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.

Day 426: Floods and Ruins

02.03.10:

Dja recommended that I try at the Algerian Embassy here in Tunis. I wasn’t optimistic, but any port in a storm and all that. The guys on the border reckoned I could ‘easily’ extend the visa for free. I believed that as far as I could spit. I spent a good hour in a taxi fighting through the traffic going to the wrong place (the Algerian consulate moved last month!) and eventually, at 10.30am, I was at the embassy waving my passport about and pleading for an extension. It expired on my birthday, for heaven’s sake… my birthday!!

I was left waiting for an hour or so, and then I was told I needed a hotel booking, so I headed over to the café across the road and prayed that they had wireless. To my immense relief, they did. Lindsey Bennett, my most excellent chum from my schooldays, was conveniently visiting Mandy in Oz, and she speaks much better French than I, so I found the hotels on the internet and set her loose on them. It took an absolute AGE, but eventually, we had email confirmation from a hotel in Annaba, the first big city after the Algerian border. By this point, Claire, who was only working half day, had finished work and had come to meet me (work just being around the corner – you see, sometimes the island conspires to help me out) and so we rushed over to her school and got the hotel reservation printed out (god knows how I would have done that without Claire).

I presented my reservation, passport size photos and photocopies. The lady in the embassy told me to come back tomorrow and ‘a decision will be made’. It sounded ominous.

I knew from bitter experience that the Algerians will not dole out visas unless you’re a resident here. I hoped against hope that they would make an exception for me, since my visa only expired 48 hours ago. I did not like the idea of a decision being made any more than Doug likes the cone of shame.

So Claire and I had an afternoon in Tunis with nought-else to do and so I suggested a little trip to Carthage, the third great city state of the Med, forming a trading/fighting partnership with Ancient Rome and Athens. It was a fairly short trip on the train, but I (sadly) must report that, just like the Temple of Artimus at Ephesus, there ain’t much left to see. But squint your eyes, use a bit of imagination and maybe you’ll see it as it was before the Romans razed the place to the ground and then (for good measure) sew salt into the Earth so nothing would grow.

We were on top of a large hill overlooking the harbour, which was once housed a circular colonnaded dock with a smaller covered boat depot in the centre, also circular, with long thin wooden vessels sticking out the middle like bicycle spokes. The city would have risen up via shops, dwellings, bath-houses and amphitheatres until it reached the now-ruined palace in which we now stood and as perhaps Hannibal once stood before setting out with his army of elephants to cross the Alps and eating a census-takers liver.

Just imagine for a moment what it must have been like for the hapless Romans when this brilliant nutter turned up on the Northern Frontier with a load of elephants looking for a fight and you’d never seen an elephant before. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I’d do is get all Legolas on Dumbo’s ass – I’d run for the hills and hope they couldn’t climb trees.

So after a quick scan around the museum (as always I love the sculpture, hate the broken bits of pottery) we headed back to Tunis. Claire had to go teach her night-class, but as she had a hot shower in her gaff (Dja didn’t) she let me use the facilities while she was away. Bad move! The place was a one-room dwelling and as such I managed to flood her entire flat! You see when you take your glasses off to have a shower, you can’t see too well and you really can’t see that the water is leaking out all place, and when you notice that the water isn’t draining as it should, it’s already too late. Nightmare!

So I did my best to mop the mess up and sheepishly opened up my laptop to check my emails and read the news.

What THE HELL?

“BBC to Axe 6music.”

What? Seriously, WHAT?

A few months ago, I was invited to a facebook group called “help save 6music!” or something. I dismissed it out of hand, wary of the far too many daffy emails saying that hotmail/Wikipedia/the child abuse section of the South African police force/the UN was being shut down and that only my digital Hancock at the bottom of the list could save it from oblivion.

But there it was on the BBC website: my favourite radio station, BBC 6music is to close. At first I thought I was seeing things. Maybe my brain was just aching from all the Algerian nonsense, I don’t know. But there it was, unarguable… the BBC were going to close down 6music.

ARE THEY MAD?!

It would seem so. The thing is this: there is no alternative radio station to 6music. There are awful local commercial stations that provide a decent alternative to the chundering ego-fest of bad DJs and worse music that is Radio 1. There are local BBC stations, such as Radio Merseyside, that might as well be called Radio 2 and a bit. Radio 3 is in direct competition with Classic FM and Radio 5live covers the same ground as every talk radio station in the realm.

But what of BBC 6music – the ‘alternative’ music station? The truth is that there is no alternative, I guess that’s why we call it the alternative station. I suppose Xfm or MTV2 back in the 90s could have held a torch to it, but these days, forget it – the only British radio station that plays the music I like (and I like a lot of music) is Radio 6.

