Istanbul – the only city in the world that straddles two continents. I wandered down to the Metro to find out what the SP was with the old trains to Belgrade. Why are you going to Belgrade, Graham? I hear you ask. Well, good question! It’s really just because the fletchlugginer boats from Greece to Italy don’t seem to be running, so I’m going to have to go the long way round back to Sicily in order to visit countries 143 and 144, or as they like to call themselves, Algeria and Libya… two of the most difficult countries to enter in the world. And I should know, I’ve already tried once. Well, in the case of Libya, twice.
That means I can either go the way I went last time, via Thessaloniki in Greece up through Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia and (a little bit of) Bosnia to Slovenia, or I could simply go through Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Option 2 seems a little more straight forward, although the really straight forward way would be to get a boat from Patras in Greece, but you can’t always get what you want, can you Mick?
So I booked myself upon the 22:00 night train to the pleasantly-named Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria and thought I might spend the day having a little adventure – you know, Tokapi palace, the Blue Mosque, all that kinda stuff. However the howling wind and freezing temperatures soon put those fanciful notions to sleep like Old Yella. Instead I found a lovely little sheesha cafe, sat nice and warm under the heater and enjoyed some tomato soup.
Mmm… tomato soup. I could stay here all day, I thought to myself. So I did.
The train ride was spooky as hell – it was an overnight sleeper, but I had an entire compartment to myself – 6 bunks to choose from! In fact, I had pretty much the whole carriage to myself – a proper ghost train, perfect for making up horror stories. I couldn’t understand a word the conductor said, but I figured it had something to do with him giving me €31 so I could buy him more than his allocated amount at duty free. Hell, who am I to argue and out of the deal I would get all the free tea I could drink. Sweet. Nighty night.
I could have done without the 3am border crossing, it was unnecessarily cold outside – why couldn’t they come to us? There was only about ten people on the whole bloomin’ train. Well soon enough we were moving again and I fell fast asleep. In the morning, I had a couple of hours to kill in Sofia before getting on the next train to Belgrade so I sat down at a bakery and ate as many sausage rolls as I could stuff in my face… sausage rolls being somewhat of a rarity in Africa and the Middle East so smoke ‘em, smoke ‘em, smoke ‘em, if you’ve got ‘em.
The train to Belgrade was, again, fairly empty, and so I had no company for the day. Soon my laptop batteries were dead and I was left twiddling my thumbs, not wanting to read the only real book I’ve got – Huckleberry Finn – as it just wasn’t grabbing me. But the snow-covered scenery was beautiful to look at and sunset seemed to take an eternity, leaving the landscape frozen in the magic hour far longer than usual.
I arrived in Belgrade hoping to get the night train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, but connecting train services don’t seem to be the ‘in’ thing in Europe any more (not like in Sherlock Holmes’ day) and so I found myself kicking my heels in Belgrade for the night. So I checked into the Belgrade Eye backpackers, wandered the streets aimlessly for a little while before turning in for the night.
More bad news: the Algerian embassy in London is REALLY dragging its heels over my visa request. Eddie Spinks, my reputable visa agent, was supposed to be picking up my passport yesterday, now it may be tomorrow. What’s the problem if I’m not anywhere near Sicily/Tunisia yet anyway? The problem is this: from the moment we get the passport back from the Algerians, it will take TWO WEEKS (at the very least) for my Libya visa to come through. You see, I need that passport back desperately and the Algerians seem keen to keep hold of it for as long as they can. Oh, and I STILL don’t have my Iranian visa sorted. What The Caribbean did with water, these guys are doing with visas. I’ve already told Stan there’s no way I’ll be finished in time for Glasto. Ho hum.
It looks like February may well turn out to be one of those months like June and November were I don’t end up going anywhere.
The train to the delightfully-named Ljubljana was a typically ramshackle affair (man I miss them Turkish buses) but it did the job and by the evening, I was sitting enjoying a solitary beer in the Death Bar on the banks of the Ljunljanica river. They say this place was founded by Jason of the Argonauts, which would be awesome if only it were true.
Ljubljana is quite possibly my favourite European city, I don’t know why, there’s just a feeling it gives me, it radiates from the architecture, the statues, the bridges… a feeling like I belong. Of course, for a journeyman such as myself anywhere I hang my hat is home for the night, but – oh I don’t know – Ljubljana is just the right size and the right shape and the right look for me… it’s a Goldilocks thing and I’m not explaining it too well, but scratch this place down alongside Liverpool, New York and Melbourne as a place I could quite happily hang up my backpack for a few years.
