Ghost to Girl From Mars

IT may have largely wandered down a musical side street – at least very loosely – but this blog started out as a home for travel writing.

The post-pub conversation which gave birth to the Travel Marmot* was about bringing my own writing from out on the road together in one place, as well as a place for advice articles and for other would-be travel writers to find a home.

The last of those never got further than a vague idea, the middle one remains a largely unmined seam of subject matter – there’s a huge list waiting to be tackled – while the first one worked fine. It is just hampered when you are not out on the road.

Which is why we took the diversion on the other journey from A-Z through my iPod.

And that journey cut across the early days of my travel writing, when this blog – and most of those which can be found all over the internet – was largely unthinkable.

Back in the days when internet access was not the given it is these days, newspaper offices had one – two, if you are lucky – machines in the office to be shared on a needs-must business.  Very slowly if you were trying to download a picture or send something via dial-up.

My first bout of travel writing was from fairly exotic climes – The Bahamas.

Newly arrived at a paper in Wales, they somehow decided to pack me off as the company’s representative at a golf tournament for the winners of regional tournaments around the country. We had done the press for the Welsh heat and got to send somebody.

The workload was, frankly, not over demanding. The Welsh winners came from outside our area so nobody was interested in a report on the golf, so all that was left to do was swan around a few golf courses, hang around the hotel pool and bar, pop into the basement casino and enjoy the day trips and activities put on by the tourist board. All at someone else’s expense.

A few hundred words for features never even touched on the unfortunate injury suffered by one of the golfers enjoying a ‘massage’.

Not all press trips are that exotic – most are weekends away a lot closer to home – but over the years managed to blag my way on to a fair few trips (mainly skiing, at least once because they thought it was a well-known ski writer of the same name).

Prompted looks of horror from at least three accompanying PR folk – one when we stumbled on a dead wolf painting not quite the picture he was envisaging outside our lunchtime stop on a mountain in Serbia, another when she realised one of the journalists in her charge was lying in a frozen stream,  trapped under the snowmobile he had crashed in northern Finland.

The third – a fairly regular travel companion – was just horrified at the mention of calling it a night. It was about 2am and it was becoming tough to focus, especially in the midst of a pool battle with two Finnish gold miners, but  she shamed me in to staying up. And making it up for breakfast and a morning on the slope just hours later.

Not me – they are still upright. Got a lot better

The trip which came to mind on the latest section of the A-Z journey was a touch warmer and was in October 2001 (thanks Google, dating courtesy of the trip coinciding with David Beckham’s goal against Greece which took England to the World Cup and more disappointment).

This was more golf, albeit slightly closer to home on the Algarve. A larger group was split across three villas, the four younger lads (it was a few years ago) handed the keys to one with a swimming pool which made fielding on the leg side rather perilous in a long afternoon game of garden cricket.

The trip produced some of my finest golf (not saying much) as even the bad shots seemed to ricochet off the cork trees back into the fairways with one stunning victory over a Sun reporter and a guy we nicknamed Lou Carpenter, who never forgave us for nabbing the best villa and not being included among the younger crowd.

We also had access to a hire car and, for some reason, the others agreed to one of my compilation tapes as the main source of music.

Know there was some Nick Cave on there (Tupelo, probably) which did not go down well. There was definitely some better received Moldy Peaches (Downloading Porn With Davo). And there was Slobberbone.

Gimme Back My Dog, picked up from an Uncut sampler CD, became the song of the trip. At least for the four of us, not sure the rest of the group were quite so enamoured when we hosted a final night barbecue round the pool.

And it was a pleasant, largely forgotten surprise as it popped up at number 4,000 – of, currently, 13,330 – in the latest section from Neutral Milk Hotel (largely passed me by, but seemingly worth further investigation) to probably Ash’s finest three and a half minutes.

We went through ghosts, giants, gifts and girls with a fair few old dependables – Pixies (the wondrous Gigantic, twice), The Smiths (Girl Afraid) and Ryan Adams, two versions of Gimme A Sign and three of Gimme Something Good (one of them twice for some reason).

And there was GI Blues from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, which goes back even further than my first bout of travel writing and who bring a fair few stories which we’ll get to eventually. Probably when we get to S.

The song comes from a different perspective, but one verse did catch the attention and works today:

Look away John F Kennedy
Look away Franklin D Roosevelt
Look away George Washington
Thomas Jefferson and Brother Jonathon
Look away Bob Hope
Look away Uncle Sam
Look away Ronald Reagan
Look away Dixieland

Look away indeed. Especially if you happen to be on Twitter.

  • That’s it for the blog for 2017 – Happy Christmas to anyone who has bothered to read this far.

Back soon with the now traditional new year state of the nation post and my pick of the past year’s albums – after wading through the pile of downloads after scouring everybody else’s lists.

In a twist of fate, the daughter of the man who took the conversation about a website seriously and created it while some of us were still lying in bed is poised to feature somewhere in the end-of-year lists.

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Gagarin to Ghetto Thang

MOST of my journeys in recent years have started by turning right.

