I’m So Bored With The USA to If War Should Come

“Some people don’t know how to walk on the pavement these days
Well it’s not that difficult, there’s hardly a whole host of ways”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

IT may not look like it much of the time, but a lot of these posts start with a vague attempt to find a link with the tracks which have popped up on my iPod.

After all, the journey through the songs from A-Z is the supposed theme of the blog in lieu of any actual travelling.

Links can be tenuous, utterly missing (resulting the music being shoehorned in somewhere), a memory triggered by a song or any themes which pop up in the song title.

Which is where we were headed with this entry from The Clash to Public Service Broadcasting.

After all, if you cannot find a subject from song titles involving the USA to the threat of conflict via the ICU, changing someone’s mind, falling from grace with God, Ideology, ideas and, possibly most fittingly, idiots amid recent events, well you are not really trying.

But after feeding a CNN obsession and replanning the post amid unfurling events (long ago retreated into old West Wing episodes as a form of balm), we will go on about a real issue which has been driving me to distraction.

People’s inability to walk properly on a pavement or path.

There is a link to the music – this is the annoyance that crops up while listening to my iPod on my Government-sanctioned daily walks.

Designed to build some semblance of a return to pre-South America fitness (and waistline) and avoid spending my entire waking hours in the front room of my flat, the walks are part of an attempt to cover 1,000 miles on foot during 2021.

Slowly closing an early fall behind schedule, the daily distance will increase in length in line with the days and the walks provide the perfect chance to escape the four walls, get some fresh air and crank up the music in my headphones.

All socially distanced, of course.

At least until other people sharing the path decide the rules or general courtesy do not apply to them.

“Here they come, love’s young dream, arm in arm, approaching me
Now, I’m not looking for your smile, I’m just asking for some single file”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

This is not a new annoyance.

People’s inability to spot and adapt to what is around them while walking never ceases to amaze at the best of times.

Throw in the restrictions of social distancing and it takes on whole new levels of frustration.

And that is before we start on supermarkets.

So in a bid to tackle the big issues of the day, here is the Travel Marmot guide to walking on the pavements – after all, there’s hardly a whole host of ways.

  • You do not have to fill the whole width of the path

Quite happy to stick to the edge of the path – which on icy days around here, risks sliding along the banks of a canal or river – leaving plenty of room for people coming the other way to hug the far side.

If only.

Walked two miles back along a canal towpath on Sunday with a stream of couples and groups coming the other way – just two moved from side by side to single file and one of them did that down the middle of the path, which rather negates the point.

They are the pedestrian version of middle-lane hogs, seemingly worried they might fall off the edge if they move from the centre.

  • Pay attention to what is ahead

One thing about walking is most of us do not go that fast. You do have time to move out of the way rather than plough on regardless or block the path.

  • Stop looking at your phone

This is not just a social distancing measure, my old walk to work – about 200 yards – rarely failed to feature at least one collision or near miss.

Remarkably, it can be even worse at weekends – and was again between lockdowns – as Gloucester Docks appears a hot spot for groups of men (almost exclusively), dressed in black (even more exclusively), staring at screens (often more than one) in search of Pokemon.

Thankfully, Pokemon appear to be obeying lockdown rules.

  • Walking in the road/mud/canal is fine, thank you

After all, you would not want to get those best shoes or white trainers dirty by veering away from the path to give somebody some room.

Your dog can walk in the mud. It is probably happier there than me.

  • That two-metre gap is not for you to fill

Not a walk issue, this one’s from the list of supermarket gripes (seriously, don’t get me started – my frustration in the aisles generally rises with my need to travel. Which is high).

That two-metre gap in the checkout is for social distancing (you might have heard of it) and to let people pass through.

It is not for you to take your place at the front of the queue.

And no, not all of us are polite enough to let you go keep loading your shopping onto the belt.

  • Filming yourself breaking into a government building and posting it on social media is not a good idea

Oops, sorry, wrong list. Probably the same sort of people.

Soundtracking all this mumbling at passing walkers (and it is not always  as quiet as mumbling) has been a fair few highlights in the latest section.

We had one of last year’s best tracks with ICU from Phoebe Bridgers, rewound a few years for some ideas – three versions of Ideas as Opiates by Tears for Fears, courtesy of a bit of lockdown nostalgia downloading, and Idea Track by Idlewild – a regular visitor in Billy Bragg (Ideology) and Idioteque, one of Radiohead’s better outings once they went a bit… well, let’s just say post-OK Computer.

And then we hit the Ifs, which has been a pretty rich seam,

The magnificent If I Can’t Change Your Mind obeyed this blog’s rule of Copper Blue which says anything from Sugar’s debut album has to feature, while The Lemonheads (If I Could Talk I’d Tell You) and Jason Isbell (If It Takes A Lifetime) come close to similar outcomes.

We had some Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God), Wilco (If I Ever Was A Child), Leonard Cohen (If It Be Your Will), Belle & Sebastian (If She Wants Me) and If I Had A Hammer from American Music Club, who also popped up with I’ve Been A Mess.

Which you could say about a lot of people in the last few weeks.

