Herzog to Hold Your Head

Day three of the blog post a day in May and we are back to the A-Z iPod Challenge. It is concentrating the mind and a good excuse for listening to a lot of music.

THE current bout of activity apart, it has been pretty easy for the journey through my iPod to get derailed.

There’s been any number of distractions and, let’s be honest, excuses to keep from writing.

Lack of time, something good on the TV (doesn’t have to be that good a lot of the time), apathy, total lack of inspiration, the need for a break from the blog, spending too much time on Twitter or You Tube, drawing up or amending to-do lists rather than actually doing anything on them… they’ve all been used as reasons to delay writing. Even if it is only justifying it to myself.

But there has been one reason why the A-Z has stalled a bit over the last year or so – the lack of time spent listening to the tracks in order.

Part of that is down to listening to other things but a large reason is the loss of my daily opportunity to plug in the headphones for an hour and disappear into the music.

For a couple of years, my commute to work was an hour by foot and bus – the perfect excuse to plug the earphones in and work my way from A to Z.

Not always, there were the bus rides when it was far more entertaining to eavesdrop on the loud, endless phone calls of a fairly regular fellow passenger who combined a stream of unique pearls of wisdom with doing her make-up, eating breakfast (without ending the conversation) and working on her hair – often cloaking anyone within five rows in a cloud of hairspray.

Took to live tweeting her conversations for a while just before she stopped being a regular passenger.

And then the bus stopped being in my daily routine. The hour commute was replaced by a couple of hundred yards and it was not even worth getting the iPod out.

The journey slowed down and the search was on for another regular opportunity to plug in the earphones, disappear into music and work my way through the A-Z (any excuse will do, but listening to music at home tends to be new stuff or albums rather than anything alphabetical).

The gym provided the perfect answer.

It’s even nearer than the office (you can see it from my flat window) so there really is no excuse not to go – especially with the peer pressure of others in the office going providing an extra incentive to get straight out the door again, rather than sink into the sofa or in front of the laptop after work.

And after fairly steady progress in conjunction with the ongoing weight loss, which finally has the seven stone barrier tantalisingly close after a frustrating spell of slow progress following a colleague finally squeezing an article on it out of me for the website, the gym programme started to proceed at a decent pace.

My Gloucestershire Live weight loss article

Right up until the moment my calf decided not to play ball anymore.

The step up in intensity was partly down to getting bored with the same routine, partly due to the need to get fit for South America and partly the need for a challenge.

And having seen people take on Couch to 5K, decided that was a pretty good way to go, despite not having run since playing rugby and five-a-side and even then there was the advantage of scrums, lineouts or rolling subs to prevent constant running.

Haven’t run any distance since school and not that much then – an overnight, 26-odd cross-country challenge was more walking, not sure what convinced our team the final, long hill was the ideal place for our longest bout of running.

It being winter and the gym that convenient, the plan was to complete the programme on a treadmill and head outside – maybe even Parkruns – when the spring weather kicked in.

And it was going perfectly. The periods of running were getting longer, the pace was going up and it became difficult to stick to the walking bits as the urge to run grew. Even got proper running shoes and began to look forward to the next sessions.

But with the first long run with no bits of walking interspersed a couple of days away, it all went a bit wrong.

Two minutes into the final session before that, it became clear something was not right in my right calf. And while trying to decide if carrying on was a good idea, the shooting pain gave me the answer.

Good job my flat is not far away, given the hobble home which continued for the next two or three days.

But 10 days or so of complete rest and keeping it raised as much as possible (lying down basically, pretty good at that) seemed to have sorted it. Tested it out running for a couple of minutes and all seemed fine, so backed up a couple of sessions and got back to the treadmill.

Slightly wary and with no intention of pushing it despite good initial signs, was within 30 seconds of the end of the run when it became clear that it had been pushed a bit too far.

Not as painful but this time it had pretty much seized. The hobble home was even slower.

And have not run since, bar a couple of times over the road which brought a pretty quick reminder not to repeat it. Was walking on the treadmill to keep up some level of fitness, added in some new stretches and paid a couple of extra visits to the osteopath.

Who has banned me from treadmills while it heals. Never mind the stepper which was part of the plan for preparing for the Inca Trail’s uphill sections.

His alternative was sessions on the bike – calf is fine, not so sure about a few other muscles but it is definitely keeping up the fitness levels.

The soundtrack to all this has run from Five Eight to The Flaming Lips.

Back-to-back Grandaddy tracks – on the iPod and the wonderful, still unique The Sophtware Slump – took in large chunks of one session on the treadmill with He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot (one of the tracks which has given its name to a blog post) and Hewlett’s Daughter.

Hey Jack Kerouac by 10,000 Maniacs has supplied not one but two blog post titles from out on the road while there were appearances from Pixies (Hey), Outkast (Hey Ya), The Fall (a live Hit The North), Ian Dury and the Blockheads (you can work that one out) and History Eraser, one of the tracks which started a brief obsession with Courtney Barnett.

And there was High and Dry, the song which was a constant on the jukebox in a pub just over the water from the gym and above all others confirmed Radiohead were so much more than ‘that Creep band’.

