He's Back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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.

Leo.  x

Day 402: Don’t Stop Believin’

06.02.10:

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.

Sod it.

Let’s go!

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?

No.

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.

Grrrrrrr!!

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.

Day 403: Home Sweet Home

07.02.10:

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
  • Gravy
  • French Bread
  • Chocolate Profiteroles & Ice Cream
  • Cheese & Crackers

Yum.

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.

Day 404-410: Pubs and Publicity

08.02.10-14.02.10:

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.

Huzzah!

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.

BLUGH.

Days 411-417: Groundhog Day

15.02.10-21.02.10:

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.

Day 418: Paris When It Drizzles

22.02.10:

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.

Day 883: A Breath of Fresh Air

02.06.11:

For somebody with my fun-seeking personality traits it may come as a shock to some of you that I’ve never knowingly taken an illegal drug.

The closest I’ve got was haplessly sharing a ‘Happy Pizza’ in Cambodia back in 2002: coming from the country that also has a ‘Happy Rifle Range’ I (rather naively) thought it would be the Cambodian equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  Well it wasn’t for kids and I didn’t get a toy, but do I have to concede: it did make me happy.

So despite all the travel, all the gigs, the random house parties and music festivals I’ve attended over the years, nobody has ever seen me smoke a joint, snort a line of cocaine or declare I can fly after taking acid.  I don’t need acid to fly, I have Ryanair.

Okay, some people may have seen me in a nightclub sweating like a madman and hugging random strangers while simultaneously attempting to chew my own face off, but that’s just how I dance.

If I get a little agitated when some narcotic is being passed around in my presence, it is not because of the existence of said narcotic, but because of the looks I get from my peers when I politely decline.  A kind of ‘do you think you’re better than us?’ look which I don’t really deserve.  Of course, I do think I’m better than them, but that’s only because my healthy arrogance leads me to believe I’m better than everyone… it has little or nothing to do with what they choose to suck into their own bodies.

So it may come as a further shock when I say that I am 100% in favour of the ending of prohibition and the legalisation of ALL drugs.  As soon as possible.  Obviously not to make my life easier, I don’t grow them, deal them or take them: but to make this world – the only planet we’ll ever know – a more peaceful place for everyone.  Everyone.

And, guess what?  There’s a whole bunch of powerful people who FINALLY agree with me…

BBC NEWS: GLOBAL WAR ON DRUGS HAS ‘FAILED’ SAY FORMER LEADERS

But (I hear you scream) drugs ruin people’s lives!!  Yes.  Yes they do.  But then so does falling in love with the wrong person, getting pregnant at 16, your boss being an utter bastard, eating too much, not eating enough, bad tattoos, plastic surgery, adultery, modern architecture, World of Warcraft, RELIGION!!! …but none of these things are illegal in the Free West.

Although Modern Architecture possibly should be.

I hope you don’t think I’m being unduly flippant here comparing drug addiction to adultery.  Look at the suicide statistics: drugs (if involved at all) are almost always a secondary factor after relationship breakdowns, mental illness or peer group isolation.  ‘They ruin people’s lives’ is an inept an excuse for keeping the status quo as when people say ‘There’s no point in getting rid of Hitler / Stalin / Pol Pot / Idi Amin / Trujillo / Pinochet / Milošević / Saddam Hussein / Colonel Gaddafi / Mugabe / Bono – because somebody else will just replace him.’  Don’t get me started on that one.

Humans do tremendously dangerous things in their everyday lives – they drive cars, climb ladders, breathe in all kinds of germs on The Underground, get drunk, change lightbulbs, eat undercooked meat, climb aboard a jet plane or take leaky wooden boats over high seas with no radio.  We can’t (and shouldn’t) stop them doing these things, but we can all work together to make these risky propositions a little less fraught – health and safety guidelines, for example.  The same should be true of drugs.

Mentally competent adults living in a free society should be able to claim 100% ownership of one thing: their own bodies.

Your own body should be the one thing that is inherently YOURS.  Whatever bonkers thing an educated, mentally competent adult wants to do to their own body – so long as it harms no others – should be the alpha and omega of human rights.  If we can’t claim ownership of our own faces, arms, legs, hearts and livers then we are nothing.  Your body is the one thing that every human – from the shoeless orphans of Kinshasa to the privileged toffs of Cambridge – has dominion over from birth, and that’s an authority that no other human should be able to take away.

