I didn’t sleep last night either. Beginning to see Tyler Durdun. But then I did watch Ocean’s Thirteen yesterday. The lack of sleep has not helped my general disposition. I do have to take my YouTube vids down, I’ve got no choice in the matter. Sorry. The option is a one way ticket to Palookaville, and I’ve already been stuck there for six weeks AND I DIDN’T LIKE IT.
I’ll throw up some footage of Stan and I being manic and hilarious around Europe last year instead. At least I own that mini masterpiece.
So not a good start to the day. Compounded by the fact that I rose at 6am ready to get off the ship (we docked in Rotterdam at 5:45am) and found myself pacing up and down on deck until the shipping agent finally rocked up about 8.30am.
Missing my 8.50am train to Calais means that I’ll miss my ferry across the Channel and therefore my train back home to Liverpool.
This is all conspiring to make a bad day even worse.
As if to add insult to injury, I’m now sitting on a train with a bunch of French kids who have no volume control (and this is coming from Foghorn Freddy over here) and, I’ve got to be honest about this, their ridiculous singy-songy flob of an accent is driving me UP THE WALL. Sorry, there are some accents that make my skin crawl and I’m afraid loud obnoxious French is one of them. The same thing happens when I hear guttural Scouse, dumb Texan and broad Brum so don’t go accusing me of being a Francophobe. Viva La France! OO. LA. LA.
I don’t care much for German or Israeli accents for that matter – they sound like someone hacking up. Or Thai – I hate they way they elongate the last letter of the last word in every sentence. And New Yorkers with all that talking through their nose crap – oh yeah, count Sydneysiders in with that group. And Northern Irish – sounds like real Irish sifted through a babelfish of whiny malcontent. Camp Manc drives me up the wall as well. As for the Welsh… Look. I didn’t set out to be an accent Nazi, but I’m not in the best of moods today. Go away.
I quite like Scottish.
Okeily Dokeily. As expected, I missed my Calais-Dover ferry connection by the skin of my teeth, so I’m going to be an hour and a half late getting into Liverpool – which means I’ll have to wolf down my dinner like an shoeless orphan at Christmas before Kimos – the best eatery in Liverpool (listen up Lonely Planet, I know you’re watching) – closes at 11pm.
But to hell with it! I got the next ferry and now I’m zooming through the GLORIOUS English countryside (it may as well be humming ‘Jerusalem’) as the sun sets in a cloudless spring evening over the brilliantly hued fields of canola. It’s not too hot, it’s not to cold, it’s just right.
Wow. I was a bit wrapped up in myself earlier to think about this, but dagnamit, I’ve just travelled through more countries in FIVE HOURS – (Netherlands, Belgium, France and England) as I did in FIVE WEEKS in the midst of all that Cuba malarkey.
[Which you have now been denied the inside scoop on. Sorry. AND MY FOOTAGE OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE BLASTING OFF WAS AMAZING!!!!! Graham – leave it. Leeeeeeave it].
Oh well, the thing is that barring some major disaster, I’ll be back in dear old Liverpool in just a handful of hours. To me, home is wherever I hand my hat, but something will always draw me back to that crazy cacophony of a city that sprung me on an unsuspecting world back in the late seventies. And you know, it’s done a grand job of keeping my flighty mind entertained these past thirty years. There’s nowhere in the world I wouldn’t visit, but there are very few places I would live. So far Liverpool, Melbourne and New York is as far as the list goes, so I guess it’s a pretty special place.
And I’ll be there in just over three hours.
My friends and family are coming to the station to meet me and the next few days may be some of the craziest of my life. I’m going to attempt to get around the Five Nations of Britain and Ireland in just 17 and a half hours. Without flying, of course. The inaugural Five Nations Pub Crawl Odyssey is about to begin.
Today really started last night when I was met by my top chums from the old school, Lindsey and Michelle, in Euston Station. We only had twenty minutes before my train left for Liverpool, but they bought me a carrot cake and a coffee and laid out the welcome mat for me. I was home. Back in the UK, back in the UK.
My train pulled into Liverpool’s Lime Street Station at 10.20pm and the welcoming committee was amazing. About thirty of my mates, plus my mum, dad and brother Alex, all cheering and waving flags (thank you Steve!) for my arrival. It was just awesome. I was shaking – like a teenager waiting for a phone call from someone they fancy the pants off.