It has taken us round the world, the close on 40 US states, almost round Africa, even closer to a full circuit of South America (although that was supposed to be a complete circle), A to If on my iPod and any number of detours along the way.

Let’s see where it takes us next – once the world expands a bit further beyond my flat.

 

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In The Shadow Of A Virus

Considering how little happened on a day-to-day basis for much of the year, it is amazing how different my life is from 12 months ago.

So sitting down for the Travel Marmot’s annual new year post, how do you reflect on the year everything and nothing happened all at the same time?

A year ago, it was written sat on a Rio hotel bed which was full of large chunks of Copacabana Beach, brought home from the previous night’s celebrations shared with about 2.9 million others.

New Year’s Eve last year

This year, it is being tapped out at my desk after seeing in two new years at opposite sides of the globe on video calls.

Apart from the number of people sharing my new year, the shift to sitting at that desk represents a large chunk of the last 12 months and reflects a life which has altered for all of us – the rapid shrinking of our worls.

Writing that piece in Rio, the horizon was a long way off.

In The Shadow Of Christ

The next few months featured plenty to look forward to – lots more of Brazil, a stretch across the north of South America through French Guyana, Suriname and Guyana, a brief return to Brazil and into Colombia before…

The view this new year

Well, before it all changed for all of us and those horizons on a daily basis stretched no further than the four walls which enclose my front room, office, kitchen and the majority of my life.

There was a while there, between our retreat from Colombia and moving into my flat as lettings opened up, when the walls were different and at least came with the advantage of a garden as my sister and her family gave me refuge.

Imperfect Circle

Lockdown – tier four, to be honest, has not made a huge difference in many ways to my life – has not been that tough in many ways.

Am quite content to spend a lot of time in my own company and with my own thoughts.

And never been one for much non-essential shopping, although popping down the pub would be nice.

It has not done much for my waistline and fitness, which had both improved hugely in the previous 18 months or so, but that gives me something to focus on in 2021 – starting with a challenge to walk 1,000 miles in the year.

Two down, 998 to go.

Above all other considerations, have been luckier than many others when it comes to friends and relatives being hit hard by the virus.

Long may that continue.

Am thankful my return home came just in time to find a job before all those unearthed by a search for journalism vacancies pretty much vanished and redundancies created more people hunting for exactly the same thing.

Maybe our welcome to Cartagena airport was trying to tell us something

It has meant changes beyond working from home, the ability to watch Homes Under The Hammer, listen to music and make a cup of tea without getting involved in a round (although those who have shared an office with me will know how rare an occurrence that was).

Have not worked solely as a reporter and interviewer since my first few weeks in journalism – a career which, gulp, have realised has entered its fourth decade.

The move to production – designing, subbing, planning and doing whatever was needed to get a newspaper out – came almost by accident weeks into that first job and increasingly took over before becoming complete around 10 years into that journey.

Thankfully, the last 10 years has increasingly involved a lot of subbing business copy which means writing about it for the last nine months did not come as a total shock to the system.

Subbing those pages – largely written by two people who did my current job before me – provided an insight into a whole new language and world (although have played the “there are no stupid questions” card a fair few times).

Have still had to learn a whole new vocabulary to deal with covering the events of the coronavirus – and that’s just trying to make sense of government announcements in the short time between when they are usually made and our daily deadlines.

Not always the easiest job when you consider who is talking.

It has all created a daily routine – shower, hunt for stories, the obligatory morning Zoom meeting, breakfast, writing, lunch, more writing, a walk for both exercise and change of scenery, food, laptop and, at some point, the major move of the day which covers all of a yard or two from desk to sofa.

And somewhere in that evening is one more daily fixture we have already touched upon.

Exactly when depends on the time gap with Australia, but those video calls across the globe are not just for new year.

That new year missive from Rio ended with news of me finding somebody who had agreed to explore those horizons with me (and was largely responsible for bringing great chunks of Copacabana back, whatever she might say).

And that, via those daily calls, has helped expand my world beyond these four walls, given me something to look forward to, someone to talk to, confide n and laugh with (something not to be taken lightly) and reason to keep looking forward.

The inability to do exactly that, make plans and have something inked in to the calendar to look forward has been – beyond the inability to do things we used to take for granted – the most frustrating aspect of our enforced pressing of the pause button.

The sun sets on our South America adventure

Conversations with friends, which have been at a premium, have invariably touched on our long-term plans without any answer beyond a resigned shrug (which works a lot better on Zoom than on the phone).

We have come up with a very long travel list – pretty much anywhere either of us has seen on TV, read about or the other has been to and we want to explore – on top of heading back to complete that missing chunk of the South American circle from Cartagena back to Quito.

But topping that list, depending on which of us you speak to, are Australia and the UK. Short trips to start with, probably, but after that…

It is impossible to plan beyond that. Even moving between Sydney and Canberra, let alone from the UK, involves two weeks of isolation at the moment while the prospect of flying from Australia – where an outbreak of 20-plus cases sparks local lockdowns – to visit here is hardly enticing.

Our next task is to look into the process of either us making the switch so we are ready to go when things return to some form of normality.

Who knows whether that will come before or after the next new year post.

Until then, there is always video calling.

 

 

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