According to some, in an alternate reality the path I’ve chosen through life puts me in a very different place. Somewhere in the multiverse there’s a Graham who is sitting on this bench in Aswan’s Botanical Garden, his sassy Australian girlfriend Mandy by his side, laughing and talking like we did on this very same bench 13 years ago. But not in this reality. In this reality I’m sitting here on my own.
But maybe it was always supposed to end like this: maybe whatever path I had chosen Mand and I would have split up. Say I had moved to Australia and got a job shelling prawns in the local prawnery (foreigners aren’t allowed decent jobs in Oz, and in any case the strength of the Aussie dollar makes TV and film production vanishingly unlikely as a viable career). Would the gruesome waste of my unique and incontrovertible talents drive me back to Europe anyway? What if Mand had come to the UK for good, would the distance between her and her family drive her back to Oz? I have little reason to doubt it. The more I think about it as I sit on this bench in this shady spot of serenity, the more I think that all roads led here. Some things just ain’t meant to be.
But I have little to grumble about. Last August might have been the end of Act II, the point at which all is lost, but now we’ve passed the dénouement and to the victor goes the spoils. I gambled everything on the successful completion of this journey: last August you might have been fooled into thinking that the whole thing was in folly. I have to admit to having some long dark nights of the soul myself: I had lost my girlfriend of over ten years, after burning my bridges with the mmmmms at mmmmm, mmmmm and mmmmm, the chances of me working in television in the UK was pretty much nil, the powers that be (evil) had stitched it up so the second series of the TV show would never see the light of day and that the first series will never be shown on British TV or made available on DVD (I can only assume that’s because I might actually get a cut of any DVD profits). Furthermore, I couldn’t even put the footage I had filmed after the completion of the first TV show ON YOUTUBE. And to add insult to injury, I was so low on funds that I had to beg my friends for the money to get home to see my dad before his heart operation and, don’t forget, at the time I still had no confirmation that Costa would let me on the cruise ship to Maldives and Seychelles.
If there was light at the end of the tunnel, I was probably the only one who could still see it.
One of the things I always took solace in was that I had inspired people all over the world to pick up a backpack and go travelling. I know this because they write to me, something that buoyed me up during days that I was banging my head against the wall saying ‘what the hell am I doing?’
But now I have a new story of inspiration for you. This isn’t just about travel, this is about pursuing your dreams no matter what. No matter how many people tell you to give up, come home, get a proper job. Because – and pay attention to this – if I had given up last year after my sister died and Australia was conspiring to crush the reckless ambition out of me, I would have left this whole expedition with just some wonderful memories and some great new friendships – but The Odyssey Expedition would have been not much more than a jolly (albeit an admittedly epic one).
But I didn’t give up. I saw it through to the bitter end – and, in that, I have no regrets. Because this is what I have to look forward to in 2013:
• Being signed up by one of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood
• Presenting a travel show for NBC America
• Giving a TED Talk in February
In short, I gambled, I gambled everything and I won. I won big. I slayed the giant (which may or may not have been a windmill) and, unlike the Man of La Mancha, actually won the girl. In a year’s time I’ll be in a position to reward all the people who stood by me, worked with me, gave me a helping hand. I’ll be hosting CouchSurfers of my own in Liverpool, London, New York or LA. I’ll be working my way up the ranks of Hollywood towards my dream job: shooting movies loaded with aliens, monsters, zombies, explosions and impossibly good looking people hanging off helicopters. And, most importantly, I’ll be with Casey.
So while I sit on my own on this bench, in this botanical garden on an island in the middle of the Nile, the very bench upon which in a previous millennium asked a cute Aussie girl if she knew what was brown and sticky (a stick!), my nostalgia ebbs away in favour of excitement for the future. In just over a week I will be home. I’ll be surrounded by my friends and family. I will spend my first Christmas back in Liverpool since 2008. I will *finally* get to kiss Casey (three months of text messages and Skype can feel like an eternity). And in the New Year… well, I can only imagine what dreams will come.