A Few Months to Fool’s Errand

ONCE upon a time, my working world extended rather further than my desk and the screen in front of me.

Sure, most of my time was spent tapping away at a keyboard, laying out pages and ensuring newspapers got out on time without anything that could have meant any legal implications (the part of my job many keyboard warriors who just slap things online unchecked can never understand).

But back in the day, Saturday afternoons – which shows how long ago this was – and more than occasional midweek evenings were spent peering out over a rugby pitch, pad in hand.

Facilities varied widely. Reports were filed standing on top of a radio van in a storm to peer over a crowd lining the side of the pitch, from phones with no view of the pitch, sat next to a fire on a sofa in one press box, surrounded by increasingly drunken fans blocking the view and even, on more than one occasion, on the bench. Thankfully, never got on.

Ebbw Vale, 1961

Among my favourite places to cover matches was Eugene Cross Park, home of Ebbw Vale, which became my regular Saturday haunt for a few seasons.

It was a typical Welsh club ground, cricket pitch off to one end, a wonderful, steep terrace cut into the valley running the length of one side and a loyal following of familiar faces and supply of sweets from a fellow press box regular in return for spotting all the substitutions.

The Steelmen had  a pretty good side at the time, guided by a future Grand Slam-winning coach, supplying a number of Welsh internationals and reaching a Welsh Cup final. Played, bizarrely, in Bristol and the only time I turned up late for a game when working.

It also came with its own climate and you could spot those who were not used to it – interviewed great All Black Zinzan Brooke as he shivered in shorts and a T-shirt after a pre-season friendly against Harlequins in August. Those of us in the know were clad in multiple fleeces kept in the car for trips to the head of the valley, however glorious the weather was just 20-odd miles away.

Emergency office

There were frequent sprints (yep, long time ago) to the phone box up the road to phone in reports to other papers for a few quid – no chance of a mobile signal up there – and an interview with one of the players through a blocked door as he carried out a post-match drugs test.

Was even accused by some of the faithful of brokering a move for two of their international players to Gloucester when financial problems hit. May have answered a few questions about Gloucester and broke the story, but that’s as far as it went. Agent’s cut would have been nice.

Things have changed. Ebbw Vale don’t produce internationals anymore, although they more than hold their own at the semi-professional level, and my rugby watching is much closer to home – bizarrely, a row in front one of those former players at Kingsholm at a pre-season game which saw a rare move from The Shed to a seat in the stand.

But the town has popped back up in my consciousness in recent months, courtesy of what is a fairly clear leader in my list of albums of the year and which has popped up a few times in the A-F catch-up on the A-Z journey through my iPod.

Have liked Public Service Broadcasting before. When they get it right, their blend of samples from old films, TV and news reports over a carefully-built soundscape – ooh, feel slightly queasy writing that – is excellent.

But it’s been more the odd track rather than album that’s caught my attention, more the first than the more widely-favoured follow-up Race for Space.

And then they released Every Valley, recorded in a makeshift studio in the town’s former workers’ institute.

It is, quite simply, a work of art (ooh, drifting off in to slightly pretentious critic territory now) as it explores the culture, high hopes, crushing collapse and determination of the mining industry with liberal sprinklings of Welshness,  from the unmatched voice of Richard Burton, through contemporary soundbites from miners and wives, a dash of the native language to a male voice choir for the finale, perfectly pitched to deliver one final emotional punch.

The music has the ability to get in your head, those soundscapes (stop it, now) working alongside the samples rather than overpowering them and at times veering in to Mogwai and even, bear with me here, Godspeed You! Black Emperor territory. The gentle border territory.

The guest vocals of James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers – from just down the road in Blackwood – is maybe the one track which sits slightly uneasily on the journey which needs to be made from start to finish. No shuffling, always the mark of a good album.

There’s been a couple of tracks from the album in this catch-up, the title track and All Out, where it hits the heart of the strike.

Arcade Fire

We’ve had a fair amount of Arcade Fire – not quite sure what to make of their latest album, but the fact it has not caught hold of my attention probably says it all.

