So the last two weeks have not been particularly merry ones. But, on the bright side, I’ve been able to spend time with my dad (and… er… let him beat me at Trivial Pursuit) and I’ve been able see my friends and have a good mooch around my city. I was invited by my mate Steve to the annual Hollyoaks barbecue, Brian and I came third in the infamously difficult Fact Cinema Film Quiz (sample question: “Who Directed Caddyshack 2?”) and, let’s face it, the Paralympics were BRILLIANT.
Last Sunday morning, nice and early, I made my way down to the Big Smoke, London, or ‘Kings Landing’ as I’ve decided to call it from now on (a place awash with incest, vice and vile plots). I arrived in time to catch the end of the marathon and met up with Matt Eland and his mate Val for a few cheeky tinnies in the park. The weather was spectacular and the afternoon was as thoroughly pleasant as the one I spent doing pretty much exactly the same thing four weeks ago when I first arrived home.
I left Matt and Val in the capable hands of Hyde Park and met up with Lindsey, one of my top mates from back in the day. We joined up with fellow Liverpoolian Michelle for a night-time picnic on Hampstead Heath before heading back to watch the closing ceremony of the Paralympics on the telly.
Now I was in London for two reasons. One was to get myself a visa for India (no that’s not cheating, I could have got it just as easily in Sri Lanka if I was there) and the other was to try and find a nice new home for the broadcast of the post-Jan 2010 Odyssey Expedition tapes.
…but that could all wait until tomorrow. For the moment, I had some athletes to oggle at. Today was the day of the London 2012 Olympic Victory Parade. I headed over to meet with Sam Morton, an old school chum of mine who works in the City of London. Being the spawny git you’ve all come to love and loathe, this meant I was at the very start of the parade. While others had to make do with shakycam iPhones held aloft as their favourite Olympians from Our Greatest Team whizzed past, I had the pleasure of getting some cracking footage of Jessica Ennis et al on my trusty old Sony A1 before the buses had even started moving.
That on its own would have been cool enough to freeze the Red Sea, but the best was yet to come. After the buses had rolled past and the cheering and hollering was done, Sam had to get back to work, so I met up with Matt Eland and Val and we jumped the Underground over to Trafalgar Square – the idea being that we could head ‘em off at the pass, so to speak. But as the train trundled through Embankment, we thought there’d be too many people there, so why don’t we try and gatecrash the ‘ticket only’ event on The Mall (the big road what runs up to Buckminsterfullerene Palace)? As things transpired, we didn’t need to bother: a bit of Scooby-Dooing later and we got a much better deal: Birdcage Walk.
You see, after all was said and all was done (Boris Johnson’s line about ‘The Final Tear-Stained Juddering Climax’ reminded me of… oh you don’t want to know), our Olympians and Paralympians would be (st)rolling down Birdcage Walk towards the coaches that were scheduled to take them to the after-show party.
In other words, if the Olympics were the Greatest Show On Earth, we found ourselves waiting at the stage door. And we pretty much had the place to ourselves!
Tuesday began with a long walk from Lindsey’s flat in
Kilburn Maida Vale to Victoria to put in my Indian visa application. While sitting in a nearby café, nursing my £1.50 mug of tea, I got a Facebook message from Russell out of The Zutons (who I used to go to primary school with) asking if I wanted to come see him play at The Roundhouse the next day. I said yeah and he put me down on the guestlist with a +1. It wouldn’t be until much later that day that I realised that Russell was now the bassist in Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Hey, I’ve been away, okay?!
Which means that in the few short weeks I’ve been home I’ve seen not only Blur but half of Oasis as well. For free! Did I mention how good Britain is to me? Lovely, lovely Britain. I love you. I know I was a bit harsh about Australia in my last post (and no doubt lost a good few subscribers) but still… Britain!
My friend Scott rang and told me he had arranged a meeting with a TV producer who is looking to do some work with Google (they what own YouTube). After my experience at the hands of mmm, mmm and mmm I’m not keen to go anywhere near another TV show, but I’d be very happy to let my adventure from January 2010 onwards be uploaded for all you watch online, anywhere in the world. So the meeting was set for the next day and there was a spring in my step as I skipped over to Islington (another good walk) to meet with Scott and his wife Louise for some after-work drinkies. We were joined by Matt The Mick and those few after-work drinkies turned into a few after-work drinkies too many.