LIVERPOOL !!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
We headed inevitably pubwards and before we knew it we were back in the Heebie Jeebies, back where I belong. Everything went so fast it was all a bit of blur – I treated myself to a (much needed) shave in the middle of the courtyard and changed into fresh new clothes. Hugh took my dad to the Blue Angel (hilariously) and I got to sit down with the people I like best and enjoy the delights of the famous Heebs’ £1 bottles of Stella.
#Sometimes you’ve gotta go where everybody knows your name
#And they’re always glad you came
#You wanna be where you can see, troubles are all the same
#You wanna be where everybody knows your name
After everyone who had work in the morning slowly drifted away to bo-bo’s, the more feisty of us headed up to the Magnet for a bit more booze and a (bizarre but very welcome) dose of KILLING IN THE NAME OF. Duh duh DUH! Around 4am, we staggered over to Scott’s flat as everyone tried to get at least an hour’s kip before we had to be at James Street Station for 6am. I don’t know about anybody else but I didn’t actually get to sleep, too goddamn excited!!
The plan was this: To hit all Five Nations of Britain and Ireland in less than 24 hours without flying. Liverpool to Holyhead to Dublin to Belfast to Stranraer to Manchester to Liverpool.
So in the wee small hours Laura, Hugh, Scott, Stuart and Matt the Mick accompanied me to James Street Station where we met up with Leo and jumped on the train to Chester.
At Chester train station, I met with top mate Lucy who was on her way to work (small world eh?) and then the magnificent seven of us all bungled our way onto the train for Holyhead in Wales. Our hangovers started kicking in at this point, but we weren’t going to let them get away with it. A swig of whiskey was all I needed to get back on track, although I did crash out on the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire.
A quick introduction to my friends at this point is in order.
Hugh! Hugh is an old school chum, although being in different classes (I was in R, I think he was in P – (which, when I was 12, obviously stood for Perverts, Poofs and Paedophiles) we didn’t really hang out much until sixth form. But Hugh’s prowess in the Krazy House moshpit was one of which I’m still in awe of, and, like me, he’s one of those people who say yes to everything, no matter how bananas. If I wake up somewhere in Liverpool and have no clue where I am or how I got there, chances are I’ve been out drinking with Hugh the night before.
Matt the Mick! Matt the Mick is an old mate from uni – originally hailing from Belfast. We shared digs in third year, one of the craziest years of my life, when I tried my hand running for General Secretary of the Student Union (a sordid tale of racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism run amok which resulted in me turning my back on politics until the day I have no heart left to corrupt).
We once teamed up for the weekly uni debate to argue for giving Northern Ireland back to the Irish. Matt argued on the grounds of history, geography, the potato famine, Oliver Cromwell etc; I argued on the grounds that the Northern Irish are a bunch of whinging layabouts whose sorry contributions to the world included The Titanic, The Cranberries and the DeLorean fiasco and we British were better off without them (although the DeLorean could go back in time, which was pretty cool).
We won the vote and, surprisingly, Matt still spoke to me afterwards.
Leo! Leo swaggered into my life by marrying my cousin – they met backpacking in Australia. Originally from Dublin, he’s not only exceptionally witty, he’s a top webmaster, he plays every musical instrument under the sun and was the main character in two of my shorts, Day of the Jackanape and The Censor. I think if this were the 1800s, one would refer to him as a polymath.
Good ol’ Leo is head honcho here at theodysseyexpedition.com; his job at the moment pretty much revolves around removing all the swear words from my blogs so that they’re kiddy-friendly. The crafty butcher.
Stuart! Mand and I met Stuart way back in the heady days of 2003. Although terribly posh for someone who grew up just over the river Mersey, he’s got a heart of gold and a marvellously warped sense of humour.
He was looking for video work, so was I, and we decided to combine forces. This worked out quite well, with cameras, tripods, lights, mics etc going back and forth between us as necessary and we soon moved into an office together on Dale Street, which happened to be next door to…
Scott! Scott is the top graphic design genius behind the covers of some of the biggest selling albums of the last five years, including The Arctic Monkeys. You really wouldn’t guess that he’s from Wales. He heads up Bad Format!, a design company that looks set to take over the world. Together with Hugh, Scott is responsible for some of the more hilarious scrapes I’ve found myself in over the last few years. He designed the logo for The Odyssey.
