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.

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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.

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Faust Arp to Feral

ENOUGH messing about, time to switch the emphasis a bit. This A-Z Challenge is, after all, supposed to be a blog largely about music.

So rather than rattle on about whatever has been grinding my gears in the days before and sticking a few paragraphs on the end about what soundtracked it, about time you joined the journey through the latest section as we meander our way through F from Radiohead to, well, some more Radiohead.

This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with a quiet few days that has not thrown too much ammunition for a good old rant (although pretty sure could make something from the overhead bus conversations which involved the phrases “I tried to stab him, yeah, but I had a reason… I don’t like him” and “She’s from the Forest. She’s incest”).

So here, with accompanying notes, are the 51 tracks it took to get from one Radiohead song to another.

  • Faust Arp – Radiohead
    Have a mixed relationship with Radiohead. Can argue they are wonderful and have disappeared up their own behinds in the same conversation and will always put them among the best live bands around.
    Very rarely, if ever, revisit any of the albums after OK Computer, they are just a little bit too much like hard work unless you are in the right mood.
    But this, like so many of the tracks of those albums, are always welcome when they pop up on the A-Z journey through my iPod.
  • Favorite Star – Rival Schools
  • Favourite Son – Drenge
  • Fazon – Jonathan Wilson
  • The Fear – Ben Howard
  • Fear City – Elliott Smith
  • Fear No Pain – Willy Mason
  • Fear Of A Black Planet – Public Enemy
  • Fear Of Flying – Teenage Fanclub
  • Fear Of The Knife – Skaters
  • Feasting – Young Fathers
  • Feather Man – Woods
  • Feed Me WIth Your Kiss – My Bloody Valentine
  • Feed Of Man – Billy Bragg & Wilco
  • Feed The Light – Joan As Police Woman
    This list of songs was the soundtrack for a bus journey to work – the one with that waterproof defence for an attempted stabbing. All very nice and enjoyable, but a lot of songs which have failed to grab my attention (although turning My Bloody Valentine up to full volume will do that).
    Much better to come, starting with…

  • Feed The Tree – Belly
    One of the reporters in the office celebrated his birthday today, having been born the month one of his colleagues retired from playing rugby, partly through injury and partly because that same newspaper (which would employ him again years later) wanted their new rugby writer to work on a Saturday – although did manage to sit on the bench for several games with a notebook in hand.
    Just before that, my previous employers shipped me off to Yate (the sort of place where referees come from) and after spending many lunchtimes in the local record shop, managed to convince them to lend me albums for reviews.
    Belly’s debut Star was the first of those and remember describing it as “the year’s first essential purchase”. Stand by that. Still listen to it and this track sounds as good as it always did.
    And one of the few songs to mention squirrels.
  • Feel – Bombay Bicycle Club
  • Feel – House of Love
  • Feel – Teenage Fanclub
  • Feel Better (FRANK) – The Family Rain
    A brief respite – never got a friend’s obsession with House of Love, not one of Teenage Fanclub’s finest and the other two largely unmemorable.
    But just when you started to drift off…

  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer – Queens Of The Stone Age
  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer – Queens Of The Stone Age
  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (Reprise) – Queens Of The Stone Age
    ‘Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…’
    It’s pretty simple. Repetitive lyrics, driving basslines, a touch of menace and highly likely to leave you singing it to yourself all day. Maybe not always in the most suitable situations.
    First heard it on a BBC early evening music show. Not sure they quite knew what they were getting.
    ‘Co-co-co-co-co-cocaine’
  • Feel Good Inc – Gorillaz
    Band which seems to improve with each listen and, bizarrely given their cartoon heritage, rather more dimensional than you initially think.
    And one of those tracks which provided a title – possibly a tad obvious – for a blog post.
  • Feel The Pain – Dinosaur Jr
    Always loved this song (great video too) and it brings back some wonderful memories, although not perhaps ones which go with the song.
    We had spent the day in the beautiful Badlands of South Dakota and scrambled up to a rocky viewing point to watch a spectacular sunset before heading back to our bus which, with a few tweaks, doubled up as our bed for the night.
    Before crawling in to my customary cubby hole to sleep, sat up front to catch the last of the views and bonded with our newly-arrived driver Charlie over his choice of Dinosaur Jr to guide him through our long overnight journey to a strange encounter with some cheese,
  • Feel To Believe – Beth Orton
  • Feel To Follow – The Maccabees
  • Feel You – Julia Holter
    The next album is likely to take my iPod over the 13,000 track mark. Part of the idea of this A-Z journey through them was to unearth a few hidden gems.
    Nothing to see here.
  • Feelgood By Numbers – The Go! Team
    One of those bands who burst from nowhere and largely vanished just as quickly. They deserve to be remembered, if only due to one tale from office days gone by.
    A former colleague (then a reporter, now a senior figure in a large local newspaper group, editor and Dave Gorman lookalike) declined the customary drink after work because he was off to watch The Go! Team.
    Talk the next day, however, was not about the gig but the night in casualty caused by a stagediving bass player landing on top of him.
    And the fact his friend and erstwhile colleague was more concerned about chatting to the female paramedic.
  • Feeling A Moment – Feeder
  • Feeling Alright – Warpaint
  • Feeling Better – Sugar
  • Feeling Called Love – Wire
    Good little run this from some fine bands, although none of them at their best.
    Not sure what it says about me that my main reaction looking at that list is that Warpaint need a sub for their song titles.