I ended up kipping at Scott’s and in the morning we went to his workplace, The Creative Corporation in Islington. It’s a top design company with its offices in Britannia Row Studios – a building owned by Pink Floyd. So much awesome stuff has gone down in that building it’s insane – Animals and The Wall were recorded here, not to mention Blue Monday and Cool For Cats. After I calmed down from my awe-struckism with the musical heritage of the place, I met Scott’s boss Dave (who I’m now meeting up with in Madagascar, with any luck) and prepped for this meeting.
The meeting went well (it’s not what you know…) and I spent the rest of the day poring over the emerging details about The Hillsborough Disaster (and subsequent cover-up) and trying my best not to distract the flame-haired office apprentice, KC, from her work. I wasn’t so good at that. In the evening, KC and I headed to Kings Cross to meet with another flame-haired marvel, Dan “NME” Martin as well as Matt Eland. After a couple of drinks, Dan headed off to the gig he was supposed to be attending, Matt and I headed off to see Noel and Russell at The Roundhouse and KC headed off home (as I kicked myself for not having a +2).
The gig was brilliant, not as many Oasis songs as I would have liked, but still, how good is it to see a guy who you’ve known since you were 5, someone you used to chase around the toilets with Betty The Bog Brush, standing on stage, supplying the bass and harmonies for Noel freakin’ Gallagher? Russ, you rock my world!! Afterwards, as I raced back to Lindsey’s on the last train I looked back on what had been a great day for me personally, but also for my city of Liverpool.
If you’re not from the UK, you might not know much about the Hillsborough disaster, but in a nutshell, back in 1989 there was a football match and 95 Liverpool FC fans were crushed to death after the police shepherded people into the back of an already full standing terrace. Another fan, brain-dead and on life support, died a few years later.
Instead of taking responsibly for their mistakes, the police blamed the fans. And everybody – the media included – towed that party line.
It came out today that the police, the politicians, the media and the Football Association had been LYING THROUGH THEIR TEETH for over 23 years…
They say ‘read it and weep.’ Never has that expression been so apt.
Just before I jumped the train back to Liverpool, I met up with my top mates Dan and Stan for a swift half around the corner from Euston Station. Out the blue, Dan invited me to this weekend’s Festival No. 6 in the quaint Italianate town of Port Meirion in Wales. You know, where they filmed The Prisoner. This was pretty immense as Dan hasn’t invited me to a festival for years. Possibly because I made a drunken arse of myself a couple too many times at Glasto, V, Leeds, Download, Roskilde, Bestival, a billion free gigs where I was his +1… or possibly because (many moons ago) I thought it would be hil-arious to send him a text from his sister’s phone informing him that she was pregnant when she wasn’t. Would have been a hoot, that… had he not immediately rang his parents… ah. Yeah. Guess you just had to be there. Or not, as the case may be.
It should come as no great shock to subscribers to The Odyssey Expedition that I said YES!! Of course I was going to say yes. I only back-heeled Bestival with Stan this year because Mandy dumped me the week before. It takes something quite Earth-shattering for me to say no to something fun. (Well, that and the ticket was going to cost me 60 quid.) So on Saturday morning I found myself exiting Planet Liverpool behind the wheel of my Mum’s Rover, Dan in the passenger seat trying to convince me that Amy Pond isn’t the be-all and end-all (the FOOL!)… soon hurling up the A5 towards North West Wales and one of the best festivals it’s ever been my fortune to attend. (As well as the third inaugural festival I’ve been to after V2006 (in Warrington, fact-fans!) and Leeds (at Temple Newsham, when it was amazing).)
[Less parentheses, G-Boy.]
FESTIVAL No 6: Undoubtedly the prettiest festival I’ve ever been to, and arguably the most chillaxed, I loved every second of it.
And, happily, one of the main guys behind it all was Luke Bainbridge, Dan’s old editor from City Life magazine in Manchester. Not a lot of people know it, but it was my Dan what got him (accidently) fired – ‘cos Dan said Mick Hucknall was a twat (clue: he is) and The Guardian (who owned City Life) DIDN’T THINK IT WAS VERY FUNNY. A bit like me and the text message pregnancy thing IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT…….