Laura! Laura is a fellow video director who burst onto the scene back in 2007 whilst I was in the midst of The Beer Vortex (a three-month long beer and couchsurfing experiment). We met in the Jacaranda and she’s followed me around ever since. Obviously, being a happily married man (kinda) I have done all I can to shake her off, but she still follows me about, looking exceptionally foxy and usually clutching a video camera. Like me, she’s hopped on the Lonely Planet gravy train and they’re paying for her to film my UK shenanigans for the TV show.
Like Matt and Leo, she’s Irish, so we had the full complement of British and Irish nations covered, if you count my ginger beard as Scottish.
On our arrival in Dun Laoghaire, we had five minutes to get off the ferry and catch to the train for Dublin, or the whole plan would have gone out the window. So we ran like lunatics through the ferry terminal, slap bang into an Irish copper who wanted to know why we were filming ourselves running through the ferry terminal. We spluttered out an excuse about being students or something, flashed our passports (which must have proved we weren’t in Al-Qaeda) and continued running for the train.
At this point we lost Stuart, much in the style of The Adventure Game, and he was forced to walk home on his own. And then there was six.
So the Dirty Half Dozen continued on to Dublin railway station and then onto another train to Belfast. A couple more drinks and we were in fine fettle. It was about 4pm, we had 90 minutes before our ferry to Scotland, plenty of time for a swift-half. But, unbeknownst to us, six months ago Stena Lines had elected to move the ferry terminal from quite close to the railway station to THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON!
After walking for what seemed like days, we wound up at the Ferry Terminal with only ten minutes before the damn thing left. So no Guinness in The Crown for us! Bah! At this point, Leo teleported out like a self-aware redshirt and then there were five.
So the Famous Five jumped on the ferry over to Stranraer in Bonnie Old Scotland. The sky was blue, the sea was calm, nothin’ better. Once back on Terra Firma, we blagged our way onto the 7.40pm coach to Manchester, watched the sun setting over the glens, and Hugh saved the day by getting an exceptionally loud Romanian guy (who sounded so much like Borat it was almost unfunny) at the back of the bus to shut the hell up so other people can sleep.
Pulling into Manchester at 1.30am, we headed pell mell for The Curry Mile – for the curry I had been desperate for since the end of December. There we met fellow nighthawks Dino, Stan and Matt Eland, who deserve a little bit of an introduction.
Dino! Dino Deasha is probably my oldest mate from school. Though no fault of our own, we got the number 68 bus together every day for seven years. Dino (along with Ben and Yoz) is responsible for getting me into good music and we’re been to more gigs together than Mick an’ Keef. We lived together in uni and both worked in the union bar. Dino was with me in Egypt when I met Mand (he tapped off with her sister, the sly dog) and he’s probably got more dirt on me than everybody else who knows me put together. If this Odyssey thing results in a modicum of fame in the UK, it’s Dino who the tabloids will want to speak to.
Stan! Another uni mate – Stan Standryt and I worked in the union bar and with his irresistible lamb-chop sideburns, I had no choice but to take him under my wing and introduce him to the world of the music festival. Together we’ve been festing it every year for the past ten, all over the UK as well as foreign adventures in Denmark, Serbia and Thailand. I guess he’s quite respectable in his day job, but at night I’m a very bad influence.
Matt Eland! I know too many people called Matt. Actually, I know a disproportionate number of people whose name beings with ‘M’, but that’s another story. Matt Eland was in the team that should have won the Liverpool 48-hour film challenge back in 2006, but lost to my effort, Day of the Jackanape. Woo..ha..ha..ha. Not being a bad loser, Matt teamed up with me in 2007 to make The Censor and a bunch of other vids. Madcap adventures and nights of craziness ensued.
And so, after a bloody tasty curry at the Al-Nawaz, the scouse contingent bundled into a shared taxi and returned to Liverpool, arriving at about 5am. I said my goodbyes to the guys and got a bit of a lump in my throat that I won’t see them again for another year. But, you know, today just went to show that when you finally make it home, it’s still there waiting for you like a pair of comfortable slippers – and in many ways it’s like you never left.
I stayed at my parent’s house and had just enough time to charge up my laptop and have a conference call with Lonely Planet before sheer fatigue rendered me incapable of doing anything but dribble and stare at the hundreds of tiny luminous stars I stuck to my old bedroom ceiling fourteen years ago in a fit of teenage abandon.
I awoke in my old bedroom, mid-morning. A rather strange sensation, I have to say. Is that it? Is it all over? That was easy!
