He's Back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Graham’s back in the U.K.!!!

Amidst the trickery of smoke & mirrors, and a rather cleverly laden plot, this time he managed to pull the big one by fooling EVERYONE into thinking that he was Skype-ing from Rome, Italy!

A live Skype event with Graham had been arranged for a gathering of friends in the bar area of the FACT cinema in Liverpool city centre. With only minutes having passed into the start of the event, we began to lose the ability to hear Graham properly via the wireless laptop that the lovely Anna had brought. “Can you hear me?”, came the cry from the ginger one, and before long, his voice was as distant as a distant one from distantville. Just then, a familiar face came bounding into the bar with a beaming smile and a booming voice, “Can you hear me now?!!!”. It was a wonderful moment.

Graham’s back in the U.K. awaiting the issue of some visas from London, and – as always – is making valuable use of his time by promoting The Odyssey as much as possible.

If you can help with promoting the project, and you would like to get in touch, then please do so via the ‘Contact’ page on the link above, or by clicking here – thanks.

Leo.  x

Day 402: Don’t Stop Believin’

06.02.10:

The last two blogs aren’t true. I just made them up.

Sorry, it would have ruined the surprise.

Here’s what really happened…

When I was in Cyprus last Tuesday, I discovered that it would take two weeks from the date of application for my visa for my next country (Libya) to come through. I had not been made aware of this earlier (annoyingly enough) – I thought I was just going to pick it up at the border. This meant that no matter what I did in the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t continue with my journey. I might as well pick up the visas for Libya, Algeria and Central Asia from London myself.

I might as well…

Why the hell not, eh? It’s still part of the journey, it’s still in the spirit of The Odyssey; I can’t enter the kingdom of the nightwatchers without first gaining the magic amulet of visa. If I’m going to live my life as though I’m in a 1980s text adventure game, I might as well go the whole hog.

Home… a hot bath, fresh new clothes, a Full English and a roast meal… my family, my friends. It’s just too tempting.

Sod it.

Let’s go!

I cooked up a scheme which would see a bunch of my mates teaming up at the Fact cinema in Liverpool on Saturday night and my family gathering around the table for a Sunday roast – I told nobody I was coming home – and hit the road.

I did honestly go to Istanbul on the overnight coach on Tuesday night, but that’s about as far I went without telling fibs. From there, I went to Bucharest, the capital of Romania (€50), and on Thursday night I headed over to Budapest, Hungary on another night train (€50).

Budapest was a bit of a headache, I arrived yesterday morning to find that the Eurolines bus to London was full and so I had to concoct some kind of plan B that wasn’t going to cost the Earth. If I got the train to Paris via Munich and Metz it would cost me in excess of €250, which is way out of my budget. Damnit – the days of buying a through-ticket from Istanbul to London are OVER. Nice to know that Europe had a better grasp of logistics back when Victoria was sitting on the throne and we all hated each other.

I headed over to the bus station to see if I could blag my way onto the London bus… no way, Jose. But there was a Paris bus that had a few seats left. That’d do – as long as I got to London before 6pm, I could get back to Liverpool in time. I got online and tried to buy myself a ticket on the Eurostar from Paris to London. Simple, eh?

No.

It took me longer to buy the ticket than it takes to actually get from Paris to London on the damn train. Sitting on the floor of the skanky Budapest bus terminal, I came close to HULK SMASH levels of frustration. WHY DOES IT TAKE 10 DIFFERENT SCREENS TO GET YOUR DAMN TICKETS? Not everybody in the world has super-duper, fast fibre-optic asymmetrical data lines. Is there a low data-rate version for us poor souls hacking into someone else’s lousy wi-fi? Is there buggery.

Grrrrrrr!!

I got to the final payment screen on 4 separate occasions only to be told there was a problem with the blah blah blah. I was in Budapest, it was covered in snow – I wanted to go out for a walk, see the place, do some filming, but no, the Eurostar website wouldn’t let me. It’s easier to get Glastonbury tickets.

In the end, I had to call the man of the hour, Stan Standryt, in London, blow my cover and get him to book my ticket for me (what a guy!). Eurostar, YOU SUCK. Hope you go bankrupt and the Channel Tunnel gets turned into a very long art gallery with moving walkways. Or, even better, a ROAD.