We can’t get away with saying that everyone who has ever taken drugs is insane.  If that were the case, over a QUARTER of the British population would be certifiable.  And that’s just the people who didn’t lie on the survey.  There are millions of functioning cocaine users all over the UK.  Chances are you’re sitting less than 50 metres away from one RIGHT NOW.

Of course there is plenty of “well, I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but other people – you know, stupid people – shouldn’t” being bandied around, but even with a monster ego like mine I couldn’t even think something as arrogant, well, not with a straight face.

But I come now to the crux of the argument: making something legal does not make it ‘right.  There are enough people out there who disagree with abortion – fair enough, nobody is going to force them to have one.  People don’t like horror films, fine – don’t watch them.  I can’t stand Russell Brand: happily I have a remote control.  When drugs are legalised – and I’m confident this is something that will happen in my lifetime – I will continue to pass on the joint to the next person.  I don’t smoke, I have never smoked, I hate smoking and I’m not going to take up something I detest just because it’s legal.  Did legalising homosexuality make otherwise completely heterosexual people gay?  Of course not.  I’m never going to degrade myself my snorting a line of legal cocaine any more than a holiday to Spain is going to make me want to fight a bull.

‘But we need to protect the children!’ and on that point, Mr. and Mrs. Knee-Jerk Reaction and I heartily agree.  But do the maths.  Governments around the world waste TRILLIONS of dollars trying to stop drugs entering their countries and locking up dealers.  Turn that around.  With legalisation, regulation and taxation governments would not only make billions in tax, they would save billions by cutting the prison population by up to THREE-QUARTERS, all but eradicating drug-related crime, as well as the massive savings that would be made on things like policing, customs and legal aid.

All that extra wonga could be spent on IMPORTANT THINGS like education, health care, and stopping terrorists blowing stuff up.  It could be spent not on protecting a 21 year old accountant from himself, but on educating kids on the real dangers of drugs (like the problems cannabis can cause to a developing brain) and on severely punishing people who give or sell drugs to minors.  Hell: there’d be enough empty cells to throw them in.

At the moment the only people befitting from the status quo are the drug dealers.  If anyone can suggest to me a criminal activity that is as profitable or as easy as dealing drugs I’m all ears.  A note to would-be jewel thieves: you’re in the wrong business, mate.

And don’t give me that hackneyed old crap about some drugs being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others.  The ongoing Mexican Drug war last year resulted in the cold blooded MURDER of more people than ANY OTHER WAR CURRENTLY BEING FOUGHT IN THE WORLD TODAY.

And where does most of the cannabis – soft lovely squishy friendly hippy cannabis – that’s in the United States at the very moment come from??

Mexico, of course!!  Hey stoners!  That’s a f–k load of blood you’ve got on your hands!  Well done you!

The time has come for us all to band together for the good of ourselves, our communities, our civilisation… and support this movement to rid the world not of drugs (because that is proving impossible) but of drug lords. And the only way to do that is by legalising the whole stinkin’ lot of them.

Yes, I agree that drugs are not the best of ideas, but all we are doing with this daft prohibition business is making a bad situation worse.  Drugs exist.  They always have and they always will.  While vast numbers of humans on this planet want to try them, we’re never going to stop them.

If I want to dick around with the chemical composition of my own brain, (MY brain, not yours) no farmer in Colombia, mother in Mexico, kid from Moss Side or policeman in Baltimore should have to sacrifice their lives to the process that makes that possible.

I decided at a young age to never take drugs – not for religious reasons, not for health reasons, not because I’m a party pooper, but because the whole dirty business – and it’s nothing but a business – made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.

Perhaps I saw a future in which I could stand up against hypocritical politicians such as Barack Obama and David Cameron and point out just how much blood they have on both hands.

Their left hand for giving money to drug dealers when they were younger – something they both admit – and their right hand for supporting the profits and business practices of today’s drug lords by keeping drugs illegal.  Whose interests are these bastards representing?  Us?  Or the drug lords… and the global trail of death and misery that they leave in their wake?

