Under The Southern Cross

From top middle to bottom right – the new decoration on the wall of our front room

Since the first new year post was written in a dark, deserted Ghanaian beach bar in 2015, each one has looked to reflect on how much ground has been covered in the previous 12 months.

Sometimes there has been plenty of movement in terms of travel mileage, other times the change has come in life without actually going anywhere.

And during Covid, it seemed like nothing had happened yet everything had changed. All while going absolutely nowhere.

But doubt if any year will match 2023 for the amount of ground covered, both in terms of distance and changes in my life.

All, oddly, while feeling as stable and grounded as my life has done in a long time.

Not that things have not changed – a lot.

The Barron River Falls en route to Kuranda. Try Googling them to see what they looked like a few weeks ago

Last year’s post was written in my flat in Gloucester in the middle of a British winter. This one comes from our spare room/office in Canberra in shorts and flip-flops with the sun shining and a forecast of temperatures topping 30C tomorrow.

That does not tell the full story. It was lashing down here yesterday and, rather like places at home and the River Severn across the other side of the Docks basin from that Gloucester flat, flooding has been the major weather news in parts of Australia.

Thankfully not here, although the mix of sun and storms appears to be the perfect conditions for our deranged pumpkin plant to take over the garden. Although not necessarily grow any pumpkins.

When that new year post was written, an email confirming my Australian visa had not longed popped into my inbox, Lisa had headed home alone for the final time and the to-do list to packing up my life in the UK and moving to the other side of the world had begun.

And that is what bought a sense of stability. A feeling of certainty.

For several of these new year, state-of-the-nation posts, a common theme has been one of uncertainty, a perpetual state of limbo and – unlike that pumpkin plant – an inability to put down too many roots.

First it was because of more travel looming on the horizon, then not knowing how long we would have to wait for the world to open up again after Covid as we carried out a long-distance relationship constrained by the size of a screen and quality of a video call.

Then, amid a mountain of paperwork, there was the wait for the visa.

Not in Gloucester now, Toto

That mountain had to be scaled again in recent months for the post-wedding next step to making the visa permanent and it is reaching the point where every email brings a frisson of excitement that the latest wait might be over (ahead of another application to enable leaving/re-entering the country to return home for a family wedding if the latest update does not arrive in time).

But, to all intents and purposes, there is some certainty about my life.

Probably more than there has been since that decision over a few drinks to first quit my job to go travelling. Possibly further back than a couple of personal events which may well have played a part in that decision.

Had no idea where that would lead – well, New York initially, given that was the eventual destination of that first trip – but pretty sure getting married and living in Australia was never one of the possible outcomes.

But 12 months on from drawing up that to-do list to move, here we are.

The flat was packed up, its contents shipped Down Under, raided by family (my stereo headed off to a good home) or collected by a charity shop.

My life in the UK wrapped up, bar a couple of financial issues kept alive for convenience, the door shut behind me and my first step on Aussie soil – country number 68 – was to start unwrapping a new one.

The biggest concern was getting a job, but the sharp eyes of a friend spotted the perfect vacancy and a little more than a week before getting on the plane, that one was ticked off and PA Media had a British member of its overnight Australian team.

A less reliable member of the PA Australia team

Having travelled all that way, have had more bylines over the last few months in some titles than in much of the time they actually employed me.

So ensconced in a new job and new home (another thing which, thankfully, was waiting for me – complete with cat, who only hid under the sofa for the first couple of hours), much of the year has been about settling into a new life in a new country.

Will mine that topic for some future posts but it is not all that different. Take away the odd kangaroo and some very odd mullets. In this neck of the woods they even serve pints – at least if you ask them to.

And that is pretty much my year. Bar two things which go hand in hand – the person who was the reason for the move in the first place (who reckons she is the star of this blog) and our wedding.

The big day itself is covered elsewhere, coming not before the honeymoon but in the middle as we opted to maintain our record of keeping things non traditional.

The trip provided – a weekend in Sydney that featured a reunion from that original London to New York trip apart – my first real chance to explore some of Australia outside the ACT (albeit we are just over the border, which runs along the end of the road, where they do not serve pints) as we headed north into Queensland. Some of the bits which really have been flooded in recent weeks.

A rare moment when there was only one of them perched on me in Kuranda

A few days in Brisbane were highlighted by a trip to see England’s women play Nigeria – and become part of a select few who have seen an England team win a World Cup penalty shootout – and the post-match dash to find a hint of space in a bar to watch Australia.