Well, my day in Budapest well and truly wasted. I scampered onto the bus to Paris and shut my eyes, hoping to open them in the land of red and white stripy shirts, black berets, old bicycles and garlic necklaces.

But the bus driver had other ideas… is it an EU regulation that buses have to stop every two hours and wake everybody up? Ha! Man, the buses in Turkey ROCK MY WORLD and the buses in the world’s two biggest economic superpowers – the US and the EU – SUCK! It’s a sad fact that public transport in Europe, while not as bad as Africa, is not much better. Having said that, at least in Africa you get what you pay for. Why does it seem to cost more to operate a European train or coach than it does an airplane?

So we stopped and started all the way through Austria, Germany and then through Strasbourg into France. By 9am on Saturday, we were passing Metz and well on our way to Paris.

The coach got in a whopping 20 minutes early (nice!) and so I had time to do a couple of things… one of which was to get a shot of me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. It took a good hour negotiating the Metropolitan to get there, and once I did the top was covered in cloud! Bah!

Oh well, I got the shot I wanted and then legged it to Gare du Nord, the railway station for the Eurostar, hoping against hope that they would have a shower there – after 6 days on the road and no shower, I was beginning to smell worse than a Gregg’s pasty that’s been in a tramp’s pocket for three weeks. Nice!

Luckily for me, indeed there is a shower in Gare du Nord, unluckily for me it cost €7 and (being French) it smells of effluent. What’s that joke about French plumbers again? But any port in a storm – I don’t want to be turning up in Liverpool after all these months (and two spells in jail) smelling anything less than utterly delightful..

Attention Eurostar trains: not only is your website PAINFULLY difficult to use, your trains are dirty. Clean them. If they can keep my Merseyrail carriages sparkly clean when I’m only paying £1.50 to use them for an hour, then you can totally afford to scrub your rolling stock down once in a while? Got that? Good. I wanted to film out of the window, but it would look murkier than a Mike Leigh movie and I don’t want to depress the hell out of anyone today, thanks.

Soon enough, I was whisked through the Chunnel and arrived at the rather spankingly refurbished St. Pancras station although once again was impressed that the Victorians (bless their cotton socks) saw fit to use beautiful arching cast iron and plate glass to constitute a roof whereas the lazy drunken hacks that pass for architects these days opted for what looks a lot like plastic.

At St Pancras, I met up with Dan Martin, an old chum of mine from back in the day.. He writes for the NME and has been blagging me into gigs and festivals for free for most of the past decade, the top bloke that he is. After a couple of beers and catch-ups, I went to the Euston Station concourse to play the Euston Station Concourse Game. This is where a bunch of hapless commuters stand for the best part of an hour looking up at the information board which will… at any given moment… tell them what platform to run to with all their bags.

The platform used is allocated by ERNIE, the random number generating computer from the 1950s that they used for the football pools. The platform will be allocated 5-10 minutes after the train is due to depart and will only be valid for approximately 90 seconds, after which time the train will depart leaving behind the less athletic members of the great unwashed and anyone who got bored waiting and stupidly went to WHSmith to buy a paper.

This is the Euston Station Concourse Game and it gets even more fun EVERY TIME YOU PLAY IT!

Being somewhat of a public transportation expert these days, I did manage to cadge a place on the big empty train (well, with 99% of the population priced out of this glorious British institution, what do you expect?) and in just a jiff and a jaff, I was back in my beloved Liverpool. Cyprus to Liverpool in four days – without flying. In your FACE, Palin!!

I hurried through the crisp scouse night to the Fact cinema, a architectural carbunkle in the centre of my hometown, but the wi-fi is free and the bar is always empty (perhaps because it is about as aesthetically pleasing as a concrete box) so it was a good place to spring the surprise.

I took the lift to the top floor, took out my laptop and hooked myself up to Skype. There, I got in touch with Anna, my top mate who teaches girls how to pole dance (I only hang in Bohemian circles, darling). I had told everyone that I was in Italy, but we were going to have a virtual night out with me via the internet and Anna’s webcam – the idea being that a bunch of my mates would take the laptop out with them to the streets and bars of Liverpool. Of course, I was really in Liverpool – one floor above them… giggidy…

About thirty of my wonderful mates had turned up, but Anna’s tinny little Mac speakers were not up to the task of broadcasting to so many people, so I suggested they might hear me better if I came down stairs..

