Goodbye Yellow Truck Road

A year ago today, caught my last sight of a big, yellow overland truck as we boarded the replacement ferry over the river from Suriname to Guyana it had narrowly failed to fit on.

A reunion was delayed by red tape, missing paperwork and, eventually, by our forced retreat from Colombia as borders shut and the world shrank with the spread of coronavirus.

But for the last 12 months, there has always been the belief the big yellow truck was out there waiting to open up new horizons when we eventually emerge blinking into the light when travel is not a dirty word.

And then came this week’s news that Oasis Overland, the small company which operates the yellow trucks, had ceased trading.

Final farewell to Spongebob

All of a sudden, that exciting world waiting out there for us when we are able to get out in it again got a whole lot smaller.

The news of Oasis’ demise was met with dismay and no end of shared memories from former passengers and staff on social media – it may not be the best known company in the world, but those in the know will really miss it.

To understand why is to  understand the aspects of these trips which are hard to explain when people ask about what makes an overland adventure on a big yellow truck.

Overlanding: The Things They Don’t Tell You

Have tried to do that elsewhere on this blog – and there is plenty more on the list of pieces to write – but here goes.

My two Oasis trips total more than a year when the answer in the address box on a visa form could easily have been “a big yellow truck” – 10 months on Nala around Africa from north to south and back again, followed by six months on Spongebob in a (sadly uncompleted) circle of South America.

Along the way, both trips took in extraordinary sights and experiences which feature highly on any travel bucket list – trekking to see gorillas, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Serengeti, New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach, journeying up the Nile, the Uyuni Salt Flats, some of the world’s great cities and so much more.

You will find plenty about those in travel guides. They are on the highlights list for the trip that persuade people to sign up in the first place.

And they are all great – an hour spent with gorillas is one of the greatest experiences of my life, likewise rather longer trekking to Machu Picchu.

Even if we could not see much of it through the mist and rain when we got there.

But suspect the reason people feel so strongly about their Oasis experience runs rather deeper than that – it is not the big-ticket items, it is the imponderables, those moments you share with your truck family which elevate the whole experience.

They might be small moments, the stories behind the pictures, but they add up to something special that makes me – and many others – itching to get back for more.

While trying to forget the itching from insect bites.

Travel is not so much about the destination but the getting there. Nowhere is that truer than life on a big yellow truck (and it is always a truck, never a bus – unless putting that on a form makes life easier).

There is some truth in that joke about putting the truck as your address. These trips, certainly the longer adventures, are not holidays. They do become your life, your home.

Even provided an emergency bed when we found ourselves locked out of the hostel at the end of the world.

And the people you share those days, weeks, months, miles, campsites, bush camps, cook groups, nights out, border crossings and back of the truck with become as important as those travel highlights. Even digging the truck out of whatever it is stuck in.

A Day In The Life On A Big Yellow Truck

One of the high points of South America was a reunion in Buenos Aires with a friend who shared those 10 months in Africa for the first time in five years. It was an instant reconnection.

At rough count, have travelled with about 40-plus people on those trips and would happily meet up and share a few beers, rum and cokes or caipirinhas with pretty much all of them.

Couple of honourable exceptions, but even one of them might be fun to see how much effort they put in to avoiding talking, or even making eye contact, with me.

Mind you, at the moment would be delighted to have a drink with pretty much anybody.

While such a drink or travel is off the agenda, spend much of each day surrounded by the same four brick walls.

Given the huge distances covered, overland travel can mean equally long hours surrounded by the four sides of the truck. Often while hot, sweaty, dusty and sharing the space with a number of other people with equally limited access to a shower.

The Overlanding Cookbook

But rather than being restrictive (or even that smelly – you are, after all, in the same boat), those days on the truck always offered a window and access to a wider world full of anticipation about what view is round the next corner or what lies in wait at the next destination.

Be that a Patagonian wilderness, west African dirt road, Brazilian beach, Sudanese desert – all of which provided scenery, destination and camp for the night – or a small village or settlement keen to welcome us with open arms. Or the odd rock.

News of Oasis closure has obscured that view, blocked those horizons.

Thoughts are with the staff and crew – several of whom have become good friends – and the countless guides, local operators and fixers along the way who all help to make the adventure and depend on travellers to make a living.

