Day 514: Cyclic Redundancy Check

29.05.10:

UAE: I arrived in Dubai at precisely three hours later than the bus company promised, but that just meant three hours more kip… which is never to be sniffed at. Dubai is pretty hot, especially when you have a backpack and a leather jacket tied around your waist – I was just asking for trouble… I frantically texted Damien, Helen Power’s mate in Dubai who had generously offered his couch for me to sully for a couple of days. Incidentally, I am thoroughly convinced that Helen should change the name of her house to Greyskull, for reasons to obvious to document here.

Damien (I would find out later) was nursing the mother of all hangovers and therefore in no fit state to text back, so I spotted a nearby Subway and thought sod it and sat there for a couple of hours finally polishing off these blogs I keep forgetting I have to write (least I incur the wrath of a particularly sexy pole dance teacher).

I know it’s no excuse, but I just can’t seem to write my blogs when I’m stuck somewhere… I need to be moving to get the creative juices flowing…

So anyways, I got my scribblings and musings up to date and headed out into the midday sun like all mad dogs and Englishmen have a habit of doing. Walking around ‘old’ Dubai was a treat – I thought that Dubai was this sterile Las Vegas nightmare of Demolition Man proportions, but head to the Deira district and you’re slapbang in the Middle East, mate – no messing about. Okay, the wooden boats that cross the nearby creek are I little kitchy, but as far as the sights and sounds and smells are concerned, this place dumps from a great height on the neat-n-tidy (and therefore humourless) Souk in Kuwait or the Disneyfied ‘old’ Souk in Qatar (hilariously demolished, reconstructed out of concrete then demolished again and rebuilt to look like the old one).

I keep telling you this, but I don’t think the message is getting through to the Powers That Be™ – you can’t impose a fun and interesting community down from above… these things have to grow organically… life isn’t Sim City.

As for the rest of Dubai, well, we might as well be living in a bubble on Mars. A city of the future imagined by a sci-fi addled child of the 70s. Most of the buildings look like toys, the twentieth century love affair with all things concrete shows no signs of abating and, well, it just doesn’t have the grit and determination that marks the cities of the world that I love. Can things be too clean?

That’s not to underplay Dubai’s achievements, such as the Burj Khalifa, which is by far the tallest building in the world and thankfully understands its purpose as a TOWER (ie, it tapers towards the sky, unlike the Twin Towers (unimaginative boxes that they were), any high rise ever built in Blighty (urgh) or that utter abomination in Manchester that actually gets THICKER towards the top. Jesus wept.

So Dubai, first impressions… I kinda like you. I’d like you more if you were a bit grubbier, but I guess that’s just me. At least you have the Deira district to remind me I’m still in the Middle East and at least you are prepared to gamble on crazy projects (such as The Palm and The World). We need more filthy rich people who are up for doing crazy stuff. Britain tries to be wacky, innovative and novel and what do we get? The ****ing Olympics logo…

And, even worse, the Olympic mascots…

Oh my giddy aunt.

Designed, no doubt, by a team of cretinous cretins from the planet Kretin exiled to Earth by the galactic warlord Kretinus the Cretin for being too cretinous for even the great Kretin empire to contain.

So for the restrained stupidity of Dubai, I salute you. Mid-afternoon, after mooching around the kooks and souks for a couple of hours, Damien finally raised himself from the dead and texted me back. I grabbed a taxi to his gaff, cutting through the business district on the way and making up my mind that the Burj Khalifa gets the thumbs up from me… does this mean I’m losing my pithy hatred of all things concrete? Not on your nelly. The Liver Buildings in Liverpool are made (internally) of concrete and I love them. As I opined in Azerbaijan, I don’t care what rotten slop you construct your building out of, as long as I don’t have to see the damn stuff.

Concrete is a little like your innards.  I’m sure they are critical to your prolonged success at staying alive, but I’d be more than a little miffed if you flopped them out at the dinner table.

So I found myself meeting up with the fabled Damien of Dubai and within a couple of hours we found ourselves where all northerners are bound to end up given half the chance… the pub. Damo originally hails from the Yorkists, but spent many years in Manchester so I guess in the Battle of Bosworth, he’d be that guy who sat on the sidelines, scoped out who was winning and joined them. Which (perhaps) explains why he supports Liverpool.