BBC NEWS: THE PRICE OF MEXICO’S ‘DRUG WAR’

Even as the war on drugs continues to pile up the casualties, drug rehab program options for addicts everywhere continue to increase.

One thing is for sure: my hands are clean. I’m putting them up in the air and surrendering. The war against drugs has been lost. It’s time to declare war against the drug lords: a war we can win without firing a single shot.

Day 884: A Greenpeace of My Mind

03.06.11:

There’s a movie that I implore you all to watch: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. It tells the story of an incredibly stupid guy called Timothy Treadwell who thought that the Grizzly Bears of Alaska were his friends. He treated them like pets, like members of his family… and they ate him.

A true, cautionary tale that we should all draw some important lessons from. One is that wild carnivorous animals are not our friends; they deserve our respect and awe, but to them we are nothing but walking slabs of meat. The other is so self evident that it hardly needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t f–k with nature, because nature will f–k with you. And you don’t need Dr Frankenstein to explain that you don’t stand a chance.

I’m in Australia at the moment watching with horror as the so-called ‘Liberal’ party (something they are anything but) openly questions the scientific FACT of climate change. Yep, these elderly selfish cretins are so moronic that they honestly think they can change the amount of CO­2 in the atmosphere, the temperature of the sea and, yes, THE WEATHER by voting against it. Shocking, yes. In the UK, there is a cross-party consensus concerning the science of climate change: there may be disagreements on the methods that should be employed to tackle this future ill, but at least they all agree that it’s actually happening and that it’s all our fault.

It’s time to stop asking what Planet Earth can do for us and instead focus on what we can do for Planet Earth. ‘Stop needlessly filling the atmosphere with carbon’ would be a good start.

There are stark parallels between the Australian Liberal party and Timothy Treadwell. Both think they can trump the laws of nature, both believe that they shoo reality away with a bizarre gust of optimism (it’ll be right, mate) and both think that the scientific consensus of the world is wrong and that they are right – with no evidence, no expertise and no scientific understanding or endeavour.

But there ARE crocodiles, and if you swim in the river, chances are they’ll eat you. Misunderstanding the evidence will not save your life.

But this issue is bigger than crocodiles and grizzly bears, it’s an epic tragedy that will affect the lives of everyone and everything on our lovely little planet. Such high drama is worthy of one fella: the Bard of Avon. So I hope you don’t mind me stretching a metaphor like so much Lycra over a massive pair of buttocks, and I also hope you recall a little Shakespeare from high school…

The Liberal party of Australia have nailed their colours to the mast: they and their gormless supporters have proven themselves to be greedy, easy-manipulated, cowardly, unimaginative villains in the grand tradition of epic tragedies of yore. They are the Macbeths of the political landscape, constantly screaming ‘yeah, but what’s in it for ME?’: grand, obnoxious, selfish and guaranteed to come a cropper by the end of Act V.

Then there are villains equally as hopeless, but not necessarily driven by inherent greed or selfishness: they are the Hamlets of the world, caught short by their inaction, indecisiveness and procrastination. They are the politicians and representatives that have seen the evidence, know something must be done, but don’t have the grit necessary to take the bull by the horns and kick it in the bollocks.

The Hamlets’ monumental inability to deal decisively with the ‘something’ that was rotten in the state of Denmark (The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit of 2009, anyone?) has lead them on a merry path to damnation. They could have done something, anything, but they didn’t – they just put off the decision for another few years. Nice one, guys – it’s not like every day it’s getting worse or nuthin’!

Like their namesake, it’s not just the Hamlets that will pay the consequences of their inaction: it’s everyone around them. Instead of seizing the opportunity to cut out the rot before it spreads, they went fishing. Unchecked, that rot will ooze like black tar all over our otherwise groovy planet, until there isn’t a single human, animal, plant or insect that isn’t affected.

But what I find most concerning are the Othellos of this global Shakespearean tragedy: those that have seen the evidence, burn with a desire to do something about it, can do something about it, but go about it in entirely the wrong way. While not the obvious villains of the piece, they turn out to do just as much damage, moreso perhaps. Greenpeace, I’m looking at YOU.