(we all laugh about it now, OKAY?)
Anyway, before I get too distracted, you know what a music festival is like (I assume… otherwise… are you lost??) but imagine a music festival with a quaint little British town in the middle of it. Where the Stone Circle should be. Possibly. That’s the genius of Festival No. 6. Unless you went into the main field, despite the rain it was a relatively mud-free festival. Plus the Welsh Male Voice Choir sung Blue Monday. Which was EPIC. I’m secretly being stalked by New Order, I tells ya!
The high(low)light of Sunday afternoon was when the Manchester band Everything Everything did a photoshoot for NME on the beach in the worst possible hour of THE YEAR to be on a Welsh beach. With the rain pouring and the wind lashing, we were trying to recreate the bit in The Prisoner when he gets attacked by ‘Rover’, the bounding white ball that acts as a sentry for ‘The Village’ from which none can escape. Sadly, our Rover escaped…
BUT giveadamn… there was Primal Scream AND New Order (see? They ARE stalking me!). A good weekend had by all. But at the end of it I had to get my mum’s car back to her by 8am on Monday morning, so we drove back to Liverpool through the night, giving NME stalwart Mark Beaumont (NOT the guy who cycled the world, the other one) a lift because why the f—k not eh?
And you know the best thing? THE BEST THING??!! My mate Anna, who had already gallantly lent me her tent – and Dan her sleeping bag – let us all crash at hers at 3.30am when we arrived in Liverpool, caked in mud and nonsense. She did this because SHE IS THE GREATEST. I know you’re reading this Anna, just know that YOU ROCK MY WORLD!!!
The next day, Dan and I headed over to Chester to see his sister, Lucy (her of the infamous pregnancy text), her husband Tim and her brand new baby, Saul. A great kid and, well, I feel a lot less awful about that text now. Tuesday ended with me and my dad ace-ing the 3345 Parr Street pub quiz, with a little help from fellow geniuses Brian and Soraya. Thursday night saw me out on the tiles for one last hurrah and Friday I joined my top mate Danny for his last supper as an unmarried man. The next day entailed the last of the three weddings of my fellow Old Blues: Danny and Penny, two people I’ve known longer than most of you have been alive. A great couple and a great scouse wedding, I ended up throwing shapes on the dancefloor of The Palm House with Anna, who (once again) saved my life when some leery c— got all shirty about his shirt and the red wine that my ginger flailing had set loose upon it. See? Not all scouse weddings end up with a punch up.
Sunday was a blur of packing, saying goodbye and wishing my dad well for his upcoming heart operation. I was driven down to London by Daniel, the husband of my ex-girlfriend (previous to Mandy), something that bodes well for Mand and I’s future friendship. What can I say? Despite the rough-and-ready demeanour, I’m quite a nice guy. That night was spent with Lindsey — my ex’s best mate — another friend whose awesomeness knows no bounds.
Monday, my last full day in the UK, was spent frantically emailing the PR company for the cruise ship people and mucking about with visas. It was pissing down rain as I walked over to the Sudanese embassy. I thought it took ‘between 4 and 8 weeks’ to process the visa. Nah. They could do it there and then. One issue: it would only be valid for two months. I don’t know if I’ll make it to South Sudan by November 24, never mind North Sudan. So I ditched the proposition. My second passport would have to stay with the Lindsmeister here in London. In the afternoon, the weather improved and my shoes dried off. I walked to Islington, and, getting on the free wi-fi at The Bull pub on Upper Street, received the email I’ve been waiting my whole life for.
I have FANTASTIC NEWS!
Please see below:
Good news, embarkation / disembarkation are possible but as these are transit ports there will be no assistance with ground handling at the port (ie you will need to carry your own luggage on and off the ship) and, in case of any problems causing missed calls at these ports, we cannot take responsibilities for any costs incurred with onward journeys.
If you would like to proceed, please let me have full details of the passenger, name as per passport, date and place of birth, nationality, passport details,etc.
Please note we are not responsible for obtaining visas for this trip and this is the passengers responsibility.
COSTA. CRUISES. F—. YEAH!!!!!
