Day M119: Architecture’s Last Hurrah

Tue 24.01.12:

Up early and it was ta-ta Wellington (I’d be returning next week sans Mandy) and yey off to Napier! Napier is a seaside town on the east coast and was rather fortunate to be destroyed by an Earthquake in 1931. When I say fortunate, I don’t mean that earthquakes are a good thing, I just mean that if it had been destroyed in 1971 they would have re-built the city using disgusting blocks of concrete that wouldn’t look out of place on a WWII battlefield. Happily, the thirties were the decade of the last great hurrah of architecture (before they decided to embarrass and frustrate the hell out of future generations by not building anything beautiful ever again), Art Deco.

And so Napier is adorned with some of the finest examples of the movement this side of Miami. Yeah, I know it’s just dolled up concrete, but so’s the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool: it still looks totally kick-ass. IT IS POSSIBLE! For a architecture nazi like myself, I was in seventh heaven. WHY DON’T WE STILL BUILD STUFF LIKE THIS??!!! I cried to myself noisily in the street.

Why, Why, WHY???!!

So Mand and I spent a pleasant day skipping around Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the Southern Hemisphere.

In the evening we stuffed our faces with steaks from the Hogsbreath restaurant and then grabbed a couple of drinks in the local Irish pub. There’s ALWAYS an Irish pub.

Days M120-122: All Good Things

Wed 25.01.12 – Fri 27.01.12:

Mand was supposed to be joining me on my FREE cruise back to Australia, but she couldn’t get the time off work (I would have resigned, but hey) and so she had to fly back to Oz and leave me on my own to enjoy the luxury five-star treatment that the good folk at Carnival and Princess Cruises had lined up for me.

And so, with a heavy heart, I drove Mand back to Auckland airport. We hugged. We kissed. We said goodbye, a word that we use far too often. I’m as amazed as you are that Mandy puts up with me gallivanting around the world, but the farewell was made moderately sweeter by the fact I would be seeing her again in just two weeks time.

I dropped the car off and headed back to the Queen Street Backpackers (warmly recommended). In the evening I met up with Craig and Linda who write the Lonely Planet award winning travel blog http://indietravelpodcast.com/. Yes I will meet you if you send me a tweet! And then I surrendered my sanity and ended up in the World Backpackers nightclub watching a wet T-shirt competition. Really.

The next morning, hungover and smelling of last night’s kebab, I rucked up for an interview with ‘Up Close’, a current affairs show here in NZ. Here’s what we came up with:

Best interview so far by a mile. They spent an entire day with me. I just wish I didn’t look so chubbtastic. I’m planning to lose a couple of stone before I return to Liverpool. Anaemic Dysentery here I come!!

In the evening I decided to do a spot of CouchSurfing and so I met with Anna, the local CouchSurf ambassador. We had a great evening, a quiet one, hanging out with her mates and talking shop about the world and all the joy and wonder to be found within. Anna is one of those people, perhaps like you, that travels vicariously through other people’s adventures. But, probably like you, she intends on doing it herself once those awkward badgers life throws at you are sorted out and/or grown up.

The next day I had a couple more interviews to conduct (shoehorning the words ‘Princess Cruises are the best!’ in any which way) and thought it best to stay in the city for my last night in Auckland. The English Pub of Auckland (yes there is one!) is called ‘Spitting Feathers’ and is warmly, warmly recommended. I ended up dancing the night away in some place that I barely remember, abandoning myself to the whim of Bacchus.

Day M123: The Sea Princess

Sat 28.01.12:

So let’s go. The ship leaves today for Australia in a roundabout kinda way. Why the hell am I going back to Australia? I hear you cry. Simple really, the only ship that goes to Nauru leaves from Brisbane next month. After the P&O cruise last November, I made a few friends in Carnival, the guys who look after Princess, P&O, Costa, Cunard and all that lot in this neck of the wood, and asked them (nicely!) if they’d let me stowaway on one of their ships to Oz from NZ. To my delight (and surprise) they said yes, so long as I did some publicity for them along the way. I HEARTILY ENDORSE THIS PRODUCT AND/OR SERVICE.

As the Scarlett Lucy only goes to Nauru once a month and I had already missed the January sailing, why the hell not eh? For that matter, why not take a cruise that stops in at Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin along the way? I’m in no hurry. So long as I get to Brisbane by Feb 20 I’m quids in.