Among others, there’s been the debut from Girl Ray – the band which features an old friend’s daughter, just to make me feel old – new stuff from the always interesting John Murry, comebacks from Ride and At The Drive-In and a couple from the latest Jason Isbell offering.

After releasing the couple of great albums we’ve been waiting for Ryan Adams to come up with for years, he appears to have released an album we’ve received more than once from Adams. It’s OK, but…

And then there’s The National.

Have mentioned before on this trip that they are a band which largely passed me by. For some reason, suggest they were dismissed as just one of a bunch of anodyne The… bands which were around at the time. So anodyne, can’t really remember who they were. The Script? The Feeling?

Various friends rave about them, one whose musical judgment is pretty trustworthy, but they continued to pass me by although they snuck in to my collection courtesy of a few borrowed CDs from an ex-flatmate which went largely unheard.

They pricked my attention early in the journey when they seemed to pop up very regularly, but vanished just as quickly. Until now.

Their new album is pretty bloody good. At its best – Day I Die on this stretch – it is very good and while it doesn’t all live up to that, there’s enough to keep dragging me back and delve into that back catalogue.

In among starting on G…

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Freedom to Fuzzy

ONE of those Facebook on this day posts popped up in my feed this week, recalling my attempts to adjust to working a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five week.

That was seven years ago and lasted little more than a year during a career diversion out of journalism and in to the travel industry.

But since first switching from a weekly newspaper to a daily – one still embroiled in the unfolding tale of the Fred and Rose West killings when OJ Simpson was about to be more than an ex-sportsman turned actor – my working life has involved weekends.

Until now…

Be it covering rugby matches and the accompanying travelling and writing or producing pages for Monday’s papers, Saturdays and Sundays have been normal working days. 

But no longer. The past week has been the first since our newspapers took the leap from dailies to weeklies and the working week of the production department switched to a standard five-day Monday to Friday.

It’s taken some getting used to, not least because we did it from a standing start after the final daily newspapers, producing the first week’s product in three days.

And it’s not exactly been nine to five – it’s been more nine (ish) to whatever time we have finished. Which meant nine (the other one) on one night and around 4.30 on quieter ones, having wandered in nearer 10.

For people used to working weekends, taking days off in the week and considering leaving the office anything before 7pm as an early finish, it’s all been a bit odd.

What do people do on Sundays? Or with full evenings? Especially once Pointless has finished.*

Our working hours are minor changes in everything that has happened in the office in the last month. And the newspaper industry.

It came as something as a shock to us all. Not so much the decision, more the timing. We knew something would change, we just weren’t expecting it to be so drastic and so sudden.

And, however many times you go through this – reckon my personal redundancy process counter is up to double figures and have somehow survived them all, even the one where my hand went up for voluntary – it is not pleasant to go through uncertainty and see friends and colleagues disappear from the newsroom to uncertain futures.

Been debating what to write about the changes, the reasons behind it, the state of the newspaper industry and the reaction to the decision and a week in, not sure there’s a totally coherent answer there.

There’s several future posts in all that once the dust has settled and, for now, we just want to get on with it.

I remain a huge advocate of newspapers and their role in the world, especially when providing a much-needed scrutineer to politicians – global, national and local – and anyone in a position to make a decision which can impact on readers’ lives.

And, yes, the decision to go weekly would not have been my choice. But, it is an understandable one in the current climate – however many people tell us we are wrong. Right before telling us they haven’t bought the paper in years.

One thing that does need pointing out is the reaction of more than one former colleague or fellow journalists past and present who have jumped in to have their say.

Many have been measured and realistic about the state of the industry, others have criticised and repeated claims they have not bothered to check – most notably that the papers will be “thrown together” by people in another office who don’t know the area and don’t care.

Can assure them, we are based in the area, care about it hugely and the paper and I have never just “thrown together” any pages, article or paper in 27 years doing this. If that happens, it won’t just be weekends I won’t be working on newspapers.