This cruise leaves from Cochin, India, on October 18. It then goes to country 199. THE MALDIVES and country 200. THE SEYCHELLES before dropping me off in Madagascar, launchpad for Africa. So now all I need to do is get from Sri Lanka to India on a cargo ship AND THIS ODYSSEY IS IN THE BAG, BABY!!!!
I headed to the pub to celebrate with Scott and KC, the feisty redhead from my last post. Two feisty redheads in one place? Stick around, Pond…
I can’t enthuse about these last six weeks enough. I’d be a fool to pretend that everything was rosy in my personal life: most of my family aren’t talking to each other, my dad is going in for some risky heart surgery next month (and – my usual bad timing – I’m not going to be here) and did I mention Mand and I split up? I probably should have. But on the other hand – The Olympics, The Roundhouse, Blur in Hyde Park, Dino’s Wedding, Hugh’s Wedding, The Paralympics, Noel Gallagher, Festival No. 6, Danny’s Wedding, coming third in the film quiz… INCREDIBLE!! And all of it, everything I saw, everything I did, everyone I met, I did so because I have the most amazing friends in the world. Friends who have been there for me through thick and thin, though this whole mad quest, supporting me every step of the way, friends without whom I would have never been able to afford to come back.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Alex Wisby for meeting me at the airport, Stan Standryt for almost meeting me at the airport, Oscar Sharp for having a picnic, Daniel Martin for getting me into the Roundhouse and Festival No. 6, Matthew Eland for accompanying me around London when cider and sunshine was needed, Lindsey Bennett for Blur in Hyde Park, a place to crash and a shoulder to cry on, Mandy for making our last two weeks together as sweet as they could be, Anna Rosser for BEING THERE, Gemma Humm for making me dinner (and not giving me her lung Aids), Simon Barber for walking us to the chippy, Stephen Clarke for the Hollyoaks barbecue and drinkies, Lorna Brookes for coming to the rescue AGAIN (Costa WOO!!!) and Matt and Tiff Collins for just being ace. Congrats to Dino and Ruth Deasha for getting hitched and thanks inviting me along, ditto to Hugh and Gemma Sheridan and Danny and Penny Alexander. Thanks to Scott Jones for EVERYTHING, thanks to Laura Worthington for the cupcakes and Brian O’Connor for the correct answers. Thanks to Russ Pritchard for inviting me to see him jam with Noel Gallagher. Thanks to Michelle Samson for driving me up from London and thanks to Daniel Samson for driving me back down again. Thanks to Alan Roberts, Alex and Jim, Stuart Lanceley, Helen Power, Lucy and Tim Irvine, Grethe Borsum, Kaya Herstad-Carney, Soraya Lem, Liz Sillery, Sam Morton, Mary Dowrick, Paul Gibbs, Louise Jones, Helen Toft and Zoe Darnell for taking the time – and travelling up – to see us (you all did your level best to convince Mand that LIVERPOOL IS THE GREATEST CITY EVER – thanks x). Major thanks to EVERYBODY who chipped in to get me home, with a special shout-out to Sarah Newton and Martin Davies (above and beyond the call of duty guys). Thank you Mum and Dad for having me and supporting me, trusting in me and giving me the confidence to see this adventure through to the bitter end. And finally thanks to Casey for being the cherry on top of a rather exceptional cake!
I know I write some pretty irate blog entries now and again, but in real life I’m actually very slow to anger, and very hard to infuriate. But one thing is guaranteed to make the red mist descend. And it’s this: when people say that when (if!) I get rich and famous ‘I’m going to forget about my mates.’ Now, seriously, who does that? TWATS. That’s who. And while I do, on occasion, indulge in some behaviour that some might consider twattish, I’m not one of *them*. I don’t aspire to get somewhere in life and then sack all my mates off, nobody in their right mind would. Your mates are what make you. If you can’t stand your mates, it says more about you than it does them. If you haven’t already noticed, I’m 33 years old, newly single AND DON’T OWN ANYTHING THAT I CAN’T FIT IN MY BACKPACK. To think I was doing this for “money and loneliness” would be missing the point like a nerf gun fired at the night sky misses Alpha Centauri. I’m doing this because it’s fun. I’m doing this to make more mates, not lose the ones I’ve got. And yes, there are going to be sacrifices, there’s going to be heartache and crushing disappointments along the way, but I don’t leave my men behind. So long as people want to be my mate, I’ll be there for them. Yes I lean on them when necessary, but they all damn well know they can lean on me when the time comes. If you can’t say the same about your circle of friends here I have a sage bit of advice: GET. BETTER. MATES.
