What’s your Favourite…?

Day 23 of the blog post a day in May and we are off on our travels with a list. Two of my favourite things.

GET home from any long trip and it will not be long before somebody asks a question that starts “what was your favourite…?”.

The most common end to that question is place or country and, to be honest, no matter how many times it has been asked, not sure have ever given a proper answer.

Always had to veer off on a tangent, explaining that favourite moments on overland trips are not so much based on places but memories or moments, where they were is not necessarily the key factor in why they were so great.

Often reel off Rwanda among my favourite African countries, but was only there for about 72 hours.

Those three days included an extraordinary hour with mountain gorillas, a harrowing if hugely worthwhile trip to the Kigali Genocide Museum (both of which are real must sees) and a bizarre afternoon at an eccentric bowling alley.

It is also a beautiful country, known as the land of a thousand hills, but can that really qualify it as one of my favourite places of all my travels?

The same applies to the remaining moments picked out as my five favourites from 10 months on the road in Africa – an afternoon with the children of Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, an evening camping the heart of an isolated village in Cote d’Ivoire, digging a truck out of a waterlogged hole in the Congo and a visit to an orphanage in Ghana.

Trans Africa – The Best and the Worst

All amazing, but enough to land on my favourite places list? Probably not. Even goats on trees is not a good enough reason to lift Morocco onto that list.

Equally, having a few gripes about a place is not necessarily enough to disqualify it – Zimbabwe made it on my best and worst countries in Africa list, such are the delights and frustrations of a remarkable nation.

So have finally tried to work on a definitive list of my favourite places, defined by the city, country or region itself being what earned that ranking rather than some fleeting moment or experience.

Also need to have spent a certain amount of time there – love loads of places having spent very little time there, often just passing through – and the one guarantee of this list is that am determined to go back there. But that’s a very long list.

Diving in to this without having settled on the definitive list – suggest will want to change it pretty much immediately and fairly certain it will include a fair amount of places in the States.

Kept it to 10 or we could be here all day – can rattle on about endless number of places absolutely love – and in no particular order.

Boston
No surprise on this one, have long had a bit of a love affair with the state capital of Massachusetts (not the one in Lincolnshire).

Feel instantly comfortable and relaxed there – my overseas destination of choice to just get away from it all and feel under no pressure to go sightseeing or charge around ticking off the must-sees.

Wandering around Boston, hanging out in a bar or catching a Red Sox game is my version of a beach holiday.

Boston for First Timers

New York
Could easily live in Boston, not sure that is the case with New York but a few days always an exciting prospect, but with the similar feeling of being on familiar – if more hectic – ground.

You cannot run out of things to do, places to see and have every intention of doing and seeing a lot more there.

Watching the Red Sox win in Yankee Stadium would be near the top of the list.

New York for First Timers

Deep South
Bit of a cheat this one, lumping together such a large and varied area but it contains a huge number of places which could easily have made it in their own right.

From the antebellum charm of Charleston – which will always have a special place in my heart – and Savannah to the music capitals of Memphis and Nashville (plus Austin, Texas, which strictly doesn’t qualify) via any number of stops in smalltown America.

And for each of those memorable major centres, there are countless smaller stops, all with the requisite southern charm and fantastic scenery – if you are going to take one road trip, try the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway twisting through the Appalachians. Or the Great River Road down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Could go on and on.

Chilkoot Lake
Sunset over Chilkoot Lake, Haines

Alaska
The largest state of the union is one of its least accessible, but one of its most rewarding.

It is huge (it is the most northerly, westerly and easterly state, courtesy of a geographical quirk) and that size strikes you at every turn. You will travel for hours between stops and, if the weather is good in the summer, there will rarely be a poor view.

Several American national parks could have made this list – Yosemite, Yellowstone, Badlands, even the Grand Tetons which gave this blog its name – but Alaska just does it all bigger and better.

Edinburgh
You do not have to travel across the globe to find memorable cities – Edinburgh has always provided a great stop and each visit (all far too short, often far too drunk or with too much time spent working, occasionally both) leaves me wanting to go back for more.