And we’ll continue to check our facts.

The sense of change and end of an era has been echoed by the A-Z journey through my iPod as it reached the end of the F section on this section from The Housemartins to Grant Lee Buffalo – track 3,794 out of 13,090 (for now).

It looked at one point as if the whole journey had ended at The Friendly Beasts by Sufjan Stevens when my iPod basically packed up.

An F word which popped up a few times in this section came in to use, but one thing about Apple is you can find solutions for most problems online – albeit with fairly liberal use of the same F word – and it popped back in to life.

It brought a decent, if not classic, selection headed up by a pair of Half Man Biscuit tracks from across the decades – the early Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus and more recent Fun Day In The Park, complete with wonderful rhyming couplet,  ‘Soft play area with free bananas/Iguana Andy and his iguanas’.

There was the familiar figure of Billy Bragg (From A Vauxhall Velox), the lovely French Navy by Camera Obscura (more of them in the next entry), the sadly departed Stornoway (Fuel Up), Full Moon, Empty Heart by Belly – one of those bands rediscovered on this journey – a Jam classic (Funeral Pyre) and Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches which somehow became a bit of a regular on the Trans Africa.

Grant Hart

Continuing the apt timing, there was Friend, You’ve Got To Fall by Husker Du, pretty much about the time the sad news broke that drummer Grant Hart had died. Not without damaging the hearing of a generation of guitar music fans.

And there was Future Boy by Turin Brakes. There’s some decisions to be made as this boy heads into the future over the next few weeks, probably starting with whether to see them live again at the end of the month.

Hopefully we’ll have worked out how this new weekly stuff pans out by then.

  • It’s not exactly no weekend work, there’s been a couple of Sunday hours ahead of finishing this post. More changes in the next month or so will produce even more free time as my journey time from work changes from more than an hour to about a minute. There are plans for that spare time, but more of that to come.
photo by: paul bevan
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For Everyfield There’s Mole to Freed Pig

I’m never gonna be the handyman around the house my father was
So don’t be asking me to hang a curtain rail for you, because
Screwdriver business just gets me confused
It takes me half an hour to change a fuse
And when I flicked the switch the lights all blew
Billy Bragg – Handyman’s Blues

AS so often, Billy’s got a point. My Dad could mend a fuse, hang a curtain rail, heck he even built an extension on our house and converted the attic into my teenage bedroom.

Me? Not so much.

He tried to teach me. We built a picnic table together which stood for years in the back garden, much to the amusement of the neighbours when they drove up the road to see a Labrador looking over the fence having used the bench as a step to climb on top.

But my main role was labourer, digging the footings for the extension on the back of the house  or cutting down, removing the roots and shifting the extremely heavy trunk of flowering cherry tree which was getting a bit close to the front of house for comfort.

The trunk stayed in the garage for years because “one day I’ll do something with it” and it was still heavy every time he cleared out the garage (one full Sunday about every three months) and when we did it one final time before selling.

Maybe rugby wasn’t to blame for the bad back.

Dad was not the perfect handyman. There was normally one final job on each scheme which was never finished, usually involving a door knob.

For years we had to open a couple of doors with a screwdriver, which was a bit awkward whenever visitors wanted to use the bathroom and resulted in my sister getting stuck in a dark, cramped downstairs cupboard.

If any of my efforts were actually passable with the help of a screwdriver, that would be a major success.

No, that was one thing he never passed on.

What he did pass on in the genes was life as a Gloucester rugby fan.

In Gloucester, that’s not so much in the genes as in the water. Or the cider.

Home

There’s a sort of path to manhood well trodden over the years – a first trip to Gloucester’s other cathedral (more commonly known as Kingsholm) as a child, a spot of mini rugby, more trips to Castle Grim, school rugby, first forays into the heart of The Shed (home of the one-eyed – don’t look too closely, it might not be a figure of speech – passionate Cherry and White fan), Saturday afternoons not watching but playing at one of the selection of local clubs and, gradually, adjusting back to life among the faithful, roaring Glawsterrr with a distinct accent (and a growing number of rs) and passing on all the knowledge gained during that time on to a referee who surely must be ever so grateful.