One day, when this pandemic is over and the world is open again, we may see the yellow trucks or something similar back on the road.

Into The Wild Camping

Until then, we can dream about more amazing overland adventures – and those remaining five weeks we were forced to miss in Colombia and Ecuador, plus a Trans Africa return and the Silk Road adventure were very high on the list – and reflect on the memories of those life-changing journeys.

And life changing is not pushing it too far – even without the yellow trucks, my horizons are far broader than they were before first stepping on Nala six-and-a-bit years ago. Even in lockdown.

Have made friends for life, seen places and experienced things which seemed to be out of reach, have countless tales to tell, learned a lot about myself (despite being well past 40 before starting this obsession), challenged my physical capabilities and my own conceptions of them.

And fell in love.

So for all that and so much more, thank you Oasis.

If this is the end of the road, it has been an amazing journey – there is just an awful lot more miles left to go.

 

Share

I’m So Bored With The USA to If War Should Come

“Some people don’t know how to walk on the pavement these days
Well it’s not that difficult, there’s hardly a whole host of ways”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

IT may not look like it much of the time, but a lot of these posts start with a vague attempt to find a link with the tracks which have popped up on my iPod.

After all, the journey through the songs from A-Z is the supposed theme of the blog in lieu of any actual travelling.

Links can be tenuous, utterly missing (resulting the music being shoehorned in somewhere), a memory triggered by a song or any themes which pop up in the song title.

Which is where we were headed with this entry from The Clash to Public Service Broadcasting.

After all, if you cannot find a subject from song titles involving the USA to the threat of conflict via the ICU, changing someone’s mind, falling from grace with God, Ideology, ideas and, possibly most fittingly, idiots amid recent events, well you are not really trying.

But after feeding a CNN obsession and replanning the post amid unfurling events (long ago retreated into old West Wing episodes as a form of balm), we will go on about a real issue which has been driving me to distraction.

People’s inability to walk properly on a pavement or path.

There is a link to the music – this is the annoyance that crops up while listening to my iPod on my Government-sanctioned daily walks.

Designed to build some semblance of a return to pre-South America fitness (and waistline) and avoid spending my entire waking hours in the front room of my flat, the walks are part of an attempt to cover 1,000 miles on foot during 2021.

Slowly closing an early fall behind schedule, the daily distance will increase in length in line with the days and the walks provide the perfect chance to escape the four walls, get some fresh air and crank up the music in my headphones.

All socially distanced, of course.

At least until other people sharing the path decide the rules or general courtesy do not apply to them.

“Here they come, love’s young dream, arm in arm, approaching me
Now, I’m not looking for your smile, I’m just asking for some single file”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

This is not a new annoyance.

People’s inability to spot and adapt to what is around them while walking never ceases to amaze at the best of times.

Throw in the restrictions of social distancing and it takes on whole new levels of frustration.

And that is before we start on supermarkets.

So in a bid to tackle the big issues of the day, here is the Travel Marmot guide to walking on the pavements – after all, there’s hardly a whole host of ways.

  • You do not have to fill the whole width of the path

Quite happy to stick to the edge of the path – which on icy days around here, risks sliding along the banks of a canal or river – leaving plenty of room for people coming the other way to hug the far side.

If only.

Walked two miles back along a canal towpath on Sunday with a stream of couples and groups coming the other way – just two moved from side by side to single file and one of them did that down the middle of the path, which rather negates the point.

They are the pedestrian version of middle-lane hogs, seemingly worried they might fall off the edge if they move from the centre.

  • Pay attention to what is ahead

One thing about walking is most of us do not go that fast. You do have time to move out of the way rather than plough on regardless or block the path.

  • Stop looking at your phone

This is not just a social distancing measure, my old walk to work – about 200 yards – rarely failed to feature at least one collision or near miss.

Remarkably, it can be even worse at weekends – and was again between lockdowns – as Gloucester Docks appears a hot spot for groups of men (almost exclusively), dressed in black (even more exclusively), staring at screens (often more than one) in search of Pokemon.

Thankfully, Pokemon appear to be obeying lockdown rules.