A short (ish) flight – by their standards – took us up to Cairns with day trips around the waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands and, via a small train and cable car return above the trees, to the small town of Kuranda and a run-in with some birds.

Apparently they took a liking to me as a perch. Thankfully, the larger animals next door did not feel the same way.

Clicking into wedding mode (which both of us attempted to avoid as much as possible), a boat whisked us off to Fitzroy Island for a few days – not managing to do the same with the flowers, photographer and celebrant as a breakdown delayed the ceremony.

The locals can be a bit shy

But, bar that, it all went smoothly and well into the evening at a meal overlooking the ocean.

Our first act as a married couple was… behave… to relax on the island before heading further north to Port Douglas and more exploration of the Danetree area and a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and even a quick submersible ride around the coral.

One of us is much more at home in the water – and the tropical temperatures of the far north – than the other.

That was 2023. Emigrating, new life and a wedding. Huge changes, but a sense of belonging and stability.

The next 12 months look quieter, but that continued stability suits me fine. There’s the standard plans – lose weight, get fit, write here more regularly – plus a trip back to the UK/France and a desire to see some more of my new home (there’s wineries around here need exploring).

And that all sounds fine to me.

Sunset from Fitzroy Island
Share

Acoustic Rick James Style to The Jello Fund (Best of 2023)

Second of three end-of-year/new year wrap-ups with a bit of housekeeping to get the A-Z posts bang up to date, mixed in with the traditional best of… post.

It is rare that this blog and its subject matter have been in sync in recent times – one of the (many) reasons (excuses) for such sporadic activity.

Since returning from South America and then wading through the seemingly never-ending run of I tracks on the journey through my iPod – not to mention the almost as endless catch-up through A-I added in that time – have been playing catch up with blog posts.

It, admittedly, became a bit of a chore – especially when spending all day in front of a laptop at home post-lockdown and without the momentum built from either travelling or listening to the next tracks on this journey, bringing with them fresh ideas to drive things onward.

But as 2023 drew to a close, new home, new life and things began to line up again – the I tracks had been cleared, the catch up spanning several years had followed and J was a mere sprint.

Meaning all that was required to end the year up to date was a further catch up through the most recent arrivals.

That journey took us from one Lemonheads track to another courtesy of a 30th anniversary reissue of Come On Feel… which saw tracks dotted along the way.

They provided enough proof to remember why they could, and possibly should, have been the biggest band in the world. Mixed in with enough to remember exactly why they were not.

There were a few bits filling in gaps in my collection such as The Triffids, Ride, Husker Du – whose Zen Arcade did the job of checking downloads were working after a switch from the UK – and The National, despite being convinced the album containing Bloodbuzz Ohio (my favourite song of theirs) was already in my collection somewhere.

There was a taste of what is to come in 2024 from IDLES (along with LCD Soundsystem) but most of the catch-up consisted of those songs and tracks contending for a place in the Travel Marmot Best of 2023 list.

The fight for album of the year has been a three-way fight for a while – one which topped many end-of-year lists, one which popped up occasionally and a third which was barely mentioned. Until now at least.

A few final listens cut that down to a two-horse race, the winner taking the verdict by a short head.

So here, only a few days late, is this year’s selection…

Album of the Year: The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrfMXtA9oGg

It was a tight-run thing and may well change my mind – it has happened before. But a band once dismissed as another generic indie guitar band with The… in the name took the honours. Got that first impression badly wrong.

They came close to top spot a few years ago, but this just has too many really good songs to deprive them again. And there is something about the drumming on their songs which manages to both drive them on and keep them in check simultaneously, to say nothing of Matt Berninger’s delivery.

It is not perfect, it is a bit one-paced. Swap in a couple of tracks for some from Laugh Track, their second album of the year, and the victory would have been even clearer.

And like everything else in 2023, it had a bit of Taylor Swift. To say nothing of Phoebe Bridgers. Speaking of which…

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year: Boygenius – The Record

It has become a running joke that Phoebe Bridgers has to feature in each of these lists (even if it required a bit of cheating last year to shoehorn her in), but this is here purely on merit.

Do not fall into the typical image of a Boygenius fan, if reviews concentrating on the audience’s gender and sexuality at live performances are to be believed as the bandwagon gathered speed, but the songs are too good for pigeonholing.

Their debut EP, good as it was, smacked of solo work with the others supplying support. This appears as a collaborative effort by three singer-songwriters lifting each other.

Not Strong Enough was a genuine contender for track of the year.