And so, in a nutshell, that’s how I managed to blag myself a free cruise. One that should have cost me thousands. Hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know…!

But before I was due onboard I had some old friends to catch up with. I don’t know if you remember Kerri and Andrew, but I certainly do. They were the wonderful yachtie couple that rescued me from Antigua all those years ago. Man, that was THREE YEARS AGO. THREE YEARS!! When I started this adventure I was 29. When I finish I’ll be 33. So. Frikkin. OLD!!!

Kerri and Andrew were in town for the Seafood Festival, and being a lover of all things seafood, I elected to join them for a few hours. It was great to catch up with some bona fide Odyssey Heroes (there’s a part of my website that’s WAY overdue for an update!). They left on the 3pm ferry back home, I ran to the Queen Street Backpackers, picked up my backpack and checked onto the incredibly large cruise ship just waiting for me in the port.

If you ever come to Auckland, come on a boat. Seriously, it’s walking distance to the city centre. The airport is MILES away!

And so I was allowed on board, dressed like a travelling clown, not only that but I was SPOILED. Like, seriously SPOILED. My room had champagne on ice, a free mini-bar and a bunch of flowers waiting for me. Damnit, why isn’t Mandy on board with me? The nameplate on the door said “Mr. Graham Hughes and TBC TBC Guest”. That could have been Mandy. Thinking about it, it could have been YOU.

I familiarised myself with the booze and, given my computer, old Dell Boy, had finally had the gonk, asked if I could perhaps borrow a laptop for a few hours. No problem, here you go, give it back when you leave. Seriously? Yes, seriously. And the internet? Normally charged at $2.75 a minute? Oh yeah, that’ll be free for you.

I almost burst into tears. Free cruise, free booze, free food, free internet, free laundry? Are you kidding? Life is sweet man, life is SWEET. I don’t care that I don’t own a house, a car, a telly or a coffee table. I don’t care that I’m never going to play for England or be a rock n’ roll star. I don’t care that I’ve earned less than £50,000 so far in my entire life put together. I don’t care that people have lined up to screw me over, use my unique abilities to line their greasy pockets. I don’t care that I’m never going to achieve all that I want to in life (there’s not enough time) RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW… I F—ING RULE!!

 

That night the ship pulled out of Auckland and I waved a fond farewell. But this would not be the last I’d see of New Zealand: the ship was due to visit Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin before I could kiss goodbye to this great southern island, country number 194 of The Odyssey Expedition. Do you know what country 36 was? Iceland. Country 131? Djibouti. Country 180? Brunei. We’re getting there, my fellow Odysseans, only SEVEN nations left now: Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan.

BRING IT ON!!!!!

Days M124-126: Taumata-whakatangihangakoauauo-tamateaturipukakapikimaunga-horonukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

Sun 29.01.12 – Tue 31.01.12:

Sunday morning and The Sea Princess arrived in the rather lovely port of Tauranga (pronounced Toe-ronga). I had a bit of a mooch, watched some watersports that were going on down on the beach and thought about climbing up the volcano, then thought better of it.

The next day we ship pulled into Napier, allowing me to waste even more photons taking piccys of the rather awesome architecture. I also got to meet Bertie, Napier’s unofficial art deco ambassador and his awesome 1930s motor.

Bertie, The Art Deco Ambassador

That night we would be sailing past Mount Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, one of the longest place names in the world. I managed to get the Maori barmaid of the local Irish boozer to read it out for me, but I wouldn’t stand a chance. It means…

“The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

There’s actually a longer version of the name which is “Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-Tamatea-haumai-tawhiti-ure-haea-turi-pukaka-piki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-ki-tana-tahu”, which translates as “The hill of the flute playing by Tamatea — who was blown hither from afar, had a slit penis, grazed his knees climbing mountains, fell on the earth, and encircled the land — to his beloved.”

Don’t say I never teach ya nothin’.

Tuesday saw us return to Wellington, and I used the opportunity to meet up with Ian Barnes, an old friend of mine from back in my uni days in Manchester. It was great to catch up and find out what all our good chums and mortal enemies were up to there days. After talking politics for a few hours, I thought it might be a wheeze to visit the old Parliament Building here in Wellington, and I’m jolly glad I did, for the awful modern beehive thing is not the Parliament, it’s just for the Prime Minister and his crew. The actual Parliament building (behind the beehive) is as sexy as hell, bring it on baby.