I could press on to Italy tonight, but I think I’m going to kick back for the next few days… I’ve just heard from my mum that Algeria won’t be giving me my passport back until WEDNESDAY at the earliest. This is not good news by any means. I’m stuck, I’m really stuck and the only thing I can think to do is just to head down to Tunisia anyway and hang about like a bad smell until I find a Lost-style loophole that will allow me to enter fortress Algeria or Libya for five minutes without the mountain of paperwork and months of waiting usually required….
I just want to step over the border, for heavens sake! The messing about getting back to Tunisia and all the visa malarky is going to cost me well in excess of 500 quid. Just to go to two countries out of two hundred. I’ve got a few buttons and a piece of string left in my bank account and (very) soon I’ll be breaking into my overdraft… and then my credit cards…
Overtime and overbudget, my only hope for having enough cash or exposure to finish this adventure is if the powers that be allow me to release my bulging sack of YouTube videos… something they don’t seem willing (or able) to do. Now I know how Terry Gilliam feels. I like New York in June, how about you…?
Graham’s back in the U.K.!!!
Amidst the trickery of smoke & mirrors, and a rather cleverly laden plot, this time he managed to pull the big one by fooling EVERYONE into thinking that he was Skype-ing from Rome, Italy!
A live Skype event with Graham had been arranged for a gathering of friends in the bar area of the FACT cinema in Liverpool city centre. With only minutes having passed into the start of the event, we began to lose the ability to hear Graham properly via the wireless laptop that the lovely Anna had brought. “Can you hear me?”, came the cry from the ginger one, and before long, his voice was as distant as a distant one from distantville. Just then, a familiar face came bounding into the bar with a beaming smile and a booming voice, “Can you hear me now?!!!”. It was a wonderful moment.
Graham’s back in the U.K. awaiting the issue of some visas from London, and – as always – is making valuable use of his time by promoting The Odyssey as much as possible.
If you can help with promoting the project, and you would like to get in touch, then please do so via the ‘Contact’ page on the link above, or by clicking here – thanks.
The last two blogs aren’t true. I just made them up.
Sorry, it would have ruined the surprise.
Here’s what really happened…
When I was in Cyprus last Tuesday, I discovered that it would take two weeks from the date of application for my visa for my next country (Libya) to come through. I had not been made aware of this earlier (annoyingly enough) – I thought I was just going to pick it up at the border. This meant that no matter what I did in the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t continue with my journey. I might as well pick up the visas for Libya, Algeria and Central Asia from London myself.
I might as well…
Why the hell not, eh? It’s still part of the journey, it’s still in the spirit of The Odyssey; I can’t enter the kingdom of the nightwatchers without first gaining the magic amulet of visa. If I’m going to live my life as though I’m in a 1980s text adventure game, I might as well go the whole hog.
Home… a hot bath, fresh new clothes, a Full English and a roast meal… my family, my friends. It’s just too tempting.
I cooked up a scheme which would see a bunch of my mates teaming up at the Fact cinema in Liverpool on Saturday night and my family gathering around the table for a Sunday roast – I told nobody I was coming home – and hit the road.
I did honestly go to Istanbul on the overnight coach on Tuesday night, but that’s about as far I went without telling fibs. From there, I went to Bucharest, the capital of Romania (€50), and on Thursday night I headed over to Budapest, Hungary on another night train (€50).
Budapest was a bit of a headache, I arrived yesterday morning to find that the Eurolines bus to London was full and so I had to concoct some kind of plan B that wasn’t going to cost the Earth. If I got the train to Paris via Munich and Metz it would cost me in excess of €250, which is way out of my budget. Damnit – the days of buying a through-ticket from Istanbul to London are OVER. Nice to know that Europe had a better grasp of logistics back when Victoria was sitting on the throne and we all hated each other.
I headed over to the bus station to see if I could blag my way onto the London bus… no way, Jose. But there was a Paris bus that had a few seats left. That’d do – as long as I got to London before 6pm, I could get back to Liverpool in time. I got online and tried to buy myself a ticket on the Eurostar from Paris to London. Simple, eh?