It was awesome. HELLO LIVERPOOL!!

So after many, many hugs and beers, we all set out into the night in search of magic and adventure. The Merseyside Derby (that’s when Everton plays Liverpool to you Johnny Foreigners) had taken place that afternoon and so the town centre was more jam-packed than usual with drunken scousers and by Jove, I had forgotten how much I missed this place. We managed to get chucked out of the Heebie-Jeebies, went to the swanky new Studio 2 in Parr Street, got into a fight with the bouncers at Magnet and ended up in a utter dive called Ko Samui wondering where the hell we were.

Well, the answer was simple – I was home.

Days 630-639: Shanghaied In Shanghai

Day 630: A Moment of Terror

22.09.10

You know that stomach-dropping moment of terror you have when you realise that you’ve just, like really, really messed up?  I had one of those this morning.  Last week, when I did this trip in reverse, I put my GPS tracking device on the window sill next to my bed (economy class gives you a bunk bed in a room with 32 other people) as it likes to have a window to look out of in order to get a signal.  Nowt wrong with that, I collected it in the morning and all was dandy.

However, on the return leg my bed was nowhere near the window.  I didn’t want to leave my GPS thing there overnight as if some light-fingered gentleman did grab it, I would lose all my GPS tracks for the last couple of weeks: including the proof that I had actually stepped foot in North Korea.  This would not be a good thing.

So I did what I sometimes do and got a reading before I went to bed and then turned the damn thing off until I got up in the morning.  This is why you sometimes see a dead straight line connecting two places on the map (see the ‘Proof’ link above^).  As I’m going over the sea, it doesn’t look too bad and who is seriously going to think I took a helicopter from one point in the middle of the ocean to an other?  As I tried to explain to the police in Congo, I’m not James Bond.  More irritating was the fact that even though the GPS was on for the entire 48 hour journey from Lhasa in Tibet to Beijing, it didn’t pick up a SINGLE signal.  On the GPS map it’s just a straight line – madness.  It seems to be a problem with trains: I had the same experience in Europe and in Korea; my GPS just doesn’t like them.

ANYWAY, in the morning I woke up at 7am and put my GPS device on the windowsill.  I was awake and sitting on a nearby bunk writing up my blog.  At 8am the ship had docked and I got up to grab my GPS… and it was GONE!

I panicked.  I threw my stuff in my bag like a madman and ran out of the cabin, completely freaked: I had lost my GPS, but worse: I had lost the proof I had been to the DMZ.  Without my camcorder, it was going to be pretty tricky convincing The Guinness World Records to just take my word for it.

Thoughts flashed through my mind: maybe I could get them to search everyone’s bags and pockets as they disembarked.  Really Graham?  They’re going to do that for you and a thirty quid GPS tracker?  Maybe not.

Damnit.  I had held onto that little critter since Day 1 – along with my iPod and my backpack it’s one of the few things that I’ve carried with me every single day for the clast 600 odd days of travel.

As I rushed down the stairs to the ship’s reception area, I was greeted by a stewardess holding out in both hands (as they do when giving here – something I really like) my bloody GPS.  A passenger had thought everyone had left the cabin and taken it.

I’ve never been so relieved in my life.

I felt like hugging her, but I thought it might not go down too well in this part of the world.

After that little drama was over, it was skip skip skip hop hop hop to the bus station in Qingdao.  There were no buses to Shanghai this morning, but there were a ton this afternoon.  I bought a ticket, dropped my backpack off in a locker and went out to find somewhere with wi-fi and beer.

Hmm… easier said than done.

Strangely enough for the place where Tsingtao beer is made (Tsingtao is the old pre-pinyin spelling of Qingdao – pinyin being the new spelling standard brought in by the communists – hence ‘Beijing’ instead of ‘Peking’), it was all but impossible to find a bar.  But I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  In China, and in Korea for that matter, the Western concept of drinking-for-the-sake-of-drinking hasn’t really stuck: meaning that unless you go to a dedicated ‘Irish’ or ‘American’ bar, the only place you can sit down and enjoy a swift half is in a restaurant: and you’re expected to order food with your drink.