  • Walking in the road/mud/canal is fine, thank you

After all, you would not want to get those best shoes or white trainers dirty by veering away from the path to give somebody some room.

Your dog can walk in the mud. It is probably happier there than me.

  • That two-metre gap is not for you to fill

Not a walk issue, this one’s from the list of supermarket gripes (seriously, don’t get me started – my frustration in the aisles generally rises with my need to travel. Which is high).

That two-metre gap in the checkout is for social distancing (you might have heard of it) and to let people pass through.

It is not for you to take your place at the front of the queue.

And no, not all of us are polite enough to let you go keep loading your shopping onto the belt.

  • Filming yourself breaking into a government building and posting it on social media is not a good idea

Oops, sorry, wrong list. Probably the same sort of people.

Soundtracking all this mumbling at passing walkers (and it is not always  as quiet as mumbling) has been a fair few highlights in the latest section.

We had one of last year’s best tracks with ICU from Phoebe Bridgers, rewound a few years for some ideas – three versions of Ideas as Opiates by Tears for Fears, courtesy of a bit of lockdown nostalgia downloading, and Idea Track by Idlewild – a regular visitor in Billy Bragg (Ideology) and Idioteque, one of Radiohead’s better outings once they went a bit… well, let’s just say post-OK Computer.

And then we hit the Ifs, which has been a pretty rich seam,

The magnificent If I Can’t Change Your Mind obeyed this blog’s rule of Copper Blue which says anything from Sugar’s debut album has to feature, while The Lemonheads (If I Could Talk I’d Tell You) and Jason Isbell (If It Takes A Lifetime) come close to similar outcomes.

We had some Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God), Wilco (If I Ever Was A Child), Leonard Cohen (If It Be Your Will), Belle & Sebastian (If She Wants Me) and If I Had A Hammer from American Music Club, who also popped up with I’ve Been A Mess.

Which you could say about a lot of people in the last few weeks.

It has taken us round the world, the close on 40 US states, almost round Africa, even closer to a full circuit of South America (although that was supposed to be a complete circle), A to If on my iPod and any number of detours along the way.

Let’s see where it takes us next – once the world expands a bit further beyond my flat.

 

Share

In The Shadow Of A Virus

Considering how little happened on a day-to-day basis for much of the year, it is amazing how different my life is from 12 months ago.

So sitting down for the Travel Marmot’s annual new year post, how do you reflect on the year everything and nothing happened all at the same time?

A year ago, it was written sat on a Rio hotel bed which was full of large chunks of Copacabana Beach, brought home from the previous night’s celebrations shared with about 2.9 million others.

New Year’s Eve last year

This year, it is being tapped out at my desk after seeing in two new years at opposite sides of the globe on video calls.

Apart from the number of people sharing my new year, the shift to sitting at that desk represents a large chunk of the last 12 months and reflects a life which has altered for all of us – the rapid shrinking of our worls.

Writing that piece in Rio, the horizon was a long way off.

In The Shadow Of Christ

The next few months featured plenty to look forward to – lots more of Brazil, a stretch across the north of South America through French Guyana, Suriname and Guyana, a brief return to Brazil and into Colombia before…

The view this new year

Well, before it all changed for all of us and those horizons on a daily basis stretched no further than the four walls which enclose my front room, office, kitchen and the majority of my life.

There was a while there, between our retreat from Colombia and moving into my flat as lettings opened up, when the walls were different and at least came with the advantage of a garden as my sister and her family gave me refuge.

Imperfect Circle

Lockdown – tier four, to be honest, has not made a huge difference in many ways to my life – has not been that tough in many ways.

Am quite content to spend a lot of time in my own company and with my own thoughts.

And never been one for much non-essential shopping, although popping down the pub would be nice.

It has not done much for my waistline and fitness, which had both improved hugely in the previous 18 months or so, but that gives me something to focus on in 2021 – starting with a challenge to walk 1,000 miles in the year.

Two down, 998 to go.

Above all other considerations, have been luckier than many others when it comes to friends and relatives being hit hard by the virus.

Long may that continue.

Am thankful my return home came just in time to find a job before all those unearthed by a search for journalism vacancies pretty much vanished and redundancies created more people hunting for exactly the same thing.

