Hopefulness to How Come You Never Go There?

Day 15 of the blog post a day in May and it is back to some sort of normality – with a touch of righteous indignation.

FOR much of the last few months, a large chunk of the journey from A-Z on my iPod has taken place in the gym which looms large on the opposite corner of the square from my flat.

And probably the biggest chunk of that took place building up my running from scratch on a treadmill, right until my right calf decided that was not such a good idea.

The osteopath agreed with my calf and eventually put a ban on me going near a treadmill, even to walk. Never mind the rather scary looking step machine next to it which was part of the plan to get my legs used to going up endless stairs before tackling the Inca Trail.

Not wanting to lose the groundwork put in to my fitness levels, we agreed on a compromise of hitting the exercise bike which provides just as good a workout (if not more, given the now customary stagger out of the saddle) while taxing a few different leg muscles to protect the calf.

The back is not quite so protected, judging by how difficult it is to get comfortable, while other parts of the body have also had their complaints about proximity with a saddle.

All this work in the gym is part of building that fitness, an added push to the weight loss and that added target of building up to the assault on the Inca Trail.

And having made the decision to forego the easy ride via train and bus to Machu Picchu in favour of the four-day Classic trek, it was slightly disconcerting to read an article about which could have huge repercussions for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps.

Machu Picchu: Fury over plans for new multi-billion pound airport next to ancient Inca citadel

The Independent article jumped out of my Twitter feed, outlining plans to build an airport in the nearest major settlement to Machu Picchu and the fears of the damage it could cause to the great attraction, the Inca Trail and the whole civilisation around the surrounding Sacred Valley.

In 2017, Unesco warned it could add Machu Picchu to its list of endangered world heritage sites such was the strain 1.5 million visitors a year – double Unesco’s recommended figure – was having on the citadel and associated sites.

Peru has responded with limited daily permits on the trail, time slots and controls on visitors at the ruins, but an airport has the potential to go well beyond Unesco’s initial concerns.

Justin Francis, chief executive of Responsible Travel, told The Telegraph: “When we look back at what went wrong with tourism, this will be the story that sums it all up.”

Strong words but it is difficult to disagree with him and the thought that an airport appears some way on the wrong side of the very narrow line between the benefits and drawbacks of tourism.

It is easy to get angry at such an idea, pointing the finger at the Peruvian government and anyone who will benefit financially from the airport.

But they have a valuable resource and how many governments and economies are far-sighted and secure enough to avoid exploiting such a lucrative opportunity? No matter the long-term impact.

And what about those of us who are helping to swell those tourism numbers? Are we not equally to blame for helping to create the need for the airport, no matter how much we can claim to be doing it properly?

This is an issue, rather like all environmental concerns, that we all have a stake in.

It falls on us travellers to look careful about where we are leaving our footsteps and how much of a lasting print they will have, just as it falls on the Peruvian government and surrounding communities to look beyond the short term and not milk the cash cow irreversibly dry.

And the global community has its share of the responsibility.

It may be over another border, but Machu Picchu is a global treasure – like so many, physically and culturally, threatened by rampant tourism – and we need to be working with whatever country is affected to help keep them as such.

Not just with aid, but providing help, understanding and an ability to build economic strength to look after itself and its people to avoid the need to take such steps.

We need these places, these cultures, this enrichment of life beyond what we know – far better than pulling down the shutters and trying to block the flow of ideas and influences across borders.

To quote Rudyard Kipling (well, Billy Bragg who used it in The Few): “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

And hey, if I can walk to Machu Picchu, do people really need to fly right to its front door?

Which is all rather more serious than was intended on a post designed to steer us through the 60 tracks from Courtney Barnett to Feist.

One of the annoyances of listening to the A-Z on the bike is a long song making it difficult to break down a session into bite-size tracks, as happened again with seven-plus minutes of The House Song by The Beta Band.

This stretch had two outings for Horsin’ Around from Prefab Sprout’s masterful Steve Macqueen album, a couple of versions of Hounds of Love (Kate Bush and The Futureheads’ cover) and two visits from The Be Good Tanyas (Horses and a House of the Rising Sun cover which had me drumming on the bike console).

Initially stumbled across The Be Good Tanyas via an iTunes freebie and investigated further to the point hearing them takes me back to a mosquito-infected early evening chilling with a few beers under the midnight sun on the banks of the Yukon at Dawson City, Canada.

The Hold Steady also popped up twice with Hostile, Mass and Hot Soft Light, which also brings back travel memories after making it on to the African playlist (largely due to seeing them in Bristol the week before the off).

There were also appearances for a couple of Hotel tracks – Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes and, controversially for some, Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes – while Let’s Eat Grandma still sound fresh as they popped up with Hot Pink.

But best song title of this section – and many others – goes to American Music Club with The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores.

Doubt if those hopes and dreams include a gym bike or an airport at Machu Picchu.

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D&P Blues to Date With IKEA

BACK in the midst of time, back when my journalism career was no more than an impending work experience spell at what became my first paper, back in my teens, back even when my body could withstand a game of rugby, a poor refereeing decision cost us a place in a cup final.