Apparently, this is to save money, all the £8,000,000 a year that is spent to keep things up and running. Don’t forget – the BBC pays a blanket fee each year to PPS and PRS so they can use all the copyrighted music they want, that money just goes on wages and production costs. A bargain if you ask me – it breaks down to less than £1,000 an hour of broadcast. Compare that to, say, EastEnders, and you’re easily looking at £1,000,000 for each hour of broadcast.

Go figure.

Anyway, the BBC are now going to have one hell of a fight on their hands, on the day of the announcement 100,000 people joined the facebook group to get this dumb decision overturned.

What’s funny is that if the beeb suddenly announced it was closing the BBC3 television channel, I reckon the facebook protest group would consist of about ten people and a lost dog. I can’t see too many people having their nose put out of joint at the loss of such must-see TV as “Snog, Marry, Avoid?”, “Three Non-Blondes”, “My Penis and Me” and an utterly superfluous repeat of that night’s Eastenders.

Anyway, if you’re not from the UK, I guess you won’t have a clue what I’m on about, but if you head over to bbc.co.uk/6music, you might get a hint at how much this plucky little radio station has become a national institution in less than a decade. If you are from the UK, please join the facebook group.

Whilst I was still Raging against the Machine, Claire returned to the flat with a young student who was getting some extra English tuition as I walked over to the front door to let them in my foot went SPLOSH into a rather large puddle of water that I had somehow missed when I was cleaning up earlier. God, how embarrassing. I apologised profusely to Claire and then got out while the going was good.

Day M371: Icarus, Not Daedalus

Tue 02.10.12

My incredible plan for Sunday night was stay up all night drinking and partying at Chili’s Bar in Unawatuna. Then I was to take first express bus back to Colombo at 6am AS I HAD WORK TO DO!!

I had to take my passport, photos, application form, cruise tickets, air-tickets, bank statements, itinerary, inside trouser measurement and father’s maiden name to the Madagascan Consulate in order to get my Madagascan visa (third time lucky!). Then I had to go to the Indian High Commission and ask them (very nicely) if they would be so kind as to give me my visa a little bit quicker.

All went surprisingly swimmingly. I got the Madagascan visa there and then. The lady at the Indian High Commission told me to come back in the afternoon. I headed over to the shopping mall’s foodcourt and hooked myself up to the free internets. Thanks to the magnificent Dino Deasha, the confirmation of the ship to India came through from Dioryx in the early afternoon, as did the green light from CMA-CGM headquarters in France. I couldn’t believe it. This is it. The final piece of the puzzle. The pathway home is there, confirmed, I’ve finally done it. Sri Lanka to India, India to Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Madagascar to Africa.

It’s over. I won.

After promising Dino I would commission a golden statue of him riding Battlecat from He-Man (he would be sporting a golden mullet and clutching the Sword of Omens in one fist and the World Cup in the other) I called the local shipping agent here in Colombo to sort out the nitty-gritty. He asked me to bring my passport over to the CMA-CGM offices once I had the Indian visa in hand, which would hopefully be at around 4.30pm that afternoon.

In the event, I was made to wait around for a bit in the High Commission and thanks to traffic being a bit of a nightmare, it was 5.45pm by the time I got to the office. Thankfully the shipping agent was still there. My visa was scanned and I was made to write out a declaration of what equipment I would be taking on board. Done this kind of thing a zillion times before, no big deal thinks I.

CMA-CGM have been nothing short of amazing on this adventure, stepping in to help me out of some of the most trickiest fixes that I’ve encountered along the way, and for that I am eternally grateful. What happened next was by no means their fault, or Dioryx’s for that matter. I’m going to give as balanced as an account as I can, bearing in mind I’m still in Sri Lanka now writing this and, as I learnt in Cape Verde, you don’t cut off the branch while you’re still sitting on the damn thing.

So, just as I was leaving the office, the shipping agent told me that he wanted to send my Indian visa – the one that stated ‘ENTRY: COCHIN – BY SHIP’ quite clearly on the visa itself – to the Immigration people in Cochin to ensure that I’d be allowed to get off the ship. This seemed a bit of overkill to me as a) my unusual form of entry was clearly stated on my entry visa and b) I’ve entered India by ship before, on a CMA-CGM ship from Pakistan.

Even *if* the authorities in India decided, weirdly, to not allow me into the country, no harm done: the cruise ship is living from the very same port. I could – and would – quite literally sleep in the port until it was time to go. The idea that I’d be forced to stay on the ship to its next port of call, Egypt, which would require me to pass through the High Risk Area for piracy, is quite frankly ludicrous and something the good people at Dioryx in Greece and CMA-CGM in France did not even consider… well that is until the local agent here pointed out this one in a million possibility.

But, that’s okay, we’ve got a day to play with, right? The ship isn’t even coming in until 1400 tomorrow. We’d be able to get the green light from India in the morning and be on the ship by tea-time. Splendid.