Maybe our welcome to Cartagena airport was trying to tell us something

It has meant changes beyond working from home, the ability to watch Homes Under The Hammer, listen to music and make a cup of tea without getting involved in a round (although those who have shared an office with me will know how rare an occurrence that was).

Have not worked solely as a reporter and interviewer since my first few weeks in journalism – a career which, gulp, have realised has entered its fourth decade.

The move to production – designing, subbing, planning and doing whatever was needed to get a newspaper out – came almost by accident weeks into that first job and increasingly took over before becoming complete around 10 years into that journey.

Thankfully, the last 10 years has increasingly involved a lot of subbing business copy which means writing about it for the last nine months did not come as a total shock to the system.

Subbing those pages – largely written by two people who did my current job before me – provided an insight into a whole new language and world (although have played the “there are no stupid questions” card a fair few times).

Have still had to learn a whole new vocabulary to deal with covering the events of the coronavirus – and that’s just trying to make sense of government announcements in the short time between when they are usually made and our daily deadlines.

Not always the easiest job when you consider who is talking.

It has all created a daily routine – shower, hunt for stories, the obligatory morning Zoom meeting, breakfast, writing, lunch, more writing, a walk for both exercise and change of scenery, food, laptop and, at some point, the major move of the day which covers all of a yard or two from desk to sofa.

And somewhere in that evening is one more daily fixture we have already touched upon.

Exactly when depends on the time gap with Australia, but those video calls across the globe are not just for new year.

That new year missive from Rio ended with news of me finding somebody who had agreed to explore those horizons with me (and was largely responsible for bringing great chunks of Copacabana back, whatever she might say).

And that, via those daily calls, has helped expand my world beyond these four walls, given me something to look forward to, someone to talk to, confide n and laugh with (something not to be taken lightly) and reason to keep looking forward.

The inability to do exactly that, make plans and have something inked in to the calendar to look forward has been – beyond the inability to do things we used to take for granted – the most frustrating aspect of our enforced pressing of the pause button.

The sun sets on our South America adventure

Conversations with friends, which have been at a premium, have invariably touched on our long-term plans without any answer beyond a resigned shrug (which works a lot better on Zoom than on the phone).

We have come up with a very long travel list – pretty much anywhere either of us has seen on TV, read about or the other has been to and we want to explore – on top of heading back to complete that missing chunk of the South American circle from Cartagena back to Quito.

But topping that list, depending on which of us you speak to, are Australia and the UK. Short trips to start with, probably, but after that…

It is impossible to plan beyond that. Even moving between Sydney and Canberra, let alone from the UK, involves two weeks of isolation at the moment while the prospect of flying from Australia – where an outbreak of 20-plus cases sparks local lockdowns – to visit here is hardly enticing.

Our next task is to look into the process of either us making the switch so we are ready to go when things return to some form of normality.

Who knows whether that will come before or after the next new year post.

Until then, there is always video calling.

 

 

Share

Best of 2020

Christmas has been a bit different for many people this year, even before the late changes to tiers and coronavirus restrictions.

Certainly the first one partially spent dressed in a sloth onesie for starters (and it was really warm) while there are even decorations up in my flat – the two things may be linked.

And this is the first for many years spent in this country – discounting those in Africa and South America – when have not been working right up to Christmas Eve and heading back into the office within a day or two.

What that means is there has been time to draw breath over the holiday period, to look ahead and back over a difficult year – and time to write the traditional Travel Marmot post on the year’s best music.

The first of two traditional posts – the second, state of the nation article may even be posted on (or near) New Year’s Day – that time has allowed it to take on a different look with top 30 lists of albums and, for the first time, tracks.

They have changed considerably, the relistening which has soundtracked the last few weeks in the home office bumping a few albums up the list and seeing several more tumble.

That reshuffling is likely to continue, particularly in the lower reaches, as albums fail to last the course of time or others receive more attention.

There is one big change this year – boys with guitars which dominated the last couple of years being replaced by a fair few female singer-songwriters at the upper end – although many familiar faces remain.

So here they are, the albums and tracks which soundtracked a year of working from home, an issue which definitely helped shape the upper reaches of these lists.