As parliament was having a break I got to go into the actual debating chamber. It took a lot of mental will to not jump onto the speakers chair and scream ORDER ORDER!

That night we played a version of Jeopardy in the Vista Lounge. I teamed up with fellow cruiser Jane and her daughter Caitlin to storm the quiz by force. We amassed a stunning $18,500 worth of monopoly money and then, since we had got every question right so far, we gambled it all on the last question. We could have gambled nothing and still won, but for the sake of hilarity, we went all in. My fault, sorry. We lost the lot. The last question? What book holds the record for being the most stolen from public libraries?

The clue is in the question. The Guinness Book of Records. We put Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

D’oh!

Days M127-128: The Auld Alliance

Wed 01.02.12-Thu 02.02.12:

Christchurch is not somewhere for holidaying at the moment, and since the major earthquake last year, cruise ships have been calling at the place down the road, Akaroa. What’s interesting about Akaroa is that it was intended to be the beginning of a full-on French colony that was to encompass the whole of the South island. Could you imagine? Two New Zealands: a British north one and a French south one. Eek!

Luckily for New Zealand, before the first French colonists arrived, the British had signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori tribes, giving them power of attorney (or something) over both islands. Yeah, I know you think that’s a bit mean saying they were lucky not to be colonised by the French, but ten of the richest countries in the world were British colonies and ten of the poorest were French colonies. Just sayin’…!

The French colonists were allowed to stay, so long as they didn’t try to impede British sovereignty and shaved their armpits. So Akaroa has this charming Frankish feel to it, a bit of Gallic oh-la-la that I found quite endearing. The lovely architecture helped.

It therefore seemed fitting that the next day we would call into Dunedin, the place I should have been last week for Burn’s Night. I had stumbled around Auckland asking all and sundry if anybody had haggis on the menu. It wouldn’t have been hard in Dunedin: the city was founded by Burn’s Nephew. Seriously, there’s a massive statue of the great Scottish Poet himself in the middle of the town square.

The options on the table for Dunedin included a trip to the chocolate factory (BRING IT ON!!) or a tour of the local brewery.

So then, Speight’s brewery it is. A fine old-fashioned brewery still using the traditional big wooden vats. The best bit? At the end of the tour you get left in a bar, five beers and one cider on tap and you can drink as much as you can in 20 minutes. Oh boy.

Upon seeing the massive queue for the bus back to the cruise, I opted to (cheekily) sneak onto the P&O bus which was going to the berth next to ours. With a little time to kill, I sauntered over to the village next to the port in order to grab a cheap bottle of wine, since you’re allowed to bring on board one bottle a day. Fortunately for me, I happened to stumble upon a few buddies from the cruise and asked them (very nicely) if they wouldn’t mind carrying a bottle each on board for me. They didn’t mind at all, and I was stocked for the next few days.

Back on board the ship I proceeded to maximise the boozy advantage and slipped effortlessly into the beer vortex. Goodbye New Zealand, my sweet little 194th country. NEXT UP: THE RETURN TO OZ!!!

Days M129-131: Three Sheets To The Wind

Fri 03.02.12 – Sun 05.02.12:

Friday took us around the Southern Cape of South Island and along the majestic Fjords of the incorrectly-spelt Fiordland National Park. As part of the deal for the free cruise, I had offered to do a talk about my travels for the delight of my fellow passengers. The talk went down quite well, and I was buoyed by the presence of my new buddies onboard, the Young Guns.

You see, there were not many 32 year olds on board the Sea Princess. In fact there was only one. I know that cos I met him. So the options consisted of hanging out with people old enough to be my grandparents or with people barely old enough to buy cigarettes. Of course, I balanced this out rather well, managing to get myself adopted by the grannies during the day and being the irresponsible adult corrupting the youth of Athens during the evening. As only half of the Young Guns were old enough to be in the nightclub after 10pm, we ended up in the library playing board games until the wee small hours.

With my lecture out of the way and with nothing to get up for the next morning, it was time to down the remains of my minibar and cause as much mischief as I could get away with. Which was a surprising amount. The next morning, thunder rolling in my head, the phone in my cabin was ringing. I was too scared to answer it, thinking it might be reception giving me a right royal telling off for last night’s shenanigans.