Even though the only ship never to dock in Liverpool is the Premiership etc.

We went to some beachy-drinky affair, but Saturday night might as well be Sunday night round these parts (the weekend in Arabia is Fri/Sat, not Sat/Sun) and the place was pretty much dead. Which didn’t give the Kiwis who were remarkably rude to me an excuse – if you’d care to peruse my League of Nations, you’ll see that New Zealand is now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Congo and Cape Verde. Be warned you natives – when you talk to an outlander, you speak for your nation. Be nice.

Day 515: Encounter at Farpoint

30.05.10:

UAE: The big task of the day was getting my bumper to bumper passport back to the UK so I can get a new one – if you’re keeping up, it’ll be my fourth. Mission accomplished (thank you DHL, you’re THIS much better than British Airways) I arranged to meet up with a certain Mr. Kashi Samaddar. Yep, the bloke whose Guinness World Record™ I’m attempting to beat.

It took him six and a half years to visit every country in the world. Me? I’m up to country 158 out of 200 and it’s only been 17 months.

(Although I am STILL firmly convinced it could be done in a year… if only I had a yacht…!)

Oh yeah, and I’m not flying…! Sometimes I fail to see how monumental the task I’ve set myself really is – I mean, what other world record can you set whilst still going to the pub?! But here I am, only 42 countries left to go. I just need a boost in terms of funding and I’ll be laughing.

Talking of funding, crikey I’m down to my brass tacks now. Like a Hollywood blockbuster that’s over schedule and over budget, the good ship Odyssey is in desperate need of an injection of cash.

This being the case, if any of you reading this knows a company that wants me to big them up in return for some readies (marketing is tax deductable chaps!) I’m happy to endorse anything (much in the manner of Krusty the Klown) for a fiver. Incidentally, the companies I’ve relied on most (and who haven’t let me down) to travel to these 158 countries have been Visa, Dell, HSBC, Sony, Vodafone, Vans, Levis, Coca-Cola and Lowe Alpine. Just saying…

Kashi’s colleague, Sanjeep, came to pick me up from Damien’s flat and I was driven to the Far East Seafood Restaurant in one of the swankier hotels in town. There I met up with the legend himself – Mr. Samaddar – the first guy in the history of the world to visit every country on an Indian passport. And I think I’ve had visa traumas…

You can read more about our meeting on my special featured blog entry.

Day 548: World Cup Pool Party

02.07.10:

So I rolled back into Dubai for the third time of asking. After a delightful chat with the Filipino women who worked in the Burger King by the Saptco bus station (she told me which bits to avoid in The Philippines) I jumped in a cab and headed off to see me auld mucka Damien.

DAMO!!!!!!!

As you may recall, Friday 2nd July 2010 was the day of the jaw-dropping Brazil-Germany and the heart-breaking Uruguay-Ghana matches, so feeling the atmos in the air, Damo and I slinked off to the Atlantis Resort on the Palm thingy (an artificial peninsular built to look like a cartoon drawing on a palm tree when viewed from Google Earth – wonderfully nutty in it’s conceit) for a World Cup Pool Party.

And yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!!

Bikinis, Booze, Brazil – over one thousand people from every single corner of the planet. Damo’s mates did their best to get me so drunk I could barely see. A group of lads recognised me off the telly (Nat Geo Adventure have been hammering the Graham’s World trailers like you wouldn’t believe) and came over for a chat to see how the journey was going. Yey! Fame at last! When you start getting recognised by random people it’s time to buck up your ideas, level up and fly straight. I mean, I guess I’m kinda like a worldwide ambassador for National Geographic now – and Lonely Planet and even the BBC. I can no longer revel in the joy of complete anonymity and must never again make a fool of myself in public.

My first fans!

Ahahahaha – sod that. I’ll start being sensible tomorrow.

Maybe 😉

Next Month (Yes, This Is The Last Entry For July)  >>>

Days 549-577: Delayed in Dubai

03.07.10–01.08.10:

So I wound up stuck in Dubai for four weeks. Tons of stuff happened, but not much of it relevant to the ongoing quest that is The Odyssey.  I’ll divulge the whole sordid affair once I have more battery power on my laptop.