So today I left Blighty behind after what I can only describe as the best and the worst six weeks of my life. The worst because I split with Mand, who by rights I should have married 2 years ago and now have a kid on the way. But life don’t always work out like you want to. And the world is a tough nut to crack, I made my choices and now all I can do is live by them. But simultaneously, as though the world has just as sick sense of humour as I, going home and seeing the old crowd – I couldn’t have wished for a more spectacularly awesome time. The gigs, the festivals, the weddings… it was like a compilation album of all the best bits of your life crammed into six short weeks. All I can do at this point is say THANK YOU again and again and again. I often get told that what I’m doing is amazing. But if I’ve seen further, it’s only by standing on the shoulders of giants. Thank you x
And so back to Sri Lanka. Exactly one year TO THE DAY that I rebooted The Odyssey Expedition in Wewak, Papua New Guinea. That was Day 1,000. Now I’m on Day 1,365. I added the ‘M’ prefix in an effort not to scare away new subscribers, but I really need not have bothered: it now takes up more space than a simple ‘1’ would have done. Humph!
I flew Kuwait Airlines again, on the return ticket. Kuwait airlines cannot be given a good review by any objective commentator. The TVs don’t work, the babies scream and there’s no bleedin’ alcohol on board to smooth off the edges. Ygads. But, you know, airplanes do get you where you need to go, and FAST! Blimey, in the time it took me on a coach to go from one city in Turkey to another, I flew across five and a half time zones. The mad thing is that even though my principles are dead against air travel for all the pollution it causes, the ‘chemtrails’ of planes are actually responsible for keeping the temperature of the planet artificially low. Yes it sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s the way our climate rolls. In the days after 9/11, the average temperature of the US, where all air traffic was grounded, increased by 2°. TWO DEGREES!! Man, that’s some crazy heat-tide death that our planes are fending off. A bit like the sulphur (before the clean air acts) that kept us unnaturally cool from the industrial revolution to the 1960s. This is all true. As is global warming. I’m only interested in facts, and (I’ll say again), if you don’t understand that global warming is a FACT (and a very scary one that urgently needs address by, um, someone… somewhere…), can you PLEASE stop reading this blog. You don’t deserve entertainment. You don’t deserve to have things to read. To be quite frank, you don’t deserve oxygen. And if you have kids you’re even worse. You’re worse than the Archbishop of Canterbury standing on a stage next to the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and going on about what great mates you are AND KNOWING THAT IF YOU’RE RIGHT ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR SPACE WIZARD AND WHAT HE WANTS that your so-called ‘mate’ WILL BE TORTURED. For eternity. Which, as I keep stressing, is a metric f—- ton of time. Cognitive
Dissidence DISSONANCE (cheers Dino!) they call it, the ability some humans have to hold two completely conflicting concepts in their head at the same time…
Tangents, Graham… stick to the story.
So I have the Costa Cruise to country #199: Maldives, and country #200: Seychelles. In the bag. Sorted. It leaves Cochin on October 18. BUT… I still need to get to India. Easier said than done. So, first things first, no rest for the wicked, I got into Colombo airport at 4am, dropped my stuff off at Sachal’s gaff in Negombo and took the two hour bus journey to Colombo city. Sachal’s away in Pakistan at the moment, which is a crying shame. I went for a quick morning meeting with the representative of my old friends CMA-CGM here in Sri Lanka. They have a ship leaving on October 16 for Cochin. Needless to say, this would be cutting it mighty fine considering Colombo port is well known for its delays. The MV Kota Wiriwan, the ship I originally came here on, was delayed for three days, so this would be my very last ditch option… that’s assuming they agree to take me.