Turns out it was reception, but they just wanted to ask me if I’d like to come up for a tour of the bridge. Whoops!

Saturday was formal day, and since I had been invited to cocktails with the captain in the evening, I decided that this might be the day I would wear the suit that Mandy had lugged over from Australia for me and that I had been lugging around New Zealand for the past two weeks. The shoes made me wince (I’m big on being smart, not looking smart) but I endured: it was a good excuse to get my laundry done. So, all shaved and respectable-lookin’ I rambled around the ship until it was time for the ‘Where In The World’ quiz, which I won, on my Billy Lonesome, just to prove I could.

MAKE IT SO!!!

After downing the prize: a bottle of champagne, I set off for the ‘new year’ party that was taking place in the main atrium. A bit of goofy dancing later and I was outside the Razzmatazz Nightclub, three sheets to the wind. Apparently at some point I stood up, declared that I was far too drunk for this kind of thing and took myself off to bed. True story.

Sunday was the last day of the cruise. By now we were very close to Australia, having ploughed across the Tasman Sea in at record speed. That night the Young Guns had decided that there would be no sleep til Brooklyn, and who was I to argue?

Must... Destroy...!
COWER BEFORE ZOD!!!

I’ve pulled more all-nighters than the average bear and with what was left of my wine, I made sure that I was sufficiently intoxicated to meet the customs guys at 6.30am the next day.

This was a fun cruise. A very fun cruise.

THIS IS SPARTA!!!!!!!!!!

Days M132-133: Under The Bridge

Mon 06.02.12 – Tue 07.02.12:

As dawn broke over the eastern horizon, the Sea Princess eased herself under the Sydney Harbour bridge, bringing to a close the mini adventure I’ve been on since I last passed under the bridge on P&O’s Pacific Pearl. I had stayed up all night with Joseph, Joey, Richard, Sarah, Jacinta, Rachael, Niki, Andrea and Angiee and my fatigue was starting to show. I did the customs thing and then returned to my cabin, only then remembering that I hadn’t even started packing.

I was met off the ship by David Jones, the head honcho at Carnival here in Sydney, as well as a Channel 7 news team. After a quick bleary-eyed interview David took me to the Carnival head office where I was scheduled to conduct a short talk with the staff about my travels. Condensing three years of travel into 15 minutes ain’t easy, but I think I covered the main points. After profusely thanking David and the team for their generosity and being 100% genuine when I said that the cruise was a total blast, I headed out to Leichardt to meet with my old friend Alex Zelenjak.

After a couple of drinks in Alex’s (startlingly cheap) local, we returned to his flat for pizza and the all-important talking of bollocks. The next day I had a radio interview over the phone at 6.20am: I can’t remember quite what I said, or even what radio station it was. In the afternoon, when I was a little more lucid, I went to the 2GB radio station for a recorded interview in the studio and, this time, remembered to name-drop Princess Cruises who had sorted all this publicity in the first place.

So then it was a taxi with the lovely Christine from the MD Media company (the publicists for Carnival Australia) and dropped off at the bus station for an overnighter back to Melbourne. ‘Luxury’ they call the coach. Ha! Luxury… they don’t know the meaning of the word.

Days M134-137: Taking Over The Asylum

Wed 08.02.12 – Sat 11.02.12:

The bus arrived in Melbourne at 6.30am, so I got to surprise Mandy before work with my presence. For Mandy’s sake I tried not to go on too much about how awesome the cruise was, but it was pretty goddamn awesome. What’s even more awesome is that as a surprise for my birthday at the end of the month, Mand has bought us both tickets to go see Tim Minchin vs. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tonight. My timing couldn’t have been better.

After watching the show I was inspired to write to Tim asking him to write me a song. I (typically) got no response, but here’s the gist of what I wrote…

Dear Tim,

How’s it going? I’m Graham Hughes, professional adventurer, TV presenter, Guinness World Record holder and general pain in the arse. I’m this fella >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes and, as we all know to our eternal shame, you can’t argue with Wikipedia.

I’m still travelling and I still have 7 nations left to visit before I’m crowned king of the known universe. Luckily for me, I happened to be in Melbourne last week when your good self was in town and so I went to see your quite spectacular gig at the Palais in St. Kilda. You see my long-suffering girlfriend is an Aussie (but she’s a nice girl, don’t hold it against her). I just wanted to say f—ing awesome job mate, something akin to Tom Lehrer meets Gilbert & Sullivan by way of Viz magazine.