The tale varies a bit. Some skip the playing – increasingly these days – and, whisper it quietly, some have made the switch from the round ball to the egg. They are the ones who call the touch judge lino.

Sure fans of every team will say the same, but it’s not been easy. Far from it.

Google the record defeat in finals of rugby’s major domestic competitions (please don’t) and Gloucester’s name appears. More than once. One of them after we had finished top of the league by 15 points in the regular season and had not played a meaningful game in weeks.

Last season we beat the reigning English and domestic champions. Again. Twice. We hammered the side that finished top of the league. Again. We won away at the side leading the French league who had not lost at home all season to book a place in the European Challenge Cup final. Again.

We were also the only side in the Aviva Premiership not to win consecutive league games all season. We lost a 31-7 lead to lose our opening game. We lost from 12 points up with seven minutes to go later in the season.

That last one was followed by our coach pretty much quitting on Twitter. All part of a season which saw a proposed takeover blocked by rival clubs who, perish the thought, did not want one of their rivals being better funded.

We’ll get to the music. Eventually

And our star signing decided he did not want to come home from France to press his England claims, but preferred to stay in France. Where they pay really well.

This season? Well, so far so familiar. We beat the champions at home under our new coach on the opening day of the season and promptly lost the next two games on the road – the second courtesy of conceding 21 points in pretty much as many minutes to start the game.

Spotting a trend here?

Amid all this, some of our supporters seem to think the most important thing to worry about is that the club has been handed some much-needed money in exchange for putting a sponsor’s name in front of The Shed. Which we all call The Shed regardless.

And there’s the one-woman crusade to ensure the players properly acknowledge the fans after away games.

Would we have it any other way?

Yes, winning is nice. In fact, it’s great fun. Winning without biting your nails until the last moment is terrific. Or so we have been told.

But what cost would we put on the type of success, say, that Saracens’ fans have got used to in recent years?

Have nothing but admiration for the Saracens’ playing set-up. They have some fabulous players, superbly coached and playing to a system that they all buy into and commit to 100 per cent.

But…

Walked out of Kingsholm after we had played Saracens in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season alongside some away fans.

Against all the odds, a team of fresh-faced kids and fringe players had come from nowhere at half-time to snatch a dramatic late victory against a side shorn of their international stars, but still expected to win. They always are.

It was, as the realisation of what could happen dawned on the inhabitants of The Shed, one of my favourite moments of the season. Not just the victory, but the delight and realisation of what they had just achieved on the faces of the young players.

And walking away from the ground with the Saracens fans, the older two asked the younger – probably late teens, presumably the son – what he had made of his first visit to Kingsholm. It was, they assured him, one of the best places to watch rugby.

That’s not the way he saw it. Where was the entertainment? Where was the music? Wasn’t it unfair on Saracens that the home crowd made that much noise? And shouted at the referee? And it was unfair that they had lost (he seriously said that).

Do we want that? An expectation that winning is the only thing. That we are there to be royally entertained (rugby aside), before, during and after the match. And that victory is his right as part of the admission price.

Or does all that frustration, heartache and slightly shambolic nature somewhere at the heart of the club make every little victory that much sweeter?

Probably. Especially if we could win something a bit  more regularly.

Dinosaur Jr

Whatever the answer, the faithful will be back there tomorrow when we face Worcester for that dreaded event – a game we are expected to win.

It’s in the genes, you see. Not just me, my sister has – however much she tried to fight it – become infected and will be sat in the main stand. One or both of her daughters – both of whom have or do work for the club – may join her, while her son will be working in the press box as part of the club’s media team (where did he get the idea to work in the world of rugby press?).

And her husband will be stood alongside or more likely, for some reason, just behind me as part of our little gang in The Shed. Trying not to call the touch judge lino.