  • Feeling Gravitys Pull – REM
    There’s some fantastic songs in this little section and this just about tops the lot.
    From a time when they seemed incapable of writing a bad song, this is one of their best and another that gave its name to a blog post title from a lengthy journey it played a key part in soundtracking.
    Those opening guitar notes take me back to arriving at Newport Centre to discover they had gone on stage rather earlier than expected and running (it was a long time ago) to catch a contender for my favourite gig just before they got too big to play places that small.
  • Feeling Oblivion – Turin Brakes
    Largely ignored Turin Brakes for too long, dismissing their fine debut LP as little more than part of the short-lived, largely forgotten quiet is the new loud movement.
    Almost stumbled in to seeing them live by accident and remembered how good they can be. Don’t discount them so easily.
  • Feeling So Strange Again – The Wolfhounds
  • Feeling The Strain – Lee Griffiths
    No, have no idea either. Unearthed some real gems on free CDs from magazines, Uncut in particular. But there’s an awful lot on my iPod that have me scratching my head about how it got there.
  • Feeling This – Blink 182
    Not a guilty pleasure, no reason to feel guilty. But like a fair few of their songs and this one brings back memories of  bouncing around in the back of a big yellow truck around Africa.
  • Feeling Yourself Disintegrate – The Flaming Lips
    Another of those bands which never quite made my mind up about. When they are good, they are well worth a listen. But don’t quite get the awe in which some people hold them.
  • Feels Like Fire – Ryan Adams
    Chances are on this journey through my iPod, you are never too far away from a Ryan Adams track. Without wading through the whole of my collection, pretty confident he appears more than any other artist – certainly tops the 300 track mark.
    There’s an argument that he (and we) would be better off being a bit more selective and this comes from one of those albums which never quite lived up to the early promise. Still good mind.
    Good odds on a Wedding Present track being not that far away…
  • Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
  • (Feels Like) Heaven – Fiction Factory
  • Feet For Hands – Everything Everything
    It’s all getting a bit eclectic isn’t it? Fun though.
  • Feet Of Clay – Vashti Bunyan
    All very nice and there courtesy of a raid on a former housemate’s CD collection but, to quote the great philosopher Nigel Blackwell, I want a sun tan, not Vashti Bunyan

  • Felicity – The Wedding Present
  • Felicity – The Wedding Present
    Told you… two versions of an early track that had completely forgotten was a cover of an Orange Juice track. Quite surprising as have the original somewhere.
    In a musical dictionary somewhere, there’s a picture of Dave Gedge as the definition of jingly-jangly indie guitar music. Which was basically my life for many years.
  • Fell In Love With A Girl – The White Stripes
    Another one of those bands that pop up pretty often on this trip, but haven’t always convinced me. This is a pretty good place to start.
  • Felt Good To Burn – The Flaming Lips
  • Feltham Is Singing Out – Hard-Fi
    What was that about? Have an excuse with stuff from free sampler CDS, but actually spent money on this.
  • Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground
  • Feral – Radiohead
    And so, as the headphones come out on the door through the office, we reach our destination. For now at least.
    Sure we’ll be back to the usual ramblings pretty soon.

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F*** the Police to Father’s Child

 

ONE of our department’s wide-ranging daily discussions as we prepared to leave an almost empty office the other day revealed pretty much none of us wear a watch.

There were a variety of reasons, but mainly it came down to them being an irritant banging on the desk – an argument rather ruined by the bangles which live on my right wrist, albeit considerably thinned out from the full off-duty array – and the fact there is just no need.

If you want the time, you don’t need a watch. There’s some electronic device not too far away with the right time on it.