Here’s what you need to know:

It took two weeks to get a visa for India and then shipping myself off to the Sub-Continent proved amazingly difficult.

I was helped (immensely) by the following people: Mr. Kashi Samadder, Damien (Damo!!), Fajer, Ben, Dan, Alena, Pamela, Sarah, Martin, Youhan and Barry from CMA-CGM.

Mandy, my beloved, came up with the goods in the end, securing me passage onboard a ship bound for Bombay via Karachi.  Hurrah for the Mandster!!

Whilst in Dubai, I sailed around The World, won at Laser Quest, watched the World Cup final in the Barasti Soccer Dome, learned to play backgammon again, attended a 4th of July party dressed as a communist, watched myself on telly, got recognised off the telly by a guy standing next to me in the urinals who was dressed as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (eek!) and generally staggered about the place much in the manner of Barney from The Simpsons doing an impression of Keith Richards.

One sad piece of news for you, though – my kick-ass old laptop, Dell Boy, has finally gone to silicon heaven.  His screen is cracked and he’s been shipped back to England for a formal burial.  He’s been replaced by Sony Jim who seems a lot more delicate and has a nasty habit of ignoring the keys I press when writing stuff.  Don’t know how long this guy is going to last out in the big bad world, but at least he’s got the processing power to play Psychonauts.  Hurrah!

In the end it was Rickmers Group Shipping who came to my aid, they stuffed me on board the magnificent MV CMA-CGM Jade bound for Bombay via Karachi in Pakistan (two birds with one stone, so to speak).  I’m eternally grateful to them and will be adding their name to my lists of helpers very soon.

Days 578-582: A Passage To India

02.08.10-06.08.10:

Monday morning bright and early, the wonderful Pamela drove me to the Bur Dubai area of town and I headed over to the CMA-CGM offices to meet Barry Dinnadge, the fine chap I had met over a game of pool in Rock Bottom all those weeks ago.  As luck would have it, he’s the CMA-CGM agent who was responsible for chucking my ass on the CMA-CGM Jade.

After a cup of tea and a natter, I headed out for my last two errands of Dubai – post my tapes and old Dell Boy back to the UK and buy myself a spare battery for Sony Jim here.  Tasks done, I waved goodbye to the old place (whose culture stretches back decades) and was whisked, courtesy of Mr. Dinnadge, over to Jebel Ali port for boarding.  Of course The Odyssey wouldn’t be The Odyssey without some shenaniganing at border control.

I had gone one day over my visa.  I knew this and had called up immigration a few days ago and asked what I should do.  The nice Indian lady explained that I had a “10 day period of grace” that comes with having a UK passport.  Of course, the guys at the border control had never heard of such a thing.  Neither had they heard of an English guy coming from Saudi Arabia overland only to leave on a ship.  Unfortunately for me, neither had their computer.  As I was obviously a deranged serial killer intent on sneaking into countries with my repertoire of cleverly-faked visas, I was made to wait for an hour or so.  Wouldn’t have been so bad if the other security guards hadn’t recognised me off the telly and spent most of the time posing for photos with me.  If you know who I am, then surely you know…?

Oh —- it.  Let’s just wait, shall we?

So (eventually) I clambered aboard the good ship Jade and after introducing myself to the captain and crew, all of whom (save Vladimir the Russian) hailed from Burma, I decided to nurse my monumental headache (self imposed, I’m sure) in my cabin.

A couple of days later and we had arrived in Pakistan.  My 162nd nation of The Odyssey Grand Tour Du Monde, and one that I thought would never come.  But here I was on an overcast Wednesday in port in the Land of the Pure.

Little note about Lands of the Pures: they NEVER work.  Never in a month of Sundays.  Of course there have been many attempts in history: the British expulsion of the Jews in the 14th century, the crackdown on the Huguenots under Louis XIV, the burning of Protestants at the stake by the good queen Mary, the Nazi’s nightmarish dream of world dominated by the so-called ‘Aryan’ race, and here in Pakistan we have the case study to blow all the other case studies out of the water.