He would certainly approve of the latest section of tracks on the A-Z journey through my iPod (remember, what this blog is actually about before certain diversions) from Bonnie Prince Billy to The Breeders as we get nearer to the end of another letter.

We have stood next to each other at gigs by Sugar (Fortune Teller) and Half Man Half Biscuit (For What Is Chatteris) and would have done at Art Brut (Formed A Band, twice) who both of us came to late as homework after snagging review tickets for a Gloucester gig which was cancelled.

There were other highlights in a short section – A Forest by The Cure,  Four Flights Up by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Frank Mills by The Lemonheads (a throwaway album track which is always the one that ends up stuck in your brain), Freak Scene by Dinosaur Jr and Freakin Out by Graham Coxon.

Although at least one friend has a similar view of Coxon that a young Saracens fan has to life in The Shed.

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A Flag In The Court to For Emma

PART of my day job is to fill swathes of white space with text. And pictures. A lot of pictures (or just really big ones) if there are not enough words and nobody else kicking around the office to write them.

And, as we always say with a hint of nervous laughter, we have not had to send a newspaper out with great empty spaces yet – although one day a sub will carry out the threat to do just that with a note explaining what should have been there and who failed to produce on time.

But despite what the anxiety dreams would suggest and against fairly hefty odds on some occasions, we get a newspaper out every day. On deadline. Or somewhere near.

Which is more than can be said for this blog.

There’s been a blank white space under the headline awaiting some words loosely linked to the latest chunk of tracks on the A-Z journey through my iPod for so long that the band which kicked it off have changed their name. Again – Thee Oh Sees dropping the Thee.

Bon Iver

There have been plenty of false dawns, sitting down to start filling the space from A Flag In The Court to Bon Iver’s For Emma (which really should have given me a fairly straightforward starting point) or mentally written on the way to work, just never actually transferred to that blank space – two of the next three posts are largely sketched out that way, plus one unconnected travel one so expect a sudden flurry of posting and inspiration.

And a good chunk of it was written down hot on the heels of the last post (when we were reeling in the news of a snap election and my main consideration was where to go to escape it) with the opening paragraphs on the ups and downs – and downs – of being a Gloucester rugby fan.

But while deadlines shape and drive my work self, the attention span of a goldfish and temptation to put off until tomorrow what you could do today away from the office (especially when there’s a to-do list to be drawn up or amended) meant it all dragged on a bit.

The end of the season stretched on with a couple of unlikely wins, giving extra reasons to delay and then before we knew it, something more serious got in the way.

This blog site was set up to write about travel. When shackled to the 9to5 and not actually going anywhere, a friend came up with the idea of blogging my iPod. That took on a life of its own, the musical journey sort of merging with whatever life threw up to write about.

Somehow we had gone from something fun and flippant – my natural writing style – to something a bit more serious. There were even political outbursts (although you do have to stretch it a bit to collate the orange buffoon in the White House to politics).

And beyond just the timing – maybe out of season was not the best time to be writing about rugby – the summer produced a string of incidents which left me questioning about how to deal with them, if at all.

Each one just made it more difficult to ignore but, having seemingly done just done that, increasingly hard to step in to from a standing start.

Borough Market

The attacks on Manchester (was actually tapping away late at night when the news broke) and around Borough Market (part of a relaxed reunion weekend in London just weeks before), the most inept election campaign since somebody managed to lose to Trump, who continues to play at being charge while taking us as close to nuclear conflict as any time in the last 50-plus years, white supremacy marches in the US, the horrors of Grenfell Tower and the ongoing political inertia, finger pointing and lack of clear thinking and communication which has shackled this country since the Brexit vote.

And there’s been more, not least the fact Piers Morgan is still in gainful employment.

So before tackling that white space on my screen, there had to be an editorial decision before moving on. What is this blog? Flippant, furious or something else?

It has taken a while to come up with an answer and, as is usually the case, it has all become clearer – not even sure the question was that evident before – as the words filled the screen.