I pounded the streets for hours looking for my Holy Grail, but it remained elusive.  I made do with a restaurant: there was no wi-fi, but at least there was beer.  And gloriously GLORIOUSLY cheep beer at that: 50p a litre.  Seriously.  I bought two.

But time and tide and blah blah blah soon I was saying tatty-bye to the remarkably pleasant German concession town of Qingdao and heading FULL STEAM to the Chinese Megacity One: Shanghai.

Day 631: Jew Loo Loo

23.09.10:

I arrived in Shanghai at 5am, got into a taxi and told him to go to ‘Jew Loo Loo’ (downward tones, like you’re angry) as per Chris’s text message.

Chris and Debbie are old chums of mine from Liverpool.  Chris was the quiet kid who got my bus (while I was busy swinging from the stair banister like a orang-utan and failing to impress Kate Nelson with my zany antics) and Debbie was my ex’s mate who used to go to the Krazy House and ignore me (that’s what the vast majority of girls did at that time of my life, so I don’t hold it against her). They’ve been living in Shanghai for a couple of years now, teaching at a local English school.

So, another couch to surf, only this time they couldn’t leave me a negative reference.  Ha!!  Chris and Deb work as teachers here in Shanghai, and as they left for work, I set out to get myself a Vietnamese visa, which (with any luck) should be the LAST GODDAMN VISA I NEED TO BUY BEFORE I ARRIVE IN A COUNTRY.  And that, my friends, sets my pants on fire with glee.

What doesn’t set my pants on fire is when I waste two hours getting to the Vietnam Consulate (I made a couple of bad choices when it came to which trainlines to take), only to find that the DAMN thing is closed until Monday because of a Vietnamese holiday.

Given my camcorder is bust, my laptop screen is cracked, all my clothes STINK after being drenched in Korea, my shoes are on the verge of being banned by the UN inspectorate of chemical weapons and there’s going to be no way I’ll be out of here before this weekend, I was beginning to think that the gods had it in for me.  But Chris and Debbie’s gaff was really lovely, situated in the leafy French Concession part of town.

As much fun as it is for an Englishman to take the piss out of the French, I do respect their tree-lined avenues: Britain and Australia could really do with taking a leaf (literally) out of the Frenchie’s book on this one: they look great, they keep you and your car in the shade and when the sunshine filters through the branches, the lighting would make Terrance Malik dance.

Back at Chris and Deb’s flat I found out that the wonderful David Collins from Lonely Planet TV was up for lending me a replacement camcorder (second series anyone?!) while mine got fixed.  Better still, he would have it in the post tomorrow: which meant (if I was really lucky) I could be back online on Monday.  Hallelujah!

Days 632-634: Rounding The Bund

24.09.10-26.09.10:

The next day I set off to the part of town that had all the laptop hawkers and fixers, aiming to get Sony Jim sorted out – the large black blob to the right of the screen where the crack emanates is growing like Venom, and will very soon engulf the LCD entire.  Quite what Sony where thinking when they designed a computer with a hard glass screen with a backing of floppy plastic I’ll never know.

Anyway, I scouted around for a price thinking oh this is China it’s bound to be cheap.  Ha.  No.  The best price I got was 200 quid.  Considering I paid 300 quid for the damn laptop in the first place, I, like Queen Victoria, was not amused.  I resolved to plough on with the crack until it stops my ability to write my blogs, mess around with Photoshop and make nice videos for YouTube.

On Friday night Chris and Deb and I went out for an awesomely cheap curry-and-all-you-can-drink bonanza with their teacher mates.  On Saturday, quickly shaking off the resulting hangover, we headed out to see The Bund – the Shanghai waterfront, complete with this HILARIOUS building:

Two large balls and one massive erection.

My word – and I thought I had a dirty mind!!

Anyway, the OTHER side of the river (our side, the side of The Bund) is just peachy: very, very reminiscent of my hometown of Liverpool, well the nice bits – you know down by the Pier Head before they built that shed next door.