In my case that’s usually my phone , although bizarrely when freed from the constraints of work and a 9 to 5 routine while travelling, a watch did appear on the wrist that was not getting all cluttered up by bracelets.

And that’s generally what my phone gets used for, telling the time, an alarm and when really bored, checking Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. There’s some largely-forgotten apps on there but the one thing it rarely gets used as is a phone.

Sadly, the same can not be said about a surprisingly large number of the people who use the same bus as me in the mornings.

Anyone who has been paying attention for a while on this blog will know my long-serving car fell victim to the decluttering my life before heading off to Africa – it would have cost more to get through an MoT than it would make when sold, so off to the scrapyard it went. A sad farewell to an old friend.

Which has meant the vast majority of my journeys are by bus – at least to work, a couple of colleagues have somehow volunteered their services as a taxi service for the journey home. At very reasonable rates.*

That all adds up to plenty of time to listen to music and people watch. Or, increasingly in recent weeks, people listen.

If my phone rang on the bus, my reaction would be traditionally British – sheepishly answer it and get the whole thing over as quickly and quietly as possible, just in case anyone might overhear.

Even if it rings in the office, the process of answering it involves scurrying away to a quiet corner, not so much to avoid being overheard but more to avoid disturbing people (something that does not normally affect my behaviour in the office).

Would that were the case for some of my fellow passengers.

It had been an occasional irritant, particularly the guy who always seems to sit one row in front of me in the morning and does not so much talk on the phone as grunt or make some equally non-committal noise before launching in to some lengthy, shrill rant and cutting the conversation short.

And then there was the bloke who phones his office halfway through his journey to explain how he is stood waiting for a bus that has not arrived and that he will be a bit late.

Those are occasional examples which are as entertaining as they are irritating, but then came the girl who sat directly behind me on a journey home after a Sunday shift.

No idea what she was saying. Was listening to music and none of it was in any form of coherent sentences, just loud exclamations and laughter, all while eating her way through at least four packets of some unidentified food.

And then there’s the regular. The girl who parks herself in the front window seat upstairs and simultaneously goes through the three main tasks of her journey to work – eating breakfast, doing her make-up and conducting a lengthy, loud phone call, apparently to the same person each morning or to a variety of friends who all have babies.

The breakfast is normally something pastry-related, although she admitted to having a bag full of Kiwis to keep her going through the day. Presuming she means fruit as her bag is not big enough for a flock of birds or collection of small New Zealanders.

The make-up routine has progressed to doing her hair, no matter what impact it has on the rest of us – particularly the poor woman sat directly in the firing line of that hairspray.

But she still seems surprised when the bus hits a speed bump, despite having a clear view down a long, straight road through that large front window at the speed bumps which have a tendency not to move overnight.

But nothing can quite match the sheer inane nature of the conversation, filled as it is with such wonderful insights delivered with the conviction of someone confident nobody has delivered such information so insightfully before.

All delivered at a great volume, particularly when moaning about the noise being made by a crowded bus crammed with early racegoers heading for The National Hunt Festival in Cheltenham.

Can vouch for the volume as through all of this, my headphones are in but can still hear it. The volume is generally turned down a touch to avoid being overheard, but there is little choice (other than live tweeting the phone call) than to crank up the volume to become one of those irritating people who subject fellow passengers to their musical tastes.

And what they have been subjected to most recently has been the first dent in the F section of the A-Z journey through my iPod – from the expletives of NWA to Michael Kiwanuka.

We’ve had Fairytales (notably festive ones of the New York variety from The Pogues), Fakes (Plastic Trees from Radiohead – twice – and a version  from Juliana Richer Daily, plus Tales of San Fransisco from Arctic Monkeys), taken a few Falls (On Me from REM, Falling Out by Veronica Falls who have been one of the discoveries of this journey and Falling, the Twin Peaks theme re-imagined by The Wedding Present), gone Far (Gone and Out by Jesus and Mary Chain), Fast (Car, Tracy Chapman) and bid Farewell Appalachia with Stornoway. Who we are about to bid farewell to.

And we had Faron Young.

Have already held forth in this blog about how the first side of Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen is damn near perfect (near perfect – perfection is reserved for side two of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain) and its opener still sounds magnificent almost 30 years on.

A classic, hugely overlooked pop tune, four in the morning or any time. Certainly beats listening to someone else’s phone calls..

*Free

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The Crapsons to Cygnus Vismund Cygnus

COMPARED with a lot of what has gone before over the past year, sleeping on a sofa with ready access to hot water, clean, flushing toilets, electricity and hot food without building a fire is a major luxury.