There may have been other factors, but let’s put it down to the ref. It seems to be the fashionable thing to do.

It was a close tussle in a second team semi-final against local rivals, a place in the final at Kingsholm – Mecca in terms of rugby in Gloucester, if Mecca was overlooked by a cathedral – up for grabs in my first season of senior rugby.

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Forget Twickenham, the real home of rugby

If memory serves, we (actually, think it was probably me) were penalised late on at either a ruck or a scrum, the opposition kicked to the corner and, eventually, turned pressure into points and snatched a lead we didn’t have the time or opportunity to regain.

And that is as close as my playing career got to Kingsholm – thankfully, my journalism career went there and a lot further – and in the list of great rugby heartbreaks, it doesn’t really register.

Nor do my experiences match up to those of the experts who have spearheaded the criticism of referee Craig Joubert after Scotland’s rather more high-profile loss to Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

Yes, Joubert was wrong to run off the pitch without shaking hands with the players. It is one of the key tenets which rugby holds onto as part of the mutual respect among all concerned (regardless of what some of the physical battering involved may suggest) that it believes (rightly, much of the time) elevates it above other sports.

And he was rightly castigated – although ex-internationals, generally with a Scottish accent, suggesting he should “never referee at this level again” within minutes of it happening, did little to uphold the traditions of the game they claim to be defending.

Why Joubert ran off has not been proved. Suggestions have ranged from the need to use the toilet to fearing for his safety – amid isolated reports of a bottle being thrown at him – but they need to learn the facts before making quite such outlandish reactions. Especially one persistent rugby irritant.

But, more worrying to rugby’s image – both of itself and from the watching sporting world – is the way so many experts, ex-players, fans, keyboard warriors and, most worryingly, World Rugby, dived into the torrent of abuse and blame Joubert has received in the minutes, hours and days following his award of the deciding penalty against Scotland.

Let’s look at this coldly.

World Rugby took 24 hours to review and assess the controversial offside decision before categorically stating Joubert was wrong (an appalling decision which far outstrips any mistake made by the South African).

Experts either made their judgements from the safety of the stands – a long way at Twickenham – or, having seen the replay from every available angle and speed. They could not agree on anything other than Joubert should have gone to the video referee (TMO), something he was not able to do in that situation and which, for the first few games of the tournament, they had been telling us was being called upon far too often.

The Twitterati didn’t bother too much with any evidence (rather like the despicable cowards who attacked Wales wing Alex Cuthbert after their defeat to South Africa).

Joubert had one view, very little time and no confession from Aussie scrum-half Nick Phipps that he had intentionally grabbed at the ball – an act which, in the letter of the law, would turn the penalty into a scrum.

No, Joubert had no help but made a perfectly justifiable decision based on the evidence in front of him – and how on earth is he supposed to judge what was going through Phipps’ mind, especially as the player himself was appealing for the penalty?

Not Phipps’ fault, nor the unfortunate, penalised Jon Welsh, nor Joubert. Right or wrong, his decision was perfectly understandable. Unlike the reaction of his bosses at World Rugby who should not be pointing fingers, but looking at how they could help him.

Less technical laws relying less on interpretation and more on hard evidence for starters. More convenient, more efficient TMO rules for seconds.

And all that from a decision which would have been forgotten if it had happened at any other stage of the match – rather like the other decisions which are now being pored over (and spuriously tweeted out by another former international) from throughout the 80 minutes.

Take it to extremes, there was a case for a knock on in Scotland’s ultimately winning try against Samoa in their final group game. Rule that out and Japan qualify, not Scotland.

Didn’t hear too many complaints about the referee then.

That’s extreme and, to be honest, absurd. That’s sport with all its infuriating frailties which somehow add up to the drama that makes it special.

The result stands, whatever evidence anyone comes up. Or at least until some bright spark with too much time and money comes up with the idea of a legal challenge, based on a verdict on Joubert already delivered by World Rugby.

But above all, Scotland did not lose solely because of that decision or any other made by Joubert. They conceded five tries, they threw a risky lineout to the tail when defending a lead in the dying moment, they conceded 30-plus points (which would have been a lot more if Bernard Foley had been on form with the boot and Australia had played anything like they can) and over the course of 80 minutes, made other errors.

As did Australia, as did Joubert. And that’s sport. Why the best team doesn’t always win and why we can’t always pick the winners.

Unless you are betting on Southern Hemisphere teams that is.

The rugby has been supplying much of the soundtrack of the last few weeks, but there’s also been the little matter of starting out on the D songs on the A-Z iPod Challenge.

And wading into the shallows of a new letter has been distinctly uninspiring with plenty of less than great album tracks and little to really grab the attention from Uncle Earl to Pavement.

There’s been a few exceptions, the ever-reliable Ryan Adams popping up (twice) with Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains) while the Dan section produced several listenable tracks, most notably Johnny Cash’s reading of Danny Boy and Daniel by Veronica Falls, one of those bands who keep going up in my estimation as this trek goes on.

Unlike an awful lot of rugby fans.

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