I’m writing to you because I want you to write a song for me. I guess you get loads of random tossers asking you to write a song for them, and I’m sure it must be more irritating than lice infested shampoo. I mean, who the hell is this ginger travelling monkey asking you to write a song? Am I going to pay you? Of course not, who do you think I am? Richard Branson? Some demented patron of the arts? Lord frikkin’ Saatchi?

Nah, I’m one of those painful pains in the arse who thinks things like “well, my musical ability is pitched somewhere between a howler monkey and last week’s chips, so in order for me to spread my demented yet wonderfully satirical messages to the world through the medium of song, I’ll turn to the Red-Headed League for assistance.”

Ah yes, the Red-Headed League, that warm glow one feels when watching the Eleventh Doctor’s hot little Scottish assistant doing her pouty face and thinking “she’s one of ours, she is, when the aliens put us all in a big zoo, she’ll be in OUR enclosure. Woohahaha”.

Anyway, as somebody who has spent FAR too long in Oz over the last ten years (girlfriends eh?) and has come to fondly think of the place as some novel form of torture where everything that moves is trying to kill you INCLUDING THE TREES and everyone falls over themselves to tell me how racist they are, I would like you to write a song based on a bumper sticker I saw yesterday that made me so angry I wanted to ram the car in front and beat the driver to death with their own legs – and that wasn’t even the car with the bumper sticker on it.

The sticker? “Australia’s Full! Go Home!”

Ah yes, here’s me thinking that 4 people per square kilometre is somewhat of enough room to swing a proverbial cat, but HOW WRONG I AM! F— me! Australia’s full! They might have to start building TWO STOREY houses. Or, even worse, sticking the houses together to form semi-detached or (horror of horrors!) terrace housing. You’ll have homes in which it takes less than half an hour to reach the front gate from the front door – and that’s driving really slow! Could you imagine??!! Ygads! T’would be the fall of Western Civilisation!

I’m not going to dictate the lyrics, as you are a muchly more betterer wordsmith than I, but here’s the not-particularly-rhyming gist:

#’Tralia’s full, piss off back where you came from
#With your narcotics and your guns and your gangsters
#With your f—ed up food and f—ed up faces
#Stealing all our precious car parking spaces
#You scummy boat people
#With your boat people diseases
#Why don’t you f— off
#And leave us alone?
#What’s wrong with your own f—ed-up home?

The punchline…? As revealed in the last verse, the person saying all these things is, you guessed it, an Aboriginal in 1788 shouting from the clifftop at the First Fleet.

Ahahahahaha! Oh well, it was funny in my head. The Aussies will love it. By that I mean they’ll hate it, but that’ll just make it funnier to me.

If you like the idea, have it, use it, make it better, make it a masterpiece. I relinquish all credit, claims and responsibilities to this concept, both moral and financial – DO WITH IT WHAT YOU WILL! I’m one of those annoying gits who have more than one original idea in their lifetime. Much more than one, as it happens…

So, pip-pip Timmy boy, keep up the good work putting the world to rights through the medium of song, and for heaven’s sake get your fingers insured.

#Onwaaaaaaaaard!

Yelp! Unsolicited idea-mongering. I could get into trouble for that. Still, it would be a good song. The next day I took some time to adjust my wellies, hang out with Mand’s lovely new house-mates, Ross and Pricilla. Mand and I invited Rocco the Cameraman over for curry (which I made and was rather excellent, I must say!). Our mate Stringer (the man responsible for my Japan Times article in 2010) was back from doing a 5-year stint in Tokyo and dropped in unexpectedly. We all ended up getting a little tipsy on beer and wine on the front lawn. One of Mandy’s neighbours even came and joined us for a bit, although she was even drunker than us: it took her three attempts to stand up.

Friday was spent rather panicking about getting some footage from The Pacific uploaded to the Channel 9 servers for an interview I was scheduled to shoot on Saturday morning. That night I met up with my old British chums Si and Adam, and we slogged our way around Melbourne city centre looking for a pub that was open past eleven. Not the easiest thing in the world, and something that made me miss Auckland all the more.

Saturday morning at 7am I was picked up by a rather posh Audi in order to be driven to the Channel 9 studio. The driver, Tom, was Iraqi – I must have been the first person he’s ever driven who went to Iraq on holiday. He got out ten years ago, which in hindsight was damn good timing.

