Everybody Knows That You Are Insane to Eyes Wide Open

There’s the day job, the travel company I run in my spare time, the personal blog website which needs some serious work, sleeping, watching rugby and the gym (yeah right – guess which one has gone by the wayside), so who planted the idea for a new blog in my mind?

THE above message popped up in my Facebook timeline earlier this week in one of those On This Day messages.

There’s a slight amendment from the original, rules of the blog mean names are largely left out of posts so the person responsible can keep his Cornish anonymity.

It came as the blog sparked by that idea reached a landmark, so thought it would be a good idea to have a quick catch-up on how we got from there to here, what here actually is and where we go from… well, here.

That Facebook entry was written in February 2013, so how have things changed in the intervening four years?

The day job remains, in principle, the same. There has been a change of title and a move of a few yards across the office, albeit bar a lengthy detour around Africa and – even more of an adventure into unknown territory for someone from Gloucester – to Bath for a couple of months.

And the way newspapers (remember them?) are put together is a bit different as websites have moved front and centre to everything we do.

The travel company is, sadly, no more. It was (and remains) a lovely idea, based far more on a passion for travel than any entrepreneurial drive.

Still think it could work given the time and money to reach a critical point where it has momentum to roll along.

Sadly we did not have either of those and eventually something had to give, especially as that passion for travel was causing extremely itchy feet (not 100 per cent cured) and that African detour forced a decision to be made.

The time may be right to start sharing a few tales from those days and the main irritant which kept us occupied and became known as The Troll. Even now, choosing my words far more carefully than he ever did.

There is still plenty of rugby being watched (as the next post, already partially written in my head, will attest), a fair amount of sleeping and not enough time in the gym (even though it is actually visible from my flat nowadays).

Which just leaves the website…

Travel Marmot existed four years ago, courtesy of a friend who got up early and built the earliest version before presenting it over breakfast the morning after we had kicked around the idea of transplanting my travel blogs from a hosted site and expanding.

At the time, all it had on it was those posts from  an overland London to New York trip copied across from another site and a few additional articles, which was supposed to be the way it developed.

Until the idea of blogging the A-Z trip through my iPod came about.

The journey had started once before but came to grief somewhere early in the C songs, but had long meant to pick it up again or start anew – a suggestion made aloud in the office which was picked up on by a colleague who came up with the blogging idea.

It took a while to start – a quick look into the archives will tell you that while the idea was made in February 2013, the first post outlining the journey ahead and the rules was not written until March 2014 – mainly because of the time being spent on Epic Overland (the travel company).

But when the decision was made to call time on the business and plan the African adventure, Travel Marmot got a new lease of life and the A-Z journey began,

And three years on we have completed A to E, Eyes Wide Open by Radio 4 rounding off the latest letter at track number 3,222.

It has not been a direct journey – it has not taken almost three years to listen to the first five letters. There’s been a couple of long breaks along the way when travelling (and struggling to find internet access for those blog entries), the need for a rest from it and time demands of work conspired to limit the writing – the listening has never been an issue.

When it started, there was 11,235 tracks on my iPod, which has risen to 12,907 (and you can add 12 from Prisoner by Ryan Adams when it is uploaded to my iPod).

E has actually been the shortest part of the journey so far with 323 tracks (if anyone’s interested, A was 605, B was 871, C lasted 758 and D 765). F awaits – a few asterisks elevating the first track alphabetically – with 514 to come.

Shortest of those has been Ask for Janice by The Beastie Boys (11 seconds), the longest Driftin’ Back by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (27.37). Both will be beaten.

The final section of the E tracks, which kicked off with a blast of Queens of the Stone Age, brought a fair few familiar faces from this journey.

The Wedding Present have popped up as much as anybody (alongside Ryan Adams) and we had three versions of Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, which is worryingly 30 years old this year.

Fellow regulars Radiohead (the beautiful Exit Music (For A Film) and Everything In Its Right Place twice), New Order (Everything’s Gone Green), REM (Exhuming McCarthy), Half Man Half Biscuit (Everything’s AOR and Excavating Rita) and Belle and Sebastian with Expectations, twice.

