Do It Clean to Don’t Run Our Hearts Around

ON the first night of 2015, sat in a dark bar on the Ghanaian coast, wrote a reflective piece on the state of life on a big yellow truck less than a quarter of the way through a journey around Africa.

Twelve months on, on the first night of 2016, sat down to do the same thing at the resumption of what was about to become my new idea of normality…

Well, that was the intention. One look at the date which sits at the top of this post reveals the good intentions of New Year’s Day were not fulfilled. Certainly got as far as picking up the laptop, stared at the screen for a while and, probably, got distracted by reading old posts, some YouTube videos or Facebook posts.

For many of the evenings, and a few afternoons, since, the plan was to finally get round to writing this post, only for something to distract me or a sheer lack of inspiration or energy to take over.

New year on the Ghanaian coast
New year on the Ghanaian coast

And so, just over a year on from that post in the dim light of the bar at The Stumble Inn, Elmina, what is the state of my life?

A lot has changed. It is a lot colder for starters. And tonight, for the first time since well before that night, my own bed awaits me. Not a temporary one in a hostel or upgrade, not a faltering airbed in a tent somewhere in Africa, not on my sister’s sofa fighting for supremacy with a black Labrador and not, as has been the case for the last few weeks, on a mattress on the floor.

The bed has been in boxes waiting to be assembled in my new flat (another change we’ll get to in a bit) for slightly longer than this post has been waiting to be written and the brother-in-law kindly spared me some time to piece it all together (Gloucester and Hereford obviously both away).

Not that there’ll be a nice long Sunday lie-in in it. Instead it is up and off to work (on the bus until the old faithful wheels are replaced by a new model) and a day designing sports pages in what, for the first time in a few years, is back to being a career, rather than merely a job up to the next bout of travelling.

Travelling is far from off the agenda. If anything, the mental bucket list of places to visit and things to do is even longer than before heading to Africa. But the plan is short and often, rather than any more lengthy epics. At least for a few years.

Historic Route 66Next up is a summer break to familiar ground in the US. And both Route 66 and Australia/New Zealand are high on the list for the next couple of years, but will be looking to squeeze them into my holiday allocation. Think the days of quitting jobs to travel are behind me. Probably.

And so what of the job?

Somehow, managed to quit my job, go travelling, beg for a few freelance shifts and end up back at my old desk with an improved role. Well, sort of, still waiting for IT to sort out my old desk.

It wasn’t quite that straightforward. There was a spell as a freelance (supposedly three days a week but actually five or six), then taken on as staff, only in a different position and even a different place – shipped off to Bath to plug a gap on the paper down there for two months, before finally heading home to that new, improved role at the start of the year.

It comes complete with a lengthy to-do list which has barely been started in the opening weeks as the whole department gets used to a new structure and responsibilities and somehow managed to volunteer myself to draw up a new style guide, which partly explains the silence on this blog.

In amid all that (with Christmas thrown in just to confuse things a bit further), there’s been a move into a new flat to work my way through.

My flat's over there somewhere in the distance
My flat’s over there somewhere in the distance

The resolution to get back to the gym should be made a bit easier as you can actually see it from the front window of my flat. The fact you can also see three pubs and as many restaurants may not help that plan (to mention nothing of the ones you can’t see just around the corner and the two cafes downstairs).

Which just leaves this blog. What’s happening there?

If the past few weeks of silence has not already tipped you off, it is taking a bit of a break. Not just because it has been pretty hard to fit it all in (or find the energy and inspiration to do it properly), but because it is going to undergo a few changes.

A bit of a new look, a bit more structure, a lot more from Africa, a fair amount more from the lengthy list of travel pieces which has been sat gathering dust for ages and lots, lots more from the A-Z iPod challenge.

There may well be a couple of posts during the hiatus, which should not be that long (depends on how confusing all the technical changes are), and at least the break will give me a chance to catch up on the backlog of new music which has been downloaded since my return home.

The old faithfuls came up strong in the latest batch of A-Z songs took us from two versions of Echo and the Bunnymen’s classic Do It Clean to the less than classic Don’t Run Our Hearts Around by Black Mountain (via number 2,500 – Don’t Ask About My Husband by Mark Kozelek & DesertShore – which is already 49 further down the line, given the post-Christmas influx of new tracks).

Kozelek also popped up in his Sun Kil Moon guise with Dogs, the wonderful trawl through his romantic/sexual history, while a belated rediscovery of Super Furry Animals brought us Do Or Die.

Old favourites shone again with two from Ryan Adams (Do Miss America and the lovely Don’t Ask For The Water), Billy Bragg (Dolphins) and REM’s (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.

Don’t Let Me Down, Gently took me back to the brief time when The Wonder Stuff occupied my turntable, plus notable entries from The Flaming Lips (Do You Realize?), Public Enemy (Don’t Believe The Hype) and The Libertines with Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, one of just two of their tracks that are really worth revisiting.

Promise to get the blog fully functioning again before they break up again.

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Dig For Victory to Do It Again

COMMON belief will tell you that Dirty Water by The Standells was inspired by producer Ed Cobb and his girlfriend getting mugged near what was, back in the sixties, the polluted River Charles in Boston.

The Charles is now, thankfully, much cleaner and – in most places – a spot to be savoured, not avoided. And, having learned from personal experience, you no longer “have to be in by 12 o’clock” in Boston.