Ce n'est pas Liverpool

Next up I needed to replace my Vans.  Wading through the hooky drain water in Seoul had left them incapable of ever smelling normal ever again: I had tried washing them TWICE in Chris’s washing machine and they still had the power to melt my face like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Think wet dog with a soupcon of rendered fat and a sprinkling of sweat from a sumo’s butt-crack and you’re still not anywhere near.

We found the shoe supermarket, but as it’s China, there is pretty no way of guessing whether anything is real or not.  But that wasn’t my biggest problem: that was getting my size.  I’m by no means Sideshow Bob when it comes to my shoe size, but I guess that even years after foot-binding was made illegal, the Chinese have still got a love-affair with dinky feet and therefore resolutely refuse to cater for anyone who has feet any larger than Bilbo Baggins.

Eventually I found a pair that fit, the only problem being they were BRIGHT RED (should have figured on that – this being China and all).  Oh well, maybe if I click the heels together three times… no, that doesn’t work either.

But given the Hobson’s choice on offer, I plummed for the scarlet slippers.  Then I haggled the price down from 55 quid to 15.  I’m good at stuff like that these days.  We headed back to the flat with Sonic’s hand-me-downs and we watched British box-office flop ‘The Infidel’ which is about as funny as finding a lump on your testicle.  In fact, it’s probably the least funny ‘funny’ film I’ve ever seen.  Seriously: it was sub-Wayan brothers.  If I ever met David Baddiel (the writer) I may have to break his hands with a hammer lest he attempt to write any more similar dirge, I would be doing the world a favour.

Days 635-639: A Fiery Dish of Hades

27.09.10-01.10.10:

By Monday I was up and full of beans: the Vietnam consulate would be open.  I headed down there and queued up for over an hour, only for them to stop taking applications when I was one person away from the desk.  Come back after lunch.  And the bad news didn’t end there.  Chinese customs where holding my replacement camcorder.  And they wanted – wait for it – 400 POUNDS in tax to release it from customs.

And it got worse: customs in China takes 5-7 days to clear incoming goods.  Next Thursday is a ten-day holiday in China.  Yes: not only did customs was 400 quid, they would also be keeping the camera for at least TWO WEEKS.

I did what any other swaggering squashbuckler would do in this situation: I went to the pub.  I took along an American guy called James who had also just been knocked back from the Vietnam consulate.  After a couple of jars of the amber nectar, we headed back to the consulate and got our applications handed in: the visas would be ready tomorrow.

Fair enough.  Now: what the HELL was I going to do about this bloody camcorder?  I decided it would be a Bully’s Special Prize of a good idea to take it down to laptop city (where the grass is green and the girls are pretty) and see if one of the many Sony shops down there could do a number on my camcorder in just a couple of days.

You have to understand: I’ve had camcorders fixed in the UK before and it’s taken them WEEKS just to diagnose the problem and MONTHS to fix the damn thing.  But this is China, and I guess people are a bit more handy.  James came with me and, unbelievably, there was a place that said they could have it fixed on Wednesday.  I love the UK, but at some things it totally sucks the big one: this being a great example.  Hurrah for China!  The price they charged for parts and labour came to about the same as what they charge back home just to look at the bloody thing.

Much happier about the situation, James and I joined Chris and Debbie for a meal at which I stupidly ordered the pepper beef.  Eek.

No, seriously, eek!

Amongst my other not-inconsiderable achievements in my life is the fact that I managed to complete the Curry Hell challenge at the Rupali restaurant in Newcastle, as seen in the Viz.  I got a certificate and a trophy and man did it hurt to go to the toilet for days afterwards: for poos and wees.

But this pepper beef must have been concocted by nothing short of a madman.  I’ve never seen so many chilli peppers, except when I visited that chilli pepper factory.  And as we struggled to eat this fiery dish of Hades, the air-conditioning could not do anything to stop the sweat pouring from our brows, much in the manner of Ted Stryker.

The next day James and I picked up our visas and on Wednesday I went to pick up my camcorder only to find that when I tested it, there was a problem.  It wasn’t recording or playing back right: dropping frames like the goddamn Chuckle Brothers.  Can you come back on Friday?

Chris and Debbie were leaving on holiday tomorrow for Laos.  That would be a no, then.

Eventually he said it could be done for six o’ clock in the evening tomorrow.  Debbie, the legend that she is, said I could stay at their flat until I got the camera back, even though they wouldn’t be there.  Cool!  A Shanghai flat to myself.  House Party!