But let’s rewind a while (and find a link to the previous post). Election day to be precise.

At the moment the polls closed, my only contact with what was going on was via alerts on my phone, sidebars to a lengthy, transatlantic conversation between three different people in a Boston bar. Well, several really.

Dubuque, Iowa – Drive west from Chicago and when you hit the Mississippi, that’s Dubuque

On the one hand we had a Trump-hating actor (there was mention of Two Broke Girls) from California, on the other a Trump-supporting family man, car parts business owner from Dubuque, Iowa, who was as shocked that some bloke from England had been to Dubuque, Iowa, as he was that he was chatting amicably with two people who had such differing views than him. Not as surprised as when his wife allowed him to stay for another few beers mind.

Dubuque, Iowa

It had started out very differently, a varied group (swollen by a hen party) heading out on a guided, historic tour of some of Boston’s old watering holes.

But by the time the history was over and we were cut loose from the confines of the group and the rather sedate rate of drinking, the beer continued to flow and three of us put our views about Trump from both sides of the argument with the foreigner in a not totally unbiased mediator’s role.

What became clear very quickly was that neither side had spent much, if any, time talking to their fellow countrymen about why they felt the way they did, what scared them about what was or wasn’t happening or their voting decisions.

And what became clear as the beer rolled down was that both shared far more in common than split them. But something – circumstances, surroundings, upbringing, media, fake or otherwise – had concentrated on their differences rather than the common decency which was at the heart of both of their viewpoints.

The historic bars of Boston’s Blackstone Block

It all ended in smiles, photos, hugs and wandering off – one back to his wife and infuriated daughter,  one to an improv performance with an actor friend and one to find a bar showing the night’s Stanley Cup match.

Amid all the gloom of the summer, it echoed the message that there is more that unites us than divides us. A message which has cropped up more than once when my travels have crossed paths with other religions.

So that’s the future of the blog – it will remain flippant, it will touch on anything more serious when needs be and it will most definitely take huge detours into something totally irrelevant. Whatever it needs to be really.

And, eventually, it will get round to the music, of which Jason Isbell was the crowning glory in this latest section with Flying Over Water and Flagship (one of my pet subbing hates, how many stores do you know that actually sell flagships?).

Fittingly for the cross-Atlantic nature of this post, we’ve had guitar music from both sides of the great divide with Sebadoh (Flame), Modest Mouse (Float On), Folk Jam (Pavement) and REM (Flowers of Guatemala) countered by Fly Boy Blue from Elbow and Fools Gold by The Stone Roses. US victory I think.

One last thought, really ought to dedicate this belated filling of a white blank space…

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Find My Baby to Flag Day

SEVEN years ago, the UK general election took place without me taking an awful lot of notice. Not that much had changed five years later.

Not by choice, not by design. Had spent late nights working several of the previous ones as we raced to get as much of the available information in to our early newspaper editions as possible and always enjoyed it.

Just happened to be out of the country for both elections and more importantly, given how quickly any feeling of excitement felt by the news junkie in me is washed away by the sheer repetition and mud-slinging, the campaigns.

When David Cameron and Nick Clegg were being thrust in to their unholy alliance in 2010, was crossing the Pacific from China to Alaska – about as far as you can get from events back home.

Our cruise ship in Vladivostock harbour on the day of the 2010 election

Missed the entire campaign but watched most of the results roll in on a cruise ship with the advantage of not having to stay up all night to do it, although with a crossing of the International Date Line imminent, changing clocks pretty much nightly and going largely nocturnal, had no concept of time anyway.

Watching David Dimbleby in a cruise ship bar while explaining what on earth was going on to bemused Americans was one of those travel experiences you can’t really prepare for.

Two years ago saw nothing of the election but the result popped up on my phone in Zimbabwe which prompted excitement – not so much at the result but the fact that alert meant we were somewhere within range of Wi-fi.

That Wi-fi provided access to plenty of reaction from back home, much of it (as social media has a tendency to be) angry and bemoaning what a terrible state our country must be in to hand the Tories the keys unsupervised. Which made interesting reading in a country where people are too frightened to make any public comments on their leadership.