Completing the Podium Album of the Year: The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery

The other Irish guitar band have played second fiddle somewhat to their contemporaries Fontaines DC, but the slow burn which runs through their career and much of this album is coming close to ignition.

A friend seeing them live a while back reported the feeling of being present for “something important”. He may be right – their Glastonbury set was the highlight of what made it over to Australia.

Return to Form of the Year: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Weathervanes

His last couple of albums have been far from bad. But, clad in a more Nashville country sheen, they had to contend with following the remarkable double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free.

Weathervanes finds something of a middle ground, confirming Isbell’s place as one of the great contemporary storytellers (to say nothing of his singing and guitar playing).

Promising Late Discovery of the Year – Wednesday: Rat Saw Good

Otherwise known as the pick of the albums tried out because they kept appearing in end-of-year lists (pretty thin pickings, which says something about the reviews, the year in music or my hunger for new music as the years roll on – possibly all three).

Wednesday lived up to most of the recommendations, like Soccer Mommy fronting Porridge Radio or Camp Cope. With bonus points for name checking the Drive-By Truckers

Honourable mention to Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We.

Where The Hell Did That Come From… of the Year: Slowdive – Everything Is Alive

Back in the days when my fingers got inky at least once a week with the ritual study of the NME, Slowdive were one of a slew of shoegazing bands in the one-time flavour of the month movement.

Fuzzy guitars should really have been right up my street, but for some reason never fully connected – even with my teenage propensity to gaze at my shoes through what passed for a fringe. Back in the days when it had a hope of making it down as far as my eyes.

Slowdive were not among the bands that really gripped me back then, so their second (or even their third) coming has been a truly pleasant surprise.

Maybe staring at your shoes is better with age and Ride’s Nowhere made a welcome return after initially buying it on vinyl (sadly, left behind – albeit to a good home with my stereo – in the UK).

New music from the original line-up of Drop Nineteens – much more on my radar and contributors to a teenage Winona obsession – came from even further out of left field and is worthy of further investigation.

Need to Spend More Time With/Old Dependable of the Year: Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Keep being told it is his best for some time. And his best his sensational – several tracks contending for any Desert Island Discs list, even if they are about serial killers or losing someone to cancer.

It is good, just hasn’t really grabbed me yet – although some of his best stuff suddenly leaped out after repeated listens. So will be doing that. And time spent with Sufjan is never wasted.

Honourable mention to The Coral’s Sea of Mirrors.

It’s Good But… of the Year: The Clientele – I Am Not There Anymore

Had several people rave about the latest from a band who apparently have been going for more than 30 years but passed me by completely.

It’s… OK. In places, really good. Benefits from definitely not sounding like it came from anytime recently. Don’t quite get the praise some people lauded on it.

But then said that about The National for a long time

Well Worth Anyone’s Time of the Year…

Girl Ray – Prestige
Wilco – Cousin
Margo Price – Strays
The Hold Steady – Price of Progress
The Wedding Present – 24 Songs
Drive-By Truckers – The Complete Dirty South
The Gaslight Anthem – History Books
Teenage Fanclub – Nothing Lasts Forever

Track of the Year – The National: New Order T-Shirt

It could have been Not Strong Enough and another title for Phoebe Bridgers, it could just as easily have been a couple of contenders from The Murder Capital. Or from Jason Isbell, King of Oklahoma was definitely in the running.

It might even have been Eucalyptus, another song by The National.

But from pretty much first hearing, Matt Berninger’s tale of keeping memories of an old flame alive (“I keep what I can of you”) through an item of clothing has been leading the race for this accolade.

Replace a T-shirt – and sort of want one of the charity ones they made to go with it – with songs and that was one of the inspirations for this entire musical journey.

Share

John, I’m Only Dancing to Juxtapozed With U

Traditionally, a new year brings two blog posts, but 2023 has been a bit different and one event warrants a post of its own. In keeping with tradition, the other two posts will follow – and be later than planned.

Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably (or as comfortably as those of us of a certain age can manage)? Then we will begin.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl from Australia. Little in stature, not age. Otherwise this story could get a bit creepy.

Bitten by the travel bug but caught in a work maelstrom, she dreamed of heading off on overland travels and a return to Africa.

Finding a spare few moments at work on her birthday in Canberra, she started googling overland travel companies and the big yellow trucks of Oasis Overland caught her eye.

Digging deeper into trip reviews, she spent time reading a blog of the Trans Africa journey around the continent written by an English bloke. And wondering exactly why it had a picture of a marmot (well, probably, let’s just roll with this for dramatic effect).