Then it was off to the Madagascan consulate to start the visa process rolling. I’ll be getting off the Costa Cruise in Madagascar and then taking a PIL cargo ship (I hope!) to mainland Africa for country #201: South Sudan. Unfortunately, I fell at the first hurdle… they wanted three month’s worth of bank statements. I should point out that the last TWO Madagascan visas I got only required a photo and were free. Now you have to pay and jump through a series of hoops that wouldn’t look out of place at Crufts. Cursing my luck, and knowing that the mini-calculator thing that allows me to access my bank accounts online was hidden away back in my backpack two hours north of here, I elected to try again another day. Next it was to the Indian High Commission, to make damn sure that they would actually let me in their damn country with this damn visa, you know: the one I just shelled out over $100 for in London.
And the answer is………
You see, India is quite possibly the most paranoid country in the world. You think the USA is bad for irrational fear and jumping at shadows, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. India is the only country in the world that you cannot enter on a ship even with a valid visa. Yep, even though it says ‘ALL PORTS’ on the visa application forms, let me tell you THIS IS A LIE. They mean ‘all AIR ports’. Maybe. Who knows? It’s India! Urgh.
So what to do, what to do? I may have had a bit of a mini-breakdown in the High Commission, prompting a measured amount of sympathy which lead me to a meeting with the visa department attaché. He wanted to see the documents pertaining to the ship I was planning to take to India. I explained to him that I couldn’t tell him which ship I was taking to India until I had specific permission from the High Commission to enter India on a ship because nobody will offer me a place until I get this specific permission (Catch-22). Then, either out of pity or just wanting to get the scruffy ginge out of his office, he told me that he would sort it out for me. All I’d have to do would be to apply again FOR A WHOLE NEW VISA (at a cost of £30) and – oh my giddy aunt, does this never end – they’re going to invalidate my London one EVEN THOUGH IT’S STILL VALID UNTIL MARCH 2013.
The visa department had just closed for the day, so I left, went to the nearby foodcourt, got on the internet and tried phoning OEL Shipping. No response. I got on Twitter and typed “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!”
And then I thought, f— this s—, I’m off down the pub.
It was the best move I had made all day. I was ace-ing the weekly quiz until the sports round, where my dismally dismal knowledge of the world of world sport came to bite me on the ass. Ten pictures of famous teams: from AFL to NFL to footy to Canadian Ice Hockey. I didn’t have a bleedin’ clue. I got one out of ten. If I had got seven I would have won the quiz – playing just me on my own is splendidly arrogant, but it isn’t always a good strategy for world domination.
But what is always a good idea is going to the pub, since, once again, I met somebody who is well positioned to help me get to India. This is the way the world works, wonderfully enough. You can send as many emails and make as many phone calls as you like, but nine times out of ten, the guy you need to speak to is in the pub. So, my advice: when the going gets tough, go the pub. Carl from New Jersey (capital: Trenton!) works for an Oil and Gas company who have a shipping division, the head of which is Carl’s good friend. They have ships going to Colombo to Tuticorin and Mumbai. I was about to leave and get the bus back to Negombo when Carl offered me his couch for the night on the proviso that we continue drinking until the wee small hours. Which is exactly what we did.
We’re getting there, slowly but surely, we’re getting there…
All dates and times are approximate and subject to Africa. Now that The Odyssey Expedition has been successfully completed, in the spirit of the adventure I will be overlanding it back my home town of Liverpool from Juba, South Sudan.
The Voyage Home (South Sudan To Liverpool)
Juba, South Sudan Tue 27 Nov Kampala, Uganda: Thu 29 Nov Nairobi, Kenya: Fri 30 Nov Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Tue 04 Dec Khartoum, Sudan: Mon 10 Dec Wadi Halfa, Sudan: Wed 12 Dec Aswan, Egypt: Thu 13 Dec Cairo, Egypt: Fri 14 Dec Port Said, Egypt: Sun 16 Dec dep 1900 Iskenderun, Turkey: Mon 17 Dec arr ~1900 Istanbul, Turkey: Tue 18 Dec - Wed 19 Dec Igoumensia, Greece: Wed 19 Dec dep 2359 Bari, Italy Thu 20 Dec arr 0830 dep 1538 Paris, France: Fri 21 Dec arr 0930 Liverpool, England: Sat 22 Dec arr @ Pier Head 1450
Be warned – these dates could change at any time without warning!! But if you’re going to be in any of these places around the same time as me and you feel an overwhelming compulsion to buy me a drink(!), please get in touch via my ‘Contact‘ page.