Albums of the Year

1 Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

“Some serious songwriting chops are enough to leave you wanting more… one to watch”

That was what this list said of Phoebe Bridgers when her debut album Stranger In The Alps was Discovery of the Year in 2017 and she has featured highly every year since – there was even the Phoebe Bridgers Album of the Year category last year.

Those serious songwriting chops reached new levels with Punisher, a pretty clear winner of this list.

Despite being completed before the onset of the pandemic, it has a sense of claustrophobia and bleakness which fits the feelings of the last nine months without losing a sense of insight, warmth and even humour which ensures a listen remains an uplifting, fulfilling experience.

There are plenty of layers here which are still being unwrapped after multiple listens and different versions floating around – almost inevitable given her prolific nature – as best witnessed by the tracks on the Copycat Killer EP and slower versions of Kyoto, the upbeat single which she was convinced to speed up to prevent the album being too similarly paced.

One to watch, to listen to repeatedly and to savour.

2 Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

If Punisher has been holding on to top spot from release, Saint Cloud spent much of the year further down this chart before repeated revisiting has seen it rise and rise.

Katie Crutchfield’s previous solo work has always registered as worth a listen without making a huge impact.

But with her fifth album and her first since giving up drinking, she moves away from the indie toward Americana and really finds her voice.

Would work as the perfect soundtrack to an American road trip through wide open spaces, which just bumps that a further few places up the travel wishlist.

3 Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling/The New OK

If there have been positives of the last four years under Trump’s Presidency, it has been the transformation of Drive-By Truckers from American band to American necessity, their anger and frustration at what was happening to their country spelled out in classic songwriting.

American Band was the Travel Marmot album of the year in 2016 and they returned this year with another delight – they just did it across two records at either end of the year which, combined, earn them another high placing.

Not everything works – Babies In Cages is just too obvious, lacking the depth of their best efforts – but when they get it right (Thoughts and Prayers, The New OK) it becomes clear why they have emerged as one of the most important American groups around.

Possibly bumped up a few places by The Unravelling being listened to (repeatedly) for the first time during 24 hours in a hammock crossing the Amazon.

4 Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump… on a wooden piano

It is not new – a 20-year-old album played on what seems to be an even older piano – but my blog, my rules and this new version of a true classic is the perfect reissue we never knew we needed.

On the back of one of the best Twitter listening parties hosted by The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess (surprise candidate for musical hero of the year), it spelled out what a great album it is.

And it is amazing just how well these songs have held up to both time and the stripped-back versions here – epic opener He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot is perhaps the one which works the least well.

Lovely stuff.

5 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

Last year’s album of the year winners did not rest on their laurels, returning with the follow-up mid-pandemic.

For a while, A Hero’s Death was heading to the slightly disappointing pile but prolonged exposure revealed a step forward which was not only worth repeated listenings but also laying the foundations for a longer future beyond being the current darlings of guitar music.

These songs maybe lacked the initial clout of Dogrel, but more reflected the impact the success had on the band – songs which moved on relentlessly without ever taking the next step you expected (and which maybe would have come on their debut) and it is that sense of anticipation which adds life and promise. For now and the future.

It stands alone but also as a sideways, possibly slightly backwards step, to clear a path for what comes next.

6 Taylor Swift – folklore

The undoubted surprise entry in the upper reaches of this list and it is there for a simple reason – it is really, really good.

Dubbed her indie album, it undoubtedly benefits from its collaborations with The National’s Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but this is Swift’s work, her songs supplying a pop edge to her co-creators’ backgrounds.

Any unwarranted doubts about her songwriting ability are dispelled by penning exile, the great Bon Iver song we have been waiting for over the last few years.

It is maybe three of four songs too long and the insistence on everything being lower case is frustrating (or is that just me?) but it stands up to repeated listening. Trust me.

7 Soccer Mommy – color theory

More lower case and another female singer-songwriter in the upper reaches, Sophie Allison’s second album takes a significant step forward from the promise of her debut.

The first new album which was played repeatedly on my return from travelling, soundtracking several long walks as lockdown took over our lives and somehow seemed to make total sense.

There’s a long, detailed explanation of the album being based in sections on colour but really, just listen to it and enjoy.

8 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions

If the upper reaches of this countdown belongs to female singer-songwriters, there remains a place for Jason Isbell.