Cornwall
Slightly surprised that a place not visited for years makes the list, but could not find a reason to take it off. My Dad always used to say ‘if the weather is right, you can’t do better’ and he’s not too far from the truth.

Cape Town/Western Province
Definitely topped the list of places to go back to in Africa, largely because it is simply stunning and Cape Town provides a wonderful centrepiece.

The Beautiful South

Bamako
The capital of Mali was not on our original itinerary and events in the north of the country have not exactly helped it as a travel destination. But the chaos, friendliness and sheer fun introduced us to what was to come in sub-Saharan African.

Beijing
There are people who have trouble with China and, yes, there is a lot to question. But it is a remarkable place, a history and a culture which is totally new to anyone from the west. And the best place for street food.

Namibia
Had to include one African country. Nearly went for the whole west coast or some of the wildlife hotspots of the east. But Namibia combines the best of both – amazing wildlife experiences, the sense of wilderness of West Africa and its own extraordinary natural sights. It is also a mecca for thrillseekers and overlanders, who come together after weeks or months on the road.

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Boston for First Timers

Day 12 of the challenge to write a blog post every day in May and time to head for some familiar ground.

MY first port of call in the US, the place visited most often over the Atlantic and my bolthole if needing an overseas trip with no hassle, a sense of familiarity and the need to relax without any pressure to hit the tourist trail too hard.

In many ways, Boston is my spiritual home away from home outside the UK. And during too many televised baseball matches way too late.

It happened pretty much by chance, my travelling companion on my first US road trip having grown up in the Lincolnshire town which gave its name and we both fell in love with the place. And, for one of us, in the place.

So why head there? And what to do when you get there?

Boston is not New York – around four hours down the coast by coach – with a more limited list of things to do, but there’s is a bit more room to draw breath and take things at your own pace. To say nothing of an awful lot of history (by US standards at least).

Getting there

Boston is about as easy to get to as any US city from the UK – a fair selection of flights which have the added advantage of being shorter than any other transatlantic trips.

Prices reflect that and, even with the demise of the Wow Air budget option via Reykjavik (believe me, it was worth paying extra for non-stop), you can pick up returns for under £300 if far enough in advance.

Can work out cheaper to fly to Boston for a couple of nights and heading down to New York rather than flying direct (if you can get a decent hotel deal, but we’ll get to that).

Boston has the advantage of Logan International Airport being close to downtown – you can sit on the waterfront and watch the planes coming in and out across the harbour.

You can catch a water taxi, but the easiest options are subway (with a free bus to the terminals) or taxi, normally about a 15 minute drive downtown if the traffic is not too bad.

Where to stay

Central Boston is pretty small so you are pretty safe if you stick close to the centre, but what you save on flights you may struggle to hang on to with accommodation.

Unlike New York, Boston is not overrun with hotel rooms and with so many conferences and students heading into town, they can fill up pretty quickly. Book early.

Most of the bigger, newer well-known names are congregated in Back Bay around Copley Square, which will give you easy access to pretty much anywhere you need to be. And there’s a few new swish ones down by the water.

There’s a few more interesting choices – there’s a Hilton tucked away in the Business District which is surprisingly handy, but if you want something with some character, the doyen of Boston hotels the Omni Parker Hotel is right in the heart of Downtown.

JFK proposed there, Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh worked there and while it can look a bit dated, if you can get a good deal (and they are there to be had), take it.

There is a Hostelling International as a budget option but it has moved since last used it so can’t tell you too much about it.

Getting around

After you have got a taxi from the airport, cars are largely pointless in Boston – its size and traffic make other ways of getting around far easier.

The subway – the T – is the oldest in the States (you will hear that a lot in Boston) and can look it at times, but is perfectly good to get you to outlying places or anywhere in a hurry. Forget it near Fenway when the Red Sox have just finished.

But the city is small enough and (Beacon Hill apart) flat enough that you can walk pretty much everywhere. There’s enough bars for a quick stop if you get tired.

Food and drink

There’s four things you can’t help but notice in Boston – sport (city teams have won all four major sport titles in the US this century and hold two of them), history, the Irish influence and students.