It took me longer to buy the ticket than it takes to actually get from Paris to London on the damn train. Sitting on the floor of the skanky Budapest bus terminal, I came close to HULK SMASH levels of frustration. WHY DOES IT TAKE 10 DIFFERENT SCREENS TO GET YOUR DAMN TICKETS? Not everybody in the world has super-duper, fast fibre-optic asymmetrical data lines. Is there a low data-rate version for us poor souls hacking into someone else’s lousy wi-fi? Is there buggery.
I got to the final payment screen on 4 separate occasions only to be told there was a problem with the blah blah blah. I was in Budapest, it was covered in snow – I wanted to go out for a walk, see the place, do some filming, but no, the Eurostar website wouldn’t let me. It’s easier to get Glastonbury tickets.
In the end, I had to call the man of the hour, Stan Standryt, in London, blow my cover and get him to book my ticket for me (what a guy!). Eurostar, YOU SUCK. Hope you go bankrupt and the Channel Tunnel gets turned into a very long art gallery with moving walkways. Or, even better, a ROAD.
Well, my day in Budapest well and truly wasted. I scampered onto the bus to Paris and shut my eyes, hoping to open them in the land of red and white stripy shirts, black berets, old bicycles and garlic necklaces.
But the bus driver had other ideas… is it an EU regulation that buses have to stop every two hours and wake everybody up? Ha! Man, the buses in Turkey ROCK MY WORLD and the buses in the world’s two biggest economic superpowers – the US and the EU – SUCK! It’s a sad fact that public transport in Europe, while not as bad as Africa, is not much better. Having said that, at least in Africa you get what you pay for. Why does it seem to cost more to operate a European train or coach than it does an airplane?
So we stopped and started all the way through Austria, Germany and then through Strasbourg into France. By 9am on Saturday, we were passing Metz and well on our way to Paris.
The coach got in a whopping 20 minutes early (nice!) and so I had time to do a couple of things… one of which was to get a shot of me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. It took a good hour negotiating the Metropolitan to get there, and once I did the top was covered in cloud! Bah!
Oh well, I got the shot I wanted and then legged it to Gare du Nord, the railway station for the Eurostar, hoping against hope that they would have a shower there – after 6 days on the road and no shower, I was beginning to smell worse than a Gregg’s pasty that’s been in a tramp’s pocket for three weeks. Nice!
Luckily for me, indeed there is a shower in Gare du Nord, unluckily for me it cost €7 and (being French) it smells of effluent. What’s that joke about French plumbers again? But any port in a storm – I don’t want to be turning up in Liverpool after all these months (and two spells in jail) smelling anything less than utterly delightful..
Attention Eurostar trains: not only is your website PAINFULLY difficult to use, your trains are dirty. Clean them. If they can keep my Merseyrail carriages sparkly clean when I’m only paying £1.50 to use them for an hour, then you can totally afford to scrub your rolling stock down once in a while? Got that? Good. I wanted to film out of the window, but it would look murkier than a Mike Leigh movie and I don’t want to depress the hell out of anyone today, thanks.
Soon enough, I was whisked through the Chunnel and arrived at the rather spankingly refurbished St. Pancras station although once again was impressed that the Victorians (bless their cotton socks) saw fit to use beautiful arching cast iron and plate glass to constitute a roof whereas the lazy drunken hacks that pass for architects these days opted for what looks a lot like plastic.
At St Pancras, I met up with Dan Martin, an old chum of mine from back in the day.. He writes for the NME and has been blagging me into gigs and festivals for free for most of the past decade, the top bloke that he is. After a couple of beers and catch-ups, I went to the Euston Station concourse to play the Euston Station Concourse Game. This is where a bunch of hapless commuters stand for the best part of an hour looking up at the information board which will… at any given moment… tell them what platform to run to with all their bags.
The platform used is allocated by ERNIE, the random number generating computer from the 1950s that they used for the football pools. The platform will be allocated 5-10 minutes after the train is due to depart and will only be valid for approximately 90 seconds, after which time the train will depart leaving behind the less athletic members of the great unwashed and anyone who got bored waiting and stupidly went to WHSmith to buy a paper.
This is the Euston Station Concourse Game and it gets even more fun EVERY TIME YOU PLAY IT!