Oh, hang on… rub your eyes mate, you’ve still got a LONG way to go. This is merely a pit stop, and the ultimate goal of all this – to see my girlfriend Mandy again – is still a long way away, calling me to the antipodes via Europe, Africa and Asia.
I could hear that my brother Mike and his son Matthew had already arrived to see me, as well as my auntie Dorothy and my cousin Yvonne (Leo the Webmaster’s wife), so I dragged my carcass out of bed and got showered and dressed.
My mum had made (a damn tasty) lamb roast for lunch and very soon it felt like a typical Sunday meal at the Hughes household, just without the inevitable game of Trivial Pursuit. Only, I had swapped my watch for my old one and it hadn’t been set to British Summer Time. Here’s me thinking it’s 12 noon when actually it’s 1pm – and my train to London was leaving at 1.48!
I bounded from the dinner table to race upstairs and stuff everything in my bag – I hadn’t packed! I ran through all of the things that I thought I would need to keep me going for the next eight months of travel through Africa and the like, but ten minutes isn’t really enough time to make a decent checklist, is it? So anything that got left behind got left behind. Seriously – I’ve only got 4 pairs of underpants now.
Hell with it – I’ve got my passport, credit card and my video camera. Anything else is just showing off.
I said my hasty farewells to my family and got my mum to drive me to the train station, arriving with just minutes to spare. Bye, mum. Waiting for me was Laura, clutching that video camera of hers (well, mine actually BUT LET’S NOT SPLIT HAIRS) to accompany me on the train down to London.
I barely had time to sort out my bag (and dump my excess nonsense on Laura) and conduct an interview before the train pulled in to Euston. It was a quick tube ride to number 1 Regent Street where I nabbed myself an inter-rail ticket and met up my friend Lindsey again.
The weather was bloody spectacular, so Laura, Lindsey and I sat in the shadow of the British Museum and ate ice cream. But all good things and all that jazz…
I hopped on the 6:15 train to Dover. It was packed full of commuters. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my scruffy bags, battered leather jacket and silly hat. I could feel them eyeballing me. Look at this fella here – he hasn’t got a proper job has he? When did this idea of the necessity of having a ‘proper’ job infect the British mind? Did Newton have a ‘proper’ job? Keats? Darwin? Shackleton? Lennon? I think not…
Stick your ‘proper’ jobs where the sun don’t shine, London. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I gazed out of the window at the fields and villages whizzing by, it was like Monday evening being rewound and put back on the shelf. The sun set in the vague direction of Liverpool, but there was time for one last adventure today.
The ferries from Dover stop taking foot passengers at 7pm. Did you know that?
Well I didn’t.
But Lisa, the lovely girl in the Eurolines office, helped me out – she booked me on a coach and asked the driver if it would be okay to pick me up on the way to the ferry. He said yes and so I was all set for the 10:30pm coach to Brussels, arriving at the crack of dawn the next day. That all worked out quite nicely for me, so I headed over to the nearest pub and had my last real pint and joined the locals in putting the world to rights.
My 48 hours in the UK was over. Next stop – continental Europe.
Well, as predicted, the Micau didn’t leave. Christ, they must be running out of excuses now. Maybe a black cat crossed the path of the captain today, or the boatswain shot an albatross or maybe the chief engineer has grown an improbable pair of boobies? Christ knows!
Today, I discovered a hidden delight, courtesy of the lovely American girl Callie. Her boyfriend runs a great little café a little out from the city centre, which is FULL of English-language books (how I’ve missed them!). I WISH I had known about this place a month ago, it would have saved me hours of tedium stuck in Café Sophia. Callie’s boyfriend, Frazer, is a wonderful chap – he speaks with a deep, deep RP British accent that I would have liked to have bottled and taken with me.
Last night, before he left, Colin generously gave me his copy of the excellent, excellent book ‘Real England’ by Paul Kingsnorth. I can NOT recommend it enough. I stayed up all night reading it from cover to cover. It’s written by a bloke about my age, someone who is dead against the likes of the BNP and all that childish nonsense, but who is concerned with the state-sponsored homogenisation of everyday life creeping over our green and pleasant land like HG Wells’ red vegetation of Mars.
In short, we are more interested in preserving the culture of others that we are of preserving our own – to our eternal shame.