It adds up – now a lot of the leftovers of puritan history have been swept aside – to a distinct nightlife culture.

There’s all the normal American food options with the Boston institution Dunkin Donuts never too far away, but with a distinct Irish tinge to its bars.

Some may be a bit of a tourist trap – most notably Cheers, the original inspiration and the copy at Faneuil Hall, and the row of bars around the Blackstone Block – but pulling up a stool, grabbing a Sam Adams and something to eat while watching the game is a perfect way to while away a few hours. Or more.

It might be a bit further out, but Brendan Behan’s Irish pub in Jamaica Plain will always have a special place in my heart.

Seafood dominates the restaurant scene while Quincy Market offers an array of options in a food court which again falls into tourist trap territory but is perfect for refuelling on a day’s sightseeing.

Things to do for free

  • Freedom Trail – Boston is littered with historic sites battling for space with the modern city, largely based around the early days of a nation and the beginning of the fight for independence.
    Many of the key figures are buried in cemeteries (sheltered escapes if it gets a bit hot) which are among the attractions linked together in this walking tour, handily marked out by a red line or bricks.
    From Boston Common to Charlestown Navy Yard, it takes a few hours but is a great way to find your way around – much of the city is not on a grid like most American cities and roads often do not appear where you think they should – and handily passes by Quincy Market’s food hall and the Italian pastry shops of the North End.
    You can stump up for a guided tour, led by an actor in costume .
  • Walk or bike – Head along the banks of the Charles River, down Charles Street and adjoining, exclusive Beacon Hill (complete with gas lights, secluded squares and steep, narrow, cobbled streets) or window shop in Newbury Street. There’s plenty of cheaper place to actual shop.
  • Public Garden – At some point, your walk will take you to one of the green areas which litter the city. The Public Garden sits across the street from Boston Common, dividing Downtown and Back Bay with the historic swan boats patrolling the lake.
    A cool place to while away some time.

What to pay for

  • Fenway Park – Slightly biased here, but if you are going to shell out for one thing in Boston, head out to “America’s Most Beloved Ball Park”. Certainly the oldest and home to the World Series champions (at least for another five months).
    Head out for a tour, take in a game (book tickets before you go, don’t rely on being able to get them on arrival) or at the very least grab a beer in the Bleacher Bar under the Green Monster and look out across the park.
    After the New York for First Timers piece, somebody tried to argue Fenway could not match Miller Park in Milwaukee. Having not been there, can’t say definitively… no, forget that. Fenway is better.
    History and character in every corner. A bit like the city itself.
  • Harvard – This could be in the free section and the student tours used to be. Take the Red Line T to Harvard Square and while you can wander around on your own, pay the price for a tour from one of the undergrads in the crimson Hahvahd T-shirts for the tour. It’s well worth it (although pointing out your old school is about 100 years older when they rattle on about history does not go down well).
  • John F Kennedy Library & Museum – Add a fifth thing you are pretty much guaranteed to hear about in Boston: the Kennedy family. Anyone with the slightest interest in modern history should head out around the Harbor on the T (and free shuttle bus) for a fascinating insight into the life and legacy of a key figure in the shaping of the modern world.
  • Whale Watching – If you are there at the right time, head out on one of the regular boat trips from the Harbor. It’s a good few hours (and escape from the heat of the city in the summer) even if you do not see whales, which you should if looking in the right direction. And then it’s spectacular. Told the associated New England Aquarium is worth a visit, but a bit pricy.

Sure forgotten a few things, there’s certainly a fair few museums worth a stop, but this is just a beginner’s guide. Feel free to point out what’s been missed.

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A Flag In The Court to For Emma

PART of my day job is to fill swathes of white space with text. And pictures. A lot of pictures (or just really big ones) if there are not enough words and nobody else kicking around the office to write them.

And, as we always say with a hint of nervous laughter, we have not had to send a newspaper out with great empty spaces yet – although one day a sub will carry out the threat to do just that with a note explaining what should have been there and who failed to produce on time.