Being somewhat of a public transportation expert these days, I did manage to cadge a place on the big empty train (well, with 99% of the population priced out of this glorious British institution, what do you expect?) and in just a jiff and a jaff, I was back in my beloved Liverpool. Cyprus to Liverpool in four days – without flying. In your FACE, Palin!!
I hurried through the crisp scouse night to the Fact cinema, a architectural carbunkle in the centre of my hometown, but the wi-fi is free and the bar is always empty (perhaps because it is about as aesthetically pleasing as a concrete box) so it was a good place to spring the surprise.
I took the lift to the top floor, took out my laptop and hooked myself up to Skype. There, I got in touch with Anna, my top mate who teaches girls how to pole dance (I only hang in Bohemian circles, darling). I had told everyone that I was in Italy, but we were going to have a virtual night out with me via the internet and Anna’s webcam – the idea being that a bunch of my mates would take the laptop out with them to the streets and bars of Liverpool. Of course, I was really in Liverpool – one floor above them… giggidy…
About thirty of my wonderful mates had turned up, but Anna’s tinny little Mac speakers were not up to the task of broadcasting to so many people, so I suggested they might hear me better if I came down stairs..
It was awesome. HELLO LIVERPOOL!!
So after many, many hugs and beers, we all set out into the night in search of magic and adventure. The Merseyside Derby (that’s when Everton plays Liverpool to you Johnny Foreigners) had taken place that afternoon and so the town centre was more jam-packed than usual with drunken scousers and by Jove, I had forgotten how much I missed this place. We managed to get chucked out of the Heebie-Jeebies, went to the swanky new Studio 2 in Parr Street, got into a fight with the bouncers at Magnet and ended up in a utter dive called Ko Samui wondering where the hell we were.
Well, the answer was simple – I was home.
So with the cat out of the bag in terms of my friends, it was now time to spring the surprise on my family. I got a couple of hours kip at Hugh’s gaff (Hugh of ‘Hugh Sings The Odyssey Blues’ fame) and I arrived at my family home on Honeys Green Lane at around 2pm – just in time for Sunday roast. Again, I had set up a ruse of seeing everyone via Skype and with the help of my brother Mike (who I had brought in on the deal) snuck into the house without my parents suspecting a thing. Luckily, my webcam is pretty naff so nobody recognised the background on the Skype video link was the house until I entered the room.
In typical Hughes form, my mum burst into tears, my dad was wonderfully nonplussed, my brother Alex was annoyed I didn’t let him in on the secret and my nephew Matthew claimed to have known all along. And so I sat down with my parents, brothers, cousins, nephews and (brand new) baby niece for my first roast meal since Sierra Leone back in July. And it was great.
- Roast Lamb
- Roast Beef
- Roast Potatoes (fluffy on the outside, crunchy on the outside)
- Yorkshire Puddings
- Broccoli, Peas and Green Beans
- French Bread
- Chocolate Profiteroles & Ice Cream
- Cheese & Crackers
After din-dins, the traditional Hughes Family Trivial Pursuit Fight was put on hold while my brother Mike and I started cooking up schemes for getting The Odyssey fully publicised this week ourselves, while I’m here (something that mmmmmmm promised to do and never did, the scoundrels). We’re not professionals and we’re kind of making it up as we go, but we might as well give it a try. We decided to get cracking first thing in the morningw, so I went to his house in Runcorn to sleep on his couch.
It’s good to be back.
So I was back and I had work to do. I spent Monday morning at my brother Mike’s house writing up a press release and, with his help, getting it out to as many people in the UK media as possible – BBC, ITV, Sky, whoever. By early afternoon the offers of TV stardom (kinda) were flooding in – first North West Tonight, then Granada Reports and then ITN down in London. Yey!!
Do people actually get paid to do this kind of stuff? Man, it’s a cinch!
The only major problem was that I didn’t have permission off the chaps who own all my footage to allow a few seconds of the 150 hours I filmed last year to be shown on telly. Ah well, what they don’t know can’t hurt ‘em. That night (after drinkies) I kipped at Grethe’s flat in the city centre as I had an interview with Radio Merseyside at the bloomin’ crack of dawn. Grethe’s in the Odyssey Pantheon, so you can’t complain.