A few years passed and, after saving up her Monopoly money – sorry, Aussie dollars – our heroine (oh Lord, that one will come back to haunt me) finally booked a spot on one of the big yellow trucks. Not in Africa, but to pastures new in South America.

As she and her future travelling companions prepared for the trip, emails started to fly, a Facebook group was set up and one of those posting started to look familiar – the African blogger was chipping in on truck life ahead of adding a new continent to his travels.

And, as she sat in a Quito cafe the day before everyone was due to meet up at the start of the trip, the English blogger posted a (not so) fresh-off-the-plane picture with the view from his hostel terrace across the part of the old town she was exploring.

She was unable to work out where our clearly jetlagged romantic lead (hey, if she can be the heroine) was posting from, but as the travellers assembled at the pre-trip meeting the next evening, she recognised the English guy listening patiently to a monologue from a bearded American.

Not sure the two spoke much to each other that first night. Or even until he jumped in on the back of her haggling to grab the same rug (both lost somewhere in Brazil) at a market in Otavalo.

They definitely did speak during a freestyle game of Jenga in a bar and, over the coming weeks, began to chat more and more, spending an increasing amount of time together. Pretty much from the moment they were cursed by a random busker in Lima.

To cut a long story short – via becoming a couple in Argentina, being forced apart by the premature end of the trip in Colombia, daily video calls across the globe in lockdown, a couple of visits to wintry England and the quest for a visa – our heroine welcomed her Prince Charming (yeah, OK, that might be pushing it a bit) to Australia.

And on August 14, 2023, on an island off the coast of Queensland, the travel tale written by a single bloke from Gloucester officially became a two-handed affair with the girl from the beaches north of Sydney who had first stumbled across his ramblings several years earlier.

And somehow still agreed to marry him.

It was not a big wedding – the elopement package at Fitzroy Island giving a clue to the plan – in the middle of a two-week exploration of Queensland, but in a secluded garden (if you forget about the overlooking hotel balconies) overlooking a beach, the story which started with tales of Africa and took root in the wilderness, cities, beaches and jungles of South America had its happy ending.

Well, at least this chapter. There’s plenty more to be written yet.

And, keeping with a romance which first linked its romantic heroes via this blog (in which the bride has long considered herself to be the star), there was even a link to the A-Z iPod blog – which makes it a lot easier to shoehorn into this tale, even if it briefly threatened to derail the whole musical journey.

Having mopped up the remaining J songs – the shortest letter yet at 233, although not for long – from David Bowie to the groom’s former Cardiff neighbours the Super Furry Animals, the alphabetical trek had reached track 7,311 out of 15,960 (for now).

The latest section saw us through more Johns, Johnny and Jonny, Jonathan, Jolene, Jorge, Joy (with oven gloves and in Leeuwarden with a couple of Half Man Half Biscuit outings), Julie (working for the drug squad) and a fairly lengthy list of Justs – Radiohead, Feeder (Just A Day), REM (two versions of the glorious Just A Touch) and Jesus & Mary Chain (the equally glorious Just Like Honey, twice) – before the wonderfully bonkers clash of cultures which is The KLF’s Justified and Ancient.

Which is not a comment on the groom’s age.

And for a while, that looked like it might be it for the iPod – a key component of the A-Z.

Dragooned into action to supply the music throughout the ceremony – downloaded at the last minute after a failure to agree on anything – it was hidden in the groom’s back pocket with his phone to avoid an unsightly bulge in the wedding photographs.

One of the pictures which almost ended the A-Z trip through my iPod

Which would have been fine, if some of the photos had not involved the happy couple sitting on some rocks on the beach.

Thankfully, the spider web of cracks on the screen does not have much impact on its use – more thankfully, the fairly new and rather more expensive phone was unharmed – and the big day did not claim a casualty.

Tradition in these blog posts dictates several videos or links being posted to songs from the latest section, but if we cannot break the rules on this post, when can we?

So let us sign off with a song which should rightly feature in the next post catching up on new additions from A-J, but one which means a lot to us – the bride was given a crash course in some of the finest British television over her trips up north, developing a couple of obsessions with plans to escape to the country and live in a big house full of friendly ghosts.

This formed one of the songs on the playlist for the wedding, as we signed our lives over to each other.

And the words seem to fit. As long as you don’t dig too deeply.

Share
 

Please log in to vote

You need to log in to vote. If you already had an account, you may log in here

Alternatively, if you do not have an account yet you can create one here.