But despite what the anxiety dreams would suggest and against fairly hefty odds on some occasions, we get a newspaper out every day. On deadline. Or somewhere near.

Which is more than can be said for this blog.

There’s been a blank white space under the headline awaiting some words loosely linked to the latest chunk of tracks on the A-Z journey through my iPod for so long that the band which kicked it off have changed their name. Again – Thee Oh Sees dropping the Thee.

Bon Iver

There have been plenty of false dawns, sitting down to start filling the space from A Flag In The Court to Bon Iver’s For Emma (which really should have given me a fairly straightforward starting point) or mentally written on the way to work, just never actually transferred to that blank space – two of the next three posts are largely sketched out that way, plus one unconnected travel one so expect a sudden flurry of posting and inspiration.

And a good chunk of it was written down hot on the heels of the last post (when we were reeling in the news of a snap election and my main consideration was where to go to escape it) with the opening paragraphs on the ups and downs – and downs – of being a Gloucester rugby fan.

But while deadlines shape and drive my work self, the attention span of a goldfish and temptation to put off until tomorrow what you could do today away from the office (especially when there’s a to-do list to be drawn up or amended) meant it all dragged on a bit.

The end of the season stretched on with a couple of unlikely wins, giving extra reasons to delay and then before we knew it, something more serious got in the way.

This blog site was set up to write about travel. When shackled to the 9to5 and not actually going anywhere, a friend came up with the idea of blogging my iPod. That took on a life of its own, the musical journey sort of merging with whatever life threw up to write about.

Somehow we had gone from something fun and flippant – my natural writing style – to something a bit more serious. There were even political outbursts (although you do have to stretch it a bit to collate the orange buffoon in the White House to politics).

And beyond just the timing – maybe out of season was not the best time to be writing about rugby – the summer produced a string of incidents which left me questioning about how to deal with them, if at all.

Each one just made it more difficult to ignore but, having seemingly done just done that, increasingly hard to step in to from a standing start.

Borough Market

The attacks on Manchester (was actually tapping away late at night when the news broke) and around Borough Market (part of a relaxed reunion weekend in London just weeks before), the most inept election campaign since somebody managed to lose to Trump, who continues to play at being charge while taking us as close to nuclear conflict as any time in the last 50-plus years, white supremacy marches in the US, the horrors of Grenfell Tower and the ongoing political inertia, finger pointing and lack of clear thinking and communication which has shackled this country since the Brexit vote.

And there’s been more, not least the fact Piers Morgan is still in gainful employment.

So before tackling that white space on my screen, there had to be an editorial decision before moving on. What is this blog? Flippant, furious or something else?

It has taken a while to come up with an answer and, as is usually the case, it has all become clearer – not even sure the question was that evident before – as the words filled the screen.

But let’s rewind a while (and find a link to the previous post). Election day to be precise.

At the moment the polls closed, my only contact with what was going on was via alerts on my phone, sidebars to a lengthy, transatlantic conversation between three different people in a Boston bar. Well, several really.

Dubuque, Iowa – Drive west from Chicago and when you hit the Mississippi, that’s Dubuque

On the one hand we had a Trump-hating actor (there was mention of Two Broke Girls) from California, on the other a Trump-supporting family man, car parts business owner from Dubuque, Iowa, who was as shocked that some bloke from England had been to Dubuque, Iowa, as he was that he was chatting amicably with two people who had such differing views than him. Not as surprised as when his wife allowed him to stay for another few beers mind.

Dubuque, Iowa

It had started out very differently, a varied group (swollen by a hen party) heading out on a guided, historic tour of some of Boston’s old watering holes.

But by the time the history was over and we were cut loose from the confines of the group and the rather sedate rate of drinking, the beer continued to flow and three of us put our views about Trump from both sides of the argument with the foreigner in a not totally unbiased mediator’s role.

What became clear very quickly was that neither side had spent much, if any, time talking to their fellow countrymen about why they felt the way they did, what scared them about what was or wasn’t happening or their voting decisions.