After my early morning probing by the BBC’s Tony Snell I headed over to Leo’s gaff, our venerable webmaster’s abode, under the auspices of getting the website shipshape and Bristol-fashion. However, a trip to Manchester to be interviewed by the legend that is Gordon Burns turned the day into a frantic race to dump my YouTube vids onto DV tape in time for the courier to come pick it up.
Hell of a time for my laptop to start acting the goat, but I can’t stay mad at you for long, my lovely little lappy – you’ve survived in my bag for a year, which is more than I can stay for my bloomin’ iPod. Hear that Jobs? YOU SUCK!
Dell rock my world.
You know, everything you’ve seen or read about The Odyssey so far has been put together by me, my family and my friends. I’m not saying that out of resentment, I’m saying it out of pride, what we’ve bodged together with sticky-tape and derring-do is pretty impressive stuff. I guess with the costs of High Def camcorders and editing programmes plummeting and Twitter, Skype and Facebook connecting the world in a way nobody would have thought possible just a few short years ago, anyone can now do this kind of thing, you just have to be slightly mad, that’s all.
Dino (oh he of logistical clout) dropped by to say ahoy-hoy and after a wonderful ringing endorsement of the last fourteen months of mischief, Leo and I thanked TJ profusely and headed back to the land of all things scouse.
Now if I was in any way organised that would have been the end of it. A good night’s sleep at my mum’s and then off to London in the morning to run the visa gauntlet. But fate had different plans.
By 10am the next day (Wednesday) I was in the big smoke and doing an interview for ITN. Then I headed over to the Algerian Embassy who had kept hold of my passport for a week longer than strictly necessary. Getting it back off them wasn’t the easiest of jobs, they didn’t open until 4pm and I was a quid short of the processing fee (necessitating a quick but embarrassing trip to the cash machine), but eventually I got it and headed FULL PELT to the Arab Chamber of Commerce. Why-oh-why, I hear you ask? Because they had the power to translate my passport into Arabic (for a small, well, actually massive fee) which I needed to do in order to get my Libyan visa on the border next week. I thought it would take a few minutes, but in the event, it took 24 hours. Looks like I’ll be stuck in London then.
Well, you can’t have everything, but you can have tea. And that’s exactly what I did have in the wonderful offices of WaterAid. I was met by the delightful media officer Mel Tompkins and filmed an interview with her talking about the good work that WaterAid does (I’ll be putting up on YouTube later) and boy oh boy did I enjoy me tea. Afterwards I took the light blue line all the way to Stan’s house. By that I mean the pub by Stan’s house. There I met with The Odyssey’s Anarchy In The UK video hero Matt Collins (the hairy Oirishman), Stan’s delightful little lady Helen, Dan Martin and Little Dan who we met at a music festival in Serbia back in 2007.
The next day, being Thursday, I spent the day pottering and mooching (two of my most unsavoury habits) and biting my nails waiting for this Arabic translation of my passport to materialise. When it did I realised that I had run out of time to visit the Uzbekistan embassy today so instead headed over to Universal Music to visit me auld mucker Vicki Dempsey who just happens to work there (it’s not what you know…!) Of course I took the opportunity to beg to be allowed to use Universal tunes on my wonderfully slapped together YouTube vids.
Wouldn’t THAT be cool… Morrissey, The Killers, Florence and the Machine…
Watch this space.
That night (after a slap-up feast woo!) I kipped on Vicki’s couch ready and eager to polish off the last of my visa errands in the mornick. Only….
Ha. No. I got to the Uzbek Embassy (after a quick telephone interview for Spanish Radio) and was told it would take a week for my visa to come through. A week! I don’t have that kind of time. WHY DID PHILEAS FOGG NEVER HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS BLOOMIN’ NONSENSE EH??
Ah well, thanks but no thanks, I get the visa in Baku. I think.
So one last thing to do, I met up with Oscar Sharp without the ‘e’, a fellow maker of silly but undoubtedly excellent films and grabbed some ribs for lunch. Then, after getting thrown out of the Mac Store for not being smug enough, I headed back to Stan’s house (really this time) to pick up my backpack and get the hell out of there. Only a certain hip young gun-slinger named Dan Martin of the NME had neglected to tell me and Stan that he would be out for the afternoon at a photo shoot with some drugged up floozy from the states whose name temporary escapes me.
Unfortunately for me, Dan had the only key to the flat: Stan was on his way up north. And it was raining. Bah, London, you always do this to me… you’re like real life, only slightly more awkward.