Even if going to bed each night generally starts by fighting with a large black Labrador over the prime spot (generally in a losing cause) – still far easier than blowing up an airbed which, by the end of our African adventure, needed topping up throughout the night.

IMG_0046
My roomie

Heading back to the real world has not been a complete culture shock – we were sort of eased back in by increasingly frequent beds over the closing weeks when even the electricity, if not the wi-fi, became (sort of) reliable – but it has taken some readjusting back to life at home.

Not helped by living in a state of limbo (a word which has appeared in my vocabulary over the last couple of months, along with, for some reason, mate. Where did that come from?) and still out of a bag until my future becomes a bit clearer.

Homeless, jobless and largely rootless on my return from Africa, it was time to throw myself on the kindness of others – my sister and her family homing and feeding me for the last two months, my old firm taking me back on a freelance basis, originally for the odd day, then supposedly for three days a week which very rapidly became five or six days.

My bank manager is eternally grateful.

That state of limbo (see, keeps popping up) is nothing new. It has sort of existed, in some form or other, for more than five years.

Since first quitting work in Cardiff to go travelling early in 2010, there’s never been a sense of permanence in my life. It took a bit longer than originally planned, but there was always another lengthy trip looming on the horizon.

It was supposed to be London to Sydney in 2012, but that one fell through (unused Indian and Nepalese passports sit in my old passport) and something similar always looked favourite before the Trans Africa grabbed my attention. And never let go.

SAM_0299
About to pop something in the oven

But at some point heading down West Africa – there was a lot of time to sit and think on the back of the truck – the decision was made that after reaching Cairo, it was time to head home and stay put for a while. Put down some roots somewhere familiar and get back to the career which was put on hold in Cardiff, working with some form of thought to future progression, rather than to future travel plans.

Not that travel is off the cards. Doubt there will be another trip of anything approaching this length, but the spotlight will switch to more shorter journeys – allied with a determination that at least one weekend a month will be dedicated to doing something, going somewhere, even if it is just following Gloucester to an away match. If nothing else, need to fit them all into annual holidays and as many lieu days as can be racked up (once the freelance gig is switched to something more permanent..

There’s plenty more American trips on the list, the remaining 11 states to tick off, Route 66 to drive and more soaking up of the familiar in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Further afield, there’s a few more sofas to be slept on in Australia and New Zealand (although that one will have to wait at least a couple of years), while Cape Town and more time in the rest of South Africa head the list of spots for an African return.

And Europe is, relatively speaking, on the doorstep.

For now though, the focus remains on life back home – settling on something more secure for work, somewhere to live and taking control of my life, rather than relying on the kindness of others.

And, of course, making the most of those little things we take for granted but which became more of a luxury the longer we were away from home.

SAM_0532
Handy for digging, not that good for cover

Not that we minded being without – bush camps with a total lack of facilities, other than a shovel, were one of the mainstays of the trip and one most us relished, at least in the dry – but it is nice to have constant electricity you can rely on not to cut out constantly (one poor musician in Calabar, Nigeria, never made it through a single song without it cutting out on him), wi-fi that doesn’t take an age to load each page and showers. Hot or cold, we really didn’t mind after a while.

Cold beer and hot pies have to appear on that list as well, but top of the list has to be proper toilet facilities.

Some of the toilets we encountered – when there were any at all – were the stuff of nightmares, but when you’ve got to go…

And while the current night-time trip to the loo may involve trying to let sleeping dogs lie and not let cats through the door to start chaotic pet wars, that pales into insignificance to rooting around for a head torch and picking your way to a suitable spot.

At bush camps, that suitable spot (for the boys at least) was often just round the back of the tent. At campsites, whether you risked that or made the trip to the toilet block generally came down to whether there was a security guard with a gun in the vicinity.

But back to the familiar it is and, for me, that means back to the A-Z trawl through the contents of my iPad.

Picking up where it left off 12 months ago, the first job was to complete the final furlong through those starting with C, which took us from Pulled Apart By Horses to The Mars Volta and through the 2,000 mark (Cry Baby Cry by The Beatles).

Fittingly, it was back to a lot of hugely familiar songs and artists – Crash by The Primitives, Creep by Radiohead, Creme Brulee by Sonic Youth, Crocodiles, Crystal Days and four versions of the The Cutter by Echo and the Bunnymen, Cruisers Creek by The Fall, The Crystal Lake by Grandaddy, Cut Your Hair by Pavement and Cuyahoga by REM.

And that’s another long journey which can continue as normality returns…

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