Greenpeace is the poster boy for the environmental movement, but, sadly, it singularly fails in its task of – there is no other way to put this – saving the world. By that I mean the world as we know it, of course the good ship Earth will outlive all of its present life-forms (including us), but (given the choice) I would prefer that ‘our world’ lasted another 100,000 years rather than a mere 100.

How should Greenpeace go about saving the world? By focussing all of its efforts towards stopping the damage we are doing to the atmosphere and encouraging people to have fewer kids. That’s it. Simple, but by no means easy. A noble goal that anyone in their right mind would support.

But what’s this? GM crops? Nuclear power stations? DDT? Whaling?? No offence guys, but who given the scale of the rather monumental task ahead, don’t you think that you should be, you know, concentrating your efforts? If we allow the Macbeths of the world to continue to wreak havoc on a global scale, there won’t be enough crops, genetically modified or otherwise, to feed the unsustainably-increasing population of the world.

Then again, I may find it an unnecessary distraction, but it’s not the division of Greenpeace’s labour that I have a real issue with. I guess pushing for sustainable farming and preserving virgin rainforests have their benefits to the overall scheme of avoiding all things Armageddon.

My real issue is Greenpeace’s inability to push the Hamlets into action and whip the Macbeths into submission. Note I used the word ‘inability’ there: it’s not like I think they don’t want to, it’s that I believe they can’t. Why? Because they keep kicking away the one weapon that they desperately need to slay the Tony Abbots of the world. That weapon, ladies and gentleman, is SCIENCE.

Greenpeace has an uneasy relationship with science. They seem to see it as an enemy, possibly because Greenpeace activists are, by-and-large, drawn from the Storms of the world rather than the Tim Minchins.

While Greenpeace continues to battle scientific consensus and the very foundations of scientific reasoning, the impasse will remain, while the impasse remains the atmosphere ain’t getting any cleaner.

Greenpeace’s quixotic battle against Genetically-Modified crops is one of their more bizarre and counter-productive crusades. Joining forces with the likes of The Sun newspaper and David Icke, they denounce GM crops as ‘Frankenstein Food’ and make claims (utterly refuted by all scientific studies) that it causes cancer.

Newsflash, people: you know dogs? Yeah, dogs: those annoying yappy shit-machines that bring love and support to the olfactorily challenged?

Genetically. Modified. Wolves.

Over thousands of years of selective breeding we now have a magical cornucopia of doggie breeds, from the Chihuahua to the Doberman. We did that! Humans! Meddling with nature! Woohahahaha!

You know Brussels sprouts? Those nasty little orbs of solidified fart that your auntie forces you to eat at Christmas?

Genetically. Modified. Cabbage.

As is cauliflower. And broccoli for that matter.

If it wasn’t for humans meddling with the forces of nature, Chihuahuas and Brussels Sprouts would not exist. And neither would Friesian cows, Clydesdale horses, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, garden strawberries, Granny Smith apples or King Edward potatoes. We made ’em all, through years of selective breeding, modifying the genetic code like crazed Dr. Frankensteins intent on world domination. But with CABBAGE!

Have these marvellous inventions increased the amount of suffering in the world? Have they caused untold damage to the delicate global eco-system? Have they wiped out civilisations, pulled apart communities or given people cancer? No. No, they haven’t. Is Greenpeace’s objection to GM crops based on any scientific reasoning whatsoever? No. But what they are saying is this: scientists are not to be trusted, go with how you feel about something, not the actual evidence.

Nice one, Greenpeace! So let’s ignore the research carried out by NASA, Universities all around the world, the Met Office and the Royal Society in favour of our gut instincts. You can see where this is going…

And then there is the spectre of nuclear power. Now while I agree that the world would be a much more lovelier place if it wasn’t for nuclear weapons, I cannot say the same about nuclear power. 75% of France’s power is nuclear. If they upped their ante on renewable power and got everyone to convert to electric cars, they could be the first carbon-neutral country in the world in just five years. Not bad for a country of 63 million people.