A demented dream formulated in an Oxford Common Room in the 1930s (the decade of demented dreams) of a land where Muslims can live in peace and harmony and… HA!  Yeah.  Right.  To wit: The Partition of India: 1,000,000 dead.  Two wars with India (both lost).  Hundreds of thousands dead.  A war with East Pakistan (lost!) resulting in the birth of Bangladesh.  Al Qaeda, The Taliban, suicide bombers blowing up mosques, the Massacre in Mumbai, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear proliferation, a billion coup d’etats, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto… damnit, Pakistan.  You FAIL.  You FAIL on a grand scale.  You even fail on an African scale.

You see what the problem is?  Any Land of the Pure™ will by its very nature activate and encourage the crazies.  Look at those weirdos with the curly sideburns running around Palestinian territory clutching a gun and a copy of the Bible, building settlements and, (one would assume) howling at the moon.  No other country would tolerate such nonsense from the loony fringe, but a Land of the Pure™ must, because although these are seriously unhinged individuals (who are about as in touch with reality as a coma patient with a Napoleon complex) they are members of the ‘Pure’.  Oh joy.

Anyway, I’m with Ghandi on this one (actually I’m with Ghandi on a LOT of stuff, moreso than the Indians, although to be fair, it was them who shot him), Partition was a bad, bad, bad idea.

INT. CONGRESS PARTY HQ, CLOUD CITY, 1947 – DAY

Old friends JAWALHARLAL NERHU and MOHANDAS GHANDI walk down a corridor towards a conference room, deep in conversation.

NERHU: …but I’ve just cut a deal that will keep The Empire out of here for good.

Nerhu activates a door.  It slides open to reveal… DARTH JINNAH!!

Ghandi SHOOTS his PASSIVE RESISTANCE at Jinnah, who just crumples it IN HIS FIST!

JINNAH: I would be honoured if you would join us.

NERHU (to Ghandi): He arrived just before you did. I’m sorry.

GHANDI: I bet you are.  Friend.

But here we are.  We can’t change the past, we’re kinda stuck with it.  I just don’t like places founded on religious principles – Pakistan, Israel, Vatican City, Saudi Arabia – they are all deeply silly regions which only encourage deeply silly children who have not (and will never) grow up.  I prefer places founded because people lived there and they all got along and decided it would all be in their best interests if they didn’t run about (usually, might I add, in a dress) screaming about what an invisible man who lives in the sky may or may not have said.  And blowing stuff up.

Oh, it’s nice to have got the Middle East out of the way so I can say stuff like that without fear of having my head chopped off.  No, seriously.

Anyway, as we were hitting Pakistan, it was a Security Level 2 situation on board, which pretty much meant lockdown for us passengers (that would be just me, then).  The crew did allow me to scoot down the gangplank at run about in circles in the port going w00t w00t, but only for about 30 seconds and then I had to run back onboard and hide in my cabin LIKE A COWARDLY FISH.

And that was my ‘visit’ to Pakistan.  I’m glad.  It would have been a LOT of messing to get a visa for the place and, lets face it, it’s one of the seven active warzones left on the planet (according to Wikipedia) and ginger boys with neat hats are high on the list of know-your-enemy silhouettes.

We were in Karachi Port for about a day.  On Thursday we set off towards the swirling monsoon storms that heralded our passage towards India, the great sub-continent.  One of the crew was getting promoted, so I was invited to join the chaps on a barbecue on deck.  It was like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and I was the only one wearing a hat.  Sheltered from the wind on the port side of the ship, the vessel leered menacingly in the choppy waters and the containers (hundreds of ‘em) creaked and moaned like somebody was going a little overboard on the old ghost ship sound effects.

Meanwhile we stuffed our faces with beef and chicken and pork (YES!), drank copious amounts of Becks beer and Johnnie Walker and sang to the sirens with a yo-ho-ho and a (literal) bottle of rum.  Before long I was DJing the crew aftershow and rocking out with my air guitar while the officers sung Burmese karaoke on the deck below.

Nice!

The next day the combination of the booze and the waves made me a little worse for wear, but on the Saturday we had arrived.

I had made it to India.  Country 163.  At bloomin’ last.  It’s frickkin’ AUGUST!!  I better get my skates on.

Cheap Flights to India