But the first, slightly fuzzed up guitar notes of the distinctive intro can still be heard across one part of Boston – and any number of bars – throughout the summer months. The more often the better for those of us who pledge some sort of allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

The rather cleaner water of the River Charles
The rather cleaner water of the River Charles

Each time the Red Sox win a match – sadly not often enough in the last two seasons – Dirty Water soundtracks the celebrations around the wonderful old amphitheatre that is Fenway Park (disproving any theories that bigger and newer is best), those unmistakeable opening notes often ringing out before the winning run has actually reached home plate.

It’s not the only song that has somehow been co-opted by Red Sox fans and ask most people which is the club song and they would go for Sweet Caroline – played in the middle of the eighth inning and aired in a show of solitary by the hated New York Yankees after the marathon bombing of 2013 – but there’s a fair few of the Fenway faithful who see that as too much of a sop to the fairweather fan.

Throw in The Dropkick Murphys’ double header of I’m Shipping Up To Boston – soundtrack to multiple championship celebrations across the city in the last decade or so, as well The Departed, and walk-on music for former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon – and Tessie and they are not short of options for backing music on the highlight reels.

Normally, not a huge fan of too much music and gimmicks being used to create an atmosphere at sports grounds (especially rugby, bar the traditional songs like Fields of Athenry or Calon Lan, but please God not the abomination that is Swing Low…).

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Fenway Park pre-game, looking back towards Downtown Boston. The fact Hurricane Irene may be about to hit may explain the lack of crowds

Generally means the fans are incapable of doing it themselves, especially in the new breed of marketing concepts that seem to be supplanting traditional rugby clubs (mention no names, but anyone playing at football grounds or bigger stadia to create an occasion – or on plastic pitches to match their fans).

That all may have something to do with growing up a Gloucester rugby fan. We make do with one traditional chant of “Glawsterrr, Glawsterrr” and the nearest we have come to a football-esque chant for any of our players was the stirring, imaginative “Terry Fanolua, Terry Fanolua…” and, of course, the odd rendition of La Marseillaise when Philippe Saint-Andre was on the wing or, latterly, our coach.

At American sports grounds, it somehow all seems to work (even the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner before every game, so easy to sneer at from afar, makes sense at the ground). Maybe if is because of the way American sports are more attuned to the entertainment industry, with the inherent pauses for commercial television, are occasions to be enjoyed beyond the actual sporting event or, just maybe, due to the shortage of away fans at many matches due to the sheer distances involved.

But just how did a boy who learned all about sport in The Shed at Kingsholm feel just as big a draw to a seat in the bleachers or down the first base line at Fenway? Or, possibly more pertinently, become willing to stay up most of the night to watch a game against the Yankees that went to extra innings scoreless?

Late-night baseball on Channel 5 had provided a grounding before my first trip to the States – amazingly 10 years ago this September – which started with a week in Boston and several nights spent in bars around the city watching the latest game, a scene repeated throughout our six weeks on the road.

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Fenway under the lights

A move around the corner in the office meant working until the early hours of Sunday morning. Late to bed, later to rise and with no return to work until Wednesday (bar popping in before our weekly Boozeday Tuesday afternoon sessions), Sunday’s bedtime moved well after midnight and the only thing to watch on TV for much of the year was, you guessed it, baseball.

That season of late-night watching just happened to coincide with the Red Sox winning their second World Series crown in four years and they had got their hooks into me – even with the warnings that such success was fleeting and supporting them was far more about frustration and false hope.  As a Gloucester fan, that just seemed natural.

Seeing a game at Fenway appeared and was quickly crossed off the bucket list. As was seeing them against the Yankees. And, finally, came seeing them beat the Yankees – courtesy of a Mike Napoli walk-off home run in the 11th inning, sparking another rendition of Dirty Water at just before 1am on a sweltering July night.

The Red Sox were back in the World Series that same season. The same Red Sox that had collapsed amid acrimony in the closing weeks of the season after my presence at a double header win over the Oakland A’s. The same Red Sox that had finished bottom the AL East the previous year.

And they only went and won it, ensuring everybody who saw it would remember just where they were.

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A press box with a better view that many

Which in my case, about 4am in the morning back home, was desperately trying to tune in my radio to catch the final outs.

Having stayed up to watch the potentially decisive win over the St Louis Cardinals, my Virgin Media box decided it was a pretty safe time to switch itself off and go through a series of updates just as the game entered its final inning.

My frustration, nay anger, was matched only by my surprise that somebody was still manning Virgin’s media Twitter account and responding to some less than complimentary tweets.

When the television came back on, the game was over, the World Series won and even Dirty Water had faded into the night.

It resurfaced – as any of you paying attention will probably have worked out – on the latest batch of songs in the A-Z iPod Challenge that took us from Public Service Broadcasting to Queens of the Stone Age.

And an interesting batch of songs it was, from the old faithfuls (Belle & Sebastien, Echo & The Bunnymen, REM, The Pogues), an excellent rediscovery (Divine Hammer by The Breeders) and some interesting, relatively new discoveries – be they new acts, songs that have just passed me by or just ones that are among the huge backlog that passed me by on the road in Africa.

John Grant’s Disappointing is definitely in that category (the album has yet to catch my attention like the previous two did), Waxahatchee continues to intrigue with Dixie Cups and Jars and The Civil Wars stole my attention with a lovely cover of Disarm (followed swiftly by The Smashing Pumpkins’ original).

May just have to listen to some of them on a plane back to Boston this summer.

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