Days M188-197: Placating Neptune

Mon 02.04.12 – Wed 11.04.12:

It was an early start on Monday morning. Sam had to go into work, so I grabbed all my gear and tagged along with her towards the city centre from St. Lucia. After saying thanks and goodbye, I reached the city centre with half an hour to spare. Although only 8am, it was already shaping up to be another SCORCHING HOT Brisbane day. I really don’t know how people do it. It is nice once in every blue moon to go a whole 24 hours without sweating your teeth out.

I reached the PAE shipping office just after half eight and was taken around the office to meet the staff. I had already spoken to James Kurz, the operations officer, on Saturday morning and I spoke Trish to on Friday afternoon while feverishly attempting to gain passage on the MV Kota Juta, scheduled to leave Brisbane later today and arrive in Keelung, northern Taiwan on April 13… thus giving me ample time to amble down to Kaohsiung in the south to make the Mell Sembawang (if they let me on board!) by April 15.

James drove me down to the port and there I got to stand on the roof of the control tower for the Kota Juta’s terminal: one of only two (I think) container yards in the world to be completely remote controlled. That’s right peeps: the forklifts running the containers around are all automated… and soon WILL BE TAKING OVER THE WORLD a la Metropolis, The Matrix, Terminator, I Robot, Westworld, Battlestar Galactica, AI, Silent Running, Alien, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX-1138, Hardware, Transformers, Doctor Who and Wall-E.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

After that I clambered onboard the good ship Kota Juta and met with Captain De Silva, an affable chap from Sri Lanka for whom this will be his first voyage as master of the vessel. It’s a hell of a job. The pay is good, but the responsibly is immense. There are at least 1000 things that could conceivably go wrong on a ship like this, and, like a doctor, if you have just one tiny massive cock-up you’ve not only lost your job, you may also face criminal proceedings. It’s like the diametric opposite of being a politician, in which you can make as many idiot decisions as you like, kill as many innocent bystanders as happen to get in the way and still walk off with your legacy (and best selling memoir) intact.

But think of it this way: have a look around your room. The computer you’re reading this on was almost definitely brought to you by a container ship. The chair you’re sitting in was probably brought in by container ship. Your TV, your Blu-Ray Player, your couch, your coffee table, the carpet, the ring on your finger, the glasses on your face, the clothes on your back, the food in your gut, the light bulb currently lighting the room… and if you happen to be enclosed in concrete at the moment, the very material that surrounds you was brought to you by container ship. If the entire merchant navy went on strike your world would grind to a halt in a way that it wouldn’t if all lawyers went on strike (in face, without lawyers, humans would be more productive than ever).

Needless to say, my appreciation of the merchant navy has grown massively in the last few years. The MV Kota Juta will, in fact, be my 12th major container ship of The Odyssey Expedition – if all goes it plan (don’t worry, it won’t) they’ll be 4 more jaunts like this before I’m finished – the ship to Palau & Micronesia, the ship to Sri Lanka, the ship to Maldives and back and then the ship to Madagascar (in order to hit the Seychelles… on a yacht!).

The crew on board the Kota Juta are mostly Filipino, and the officers are mostly from India. But the two officer cadets, Ed and Joel, are both British – to be able to bang on about British stuff that nobody else in the world knows or cares about is a rare treat for me, and of course it wasn’t long before Ed was cooking up horrible things to do to me in the spirit of the law of the playground.

It had come to Ed’s attention that despite me crossing the equator on a ship on at least a dozen occasions (the yacht to Sao Tome (8 times), Indonesia (3 times), the ship to Marshall Islands (twice) and the ship to Nauru (twice)) I had never taken the time out to placate Neptune. This is something that should have been done the first time I crossed the equator – and, for a couple of new recruits on board the Kota Juta, it was something that would happen on Easter Sunday, just a few hours after going from 0°00’001”S to 0°00’001”N.

The ceremony involved me being “shaved, shampooed, immersed, profaned and purified” as well as being forced to drink the “equatorial holy water” which, I can assure you was anything but holy.

Let's GO!!

I had to stand in a barrel filled with sea-water, have egg cracked on my head, get covered in paint, have my hair shaved, drink some noxious concoction involving vodka and chilli powder and then get drenched with a fire hose. All this was to take place in the presence of Neptune, who is traditionally played by the eldest man on the ship, in this case it was the Boson. He gamely turned up dressed in some bedsheets, welding a tin-foil trident and with a mop on his noggin.

Neptune Calls Out To His Daughters

And so it was into the barrel for your hapless narrator… let the ceremony commence!