Not just boarding flights, when even my one incursion into life behind the posh curtain came via a lucky escape from what was shaping up to be a long, frustrating night crossing the Atlantic in cattle class.

Any pretence at appearing to belong in the posh seats was rather ruined by attempting to get off the plane by turning right and heading towards the cockpit, rather than left and back towards the exit.

Let’s blame it on being disoriented after sleeping through a flight (well, almost, was paranoid of keeping the first class cabin awake by snoring).

Even jumping on the back of a big yellow truck on the way round Africa, my standard position was off to the right at the back – extra room staked against the increased chance of getting sent airborne if the truck hit any serious bumps or potholes.*

And for the last couple of years, my everyday commute has started by turning right out the front door and making my way to the office through a combination of walking and bus. An hour at least.

Until now…

A recent post outlined the big change in my working life with the switch from daily to weekly newspapers and posed the question of what to do with my weekends cleared from work (not entirely, managed to find stuff that is best got out of the way then, but can be slotted in around everything else).

Now there is more time back – that commute is down to, at rough estimate, all of two minutes.

All from turning left and wandering the couple of hundred yards to our new office.

The postman can’t find it, the milkman delivers to the office over the corridor and nobody can agree on whether it is too hot or too cold in the office, but from considering home early if The One Show was still on, a late return now is if Pointless has finished.

One impact of this is the knock-on effect on the A-Z trip through my iPod – the cornerstone journey of this blog.

Instead of that hour of travelling every morning (got a lift home most nights) to rattle through the tracks, a journey to work now would cover only the shortest entries on the A-Z.

So whatever the answer is to do with the new-found spare time – more regular posts would be one idea, once that time has stopped being filled with an awful lot of… well, nothing constructive really – it needs to involve more listening to the iPod.

And with everything else going on, the simple answer is finally (seriously, it’s been far, far too long) to get back to the gym.

The view from my flat over the ice rink to the gym with the blue lights. The little light bottom right stays on all night and is really annoying.

The gym sits across the square from my flat, the lights shining out through the large windows around the clock – the other side of the ice rink and the Ferris wheel at the moment – every night reminding me just how long it has been.

There is an excuse. For some time, that would have involved a gag about my back/shoulder/knee (delete as applicable).

But it seriously has been stopped in recent months by a hip. A hip which could yet spark more telling changes to my life than those at work.

Diagnosed by my osteopath as bursitis – technically, inflammation of a fluid-filled sac which acts as a cushion between tendons and bones; in practice, bloody painful area which, in my case, moved down through my thigh and into the knee with any form of exertion, even that short walk to work would have been a strain at its worst – he pointed me in the way of my GP for a further check.

Being a bloke, going to the doctor is usually put off as long as possible, but this instruction seemed worth following.

As was the final verdict that there was little wrong that could not be solved by the one thing both of us knew long before the subject was broached – it was time to lose some weight.

And for once, it was not put on the to-do list and ignored.

If it was not for that hip – not perfect but much better and at a point where that initial return to the gym is on the agenda in the next few days out of the office – it would not be walking me to a Slimming World class once a week.

Not actual weight. Or my socks

And it seems to be working, 11 and a half pounds lost in the opening two weeks. Not quite so confident ahead of this week’s weigh-in, particularly after rather exceeding the allowed amount of beer (and cheese) at the office Christmas do, and there’s a long way to go but already feeling much better on it.

Add the creaking joints to too much weight and pre-diet me rarely felt comfortable. There was always some pressure pushing somewhere.

But even this early in the diet – and need to expand my recipe horizons and start cooking properly after keeping it really simple so far – it feels like someone has opened the bottle on a large bottle of Coke (a habit kicked cold turkey) and released some of that pressure.

Time to return to the gym while the initial eagerness is there to tackle three birds with one stone – lose weight, fill those extra hours with something meaningful and listen to the iPod at the same time.

When the return to the iPod journey does pick up again, it will be in the relatively early stages of G – the stuttering recent weeks taking us from Public Service Broadcasting (apt after the last entry) to De La Soul.

Along the way we saw plenty of old favourites – Echo and the Bunnymen (The Game), The Clash (Garageland), REM (Get Up, twice) and The Wedding Present who chipped in with a pair of cover version which both came in their original form – Getting Nowhere Fast by Girls At Our Best and Getting Better by The Beatles, who also contributed four versions of Get Back.

There were also multiple versions of Get Off by The Dandy Warhols, plus multiple songs from Gomez – Get Miles and Get Myself Arrested back to back – and we even got unusually Radio 1 friendly with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

Not sure exactly what Radio 1 would make of Georgia, Georgia or anything by Elliott Smith for that matter. But that’s the type of forgotten pleasure or discovery which is the whole driving force behind this blog.

Same goes for Belly’s Gepetto. And Get Free by The Vines. Both long overlooked but which had me singing in the office for much of the day.

More good reasons (beyond getting fit and losing weight) to get back on the gym and plugged in to the iPod.

*Oasis Overland recommend all passengers wear their seatbelts at all time. Another rule we largely ignored.

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