All those years, all those travels and my life has seemingly made it a few hundred yards.

Need to travel again.


The Boy Done Wrong Again to Broken Household Appliance National Forest

A LATE change of travel plans put me in a sweltering New York for July 4, 2010, having opted to leave the dwindling number of my overland travel companions still in Boston.

Back in Boston, my former colleague, housemate and fellow traveller Nick was heading out on an Independence Day pub crawl in the company of a Birmingham City fan he had bumped into at our hostel sporting a vintage Whitesnake T-shirt.

My night ended looking after an emotional Aussie somewhere in Brooklyn in the early hours, way too late considering the time a hire car was due to be collected.

Nick’s night ended with him getting married.

Not immediately. This is not the tale of an Englishman abroad waking up to find he had stumbled drunkenly into an all-night wedding chapel with a girl he had just met.

But four years on, Nick and Sufia – the girl who had serenaded ‘Whitesnake’ the night before, recognised the same T-shirt 24 hours on and struck up a conversation with the English bloke at the bar – tied the knot this month.

The Big Moment
The Big Moment

After plenty of transatlantic comings and goings, red tape and a crash course in visa requirements, they became a married couple in Charleston, South Carolina, which turned up the heat, humidity and enjoyment to the maximum.

Charleston is one of those American cities built on its past with a well-preserved historic region.

Some of those cities seem to seal off such areas hermetically and appear to feel just being old (by US standards) makes them historic without worrying too much about whether anything happened to put them in the history books. Almost like staying in a US history theme park.

But Charleston genuinely does offer history and a striking downtown area, which also manages to come across as a living city – helped by a healthy student population – and provides plenty to see and do before and after dark, without constantly feeling ye olde touriste guide is going to pop up to tell you about somebody born on this spot that nobody outside the state has heard about.

It is also an ideal spot for a select group of transatlantic guests who gradually congregated as the wedding week went on, reaching peak numbers for the ceremony itself.

Headline News
Headline News

And so, for any locals paying attention, a growing number of Brits could be seen sweating their way around town under the blistering sun, making full use of the hotel lobby’s soothing air con and bottomless supply of fruit-infused water, puzzling over a mysterious quacking noise, leaving their bag in a taxi (safely returned), losing their wallet while shopping (not returned), falling asleep in a bar (two of those last three may have been the same person), testing out the best way to eat eggs in a range of breakfast spots (don’t ask for them dippy), convincing barmen to plug their phone’s music into the PA, confirming that all the bars closed at 2am and, for more than one of us, sleeping off the after effects of the rehearsal dinner as the main build-up to the wedding.

There may even have been some salsa dancing at some point, but that’s as blurry as many of the selfies which were taken.

Which all paved the way for the wedding itself, an early evening, outdoor affair in the grounds of the 19th Century William Aiken House, home to the ceremony and the initial celebrations as US and British cultures came together (one seems more comfortable in front of a camera and audience).

The evening moved on – until that seemingly magical 2am Charleston cut-off – at the adjoining American Theater, an old-style converted cinema which hosted a live band which provided the soundtrack to a memorable evening and the backing for the would-be singers to climb on stage, including the bride’s version of Don’t Stop Believing backed by her new husband on drums.

A lovely way to round off a wonderful week before, over the space of the next few days, goodbyes were said and we headed off, either home or to a brief bout of further travelling.

My second week took me down the coast (of which more in a later post) to Savannah, Georgia and, via a figure of eight, up to Wilmington, North Carolina before heading back to a flight home from Charleston via Newark and a rather fortuitous upgrade to business class (again, more to come).

The soundtrack to that second week contained the customary frustrations of US FM radio – no sooner have you found a station worth listening to than it fades out and you have to go searching for something else.

My iPod supplied a welcome break from all that but not with the A-Z challenge, which took a break for the fortnight after reaching 1,200 with Broken Household Appliance National Forest by Grandaddy.

SophtwareIt’s a great track, but it is one of those which somehow sounds so much better when listened to as part of the album which gave birth to it, in this case the excellent Sophtware Slump.

One of the tracks which popped up just before heading up was The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by The Smiths, which also appeared late one night amid a slightly indie 80s playlist which mixed with those mysterious quacking noises on a rooftop bar in Downtown Charleston. Great company, great music, great setting.

The Cure popped up multiple times (both on the rooftop and out on the road), as did Echo and the Bunnymen (rooftop only) and they both appeared on the A-Z with, respectively, Boys Don’t Cry and two airings of Bring On The Dancing Horses.

Belle & Sebastian kicked off this section and reappeared with their classic The Boy With The Arab Strap (now safely reclaimed from ubiquity from its spell as the theme for Teachers), while Paul Simon popped up both solo (The Boy In The Bubble) and alongside Art Garfunkel with Bridge Over Troubled Water also covered by Johnny Cash.

An excellent little run also included three versions of Bring The Noise by Public Enemy, two of Brimful of Asha by Cornershop, Breed by Nirvana, the guilty pleasure which is Brilliant Mind by Furniture and three outings for Brassneck by The Wedding Present.

Which seems fitting.