Beautiful South (Everybody’s Talkin’), Teenage Fanclub (Everything Flows, twice) and Manic Street Preachers (Everything Must Go) are less regular but welcome visitors, while Rival Schools popped up for a rarer visit with Everything Has Its Point.

And we have even seen the evolution of my relationship with rap.

Back when The Wedding Present were introducing their chattering guitar kitchen sink drama indie pop classics three decades ago, rap had no chance of breaching my jingly jangly ghetto.

But then De La Soul – represented here by Eye Know – arrived with their classic debut album Three Feet High And Rising and things started to change.

Slowly. Ever so slowly. The wonderful Arrested Development followed suit and over the years there has been a gradual exploration of some of the classics – much more old school than what is happening now, but at my age can say that about a lot of music.

Can’t say know much about rap, but know what I like and NWA popped up twice with Express Yourself.

And we’ll see more of them very, very soon…

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The Enemy to Everybody Knows

THE last entry’s diversion from the direct A-Z route through my iPod, travel and the standard ramblings of this blog into politics and the point of protests elicited a range of responses.

It was largely positive and addressed some of the key points raised from the opening weeks of President Trump’s stay in the White House (and wherever he has popped off for a long weekend playing golf) .

So let’s address those key issues one by one.

  • The Queen Is Dead is the best Smiths album. This one has been argued at length over  more than a few pints and, whatever the merits of their eponymous debut album – its most common competitor – as a complete work from start the finish (the mark of a truly great album), The Queen Is Dead cannot be beaten.

Hatful of Hollow does have its supporters (including one very welcome regular reader who stated its case again) and it is a selection of excellent songs.

But that’s what it is rather than a coherent body of work or a studio album meant to be treated as such.

Let’s not get started on The Bends v OK Computer.

  • President Trump’s dismissal of somebody who dared to disagree with him over his travel ban as a ‘so-called judge’ brought to mind a certain type of person equally as keen on sharing their opinion while trying to silence any contrary ones – the local newspaper letter writer.

Nowhere else do you see the phrase so-called used quite so often – so-called councillors (regardless of any election result), so-called expert (well, yes… that’s probably why they were quoted, it’s a way of avoiding fake news), so-called doctor (yep, seriously had that one a lot) and so-called journalist, especially in the midst of complaints about something not included due to legal reasons (what with all that so-called legal training people don’t seem to accept journalists go through to distinguish them from the keen amateur).

My favourite of all the letters placed on pages (or consigned to the trash) over the years was the one which escalated through a list of so-calleds until it hit pay dirt by describing someone as a so-called person…

Fake news indeed

  • This blog will not fall into the same lack of respect with somebody’s title, it is not Trump it is President Trump. Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon yes (to quote Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach), but always President. President Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon.

He did, after all, win an election. Which brings us to…

  • The response which has become common place to anyone expressing a contrary opinion to the one which won any vote since last July – you lost, get over it.

Since the Brexit referendum (and if we are going to have another referendum, can it be to vote against the word Brexit?), it has become the standard response to anyone less than pleased by the outcome and unwilling to just shrug their shoulders and disappear.

To which the standard answer is no.

Elections, referendums, any vote are a snapshot in time. Yes one side usually wins on that day and we should work to smooth over any differences and work together to make that electoral decision work.

But it does not mean voicing opposition is ruled out by the result – UK elections come with the bonus of appointing an official opposition (of varying degrees of usefulness). One of the great things about living in a democratic nation and lands of the free is that it is positively encouraged, as opposed to stamped on in so many places.

A fan of President Trump

Refer you back to the last post and how voicing a contrary view is stamped upon in so many parts of the world (as witnessed by those looking over their shoulders and talking in hushed tones while sharing details of everyday life in Zimbabwe) while standing up and making your voice heard has proved far more effective a weapon of lasting change than violence over much of the last century.