And what became clear as the beer rolled down was that both shared far more in common than split them. But something – circumstances, surroundings, upbringing, media, fake or otherwise – had concentrated on their differences rather than the common decency which was at the heart of both of their viewpoints.

The historic bars of Boston’s Blackstone Block

It all ended in smiles, photos, hugs and wandering off – one back to his wife and infuriated daughter,  one to an improv performance with an actor friend and one to find a bar showing the night’s Stanley Cup match.

Amid all the gloom of the summer, it echoed the message that there is more that unites us than divides us. A message which has cropped up more than once when my travels have crossed paths with other religions.

So that’s the future of the blog – it will remain flippant, it will touch on anything more serious when needs be and it will most definitely take huge detours into something totally irrelevant. Whatever it needs to be really.

And, eventually, it will get round to the music, of which Jason Isbell was the crowning glory in this latest section with Flying Over Water and Flagship (one of my pet subbing hates, how many stores do you know that actually sell flagships?).

Fittingly for the cross-Atlantic nature of this post, we’ve had guitar music from both sides of the great divide with Sebadoh (Flame), Modest Mouse (Float On), Folk Jam (Pavement) and REM (Flowers of Guatemala) countered by Fly Boy Blue from Elbow and Fools Gold by The Stone Roses. US victory I think.

One last thought, really ought to dedicate this belated filling of a white blank space…

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Don’t Stare At The Sun to Dynamo

HEY, how you doing? It’s been a while, what you been up to?

Hopefully, the return of this blog is rather more an encounter with someone you have been hoping to catch up with rather than bumping into someone you haven’t seen for ages and quickly remember exactly why.

Like most of those e-mails, phone calls or get-togethers you really have been meaning to do for ages, this blog was never supposed to take this long.

Yes, the plan was supposed to take a bit of a break and come back refreshed with a new look and a few fresh ideas. Just not this long.

That break was started back in January so it has lasted most of 2016 and the observant among you will notice that not that much has changed. Precisely nothing to be exact.

There has been plenty of fiddling around in the background and even a couple of abortive redesigns which were so close to making the grade. Right up to the point when something techie stalled everything or the new look which seemed so attractive one day, suddenly lost its charm at the next log in.

And having spent large chunks of the intervening 11 months involved in redesigning part or all of a couple of newspapers, believe me what looked good one day or in your mind, can look far less effective, eye-catching or user-friendly when you go back to it. For user-friendly, read it creates more work.

There will be a new look. By the time you read this, even by the time it is posted, there may be be a new background picture. By the time you look again (hopefully not that long), it could well have changed again.

Suggest that could be what happens in the next couple of months, trying out a couple of designs and seeing what works.

So what’s happened during almost a year of blog silence? Anything interesting? Has 2016 thrown up anything worth talking about? No, thought not.

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No idea what is about to happen next…

There have been a long list of events since the blog went on a break which have had me sitting at the laptop ready to type or composing articles – rants in a fair amount of cases – on the way to and from work.

In a rough sort of order… David Bowie, Farage, Gloucester’s poor form, Trump, unexpected brilliance from Gloucester, Hereford at Wembley, Boris Johnson, Trump, Muhammad Ali, Farage, Brexit, Farage (getting the rant bit?), being told to stop complaining about Brexit (no, that’s democracy), the Olympics, Gloucester’s poor form (new season, same story), more issues with tenants, the taxman talking rather more about money owed than poetry, Trump (more rants), more out-of-the-blue brilliance from Gloucester (reliable only in their unreliability), Leonard Cohen, Farage again, any number of other dead celebrities who were part of my childhood… all nearly got the keyboard tapping away. We will get there in the coming weeks.

To say nothing of what has been going on nearer to home (including why a lack of time and, frankly, surplus energy has also been a factor for the longer than planned break), music and travel. You know, the subjects which this blog is built around.

There has not been that much in the way of travel. After spending most of 2015 observing a fascinating chunk of the world on the road (well, the dirt tracks for large chunks – if we were lucky), 2016 has been spent largely observing a mystifying world from the comfort of my sofa (now the cheap one bought out of need has been replaced by the one my latest tenants didn’t want).