After the interview, Mand and I left for Ballarat, Mandy’s hometown. Partly to see her mum and partly because Mand, being totally on my wavelength about such matters, had purchased a couple of tickets for the Ararat Lunatic Asylum midnight ghost tour.

Now, being a sensible boy, I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good old fashioned horror movie, or a tour of the spooky old loony bin. Of course, our understanding of mental health issues have come on in leaps and bounds (it wasn’t so long ago that you could be committed for being a lesbian, getting pregnant outside marriage or indulging in masturbation: that’s me and all my friends f—ed then isn’t it?) and ‘asylums’ such as this one were shut down in the early 90s pretty much all over the western world.

Teaming up with Mandy’s great mates Sonia and Damian, we joined the tour at 11pm and it didn’t end until way after 1. Fascinating stuff, but I have to admit, I found it more sad than scary: it seems that most of the people kept in this massive sanatorium were not actually insane, and here in Ararat, far from the watchful eyes of a city such as Melbourne, human rights abuses were a lot easier to get away with.

Stories of forced lobotomies, electro-shock treatments, blood-letting, babies being taken from their mothers and wasted years of wretched isolation were rife.

Possibly the creepiest bit was the peppercorn tree outside the morgue – it was there to disguise the smell of the rotting corpses contained within – of all the people given lobotomies, a third got better, a third got worse and a third died. Opened in the 1860s, Ararat Lunatic Asylum must have been the closest one could get to hell on Earth. Our guided tour through the estate was conducted by an actor who knew his lines well, as well as the best places to leap out and go RAR! at the unsuspecting ladyfolk.

And now the asylum lies quiet. It’s been twenty years since the last inmate was set free. Fingers crossed that this place stays as it is: a memorial to the dark days of quack medicine; something best left in the past, along with the belief that the world is flat, that we’ll magically survive our own deaths and the fashion, politics and music of the frikkin’ 1980s.

Days M138-145: The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time

Sun 12.02.12 – Sun 19.02.12:

After a spot of brekkie at Mandy’s mum’s gaff in Ballarat, Mand and I returned to Melbourne and caught up on the BBC’s Sherlock (more about that in a moment). Monday morning chores included taking my video camera to the fix-it shop to get the screen sorted and then going to Bunnings Warehouse (Australia’s B&Q) to buy stuff to decorate Mand’s old office, a job I’ve been roped into do in return for all the awesome stuff Mand sorted out for me over the last few days. That took up most of Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by the Peacock Pub Quiz with our old friend Hayden. We came third (as always) but then my team is banned (by me) from cheating.

Thursday involved wrapping up at Mand’s old office and finding somewhere that could do a date recovery job on my old laptop’s funky harddrive (a 1.8” IDE drive, pop-pickers). Friday morning was spent picking up my (now gloriously working) video camera, buying a new pair of shoes (my old Vans were quite literally falling apart) and picking up my harddrive.

That night, Mand and I went out on the lash with Ross and Pricilla and their mates. We started in the Thornbury Theatre and ended up in The Pinnacle in North Fitzroy, a good night was had by all. Saturday we headed over to see our friends Steve and Linda who, just a few days ago, have become the proud parents of a bouncing baby girl.

In the evening we went to see Tin-Tin at the Moonlight Cinema in the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately for us there was a wedding going on in the governor’s mansion around the corner and all too often our audio was drowned out by the neighbouring wedding DJ. And the film? Eh, you know what the problem was? The lack of danger. I mean, come on, it’s a cartoon, right? At no point did I think that Tin-Tin could possibly actually die, not like the magnificent Burj Khalifa scene in Mission: Impossible 4.

Tin-Tin was directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, the animation was done by Weta and it was co-written by Sherlock/Doctor Who scribe Steven Moffat (as well as Joe from Adam and Joe!). It seems there are only a handful of people in control of the world after all.

Sunday afternoon Mand and I invited Mand’s sister, her husband, Mand’s flatmate Pricilla, Pricilla’s fella, Mand’s mate Ange and my mate Rocco around for a feast of scouse – that’s the form of Irish Stew we stole from the Vikings from which us scousers (Liverpudlians) get our nickname. Every year I organise Global Scouse Day on the 28 February: only this year I’ll be at sea on the 28th, fighting my way to nation 195 of The Odyssey Expedition… Nauru. So, hell with it, methinks… lets cook up a batch before I leave.