Three Unwise Men
My Brain Hurts
That is the captain holding my arms back
And a quick hosing down...
Ha! Suffer!
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
I look like a total div. I sure hope nobody steals my hat next weekend...
Ah! A certificate! That makes it all worth while. Take THAT, Neptune my friend!

Happy Birthday Mand, and Happy Easter everybody else!

Day M338: We’ll Always Have Paris


Let me just say this: I have the best mates anyone could ever hope for. Within 5 hours of my arrival on Saturday 11 August 2012, I was celebrating my return with Dan and Stan and Matt at an exclusive Olympic athletes party with free booze at the Roundhouse in Camden. Dan got us all in for free through his press credentials (ever read a review of Doctor Who on the Guardian website? That’s my Dan!). I got to see some actual gold medals. It was very exciting.

Within 24 hours of my arrival, I was in Hyde Park watching New Order with me auld mucka Lindsey who works for The Royal Parks. Free entry and, again, free drinks. Later that evening (and a little bit tipsy) I ended up randomly meeting Jude Law:

I did try to get him to say ‘I AM DUH LAW!’, but he wouldn’t.

And have Damon Albarn practically sit on my knee to sing ‘Country House’ in front of 60,000 people:

Close Encounters of the Blurred Kind

When people say it’s good to be back, they’re lying. It’s not good to be back. IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK!!

My girlfriend of infinite patience, Mandy, arrived in the UK the following Thursday. She’d be back for two weeks in order to see me and attend a couple of weddings. So without further or do, and we headed straight over to Fallowfield in Manchester to see our friend (and Odyssey hero) Dino get like totally wedded to the lovely Ruth. Hail hail, the gang’s all here: Matt The Mick and his new wife Tiff, Dino’s bro Andy, Stan an’ Helen, Mary an’ Paul, Ben an’ Debs, Laura an’ Bri, Sam an’ Amanda, Michelle an’ Daniel, Dan Adams, Dan Banham… I hadn’t see most of these feckers in YEARS. But the crazy thing is your brain seems incapable of correctly processing time past – when you haven’t seen somebody for ages, after a few minutes you’re chatting like you saw them yesterday. Feels like you’re continuing the conversation from where you left off.

But that night I sensed a disturbance in The Force. I have an irritating habit of guessing the endings of movies before the end of Act 1. I knew there was a conversation coming between me and Mandy and I didn’t want any part of it. I wanted to carry on, business as usual, blundering my way around the world without a care in said world.

But the harsh reality of time and tide was soon to catch up and slap me in the face.

That weekend, friends and family from all over Liverpool came to see Mand and I. I’ve been back in the UK three times since I started The Odyssey. Mand hasn’t been back at all. There were plenty of tears and hugs and booze, everything (almost) in its right place.

One of the saddest things about coming home after all this time was the fact that since we left, so many of our friends have moved out of Scouseland. Stu’s gone to Bristol, Matt and Scott have moved down to London, Laura the Lovely Lesbian has gone back to Ireland… it’s as though Mandy and I were the glue keeping the L’pool scene together. I don’t want to sound arrogant (although I will) but I can only assume that Liverpool needs me as much as I need Liverpool.

While my ticket home was paid for by the collective efforts of my I-can’t-stress-this-enough *awesome* friends, Mandy’s was paid by her work. So work she had to do. From Monday to Friday I’d say goodbye and potter around my parent’s house pretending to edit videos and help my dad with eBay while Mandy travelled to South Liverpool for her job.

The following weekend we organised a huge meal for all our lovely chums, got wonderfully obliterated and took this photo:

When you look away this picture comes to life

On the bank holiday weekend it was time for wedding #2: Hugh and Gemma’s big day, and what a corker it was! The service was mercifully short, the grub was alright, but it was the live band – and the tunes they played – that made everybody’s night. Kicking things off with Smashing Pumpkins, things followed on with Blur, James, Pulp, The Beatles, Vampire Weekend, Franz Ferdinand, The Stone Roses… it was like Thursday night at the Krazy House. But live. And they were *really* good! After three and a half years of being aurally assaulted with the over-amped arse-cheddar that is Akon and the Auto-Tuned Legions of Doom, it was a delight like you would not believe. I was like a starving man at a feast.

We all danced the night away like it was, indeed, nineteen-ninety-nine.

But after everyone had gone and with Mandy’s impending departure from these fair shores looming, the elephant in the room couldn’t go un-noticed any more. It was just past midnight on the Bank Holiday Monday as we walked back to our hotel down the wet and lonely country road. Then Mandy said the six words I had been dreading…

“I think we should split up.”