And just because we don’t like the result does not mean we are necessarily trying to overturn it – yes, you won, most of us accept that, but who says we can’t have a say on what happens next? Especially when nobody can agree what winning actually means.

  • One final question which came from the last post: Will I be visiting America while President Trumpgibbon is in office?

The answer was swift and simple – yes. Why not? Especially now Sweden seems to be off the travel list.

Having given it more thought, however, it is not quite that simple and why it was asked makes sense.

But whatever the thought processes and reasons for not going under President Trump, they are outweighed by a couple of simple facts – it is, despite so much of what we are seeing on the news (fake or otherwise), a wonderful country crammed full of friendly, welcoming people.

It has lured me back time and again over the last decade or so on a series of holidays and journeys that have taken in 39 states (some more comprehensively than others) and there is so much unseen in the quest to complete the set – more on that to come in the next few weeks.

There are two weeks booked off work this summer and the long-awaited planning for my next trip is starting to look Stateside – where and how depends on what remains in the bank account when the final damage of my run-in with the taxman (thankfully, given this morning’s final form filling, almost over) is assessed.

Fenway Park, Boston

New ground into some of those 11 remaining states? Revisit some of the places which deserve more time? Or let the Red Sox schedule decide (basically, back to New York or Boston)? Possibly, given the early flight prices, a combination of a couple of those.

Whatever the choice, there’s no intention of boycotting President Trump’s USA. That’s if they let me in.

And if you need any greater argument of why it is a country worth visiting, just try some of the music from that part of the world which punctuated the last section of the A-Z on my iPod from Roy Harper to Ryan Adams, who sneaked in behind Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows (from just over the unwalled border) having previously dropped in with two versions of English Girls Approximately.

We had some REM, albeit with Everybody Hurts – one of the handful of their songs which is really well known but which is nowhere near their best, although it is another which gave its name to a blog post – Ernest Borgnine by John Grant (no video as they all come with a very long and very rude intro) and Enfilade from At The Drive-In’s career highlight Relationship of Command (I’ll be the hyena, you’ll see…).

And, mixed in with quintessentially English moments from Harper,  The Jam (Eton Rifles) and Half Man Half Biscuit’s Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), we had my current obsession Drive-By Truckers’ tale of immigrants making a new life for themselves in America.

Which seems fitting.

  • One last point… that’s it for the politics, at least for now. Hopefully for a while, but that may be in the not so large hands of others.

Back to the normal bobbins next time.

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Embassy Row to Enemy

He had the makings of a leader, of a certain kind of men
Who need to feel the world’s against him, out to get ’em if it can
Men whose trigger pull their fingers, of men who’d rather fight than win
United in a revolution, like in mind and like in skin
Ramon Casiano, Drive-By Truckers

I AM not a political person. I’ve got my views but would like to think they are based on right and wrong rather than left or right, liberal or conservative, red, blue, orange or green.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had an interest – wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) last 25-plus years as a journalist without it or a healthy degree of cynicism – and picked up bits from all sides and anyone else with something worth listening to.

All that melded together to form a belief in cradle to the grave provisions for all, but mixed with a capitalist streak that always felt the best way to pay for all of that was not by the state owning the means of production, but by private enterprise reaping the rewards and allowing the masses to share in that prosperity (which would be nice). But as my favourite political argument goes, each belief and political system falls apart as soon as humans and their weaknesses get involved.

And if that hugely-simplified paragraph made no sense and is full of holes, that’s why I generally stay well away from political discussions. Much happier sat in the corner of the pub arguing which is the best Smiths album.

I’ve certainly never felt the drive or the need to go on a political demonstration or march. Until now.

Like many people, I took to the streets in reaction to President Donald Trump and (among other things) his travel ban on people from a range of mainly Islamic countries who have not had the good grace to do business with him.

Protesting Cheltenham journalist style

When I say took to the streets, it was more a gathering on the pavement in sedate Cheltenham than a million man march on Washington or a student blockade of Tiananmen Square, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.