And why should we not be using nuclear power? Because it is perceived to be dangerous. But how dangerous? As unhealthy as making men dig in South American coal mines? As dangerous as a Qatari gas tanker filled to the brim with ultra-flammable fuel sailing through Somali pirate waters? As bad for the environment as deep-sea oil drilling? As bad for the economy as relying on the tyrannical regimes of the Middle East for our electricity? According to all the available data, no. According to Greenpeace, yes.

Again after Fukushima (as after Chernobyl) there was much pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth from the environmental brigade, and (as after Chernobyl) their apocalyptic fantasies failed to come true. More coal miners died in the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand last year than died tackling the partial meltdown in Fukushima. Let’s put this into context: this plant was hit by one of the five biggest earthquakes in recorded history. It was then hit by a 14 metre wall of water: an unprecedented attack in the history of nuclear power.

And what is the reported death toll from the clean-up operation? One. Yup. One person shuffled off this mortal coil – and that was from a heart attack. There is a leakage of radioactive isotopes around the immediate area, but can we please put this into context? 25,000 people died on that awful day in March, and so far not a single person has been killed by radiation poisoning. The Fukushima exclusion zone (at its height) was 20km around the plant. Compare that to the 80-square-mile (210 km²) “kill zone” surrounding the blown Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. So far two people have been hospitalised by radiation poisoning in Fukushima. 500 people have been hospitalised in Europe from eating ORGANIC CUCUMBERS.

I can’t stress this enough: just because nuclear power is complicated, it doesn’t mean it is inherently more dangerous than coal, oil, gas or even – yes – ORGANIC CUCUMBERS. Fossil fuel – even when NOTHING GOES WRONG – is substantially worse for the miners, transporters, the global economy, local environment and, of course, the whole bloody planet.

Nuclear power could save us, save the whole goddamn world, but is Greenpeace pushing for investment, research, safety procedures, more plants? No. They’re pushing to have no plants whatsoever. Why? Because scientists ain’t to be trusted.

Isn’t that EXACTLY what batshit crazies like Tony Abbot, Sarah Palin and THE ENTIRE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY are saying? Don’t trust the hard science, don’t peruse the facts, just come up with your own judgement based on how you feel.

This makes me furious – and I’m not even a scientist. I haven’t spent my life drilling ice cores in the Antarctic, corralling weather balloons, studying glacier retreat in the Himalayas, analysing meta-data from temperature monitoring satellites all over the world… I haven’t done anything to make you live longer, invented anything to make your days more entertaining nor perfected a formula that will make you more comfortable. Scientists have, and despite the fact that we’re an ungrateful bunch of bastards, science is not going to give up on us – it’s going to keep on searching for a cure for cancer, working out new and wonderful ways for us to communicate, it’s going to keep the internet running smoothly, our planes in the air, food on our shelves, power in the grid and our air-bags ready to spring from nowhere and save our lives.

This isn’t Lord of the Flies. If we burn down This Island Earth, a helpful ship isn’t going to come and rescue us. There isn’t going to be a Deus Ex Machina ending to all this, since if there ever was a Deum (which I doubt) he packed his bags and left this place a long time ago my friend.

The environmental movement, if it is to drown out the non-committal drone of the Hamlets and the ignorant bluster of the Macbeths, must begin to use scientific data more honestly. Stop cherry-picking, stop ignoring pertinent and demonstrable facts just because they don’t suit your world-view; and for heaven’s sake, stop appeasing these c—s in the oil industry by giving them ANY room to manoeuvre.

At the moment Greenpeace, like Othello, is its own worst enemy. They are playing right into the hands of the oil barons, by believing half-understood rumour over demonstrable fact. If only Othello, instead of slaying Desdemona, just listened to her – trusted her – they could have teamed up, destroyed Iago together and exploded his nefarious scheme.

But Othello, like Hamlet and Macbeth, ends in tragedy. He doesn’t listen to reason, he doesn’t even bother to independently examine the evidence, he just acts on impulse, emotion and a twisted sense of personal justice. We don’t have time for such games. The stakes are too high. The anti-science bias of the environmental movement has to end, and it has to end now, for all our sakes – even those who are too pig-ignorant or pig-headed to see what’s coming.