I can see the advertising billboard: LONDON: WHERE NOTHING IS EVER EASY.
Anyway, Dan was going straight from the photo shoot to Oxford so the floozy could address the Oxford Union (much in the manner of OJ Simpson) but Stan, as cunning as a fox that’s just been made Professor of Cunning in Megan Fox’s knickers, came up with a cunning plan. The landlord could let me in! Ha! I knew they were good for something!!
So I walked through the storm with my head held high and was not afraid of the lark. Or the dark. Or the bark. Or something farky malarkey. But by the time I had retrieved the magic key from the wizard in his castle of Nowletting, got my backpack and dropped the key back off to him (least he puts a hex on me and I start to lose hit points) I was well and truly later than the late great Louis Armstrong arriving late to the set of Later… with Jules Holland for the meeting that I had organised between Mike, Leo, Dino, TJ and I in Manchester that night which I possibly should have mentioned earlier.
By the time my hideously overpriced train pulled into that humdrum town, I was a whopping two and a half hours overdue. Everyone but Dino had gone home (sorry guys!) but that didn’t stop Dino and I from getting delightfully drunk and crashing out at his (might I say pretty damn hot) girlfriend’s pad.
The next day being Saturday, my (other) brother Alex picked me up from my Burnage CouchSurf and took me to Salford Quays so I could do another interview, this time for Manchester’s Rock FM. I’m sure Leo can get all these interviews linked to this blog, and yeah, I do repeat myself a lot don’t I? Sorry, I’m not quite with it these days.
Afterwards, Alex and I met up with TJ (the wonderfully helpful BBC editor chick) for some Thai noodles and a rather painful chat about how stupid I am. YES I WILL DO ANYTHING FOR A FIVER. Howdy-ho, whatchagonnado? After that I headed back to Liverpool, dropped in on some old chums (shout outs to Robyn and Yaz, Ben and Debbie), grabbed a bit to eat and charged out into Liverpool City Centre for a night on the tiles.
Woke up the next day in Lorna Brookes’ flat, which is okay because she gets me on lots of boats. Quickly headed over to Vision Express to get my glasses fixed (400 days on the road ain’t been too kind to them) and then finally went home for a roast meal and to see my sister and my nephews who couldn’t make it over last week.
I was all fired up to hit the road again… well and truly fed and watered, I had done a ton of interviews, got as many visas sorted as I could (there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, believe me!)
The plan was to pick up my glasses from Vision Express in the morning, head down to London, and be in Tunisia by the weekend.
Libya here I come…!
But it wasn’t to be… I got an email off our London contact who had been working on the Libya visa – it would be two weeks before I’d be allowed in… 28th February. My damn birthday. There was no point in going anywhere.
The next week passed in a kind of blur. I don’t think I got anything productive done at all. I didn’t write up my blog nor edit any more YouTube vids, I dropped into a bit of a funk. One that affects me whenever the flow of my adventure is disrupted, either by ships that refuse to leave or by visas that require the most acrobatic of bureaucratic trickery to acquire.
But wheels had been set in motion… dangerous wobbly wheels made of poo that threatened to derail The Odyssey entire. Don’t forget – it will only take ONE country out of the 58 I have left to go to ban British Passport holders from entering and that’s it, Game Over – EPIC FAIL – the mission here is to visit EVERY sovereign state.
Now a couple of months ago, the lovely nutcase what dictates Libya, you know, Colonel Sanders, was given pause for thought when one of his (many) offspring went and did something rather silly. He beat up his housemaid. Now while I’m sure that kind of thing is (occasionally) frowned upon in the delightful pluralist democracies of the Middle East, but the Colonel’s son had the misfortune to commit the act in a country where beating up another human being, especially one of the fairer sex, is actually against the law. D’oh!
The crime took place in Switzerland.
Now as we all know, the Swiss are famous for their neutrality, even in the face of the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocents. But holocausts are one thing and beating up a woman is another beast entirely, and for once, Switzerland had the courage of its convictions and BLOOMIN’ NORA! actually stood up and said that something that a mad bloke from another latitude had done was wrong.