I cannot deny that the six months I spent in Australia last year were some of the unhappiest of my life. As wonderful as it was to be back with Mandy, Australia itself was like a big function room with all the atmosphere sucked out of it. It was impossible to get drunk (when it’s £10 a pint, you only drink one), but even if you were a high-roller it was impossible to go on a pub crawl (you had a drink, sir?) and everything – except the casino and strip clubs – closed before midnight during the week. For a fun-loving hedonist like the chap what’s blog you’re reading, this was a cruel and unusual punishment. When you’ve had more fun in a supposedly ‘dry’ country like Kuwait, this is not the kind of place you really want to hang up your (albeit Australian) hat.

There are other things I disliked about Australia, but I’m not going to go into them here. Let’s just say I wasn’t made to feel very welcome and leave it at that.

But stronger than my dislike of Australia is my unadulterated love for my Liverpool. All of my future plans (for evil, I assure you) are tied up with this city and being the centre of things rather than out on the periphery. Video and film production in Australia has all but ground to a halt, stifled by the strength of the Aussie dollar. I don’t want to sound like too much of a twat, but if after all this, all I’ve seen and done and all I’m capable of, if I had to get a job in McDonalds I would quite cheerfully kill myself.

So then…

The deal was that when I finished The Odyssey I would live in Melbourne with Mand. But two things have changed that: the length of time it’s taken me to complete The Odyssey (it was supposed to take a year, right?) and my unhappiness in Melbourne last year. My batteries run on love and hilarity, two things in short supply in that barren, soulless place. Of course, I was willing to bite the bullet if it meant we could stay together. But I wouldn’t be happy. The devil being in the details.

You know that if one partner is unhappy, that unhappiness will eventually give way to resentment, and try as you might to battle that resentment, it will eventually engulf you and destroy everything you’ve worked together to achieve. Much like The Dark Side.

So, despite the fact we’ve been together for over 10 years, despite the fact that we both still love each other, fancy each other and are the best of friends…

I reluctantly agreed.

Mand and I could overcome everything for the sake of each other. But we can’t overcome geography. It’s time and it’s distance and it’s not very kind.

We decided to stay together until the moment she got on that plane back to Australia. The next three days were some of the most traumatic of my life. We played happy families, not letting anyone know that the gig was up. I kept telling myself that not that much would change between us. We’re almost always separated by distance and most of our interaction over the last few years has been via Skype anyway, plus neither of us are particularly jealous or paranoid. But when it came to writing our final joint Facebook message to all the people that we know and love, I couldn’t hold back the tears any more. Come on Graham, make a joke, make light of it, make it sound like that it’s not that big a deal. But this was real. It was actually happening. And no matter how much I wished it weren’t so, Mandy and I were finally, officially, over.

There’s no easy way of telling you all this, so I’ll just come out with it: Mand and I have decided to go our separate ways.

We’ve had a good innings, over ten years of the Graham and Mandy show. Hope we spread enough happiness and love to go around, we still love each other like crazy, we’re still going to be the best of friends forever, but we both agree that it’s time to bow out now while the going is good.

Graham and Mandy 17 March 2002 – 30 August 2012


Fingers together, we clicked the message onto Facebook (much less traumatic than calling everybody individually). I turned my phone off and drove Mandy to the airport. I’ve never cried so much in my life. We hugged for 15 minutes at the Security Gate as I wracked my brain to think of our top top moment of the last ten years. She had already walked through when I shouted out ‘PARIS!’.

The night she had ‘Me Ne Quitte Pas’ sung to her in that little restaurant by the Seine…

She turned and smiled, and even through the tears, even across the departures hall I could still see the mischievous sparkle in her eyes that I had fallen in love with all those years ago.


That’s it folks.

My Penelope has gone and left this Ulysses all on his billy lonesome. Some Odyssey this is. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. It’s supposed to end with fireworks and music and a proposal of marriage and some kind of happily-ever-after shit.

But the world, the real world, just doesn’t work that way.

I’ll be back on the road before you know it. But this time, for the first time I can recall, I’ll have no anchor to stop me floating off into the stratosphere. Although when you Google ‘Graham and Mandy’ we still come top of the world, it looks like we’ve made to the end of our journey together. For the first time since I started this madness, I will be truly alone. I’ve lost my Jiminy Cricket, my Albert Calavicci, my Pantalaimon…

In short, I’ve lost my better half.

You might not like what’s left.