Mand dropped me off at the bus station at 6.30pm just in time for the overnight Firefly coach to Sydney. The ship to Nauru, The Scarlett Lucy, leaves from Brisbane on Wednesday, so I’ve got to start heading north.

Barring some miracle, it’s unlikely that I’ll see Mand again now before I finish The Odyssey Expedition. Just getting to Nauru and back is going to take FOUR WEEKS. Although I only have SEVEN nations left to go (Nauru, Micronesia, Palau, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, South Sudan) I can’t see myself getting back to Liverpool before August at the very earliest.

Just seven nations eh? Christ: I remember back in Europe when I was clocking off seven nations in a DAY.

ODYSSEY EXTRA: How (I reckon) Sherlock Faked His Death…

Just managed to catch up with the greatest TV series of all time, the BBC’s Sherlock. Superb last episode and goddamn how much better than the Moriarty from the recent movie is Andrew Scott? So in the end, Sherlock magnificently fakes his own death. This might be a spoiler for some, but I have a strict three-year spoiler policy (if the material is older than three years then it’s fair game) and Sherlock faking his own death comes from the original short stories which are over 110 years old, so no fuss please!!

I’m not saying this is the definitive explanation, but here’s how I would do it:

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. That being the case Sherlock jumped, like definitely jumped. However, unseen by Watson (there is the single storey building blocking his view), Sherlock landed in a garbage truck full of black plastic bags filled with foam. He then rolled out of the garbage truck onto the pavement still quite alive with a squib of blood from Molly’s morgue in his hand which he squirted on the ground and stuck his head into.

Want further proof? Check out the chalk lines on the pavement marking the exact place the truck needed to be at the moment Sherlock jumped and the fact that you see the goddamn truck itself pulling off away from Holmes’ lifeless body… bit of a strange thing for a truck driver to do given a guy has just smashed himself on the pavement mere inches away!

Oh yeah, and check out the position of Holmes’ body: he jumped facing perpendicular to the building, but when he hits the ground he’s parallel. Like he rolled out of the garbage truck perhaps?

Earlier in the episode we saw Sherlock playing with a squash ball. A conjuring trick as old as the hills: stick a squash ball under your armpit and squeeze. The pulse in your wrist will stop. So we have a real Sherlock ‘body’ (not the hanging mannequin, even a concussed Watson could tell the difference between flesh and plastic), no pulse and a bunch of paid Baker Street Irregulars/Homeless Network types pushing Watson out of the way.

Some things to consider: Sherlock chose the location, not Moriarty. He carefully positioned Watson so there was a building blocking the line of sight to the pavement. The ‘Mask on Moriarty’s corpse’ theory is a bit too Scooby-Doo for a mind such as Sherlock’s. Too many things could go wrong. In any case Moriarty is a tiny little guy compared to Sherlock, it wouldn’t fool anybody. The nurses turned up so quickly because Holmes jumped from St Bart’s hospital, where Molly works and where she would be happy to go along with the scheme.

Moriarty killing himself probably wasn’t part of the plan, but it made little difference in the end, Sherlock was always intending to jump. He asked for some space so that Moriarty would be far enough away not to see him hit the truck when he jumped: he would only need a few seconds to hit the plastic bags before rolling off onto the hard ground. But Sherlock couldn’t resist one last pop at Moriarty and so we got the dénouement we were least expecting.

Of course, no theory is perfect and there are at least two problems with this one. The first is that Holmes was being watched by the sniper who was following Watson, but this can be explained away by the fact he was following Watson, not Holmes. Watson’s genuine reaction to seeing Holmes dead told the sniper everything he needed to know.

The other problem is this: the old adage still rings true… two people can only keep a secret if one of them is dead. I’m sure Molly and Mycroft are more than happy to keep their mouths shut, but the Homeless Network? If Holmes can buy their service, why can’t Moriarty’s familiars? All you need is one boozed up vagrant to tell one of his mates he was paid 100 quid to help pretend Sherlock Holmes is dead and the cover is blown. Way too risky for canny old Sherlock. The only solution to this problem: the crowd gathered around are genuine and the garbage truck is being driven by none other than Mycroft himself.