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The right choice

There was one trip Stateside, introducing my nephew to the delights of Boston and New York – thankfully, he seems to have come down far more on the side of the Red Sox than the Yankees – but travel has mainly been confined to honing the bucket list and planning future trips. More to come on that after a new idea was planted in my brain a couple of weeks ago.

So what of music? After all, this is in the A-Z iPod Challenge section.

It’s not been a bad year, a few new discoveries and some old favourites rediscovered (The Wedding Present live in Bristol tomorrow for the second time this year after a gap of nearly three decades) and enough decent stuff in the last 12 months that a rundown of the best could form an upcoming post.

Which is all good as there has been plenty to listen to with the task of listening to the contents of my iPod from A-Z on a hiatus with the blog – it had to be really or there would have been too much to catch up on.

But when the break was still looking like a short one, there was a fairly lengthy chunk from Don’t Stare At The Sun by Richard Hawley, via Downtown Train by Tom Waits at number 2,700 and the longest track so far – all 27.37 of Driftin’ Back by Neil Young and Crazy Horse – to Dynamo by Johnny Marr, at the time track 2,799, at the end of the Ds.

Along the way were a couple of tracks which would certainly make the long list if Desert Island Discs decided a travelling production journalist was a suitable guest – Driver 8 by REM and the wonderful Dry the Rain by The Beta Band (you know, the one John Cusack tries to sell to unsuspecting punters in High Fidelity).

And there were plenty of other great tracks of varying vintages, topped off with Don’t Talk by 10,000 Maniacs, Don’t You Fall by The Be Good Tanyas (who always bring back memories of sitting on the banks of the Yukon on a lovely summer evening, inevitably being bitten by mosquitoes), The Door by Turin Brakes, Down About It by The Lemonheads, Drunken Butterfly by Sonic Youth, Duel by Propaganda and Duet by Everything Everything, with some Jam, Nirvana, Buffalo Town, Belly and Lloyd Cole thrown in for good measure.

So normal service is resumed – bar a catch-up of the A-D tracks bought in the meantime. More of that next time, once I’ve worked out how to get the photo library plug-in to work again after all this time…

 

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Dig For Victory to Do It Again

COMMON belief will tell you that Dirty Water by The Standells was inspired by producer Ed Cobb and his girlfriend getting mugged near what was, back in the sixties, the polluted River Charles in Boston.

The Charles is now, thankfully, much cleaner and – in most places – a spot to be savoured, not avoided. And, having learned from personal experience, you no longer “have to be in by 12 o’clock” in Boston.

But the first, slightly fuzzed up guitar notes of the distinctive intro can still be heard across one part of Boston – and any number of bars – throughout the summer months. The more often the better for those of us who pledge some sort of allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

The rather cleaner water of the River Charles
The rather cleaner water of the River Charles

Each time the Red Sox win a match – sadly not often enough in the last two seasons – Dirty Water soundtracks the celebrations around the wonderful old amphitheatre that is Fenway Park (disproving any theories that bigger and newer is best), those unmistakeable opening notes often ringing out before the winning run has actually reached home plate.

It’s not the only song that has somehow been co-opted by Red Sox fans and ask most people which is the club song and they would go for Sweet Caroline – played in the middle of the eighth inning and aired in a show of solitary by the hated New York Yankees after the marathon bombing of 2013 – but there’s a fair few of the Fenway faithful who see that as too much of a sop to the fairweather fan.

Throw in The Dropkick Murphys’ double header of I’m Shipping Up To Boston – soundtrack to multiple championship celebrations across the city in the last decade or so, as well The Departed, and walk-on music for former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon – and Tessie and they are not short of options for backing music on the highlight reels.

Normally, not a huge fan of too much music and gimmicks being used to create an atmosphere at sports grounds (especially rugby, bar the traditional songs like Fields of Athenry or Calon Lan, but please God not the abomination that is Swing Low…).