In between that, managed to witness another election from within a country as it took place – would have been two but Nigeria had the good grace to delay their vote until we had left, which was very nice of them given how long it took use to get across the border.

Bourbon Street

Watched most of the results for President Obama’s second election success in 2012 in a Bourbon Street bar in New Orleans at the end of a drive down the lower two-thirds of the Mississippi.

It was all rather low key and the locals seemed less than enthused at what was unfolding in front of them (that possibly had something to do with some of the competing attractions of Bourbon Street) while had drifted off in front of the TV back in my hotel room by the time the overall result was confirmed.

Right before the nightly false fire alarm went off, sparking the search for the one member of duty hotel staff who had the slightest clue about what to do without locking most of his guests and staff outside.

So what about this year, now that Theresa May has seen fit to bring us to the polls again?

Don’t buy the voter apathy line or the need to stick to the newly-imposed fixed terms – can think of at least one country that could be excused for wishing it was not saddled with four-year terms.

No fan of constant referendums (we’ve elected these people, let them sort out what we elected them for) but all for engaging people in politics at a time when plenty of people seem to have discovered some form of desire to have their say. Even if it is only in 140 characters.

But the plan is to complete the hat-trick of being out of the country. Just not sure where yet.

Purely by chance. Had long booked time off as my major break of the year and spent the night before the PM’s surprise announcement trying to whittle down a lengthy list of options of where to go. And failing miserably as kept stumbling across a few new ones.

It has been a bit unusual this year, normally have something sorted out long before this and have tried to put it out of my mind until in a position to sort it out.

But the intervention of the taxman has played havoc with the last few months, but finally that is all sorted and the necessary money paid – rather more than Monopoly would suggest – so know what the budget is for this year’s travels.

So where will it be once we get to payday at the end of the week and it is time to get booking?

You can forget a lot of the trips at the top of the travel bucket list – driving Route 66, London to Australia overland, another dose of West Africa, the remaining 11 states to complete the list… – as time and money do not allow.

After plenty of trips involving lots of travelling, there’s the option to just go to one place and relax. Not sure about that one, would probably get bored but not ruling it out. Especially if the place is somewhere like Cuba. Or Key West. With a drive from the mainland thrown in.

There’s staying nearer to home, be that a trip to the sun, a couple of city breaks in Europe or really going local, hiring a car and reliving family holidays in Cornwall or exploring Scotland.

Or there’s my old fall back of a trip to the States which – exchange rate notwithstanding – is sort of edging ahead. But where?

That could well be dictated by the need to do it on a bit of a budget and the cheaper air fares to the big cities of the east – you know, Boston and New York. Familiar ground.

So that’s looking the favourite, fly in to somewhere familiar for a few days and then head out on the road for a week. Possibly with some Red Sox thrown in.

There’s a fair bit more planning to go and once that is sorted it is on to that trip essential – a playlist.

REM have featured heavily on past US road trips (think a return to Athens, Georgia is pushing the mileage a bit in a week) and they popped up three times in the latest section of the A-Z from Moby to The Housemartins.

Fireplace is the most likely of their trio tracks to make any playlist, far more so than Finest Worksong or Find The River.

I Am Kloot popped up with Fingerprints which, as with all their Sky At Night album, reminds me of heading home from travels as listened to it for the first time on the bus from downtown New York to JFK airport after seven months on the road (and, given the start of this article, at sea).

We went past 3,500 with Radiohead’s Fitter Happier, dipped in to the repertoire of The Mighty Badger with James Taylor’s original Fire And Rain, returned to NYC (twice) with Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan, took in a drop of Half Man Half Biscuit (Fix It So She Dreams Of Me) and courtesy of a technical issue which seems to have reimported multiple versions of some tracks from a change of laptop, five versions (four live and identical) of Firecracker by Ryan Adams.

May moan about that technical issue when it happens with a song which is not as great.

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