And having got the bug, I’m up for anything you’ve got for me to rebel against – Brexit, the state of the NHS, idiots who stand outside football grounds on transfer deadlines day. You name it.

Being Cheltenham it was all very polite (the major heckle for speakers to deal with was ‘speak up’), well behaved and good humoured – they even had the decency to hold the protest on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop for my journey home from work.

There were several hundred there, rather more than a few sceptics had predicted, and there were some fine impromptu speakers in the middle of the gathered crowd, even if the chanting was slightly self conscious and none of it was likely to have the new occupant of the White House quaking.

So why did I turn up at the protest? And what difference will a few hundred people in Cheltenham make?

Not a lot, I’m more than happy to accept that. And the same can be said for those who turned out in London, Cardiff, Norwich, Boston, Washington… the list goes on.

But put them together and keep going, one day it might make a difference. It just might be what starts some momentum building that becomes unstoppable. Or simply influences somebody in a position to be heard to take the plunge and speak out. And who knows what can happen then?

The National Mall in Washington DC looking towards Lincoln Monument. Non-protest day

Standing alongside me in a picture at the protest is my colleague Aled Thomas who summed up well just why it is important for one person to speak out in his regular column – and like him, this blog will soon be back to the silly jokes and ramblings it normally specialises in

I am not overly comfortable in getting too embroiled in political arguments, so will let better-qualified people dissect the minutiae of this new US administration – besides, by the time you read this, there’ll probably be some ridiculous tweet, declaration, appointment or downright lie that has taken it all to a new level.

Check out Hannah Dunleavy’s take on the first week of the new administration and, if you fancy it, she then tackled the second week. By the third, think it was all too much.

But she’s American I hear at least somebody shout. What’s the American president got to do with a boy from Gloucester, England?

Directly, not a lot. But that doesn’t mean I can’t care and can’t get angry.

Over the past few years, my travels have taken me to a few places that have left me feeling angry, bemused, bereft and struggling to understand my own race.

But time and again, the people who had nothing to give gave it anyway, the places we were warned against turned out to be full of wonderful people and the ones who had nobody to talk for them deserved somebody to shout on their behalf.

In South Africa,  if people hadn’t stood up and made their voices heard (however hopeless it seemed at the time), would apartheid have been swept away?

In Zimbabwe, despite warnings not to engage in political debate as you never know who is listening, several locals were desperate to share their situation as a proud nation continues its slide into even further chaos under Mugabe’s rule.

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

And at some point on trips around Auschwitz and the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda, there are inevitable questions. How did anyone allow this to happen? What would I have done?

Not likening President Trump to any of those regimes. Not yet anyway. But if nothing else, standing out on a cold street in Cheltenham is worthwhile to keep his self-serving lies and bullying tactics front and centre until somebody is in a position to stand up and make a difference.

Starting with some ‘so-called judge’.

It’s been a busy few days away from protesting, which partly explains the delay in finishing this post and also why it was a relatively brief sprint through the A-Z iPod Challenge.

It took us just 50 tracks from Embassy Row by Pavement to, perhaps fittingly, Enemy by Buffalo Tom (via, possibly even more fittingly, a track from Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange).

It also took in several songs which always take me back to my travels.

Sunset over Lome

Endless Art by A House was on the playlist which was a trusted companion on the Trans Africa trip, while First Aid Kit’s gorgeous Emmylou takes me back to early evenings watching the ships go by as the sun set from the beach in Lome, Togo and Emergency 72 by Turin Brakes joined the select group of songs which have provided titles for blog entries (thankfully, I think, without people realising why in this case).

Even Endlessly by Mercury Rev reminds me of travel, although as the soundtrack for spending 48 hours sprawled on a French ski resort sofa near to the bathroom with food poisoning.

And, perhaps most pertinently, Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind which was pretty much everywhere during six months on the road in the USA and brings back great memories of the country and why it is worth us caring about.

  • Sorry, still no playlist. I’ll launch a protest about why that’s not working, see where it gets us. Until then, relying on videos. Some of which are a bit odd.

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