Woke up at Stan’s gaff at some monstrously early hour, but Stan was good enough to not only make me a cup of tea, but to drive me to the nearest Tube Station. I’ve had mates in London now for years, negating the need to ever stay in a hotel or backpackers. But now I’ve got mates from Buenos Aires to New York City, Nova Scotia to Brazzaville, Pretoria to Iraq, Sierra Leone to Cairo, Reunion to Antigua and Tunis to Melbourne; this is possibly the most exciting thing to come of The Odyssey – I’ve left a trail of mischief from one end of the planet to the other, and I’ve always got somewhere to stay. Hooray for CouchSurfing.org!! I might have gone a few weeks without singing its praises, but by-eck, it’s BLOOMIN’ MARVELLOUS!
The plan was simple: Get to Rome. Go to port of Civitavecchia. Get boat to Tunisia. Visit Libya and Algeria. Back to Italy. Boat to Greece. Bus to Istanbul. Continue with The Odyssey. How long is that going to take? Two weeks? Okay…you’re on.
I got a little worried that I was supposed to check in for my coach to Rome an hour before departure and in typical Odyssey style, I was checking in ten minutes before departure, but there was no problemo, and before long, we found our bus clambering onto the train (which was a little weird if you think about it) that shuttles you through the Channel Tunnel. Well beat my breeches and call me Mary, having never gone through the unfortunately-named Chunnel before in my life, here’s me going through it twice in one month. Bizarre!
Arriving in Paris, I had a couple of hours stopover and had made arrangements to meet with Michelle Hoffman, a journalist from the Associated French Press, who were interested in doing a piece on little old me. So I had to walk about with all my bags (looking quite hilariously chubb after all that damn fine home cookin’ of the past fortnight) while she filmed me…and I wittered on about African jails and visa formalities and the general flotsam and jetsam that has a tendency to drop out of my clanging manhole every time I open it.
It was a fun way to pass the time, but time, tide and buses wait for no man. Soon, I was back on a coach thundering through the night towards Italy. The lethargy of the past couple of weeks was infectious and I have to admit to sleeping pretty much all the way.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…