Day 885: The Frog and The Scorpion

04.06.11:

It cracks me up that so much positive emphasis is put on stuff that is ‘natural’.  Talk to your average punter in the street and they’ll invariably make the assertion that the more natural something is, the better.  The fact that arsenic, earthquakes and cancer are 100% natural and that most things human beings do is pretty goddamn unnatural seems to idly pass them by.  We should be getting back to nature, they say, whereas I say – much in the manner of Kate Hepburn in The African Queenthat ‘nature’ is what we are here to rise above.

Nearly everything you do in your waking life is magnificently unnatural, and rightly so.  You get up and eat cereal covered in cow’s milk (eek!) – which is rather unnatural.  You then brush your teeth with unnatural fibres, put on clothes woven with unnatural materials, get in your unbelievably unnatural car, drive on an unnatural road, go to work in a completely and utterly unnatural building and sit on your unnatural computer all day unnaturally communicating with similarly unnaturally-inclined people all over the world.

You come home, pet your unnatural dog, eat your unnaturally heated dinner off a plate that I’m fairly sure didn’t grow on a tree and watch stuff on your comprehensively unnatural widescreen TV before – if you’re lucky – doing some devilishly natural things in the bedroom.

Let me break this scenario down: we shouldn’t be able to drink cow’s milk.  Most people in the world are lactose intolerant beyond the age of around four.  No mature animal in the natural world drinks milk squirted out of another species.  Your toothbrush is made from oil found up to a mile below the surface of the Earth and I have to say I haven’t seen too many cats drilling for oil recently (despite what Eddie Izzard says).  The same is true of the nylon and polyester in our clothes and the fact we wear clothes in the first place – do chimps wear pyjamas?  Only when they’re selling PG Tips.

As for cars, roads, buildings, computers, the internet: hells bells!  How much more unnatural do you want to be??

As I said yesterday, your dog is not natural, it’s a genetically modified wolf.  You think that in the natural world bees make a ridiculous amount of honey for FUN?  More than they would ever possibly need?  Of course not: we did that, dicking around in our apiaries, poking around with their queens and generally meddling with powers we cannot possibly comprehend.

Woohahahahahaha!

What other animals own Playstations, fly aeroplanes, race each other on the backs of other animals, play sports, read books, brew beer, trade money, go skydiving, undergo chemotherapy, use contraception, launch telescopes into space, pay taxes, look after the disabled, produce Mars bars or go Scuba diving?

Are any of these things natural?  No.  Are any of these things good?  Hell Yes.

But for some reason (marketing, I’d say) the world ‘natural’ has become synonymous with ‘good’.  Funny how when things are perceived as good they are called ‘natural ingredients’, whereas they when they are perceived as bad they are ‘harmful chemicals’.  What’s the hell is this NaCl doing on my chips…?!  Grr…

The most unnatural things we do are associated with medicine.  In the natural world, an impoverished family has a child, it dies.  In the natural world, if a child is born blind, it dies.  In the natural world 1 in 3 human births result in the death of the child or the mother.  We don’t live in a goddamn natural world.  And thank f—k for that!

The horrible truth is that the ‘natural’ reaction to the news that your wife has been unfaithful is to kill the other guy and give your wife a damn good raping.  Civilised?  No – not by a long chalk, but at least it would be ‘natural’.

I can’t state this enough: civilisation is not natural.  You want nature?  Check out the warring tribes of Papua New Guinea, the thousands of Indian children who die every year from diarrhoea or the systematic rape of woman in Darfur.  I’m sorry, says the scorpion as he sinks to his death, it’s my nature…

Isn’t it interesting that while the Catholic Church is happy to condemn the unnatural-ness of contraception, they have little to say about how incredibly unnatural welfare states are.  The very same welfare states that ensure the survival of unwanted or poverty-stricken children produced as a indirect consequence of the Church’s unwarranted annexation of the reproductive systems of half the human race.  Half, mind you, and – of course – it’s never their half, is it?

While the Pope is content to live his life steeped in unnatural trimmings – and I’m not just talking about his hat – and go so far as to profess SUPER-natural abilities, he (and many religious and prejudiced people of his ilk) see the completely 100% NATURAL fact that a good number of us humans are attracted to members of the same sex (as are a good proportion of dogs, sheep, penguins, fruit flies, etc…) as ‘unnatural’ and therefore ‘immoral’.