No, Graham, that wouldn’t be very nice now would it?

So after a final meal (mmm…. pizza) together, Chris and Debbie left me on my Billy Lonesome the next day.  They were having administration nightmares of their own: their school still hadn’t given Debbie her passport back (she had given it to them over a month ago to get her visa renewed).  In the end (and at the 11th hour) Debbie did finally get her passport and they set off for the airport.

Bah!  Wish I could fly.

Later on Thursday I picked up my camera and (joy of joys!) it was working again.  I thanked the guys and headed home to put the growing mountain of video tapes from Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea etc on my hard-drive.  Boring, but someone had to do it.

On Friday, I met up with James and we went to the Shanghai Expo together.  I would have gone earlier, but I wanted to get it on camera, but to be honest I shouldn’t have bothered: the architecture on display just set me up for a full on rant which I’ll post in the Featured Column when it’s finished.

That night, Chris and Debbie’s mate Matt came over for a few beers and action movies while I backed-up the last lot of tapes onto my computer.  Matt has done a rather spanking overland adventure of his own: Manchester to Sydney, and unlike the Oz Bus, he didn’t cheat by flying.  I may need to pick his brains if I’m going to get from East Timor to Australia in one piece.

So that’s it: a week of errands and housekeeping.  But now I was set on the blocks, ready for the starter’s pistol.  I have everything I need to race through the countries of SE Asia in double megaquick time: just one hurdle remained: Taiwan.  Given that Taiwan and China are mortal enemies, how on Earth did I expect to go from one to the other and back?

Day M363: I Am Not A Number

24.09.12:

Just before I jumped the train back to Liverpool, I met up with my top mates Dan and Stan for a swift half around the corner from Euston Station. Out the blue, Dan invited me to this weekend’s Festival No. 6 in the quaint Italianate town of Port Meirion in Wales. You know, where they filmed The Prisoner. This was pretty immense as Dan hasn’t invited me to a festival for years. Possibly because I made a drunken arse of myself a couple too many times at Glasto, V, Leeds, Download, Roskilde, Bestival, a billion free gigs where I was his +1… or possibly because (many moons ago) I thought it would be hil-arious to send him a text from his sister’s phone informing him that she was pregnant when she wasn’t. Would have been a hoot, that… had he not immediately rang his parents… ah. Yeah. Guess you just had to be there. Or not, as the case may be.

Anyways…

It should come as no great shock to subscribers to The Odyssey Expedition that I said YES!! Of course I was going to say yes. I only back-heeled Bestival with Stan this year because Mandy dumped me the week before. It takes something quite Earth-shattering for me to say no to something fun. (Well, that and the ticket was going to cost me 60 quid.) So on Saturday morning I found myself exiting Planet Liverpool behind the wheel of my Mum’s Rover, Dan in the passenger seat trying to convince me that Amy Pond isn’t the be-all and end-all (the FOOL!)… soon hurling up the A5 towards North West Wales and one of the best festivals it’s ever been my fortune to attend. (As well as the third inaugural festival I’ve been to after V2006 (in Warrington, fact-fans!) and Leeds (at Temple Newsham, when it was amazing).)

[Less parentheses, G-Boy.]

FESTIVAL No 6: Undoubtedly the prettiest festival I’ve ever been to, and arguably the most chillaxed, I loved every second of it.

Port Meirion x Music Festival = GENIUS.

And, happily, one of the main guys behind it all was Luke Bainbridge, Dan’s old editor from City Life magazine in Manchester. Not a lot of people know it, but it was my Dan what got him (accidently) fired – ‘cos Dan said Mick Hucknall was a twat (clue: he is) and The Guardian (who owned City Life) DIDN’T THINK IT WAS VERY FUNNY. A bit like me and the text message pregnancy thing IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT…….

(we all laugh about it now, OKAY?)

Anyway, before I get too distracted, you know what a music festival is like (I assume… otherwise… are you lost??) but imagine a music festival with a quaint little British town in the middle of it. Where the Stone Circle should be. Possibly. That’s the genius of Festival No. 6. Unless you went into the main field, despite the rain it was a relatively mud-free festival. Plus the Welsh Male Voice Choir sung Blue Monday. Which was EPIC. I’m secretly being stalked by New Order, I tells ya!