Or so I thought…

It was now getting dark and I didn’t feel like there was anything more to be done today, so I thanked the local agent and jumped in a taxi to go meet up with Carl the Friendly Yank from last week at the pub for a celebratory beer. My friend Daniel Zainulbhai who I played backgammon with in Dubai is in Colombo for the Twenty-20 Cricket World Cup and so he came along as well. It was good to catch up over a brew, have to say though, my earlier confidence that THE REST OF MY LIFE (because that’s what this is) was back on track had taken a bit of a knock. I mean, come on, surely the port authority guys in Cochin would say yes. Of course they would.

But that nagging doubt was creeping up my spine… I’ve been here before, I’ve been here before, I’ve been here before…

So, so many times it’s not funny.

I’ve been here before.

At 9pm, I figured it was time for me to head back up to Negombo. I said what I hoped to be my last goodbye to Daniel and Carl and by 10.30pm I was back at my old friend Sachal’s place. Unfortunately, Sachal is still away. I was good to stay there and everything, but I was gutted I was going to miss the geezer who without a shadow of a doubt is the greatest dinner party host of all time. Ho-hum. I headed over to Rodeo for one final bottle of Lion Lager and that night I slept rather fitfully. Which is damn unusual for me.

I’ve been here before.

At 7am I was up an’ at ’em, gathering my things together and getting on the bus to Colombo.

Here it was, the day of days. The day that would define the rest of my life. I can’t stress this enough: if I don’t get on this ship, chances are I’m going to miss the ONE cruise that goes ONCE A YEAR from India to Maldives to Seychelles to Madagascar.

I cannot take a cargo ship to The Maldives or Seychelles because of piracy and I there are so few yachts (and cruises) in the area I could be waiting until Kingdom Come before I see dear old Blighty again.

If I don’t get on this ship, I can’t begin to explain how f—ed I am. I can’t start my next project until this is over. I cannot earn any money until this is over. I cannot continue my life until this is over. Mandy waited as long as she could, she waited 3 and a half years, but she could wait no longer. I’m breaking up here, I’m honestly struggling to keep it together. This journey has cost me too much. Too much money, too much heartache, too many missed opportunities, too little achieved: check out how little I’ve raised for WaterAid, how few people read this blog, how I got right royally screwed over by the TV people, how I SOMEHOW still don’t have a publisher for my book. It gets to me, it really does. I’m sure that I’m fairly good at what I’m doing, but now and again I get a crisis of confidence when all I want to do is howl at the moon, admit defeat and return to Britain a heroic failure who came so close, so so close, but gave up seeking that one yes after too many noes.

Don’t forget – it was the start of JUNE that I arrived in Sri Lanka. It’s now the start of OCTOBER. This is getting beyond a joke.

By 9am I was in the old foodcourt with the free internet hitting REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH like a crazy badger. They couldn’t say no, they wouldn’t say no.

Would they?

Well, as it transpired we would never get a chance to find out. Today is a public holiday in India and so (as odd as this sounds), the immigration people in Cochin were off work. Dino (in the UK) and I started sending some frantic emails back and forth to Dioryx and CMA-CGM: I’d sign a special Letter of Indemnity which would see me sued to death and quite possibly jailed should I not be allowed off the ship. I have the visa – signed by the attaché – that specifies that I may enter India through just one port, Cochin, and that entry must be made on a ship. I have press contacts in India who would be very interested in hearing how I was not allowed into India with an official Indian visa. Everything, anything, just PLEASE let me on this ship.

And then, just after 1pm, it happened.

I got a call from the Port Agent. Where are you? I’m coming to pick you up to take you to the ship..

OH MY GOD.

I’ve done it!

I’ve f—ing well done it! I’m going to the ship. The Odyssey Expedition is FINALLY FINALLY GOING TO END!! After 1,371 days on the road for the first time EVER I know, I KNOW I’m going to make it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to be the FIRST PERSON IN THE WORLD TO GO TO EVERY COUNTRY WITHOUT FLYING!!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I’ll admit I danced a f—ing jig.

Then, just as I was putting my video camera back in my bag, I got a call off the local shipping agent, the one who was a bit funny with me the day before.

We have no word from India.

Yes, I know, but Dioryx have said it doesn’t matter, the Port Agent is coming…

That is what I am trying to tell you sir, you will not be getting on the ship.

But the Port Agent is coming…

I have told him to come back. We have informed France that you will not be boarding the vessel.

I tried to reason with him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

I checked my emails, texts off Dino went back and forth, one last round of begging, but no, the die had been cast.

*I failed.*

Dino’s golden statue of him riding Battlecat from He-Man would have to wait. And so will you, my loyal Odysseans, we’ve come this far together, through hell and high water, you’ve been taken around the world by one of the most ridiculous people on one of the most ridiculously idiotic and underfunded adventures of all time. Don’t worry, I’ll get there. IF I HAVE TO SWIM I WILL GET THERE.

198 of 201. I did not come this far to be beaten by Sri Lanka, of all places.

I will fight. And I will win.