Just in case you really believe that humans invented homosexuality for a laugh (possibly with the intent of making Baby Jesus cry), I would really like you to read up about our closest cousin, the Bonobo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonobo.  I think you’ll find the information under the heading ‘Social Sexual Behaviour’ most illuminating.

And if that’s not enough for you, the good people at Wikipedia have put together a marvellous list of all the gay animals it can get its grubby little hands on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals.  Be warned, it’s not a comprehensive list: there are at least 1,500 species – mammals, insects, birds, lizards – you name it – that, for one reason or another, sometimes prefer to bowl from the pavilion end.

This bumbling adherence to the mantra of “natural = good, unnatural = bad” is overly-simplistic, morally abhorrent and intellectually bankrupt.  It needs to be stopped, forthwith!  If people find the idea of two men going at it hammer and tongs distasteful or are haunted by the fact that given a certain angle and a certain light they themselves might be ‘turned’, they should just admit it – to hide behind the old lie of ‘it’s not natural’ is not just cowardly – it’s demonstrably wrong.

But in this world we live in, so desperate are we to condemn others for the choices made for them by Mother Nature, so pathetic our need to one-up each other, that we have made the word ‘unnatural’ synonymous with the monstrous, the perverted, the subversion of civilisation… when it should mean anything but.  As Hobbes pointed out a long time ago, life for humans in our natural state is brutish, nasty and short.

We live in a world of pernicious memes: viruses of the mind.  And while ad men conning us with their ‘100% natural ingredients’ is just a bit of fun, the flip side of that way of thinking takes us to some very dark places indeed.  In short, some natural things are great, others are not so great.  The same goes for unnatural things.  You can’t, and shouldn’t, use something being ‘unnatural’ as an reason to espouse fear or hatred – especially when the activity in question occurs all over the natural world.

The maddest thing about all this is that when you think about it long enough, nothing we do is really that unnatural: everything on this planet is made of naturally-occurring elements and isotopes.  We just find new combinations and uses for them… using our highly evolved brains and opposable thumbs.

In fact, the only thing we can talk of as being 100% unnatural isn’t to be found here in this old plane of reality.  The only truly unnatural thing is the supernatural.  And as such – thankfully – it only exists as a quirk of the human imagination.  But (naturally!) that’s another story…

Day 886: An Open Letter to Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson

05.06.11:

After the death threats I received for slagging off the Cape Verde police force on this very blog, I learnt a pertinent lesson: don’t say what you really think until you’ve left the damn place.  I was therefore saving my torrent of abuse concerning the Australian government’s wretched treatment of tourists until after I was well shut of the otherwise good land of Oz.

However, after finding out it’s going to cost me $255 to extend my AUSTRALIAN TOURIST VISA (which I shouldn’t need in the first place), the dam has burst.

The fury leaping out of my fingertips must be converted to 1s and 0s and plastered all over the net before I explode.

The Aussie Tourist Visa (that’ll be $29 please, thanks KA-CHING!) lasts just a paltry three months.  Then you’re supposed to fly to another country and back to renew it for another three months.  If you can’t be arsed doing that (unsurprising when the nearest OTHER COUNTRY from Melbourne is at least four hours away on a jumbo jet) you’re hit by a admin fee that is actually MORE THAN the minimum penalty for being caught drink driving.

If I’m to read between the lines here, I would have to suggest that tourists in Australia are less welcome than drink drivers.  Ygads.

First up, I want you to realise something: last year, more tourists visited Bulgaria than visited Australia.  You think that’s bad?  More people visited Syria than visited Australia.  But then you can get a visa for Syria upon arrival.  See where I’m going with this?

There are, of course, salient geographical reasons for Australia’s dismal tourist figures: Australia is, after all, miles from anywhere.  Getting to Melbourne from Europe means sitting on a minimum of two planes for a minimum of 24 hours.  Needless to say, it’s not somewhere you go for a weekend break.

Coupled with the wince-inducing strength of the Aussie dollar (take any price and double it. Then double it again.), the logic of being the ONLY WESTERNISED NATION IN THE WORLD to require TOURIST VISAS from Europeans just utterly beggars belief.  Yes, you don’t need a visa to visit Argentina, a country the UK was at war with in the 80s.  But you do need a visa for Australia… a country that puts our Queen on their banknotes and our flag in the corner of theirs.