The high(low)light of Sunday afternoon was when the Manchester band Everything Everything did a photoshoot for NME on the beach in the worst possible hour of THE YEAR to be on a Welsh beach. With the rain pouring and the wind lashing, we were trying to recreate the bit in The Prisoner when he gets attacked by ‘Rover’, the bounding white ball that acts as a sentry for ‘The Village’ from which none can escape. Sadly, our Rover escaped…

Eek!

BUT giveadamn… there was Primal Scream AND New Order (see? They ARE stalking me!). A good weekend had by all. But at the end of it I had to get my mum’s car back to her by 8am on Monday morning, so we drove back to Liverpool through the night, giving NME stalwart Mark Beaumont (NOT the guy who cycled the world, the other one) a lift because why the f—k not eh?

And you know the best thing? THE BEST THING??!! My mate Anna, who had already gallantly lent me her tent – and Dan her sleeping bag – let us all crash at hers at 3.30am when we arrived in Liverpool, caked in mud and nonsense. She did this because SHE IS THE GREATEST. I know you’re reading this Anna, just know that YOU ROCK MY WORLD!!!

The next day, Dan and I headed over to Chester to see his sister, Lucy (her of the infamous pregnancy text), her husband Tim and her brand new baby, Saul. A great kid and, well, I feel a lot less awful about that text now. Tuesday ended with me and my dad ace-ing the 3345 Parr Street pub quiz, with a little help from fellow geniuses Brian and Soraya. Thursday night saw me out on the tiles for one last hurrah and Friday I joined my top mate Danny for his last supper as an unmarried man. The next day entailed the last of the three weddings of my fellow Old Blues: Danny and Penny, two people I’ve known longer than most of you have been alive. A great couple and a great scouse wedding, I ended up throwing shapes on the dancefloor of The Palm House with Anna, who (once again) saved my life when some leery c— got all shirty about his shirt and the red wine that my ginger flailing had set loose upon it. See? Not all scouse weddings end up with a punch up.

Just most of them.

Sunday was a blur of packing, saying goodbye and wishing my dad well for his upcoming heart operation. I was driven down to London by Daniel, the husband of my ex-girlfriend (previous to Mandy), something that bodes well for Mand and I’s future friendship. What can I say? Despite the rough-and-ready demeanour, I’m quite a nice guy. That night was spent with Lindsey — my ex’s best mate — another friend whose awesomeness knows no bounds.

Monday, my last full day in the UK, was spent frantically emailing the PR company for the cruise ship people and mucking about with visas. It was pissing down rain as I walked over to the Sudanese embassy. I thought it took ‘between 4 and 8 weeks’ to process the visa. Nah. They could do it there and then. One issue: it would only be valid for two months. I don’t know if I’ll make it to South Sudan by November 24, never mind North Sudan. So I ditched the proposition. My second passport would have to stay with the Lindsmeister here in London. In the afternoon, the weather improved and my shoes dried off. I walked to Islington, and, getting on the free wi-fi at The Bull pub on Upper Street, received the email I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

Graham,

I have FANTASTIC NEWS!

Please see below:

Good news, embarkation / disembarkation are possible but as these are transit ports there will be no assistance with ground handling at the port (ie you will need to carry your own luggage on and off the ship) and, in case of any problems causing missed calls at these ports, we cannot take responsibilities for any costs incurred with onward journeys.

If you would like to proceed, please let me have full details of the passenger, name as per passport, date and place of birth, nationality, passport details,etc.

Please note we are not responsible for obtaining visas for this trip and this is the passengers responsibility.

COSTA. CRUISES. F—. YEAH!!!!!

This cruise leaves from Cochin, India, on October 18. It then goes to country 199. THE MALDIVES and country 200. THE SEYCHELLES before dropping me off in Madagascar, launchpad for Africa. So now all I need to do is get from Sri Lanka to India on a cargo ship AND THIS ODYSSEY IS IN THE BAG, BABY!!!!

I headed to the pub to celebrate with Scott and KC, the feisty redhead from my last post. Two feisty redheads in one place? Stick around, Pond…

ONWARD!!!