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…

Share

Find My Baby to Flag Day

SEVEN years ago, the UK general election took place without me taking an awful lot of notice. Not that much had changed five years later.

Not by choice, not by design. Had spent late nights working several of the previous ones as we raced to get as much of the available information in to our early newspaper editions as possible and always enjoyed it.

Just happened to be out of the country for both elections and more importantly, given how quickly any feeling of excitement felt by the news junkie in me is washed away by the sheer repetition and mud-slinging, the campaigns.

When David Cameron and Nick Clegg were being thrust in to their unholy alliance in 2010, was crossing the Pacific from China to Alaska – about as far as you can get from events back home.

Our cruise ship in Vladivostock harbour on the day of the 2010 election

Missed the entire campaign but watched most of the results roll in on a cruise ship with the advantage of not having to stay up all night to do it, although with a crossing of the International Date Line imminent, changing clocks pretty much nightly and going largely nocturnal, had no concept of time anyway.

Watching David Dimbleby in a cruise ship bar while explaining what on earth was going on to bemused Americans was one of those travel experiences you can’t really prepare for.

Two years ago saw nothing of the election but the result popped up on my phone in Zimbabwe which prompted excitement – not so much at the result but the fact that alert meant we were somewhere within range of Wi-fi.

That Wi-fi provided access to plenty of reaction from back home, much of it (as social media has a tendency to be) angry and bemoaning what a terrible state our country must be in to hand the Tories the keys unsupervised. Which made interesting reading in a country where people are too frightened to make any public comments on their leadership.

In between that, managed to witness another election from within a country as it took place – would have been two but Nigeria had the good grace to delay their vote until we had left, which was very nice of them given how long it took use to get across the border.

Bourbon Street

Watched most of the results for President Obama’s second election success in 2012 in a Bourbon Street bar in New Orleans at the end of a drive down the lower two-thirds of the Mississippi.

It was all rather low key and the locals seemed less than enthused at what was unfolding in front of them (that possibly had something to do with some of the competing attractions of Bourbon Street) while had drifted off in front of the TV back in my hotel room by the time the overall result was confirmed.

Right before the nightly false fire alarm went off, sparking the search for the one member of duty hotel staff who had the slightest clue about what to do without locking most of his guests and staff outside.

So what about this year, now that Theresa May has seen fit to bring us to the polls again?

Don’t buy the voter apathy line or the need to stick to the newly-imposed fixed terms – can think of at least one country that could be excused for wishing it was not saddled with four-year terms.

No fan of constant referendums (we’ve elected these people, let them sort out what we elected them for) but all for engaging people in politics at a time when plenty of people seem to have discovered some form of desire to have their say. Even if it is only in 140 characters.

But the plan is to complete the hat-trick of being out of the country. Just not sure where yet.

Purely by chance. Had long booked time off as my major break of the year and spent the night before the PM’s surprise announcement trying to whittle down a lengthy list of options of where to go. And failing miserably as kept stumbling across a few new ones.

It has been a bit unusual this year, normally have something sorted out long before this and have tried to put it out of my mind until in a position to sort it out.

But the intervention of the taxman has played havoc with the last few months, but finally that is all sorted and the necessary money paid – rather more than Monopoly would suggest – so know what the budget is for this year’s travels.

So where will it be once we get to payday at the end of the week and it is time to get booking?

You can forget a lot of the trips at the top of the travel bucket list – driving Route 66, London to Australia overland, another dose of West Africa, the remaining 11 states to complete the list… – as time and money do not allow.

After plenty of trips involving lots of travelling, there’s the option to just go to one place and relax. Not sure about that one, would probably get bored but not ruling it out. Especially if the place is somewhere like Cuba. Or Key West. With a drive from the mainland thrown in.

There’s staying nearer to home, be that a trip to the sun, a couple of city breaks in Europe or really going local, hiring a car and reliving family holidays in Cornwall or exploring Scotland.

Or there’s my old fall back of a trip to the States which – exchange rate notwithstanding – is sort of edging ahead. But where?

That could well be dictated by the need to do it on a bit of a budget and the cheaper air fares to the big cities of the east – you know, Boston and New York. Familiar ground.

So that’s looking the favourite, fly in to somewhere familiar for a few days and then head out on the road for a week. Possibly with some Red Sox thrown in.

There’s a fair bit more planning to go and once that is sorted it is on to that trip essential – a playlist.

REM have featured heavily on past US road trips (think a return to Athens, Georgia is pushing the mileage a bit in a week) and they popped up three times in the latest section of the A-Z from Moby to The Housemartins.

Fireplace is the most likely of their trio tracks to make any playlist, far more so than Finest Worksong or Find The River.

I Am Kloot popped up with Fingerprints which, as with all their Sky At Night album, reminds me of heading home from travels as listened to it for the first time on the bus from downtown New York to JFK airport after seven months on the road (and, given the start of this article, at sea).

We went past 3,500 with Radiohead’s Fitter Happier, dipped in to the repertoire of The Mighty Badger with James Taylor’s original Fire And Rain, returned to NYC (twice) with Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan, took in a drop of Half Man Half Biscuit (Fix It So She Dreams Of Me) and courtesy of a technical issue which seems to have reimported multiple versions of some tracks from a change of laptop, five versions (four live and identical) of Firecracker by Ryan Adams.

May moan about that technical issue when it happens with a song which is not as great.

Share