To say this travesty of justice pissed the Colonel off somewhat would be an understatement (whatever happened to good old fashioned dictators (and their unruly offspring) doing what the hell they wanted, eh?). And so he did what any other grown man would do and chucked his toys out of the pram. Or to be more precise, took the billions that he has spent the last forty-one years stealing from his own people out of them Swizzy Banks and chucked them into the similarly See-No-Evil banks of the KY Jelly Islands instead. And then, just to be extra mean, he banned all Swiss people from his vast desert dictatorship.
He then folded his arms and blew a raspberry. I expect.
The Swiss responded by drawing up a list of 188 people that could now no longer come skiing or enjoy Toblerone in the land of the Milka Cow. And that 188 consisted pretty much of everyone in the Colonel’s family and government (one of the same, ain’t they?). Outraged, the fried-chicken magnate of North Africa today banned ALL Europeans from within the von Schlieffen Plan Zone from visiting his magical realm of his oil-rich ancien regime.
Now (off the top of my head) that’s everyone in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Malta, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Probably one or two others.
Wow. That’s a LOT of tourists that Libya neither wants nor (apparently) needs. I’m sure the hundreds of suddenly unemployed Libyan tour operators are being compensated with all the fried chicken they can eat.
Luckily for me, and the Odyssey, the UK does not lie within the von Schlieffen Plan Zone. Things could have gone from bad to worse, but having to wait two weeks to get into country 143 (a country I’ve tried to enter twice before) now seemed like the least of my worries. The only annoying thing was that I could have – should have – left my passport with the Uzbek embassy and picked up my visa on Friday. Oh well, of Mice and Men and all that jazz.
So I was going to tell you how my unexpected second week in the UK went. Hang on, let me rack my brains… well, I, er, crikey… wha the hell did I do? I’m sure I got some things sorted… I got my bags cleaned, for one. Oh, and my gorgeous girlfriend Mandy and her utterly delightful sister Tam sent me a new Kanga Hat (the old one had shrunk in the wash and was now looking more like something you’d wear at a hen party) and I reupholstered the toilet seat strapped to my backpack.
Erm… that’s about it, I’m afraid. Went out in Liverpool, got nice and drunk with my friends, saw Avatar in 3D, downloaded Lost – crikey, it was like I’d never been away. It was like I had walked through a magic door that had transported me a year into the future. Everything was as it was when I left, only slightly different. Boys had got with girls and girls had split with boys, I sighed as I noted another tree had been felled from the grove outside my parent’s house but the old haunts still smelt like the old haunts and the fly-by-night bars had thankfully flown south for the winter.
Change is not always progress. Gone were the inflation-busting £1 Stellas that had make The Jac our drinking pit of choice for the last fifteen years, replaced by Carlsbergs with a little less alcohol by volume. I love this epigram: you can’t step in the same river twice, fresh water is always running past you. I nicked it from Stephen Fry. He probably nicked it too.
There’s an old anecdote about Oscar Wilde at a dinner party once: after somebody said something tremendously witty, Oscar mused that he wish he had said it. Lady such-and-such patted him on the hand and said ‘Don’t worry Oscar, you will.’
I have to say, my home town of Liverpool was looking rather spanking. Have you seen her lately? It’s like an ex-girlfriend who you never really had the hots for and she had kind of let herself go and that’s why you dumped her (although I’m sure you were at pains to point out that it’s not her, it’s you) and then you see her again at a party years later and she looks hot to trot and you’re like d’oh I knew that girl had potential.
Although what the hell is with that cacophony of cack down by the Pier Head? Jesus wept… did someone let little Tarquin play with his crayons on daddy’s blueprints? What goes through these people’s heads? Leave it, Graham… leave it.
Well, if Mandy has her wicked way with me (she will), I’ll be hauling up sticks and moving to Melbourne when this hootenanny is over. But, damnit, what is it about that durty auld town that keeps drawing me back? Ack, you can spread your x-wings all over the universe, but Jabba will see to it that you’ll be back to Tattooine someday.
Well, one thing led to another (as things invariably do) and soon enough it was Sunday. I said goodbye to Mum and Dad, those wonderful people who never think to say STOP THIS YOU’RE AN IDIOT, and it was therefore time to trundle down to London ready to start my rather bonkers trip down to New Zealand (via Libya, Algeria, The Seychelles and Eritrea, of course).
I met with Stan, Helen, SJM Sarah and my old flame Michelle in the pub by Finsbury Park station for one last pint, one last hurrah, before heading back to the front.
Shore leave was over.