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Fenway Park pre-game, looking back towards Downtown Boston. The fact Hurricane Irene may be about to hit may explain the lack of crowds

Generally means the fans are incapable of doing it themselves, especially in the new breed of marketing concepts that seem to be supplanting traditional rugby clubs (mention no names, but anyone playing at football grounds or bigger stadia to create an occasion – or on plastic pitches to match their fans).

That all may have something to do with growing up a Gloucester rugby fan. We make do with one traditional chant of “Glawsterrr, Glawsterrr” and the nearest we have come to a football-esque chant for any of our players was the stirring, imaginative “Terry Fanolua, Terry Fanolua…” and, of course, the odd rendition of La Marseillaise when Philippe Saint-Andre was on the wing or, latterly, our coach.

At American sports grounds, it somehow all seems to work (even the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner before every game, so easy to sneer at from afar, makes sense at the ground). Maybe if is because of the way American sports are more attuned to the entertainment industry, with the inherent pauses for commercial television, are occasions to be enjoyed beyond the actual sporting event or, just maybe, due to the shortage of away fans at many matches due to the sheer distances involved.

But just how did a boy who learned all about sport in The Shed at Kingsholm feel just as big a draw to a seat in the bleachers or down the first base line at Fenway? Or, possibly more pertinently, become willing to stay up most of the night to watch a game against the Yankees that went to extra innings scoreless?

Late-night baseball on Channel 5 had provided a grounding before my first trip to the States – amazingly 10 years ago this September – which started with a week in Boston and several nights spent in bars around the city watching the latest game, a scene repeated throughout our six weeks on the road.

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Fenway under the lights

A move around the corner in the office meant working until the early hours of Sunday morning. Late to bed, later to rise and with no return to work until Wednesday (bar popping in before our weekly Boozeday Tuesday afternoon sessions), Sunday’s bedtime moved well after midnight and the only thing to watch on TV for much of the year was, you guessed it, baseball.

That season of late-night watching just happened to coincide with the Red Sox winning their second World Series crown in four years and they had got their hooks into me – even with the warnings that such success was fleeting and supporting them was far more about frustration and false hope.  As a Gloucester fan, that just seemed natural.

Seeing a game at Fenway appeared and was quickly crossed off the bucket list. As was seeing them against the Yankees. And, finally, came seeing them beat the Yankees – courtesy of a Mike Napoli walk-off home run in the 11th inning, sparking another rendition of Dirty Water at just before 1am on a sweltering July night.

The Red Sox were back in the World Series that same season. The same Red Sox that had collapsed amid acrimony in the closing weeks of the season after my presence at a double header win over the Oakland A’s. The same Red Sox that had finished bottom the AL East the previous year.

And they only went and won it, ensuring everybody who saw it would remember just where they were.

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A press box with a better view that many

Which in my case, about 4am in the morning back home, was desperately trying to tune in my radio to catch the final outs.

Having stayed up to watch the potentially decisive win over the St Louis Cardinals, my Virgin Media box decided it was a pretty safe time to switch itself off and go through a series of updates just as the game entered its final inning.

My frustration, nay anger, was matched only by my surprise that somebody was still manning Virgin’s media Twitter account and responding to some less than complimentary tweets.

When the television came back on, the game was over, the World Series won and even Dirty Water had faded into the night.

It resurfaced – as any of you paying attention will probably have worked out – on the latest batch of songs in the A-Z iPod Challenge that took us from Public Service Broadcasting to Queens of the Stone Age.

And an interesting batch of songs it was, from the old faithfuls (Belle & Sebastien, Echo & The Bunnymen, REM, The Pogues), an excellent rediscovery (Divine Hammer by The Breeders) and some interesting, relatively new discoveries – be they new acts, songs that have just passed me by or just ones that are among the huge backlog that passed me by on the road in Africa.

John Grant’s Disappointing is definitely in that category (the album has yet to catch my attention like the previous two did), Waxahatchee continues to intrigue with Dixie Cups and Jars and The Civil Wars stole my attention with a lovely cover of Disarm (followed swiftly by The Smashing Pumpkins’ original).

May just have to listen to some of them on a plane back to Boston this summer.

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