If you’ve been following my blogs since the start, you’ll know that one of my biggest bugbears is the triumph of the faceless, corporate blandification of our planet. I keep banging on about this horrible globalised architecture and commodities I find cropping up everywhere, not because I’m some crazed old fuddy-duddy who just likes to cock a snook at modern life, but because it matters. It matters to our collective wellbeing. We are not automatons, not Vulcans, not a bunch of joyless, emotionless Borgs, desperate to fulfil our days as the gimp of stone-faced economists.
We are losing all the stuff that makes us who we are. Our pubs are being taken over my vacuous chain gangs, our post offices are on their last legs, local councils of the 1960s conspired to destroy the historic centres of every single town and replace them with DISGUSTING concrete shopping malls, while the national government ripped out two-thirds of our railways. BT did a cracking job of removing all the Gilbert-Scott phoneboxes in the 1980s, the much-loved Routemaster bus has been replaced by the much lambasted bendy-buses, the countryside is being bought up by the rich as nothing more than a weekend getaway, leaving much of the rural way of life nothing more than a vacant set of houses clustered around an empty pub.
The triumph of Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s has been to destroy the traditional high street for the sake of convenience. They are also squeezing the few remaining farmers tighter and tighter. When a British supermarket announces a 2-for-1 offer, it is the farmers or producers that foot the bill, NOT the supermarket. Meanwhile, when the words ‘town hall’, ‘library’ or ‘church’ used to mean the grandest building in the area, although you don’t have to be a professor of art history to realise that since we started crawling through the desert of the municipal bland fifty years ago, they now refer to the mealiest, more cost-effective clumps of Vogon-delighting concrete imaginable.
I am not the only one who despairs at the viral-like spread of these ratholes they call ‘bars’ in the UK – not quite a pub and not quite a nightclub, but somewhere in between where you can be guaranteed that there is nowhere to sit, the music is too loud to chat, you have to wear uncomfortable shoes to get in and there’s no air conditioning, or windows, or dance floor, just a moronic DJ giving shout-outs to whatever teenage mongs ask for them – everything callously planned by suits in marketing meetings to ensure that you (the witless consumer) consume as much overpriced alcohol as possible – hence the standing, not talking procedure, while you while away your time (and more, importantly, your cash) in a ubiquitous, hellish, sweaty wood and chrome capsule of mediocrity. They treat us like cattle and we pay them for the privilege.
To my eternal shame, I did not realise until I read ‘Real England’ that the Paradise Project (in my home town of Liverpool) annexed an entire third of our city centre on behalf of the third richest man in the UK. Nobody said anything about it. In short, they are not our streets anymore. Paradise is now owned by a bloke – a private individual. The council have given him the freehold of the STREETS – not just the buildings – for the next 250 years. Which means, that a large chunk of our city centre is now private property patrolled by private security guards. Great! I guess that’s somebody else’s vision of paradise, because it certainly isn’t mine.
And what happens when people stand up have a go at the directionless direction we are headed? We are told that we are ‘against change’. Like change is the be-all and end-all. Like things have to be different in the future no matter what, no matter that a good idea (sewers, chess, football) is a GOOD IDEA – timeless. Pitched roofs are a good idea, they have been for thousands of years, until the modernists turned up, declared that things must be changed and introduced flat roofs to some of the wettest countries in the world. A stupid, stupid concept that has resulted in thousands of buildings all over the UK having roofs that leak. And they always will. If you want a flat roof, come live in Cape Verde. It only rains for three days a year.
Yes, there is such a thing as progress and I’m not against that, but change for the sake of change is just dumb. Why must every generation believe it is the first to invent everything – sex, drugs, rock n’ roll? We need to learn from the past and steal all the best bits, not just ignore it on the grounds that we’re the cleverest cleverclogs that ever walked the Earth. We need to wean ourselves off this utter ridiculous obsession with wealth and convenience. We should not be busting a gut to ensure that Tesco’s shareholders can buy themselves yet another holiday home in the Algarve, we should be busting a gut to ensure we are happy, our family is happy, our friends are happy and our communities (remember them?) are happy. We should be supporting our shop keepers, our local producers, our local pubs and cinemas. We should but we don’t. The only things we’re keeping happy at the moment are the vast corporations – the Nikes, De Beers, Apples and Wal-Marts of this world. They don’t need to be kept happy, they do not have a heart and they will never experience a long dark, tea-time of the soul.
