Ablaze to Drunk And On A Star

IT has become something of a tradition in the relatively short life of this blog to write a state of the nation-style post, assessing the world around me and my place in it as we enter a new year.

And it is rapidly becoming another tradition that the good intentions to have that piece written on New Year’s Day are derailed and delayed.

Two years ago was spot on, written in a candlelit bar on the Ghanaian coast on a quiet first night of the year, albeit not posted for another two weeks due to the lack of wi-fi.

But last year, it took until January 23 before what became the penultimate entry for 2016 to see the light of day, so writing this nine days into 2017 is positively punctual. And a form of rebirth.

That entry 12 months ago announced the break this blog was going on which was supposed to last a few weeks, months at the most – not, one brief return aside, a year – and an overhaul of the design of the site.

Finally that prediction has come true – the new look you have hopefully spotted, albeit with a few minor tweaks still to come, and a return to regular articles both in the A-Z Challenge and working my way through the travel pieces (this is the Travel Marmot after all) which have been on the must-write list for who knows how long.

Travel remains close to my heart, even if there is none on the horizon – something that does not sit easy and there is a real itch to do so something about it.

My bed for the night, right, on New Year’s Day 2015 in Elmina, Ghana

So how did we get to that point?

That post on 2015 was written sat in the power-free, darkened bar at a small eco beach resort with the camp pets curled up on my feet or alongside me. Away to my right, the occasional sounds of some of my fellow travellers mixed with the sound of the Atlantic with a night in my one-man tent at the side of the volleyball court awaiting me.

This post is written sat at the desk in the corner of the front room of my flat. To my right, the sound of American college football is coming out of the TV with workmen outside dismantling the ice rink which has taken over the square  at Gloucester Docks for the past few weeks.

Food will not be cooked over a fire from the (newly) well-stocked fridge and bed will be, well, a bed. A proper bed. And between now and heading under the duvet, there’s all the modern conveniences to enjoy.

Not to be underestimated or taken for granted. Especially now, probably for the first time in six years, my life is firmly settled and fully unpacked.

If this new-year post tradition was in place in 2010 – round about the time the earliest entries in this blog were written, albeit initially, on a different website – it would have recorded a similar story.

It was about 50 miles away across the border in Cardiff, but there was a steady, responsible job on a newspaper and my own house (well, mine and the mortgage company’s). Everything was pretty much sorted, running smoothly and normal.

Sunset over Elmina – almost time to start writing

Right up to the decision to jack it all in and go travelling.

And since then, my life has been in a sort of limbo, living out of bags, on the road, with large chunks of my clothes or belongings in storage and even when back to what seemed like normality and even running a small company in my spare time, there was never that feeling of being settled. Of putting down roots. Of permanence.

There was always another big trip somewhere down the line, even before it was decided on what it was going to be.

But sat here now, everything is out of storage. There aren’t even things in bags, clothes are hanging up (unironed and wrinkled, but hanging up) or folded in drawers – now the Ikea packages have finally been put together –  books are in strict order on the bookshelves, furniture from my rented-out house in Cardiff surrounds me (the new tenants did not want it) and this week marks a year back on the payroll and in the office across the Golden Valley in Cheltenham.

Life is settled. Life is, pretty much, good. Life is not in a state of limbo.

Well, sort of. And that sort of is why there is no travel planned. Bar a couple of ideas and one plan made over a few drinks at a Trans Africa reunion which are being suppressed until that state of limbo is totally over.

Many of you will know the new year brings not only a delayed Travel Marmot blog post but also a tax deadline and that is what is largely delaying any plans for the future.

That end of January deadline is pretty much taken care of, all the relevant paperwork shipped off to the accountants. It is another tax issue which has everything on hold and explains me actually having an accountant.

That decision in 2010 to leave Cardiff was not meant to last this long. Always thought my future involved me returning there and moving back into my house.

But no, bar a couple of months between tenants, that house has been rented and there is outstanding tax to be paid. No attempt to dodge tax, just a breakdown in communication and, in my case, organisation.

So while the wait goes on for the final amount payable, there is no spending and until there is a clear idea of the budget, travel plans are on hold.

The moment the payment is made, the planning starts ( and if my boss reads this, don’t worry. That’s travelling little and often, not another lengthy, quit-my-job option. Probably).

So that’s me, what about the A-Z Challenge which forms the centrepiece of this blog at the moment.

That last, solitary post which popped up a few months ago wrapped up the end of the Ds, so to set things up neatly for the new year and the regular return of this blog, it has been a case of mopping up the A-Ds which arrived on my iPod over the last 12 months.

It was a fairly lengthy list from Ablaze by School of Seven Bells to Drunk And On A Star by Kevin Morby from 2016 albums, a few older ones missed while on the road  and any others picked up over the year (a flurry of catching up on Teenage Fanclub’s back catalogue for starters).

The normal, slightly longer than normal, playlist which accompanies each A-Z entry is below but what were my picks for 2016’s best albums?

Was going to do a proper top 10, but opted against that. Plenty of good albums last year, just not much verging on the great as most struggled to keep the quality throughout (sorry guys,  Bowie’s Blackstar is good, but would people really be raving about it the way they do if it wasn’t for the circumstances?).

So, in no particular order, my pick for 2016 are:

  • Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (not an easy listen, especially in light of his son’s death, but worth investing time in)
  • American Band – Drive-By Truckers (my current obsession and next band on the gig list)
  • A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead (who had the great idea of a track listing running from A-Z)
  • Going, Going… – The Wedding Present (surprisingly good from a band largely overlooked in recent years)
  • Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest (the type of band this A-Z Challenge was designed for as could well have slipped through the net, but kept popping up and catching my attention)
  • Schmilco – Wilco (not all Wilco fans liked it, but fine by me)

And bubbling under or worth more of my time in the weeks to come are:

  • Blackstar – David Bowie
  • 22, A Million – Bon Iver (Really need to spend more time on it)
  • Here – Teenage Fanclub (What prompted that re-examination)
  • case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs (Bit hit and miss, but the good bits are well worth it)
  • Chaleur Humaine – Christine And The Queens (Surprised my self with this one. Tilted one of the songs of the years)
  • A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson (A bit more time with this one and could well be bumped into the top list)
  • Head Carrier – Pixies (Jury still out, last addition to the iPod. Could go either way)
  • Meet The Humans – Steve Mason (Slipped by me a bit, another that needs further examination)
  • Babes Never Die – Honeyblood (Some great songs but does tail away)
  • I, Gemini – Let’s Eat Grandma (We hit the Es next time – we’ll see more of them then)
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