Whatever the real solution is, we’re going to have to wait an age to see it: with Martin Freeman off filming The Hobbit (and Benedict Cumberbatch doing the voice of Smaug) it’s going to be summer 2013 before we’re likely to see Moffat and Gatiss’ take on The Adventure of The Empty House. I can’t wait. Maybe they’ll call it “The Empty Child”…

Days M146-149: The Road To Nauru

Mon 20.02.12 – Thursday 23.02.12:

Monday morning and I arrived in Sydney bright and early. After picking up a $1 coffee from 7/11 (I live off this stuff when I’m in Oz) I headed over to Summer Hill to see Benython (my agent) and talk shop. I’ve been a bit cagey about talking about the prospect of a second series of Graham’s World on this blog as there’s been a load of not very interesting behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on, chief amongst which is the closure of Lonely Planet TV in Australia (they what produced Series 1) and its relocation to San Francisco. The upshot of which is that we’re now dealing with a whole new bunch of people, all of whom need persuading that another series of my drunken misadventures in countries nobody has ever heard of is exactly what The Doctor ordered.

Tomorrow we should have a better idea of whether LP are up for another spin on the merry-go-round as the prospect of Series 2 will be brought up at a development meeting. I’ve also managed to bring my agent round the idea of publishing my travel memoirs as an all-singing-all-dancing eBook with pics and video and all that jazz (although it does make me wish I had taken more photos along the way).

I worked all day formulating pitches and coming up with good arguments for making Series 2. Benython treated me to lunch, and that kind of made it all worthwhile. I will quite literally dance for food. By 6pm I was back at the main bus station, ready to board the overnight Greyhound bus to Brisbane.

I know I swore never to take another Greyhound bus ever again after my treatment in the US, but (according to Wikipedia) Greyhound Australia is a completely separate company. It does crack me up though that they call these buses ‘luxury’. HA! They don’t know the meaning of the word!! Luxury is what you get in South and Central America: big, fully reclining seats, a steward doling out free coffee and great movies on the TV. Luxury is what you get in Turkey, where the tea is unlimited and the buses have free wi-fi. Luxury is a Chinese coach on which you get your own bed. Bliss!

Luxury is not a seat that reclines a measly 10 degrees, a chemical toilet covered in piss and air-con set to ‘nuclear winter’. And luxury is definitely NOT a driver who drivels on over the loud speaker about nothing in particular for half an hour while you’re trying to talk to your mum on the phone or watch the second series of An Idiot Abroad on your laptop. Like, shut up already!

I got to Brissy, a rather unfortunate looking city (think Birmingham but Australian), just after 10am. I immediately headed over to the nasty concrete library (think South Bank) for a bit of free wi-fi. In the afternoon I checked into the backpackers ready to leave tomorrow.

On Wednesday I headed over to the port. Being an idiot, I hadn’t checked on the Googles how far the port was from Brisbane City. It’s 35km away. No simply walking from the ship to the backpackers as is possible in Auckland, Suva and Melbourne: getting to Port of Brisbane is a bit of a trek to say the least. You have to take the Cleveland train to a town called Wynnum, which takes 40 minutes, then blow the best of $25 on a taxi to get from Wynnum to the port. Not that I’m complaining: Neptune Shipping have really outdone themselves, helping me on board the Southern Pearl, the Southern Lily 2 and now the Scarlett Lucy: the ONLY cargo ship I could find doing a regular trip Nauru. If Neptune had said no, I would have quite literally had no way whatsoever of getting to Nauru: there’s no yachts going there, no cruise ships and no other options. I owe these guys and I owe them big.

It looks now like the ship won’t be leaving until 1800 on Thursday, so with any luck, I’ll manage to cadge a lift back to Wynnum so I can get these blogs uploaded and everything up to date. The route of the Scarlett Lucy is a follows: Brisbane > Noro (Solomons) > Honiara (Solomons) > Tarawa (Kiribati) > NAURU > Noro (Solomons) > Brisbane. The round trip takes a good four weeks, but I’m here, I’m aboard, my passport has been stamped out and I’m all ready to go go go.

Once we set sail, any website updates will be few and far between and even phone calls are going to be very difficult indeed – there’s no roaming in Solomons, Kiribati and quite possibly Nauru. Mandy will be manning my email while I’m on radio silence. Our ETA back in Brisbane is March 23.

NAURU, YOU NAUGHTY LITTLE BADGER…

HERE I COME!!!