Over 10,000,000 people in England take anti-depressants. We are not a bunch of Sunny Jims. Why not? We’re the fifth biggest economy in the world, aren’t we? We can buy all the DVDs, MP3s, PS3s we want, and then some. We can all watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on a Saturday night, drink a cold beer and be sure that we will not catch Cholera from the water supply. There are no starving people, we are exceedingly healthy, there is no war and the crime rate is very low. It doesn’t seem to add up does it? Shouldn’t Wealth = Happiness? Isn’t that what we’re always told? Won’t all our troubles be over once we win the lottery?
The old motto of the United States (before they decided that this ‘God’ fella was trustworthy (ha!) – but that’s another story) was Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness. A brilliant motto from a more civilised time. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what really matters? To be healthy, free and content? Apparently not, our governments (left or right, it doesn’t matter) emphatically do not compete on the world stage to have the happiest country in the world, but they do compete to be the richest. That, in practical terms, means squeezing every last penny out of every last ‘consumer’ (that’s us, baby!) and keeping us buried under mountains of debt buying crap we do not actually want or need.
Life is desperately, desperately short and there is much to do. The question is this – on your deathbed, do you want to lie there remembering the things you did or the stuff you bought?
Our government wants it to be the latter, it’s better for the economy. But it’s this obsession with squeezing every last penny out of everything, of those disgusting words – cost effectiveness – that is destroying the very things that make England English – our pubs, our small businesses, our market towns, our canals, railways, our real ale, our apples and our pears. The crazy thing is – when you sit back and look at it – they’re the things that make us happy. And we’re letting them go to the dogs by supporting vast sheds of closely monitored totalitarianism like Bluewater and The Triffid Centre. This is not progress. This is NOT progress.
It’s time to take a stand. I implore you – pick up a copy of Real England. Go down the road and buy your stuff from your local shops. Support your local pubs. It’s not hard! Purchase your fruit and veg that is grown and produced nearby, not stuff that is frozen and shipped halfway across the world. Get involved in your local community. Support it.
Because if we don’t we face the future depicted in Demolition Man – a bland, corporate Disneyland version of the world in which there is no joy, nothing unique, no chance for individual excellence, no chance of escape.
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.
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 Potatoes (fluffy on the outside, crunchy on the outside)
Broccoli, Peas and Green Beans
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.
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.
Woke up at Stan’s gaff at some monstrously early hour, but Stan was good enough to not only make me a cup of tea, but to drive me to the nearest Tube Station. I’ve had mates in London now for years, negating the need to ever stay in a hotel or backpackers. But now I’ve got mates from Buenos Aires to New York City, Nova Scotia to Brazzaville, Pretoria to Iraq, Sierra Leone to Cairo, Reunion to Antigua and Tunis to Melbourne; this is possibly the most exciting thing to come of The Odyssey – I’ve left a trail of mischief from one end of the planet to the other, and I’ve always got somewhere to stay. Hooray for CouchSurfing.org!! I might have gone a few weeks without singing its praises, but by-eck, it’s BLOOMIN’ MARVELLOUS!
The plan was simple: Get to Rome. Go to port of Civitavecchia. Get boat to Tunisia. Visit Libya and Algeria. Back to Italy. Boat to Greece. Bus to Istanbul. Continue with The Odyssey. How long is that going to take? Two weeks? Okay…you’re on.
I got a little worried that I was supposed to check in for my coach to Rome an hour before departure and in typical Odyssey style, I was checking in ten minutes before departure, but there was no problemo, and before long, we found our bus clambering onto the train (which was a little weird if you think about it) that shuttles you through the Channel Tunnel. Well beat my breeches and call me Mary, having never gone through the unfortunately-named Chunnel before in my life, here’s me going through it twice in one month. Bizarre!
Arriving in Paris, I had a couple of hours stopover and had made arrangements to meet with Michelle Hoffman, a journalist from the Associated French Press, who were interested in doing a piece on little old me. So I had to walk about with all my bags (looking quite hilariously chubb after all that damn fine home cookin’ of the past fortnight) while she filmed me…and I wittered on about African jails and visa formalities and the general flotsam and jetsam that has a tendency to drop out of my clanging manhole every time I open it.
It was a fun way to pass the time, but time, tide and buses wait for no man. Soon, I was back on a coach thundering through the night towards Italy. The lethargy of the past couple of weeks was infectious and I have to admit to sleeping pretty much all the way.