I hate hate HATE having to apply for a visa to visit a country.  99% of the time it instantly marks a state out as being nasty, oppressive and totalitarian.  There are 142 countries out of the UN 192 that do NOT require a European tourist to purchase a pre-paid visa.  Those that do are in the minority: they include such luminary and enlightened countries as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Belarus, Angola, Libya, Turkmenistan, Guinea, Somalia… and Australia.

I can’t stress this fact enough: I have been to every westernised country that exists in the world and not one of them required me to ask permission of the government to pop in for a visit.  Except Australia.

Are Europeans likely to come here by mistake?  Might they take that ill-fated left turn at Albuquerque and end up in Alice Springs?  Maybe Australia is terrified of being swamped with the flotsam and jetsam of the richest and most powerful countries in the world [insert lame convict joke here].  Is it because Australia is so insecure, so tentative in its footsteps on the world stage that it would prefer to linger in the collective subconscious as Crocodile Dundee’s delightful Aboriginal-loving kangaroo-saving larrikin without having to suffer the indignity of people coming here finding out it’s not like that at all?

Indeed, the only logical conclusion one can sensibly reach is that Australia doesn’t want, much less need tourists.  Like the boat people (and the Aboriginals if only they weren’t – you know – here first) Aussies would much rather you buggered off back were you came from.  Which is not just sad, it’s self-sabotage on a scale that would make your average West African dictator blush.

And – dear lord – have you seen the ads?  The ‘come to Australia’ ads.  OH. MY. GOD.  They give me visions of entering the Australian Tourist Board Marketing Department to find a room filled with baboons wistfully daubing the walls with their own faeces.  See for yourself:

Let me make this quite clear: we are not talking about working visas here, we are talking tourist visas.  Australia makes around $17 BILLION a year from tourism.  I don’t know if the government is too arrogant or too incompetent to understand what a whopping great chunk of cash that is, but I can’t help but feel pretty damn unappreciated for all my hard work over the last ten years periodically dragging money from my British bank account and peppering it like candy around the dance halls, dives and brothels of ol’ Melbourne town.

Lest not forget that the Australian tax payer did not pay for my education (thanks, Blighty old chum), I cannot claim benefits, the dole, working tax credits or train to be a master of falconry while I’m here.  I cannot work, I cannot claim free medical care and if I’m hit by a car, it will cost me (or my insurance company) $779 just to be taken to the damn hospital.  No, really – the ambulances here aren’t free.

In contrast — and by ‘contrast’ I mean ‘ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ SERIOUS??’ — an Aussie tourist can pop over to the good ship UK any time they want, they don’t have to ask for prior permission(!), they can stay up to six months (visa free), can visit pretty much every other country in Europe while they are there (visa free) and get hit by cars all they like because the ambulance dragging their mangled remains back to the hospital is paid for by the Great British taxpayer.

This is because in the UK we don’t just like tourists, we LOVE tourists.  They’re like little mobile piggy banks dispensing fivers around the realm, fivers that we didn’t have to invest a packet of our tax money to generate in the first place – tourists are a net gain for my country, your country, any country.

I’m not saying this situation is unfair, the fact that UK is enjoying the fruits of a massive boom in tourism over the last fifty years is not something I’m ever going to disparage – long may it continue.  But the way the Australian government treat its tourists is stupid.  Plain and simple, totally and utterly, mindbogglingly and heartbreakingly stupid.

So, in short, Mr. Ferguson – you are a treasonous dog who is diddling the good people of Australia out of their much-needed tourist dollars.  Visa requirements for tourists from prosperous western nations should be scrapped immediately and a six month entry stamp should be the norm.

Oh, and if you want your long-suffering tourist board to produce an advert that wouldn’t make Basil Fawlty scoff at your embarrassingly barnyard attempts at advertising, put a European in charge.  Actually, put ME in charge.  With a decent budget, a small film crew and a handful of good looking actors, I could make each and every feisty travel-lovin’ European sit up and beg for buttermilk.  Australian buttermilk.

Graham
Melbourne, Australia
June 5 2011