Reunions leans like its predecessor The Nashville Sound slightly towards Radio 2 territory and polished mainstream more than the great double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free which chronicled his new-found sobriety and move from a rock and roll lifestyle to domestic contentment.

But Isbell remains as good a songwriter as there is around and Reunions is never less than sharply observed and richly created.

9 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy

My move from jingly jangly indie to Americana is reflected in this list, but there remains a place for shimmering guitars.

The Australian band jointly topped this list two years ago (with IDLES) and their sophomore effort takes a step forward from Hope Downs without lessening the number of interwined guitar lines, harmonies and damn good songs.

The sound of the summer we never really enjoyed.

10 IDLES – Ultra Mono

One of the most anticipated albums of the year and, to be honest, among the most underwhelming.

If IDLES can ever underwhelm.

There is enough in Ultra Mono to deserve this high placing – it has bounced around the fringes of the top 10 when putting the list together – but it is in danger of becoming too draining an experience for repeated listening.

When it hits its target (see below), it is as good as anything they have done, but relies too heavily on going for huge knockout blows when the odd body punch would get the message across just as well over the length of an album.

You do not need to shout to make yourself heard all the time.

11 Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
12 Porridge Radio – Every Bad
13 Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club
14 Bill Callahan – Gold Record
15 Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
16 Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
17 This Is The Kit – Off Off On
18 Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
19 Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
20 Disq – Collector
21 Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
22 Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques 
23 The Orielles – Disco Volador 
24 Taylor Swift – evermore
25 Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was
26 Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
27 Boston Manor – GLUE
28 Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
29 Fleet Foxes – Shore
30 The Flaming Lips – America Head

Bubbling Under (or in need of more exploration)
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Times
Jordana – Classical Notions of Happiness
Becca Mancari – The Greatest Part
Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia 
US Girls – Heavy Light

Tracks of the Year

Have stuck to albums on these annual lists before with maybe a passing mention of what was the track of the year, but if we can’t do these things differently this year, when can we?

1 IDLES – Grounds

“Do you hear that thunder?”

In a year when there has been plenty to get angry about, these lists are perhaps surprisingly lacking in fury, Bob Mould turns up the anger with Drive-By Truckers and Sufjan Stevens voicing frustrations in different ways.

IDLES had no hesitation in expressing their anger and on Grounds they packaged indignation as we entered lockdown and somehow foresaw some of the wider issues which would fill the following months.

And by slightly dialling down the scale of the backing – if not the intensity – they turned up the impact.

“Not a single thing has ever been mended, By you standing there and saying you’re offended”

2 Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
3 Drive-By Truckers – Thoughts and Prayers
4 Taylor Swift (feat Bon Iver) – exile
5 Phoebe Bridgers – ICU

6 Sufjan Stevens – America
7 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
8 Phoebe Bridgers – I Know The End
9 Taylor Swift – the last great american dynasty
10 Waxahatchee – Lilacs

11 Porridge Radio – Sweet
12 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cars In Space
13 Phoebe Bridgers – Halloween
14 Soccer Mommy – circle the drain
15 This Is The Kit – This Is What You Did

16 Bob Mould – American Crisis
17 Phoebe Bridgers – Chinese Satellite
18 Taylor Swift – betty
19 Waxahatchee – Fire
20 Drive-By Truckers – 21st Century USA

21 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Falling Thunder
22 Phoebe Bridgers – Garden Song
23 Soccer Mommy – bloodstream
24 Waxahatchee – The Eye
25 IDLES – Model Village
26 Sufjan Stevens – Video Game
27 Jason Isbell – Only Children
28 Waxahatchee – Can’t Do Much
29 Waxahatchee – Hell 
30 Fontaines DC – Televised Mind

Share

I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh to I’m Shipping Up To Boston

The concept of time has been an increasingly difficult one to come to grips with over the last nine months.

A president has found it impossible to accept his is up, Brexit negotiators appear determined to bend it with their approach to deadlines and the time businesses need to prepare while rugby referees have developed a bizarre idea about how long five seconds is when the ball is going nowhere at the back of a ruck.

The normal passage of time, daily, weekly, monthly and beyond, has been fractured by the absence or shifting of the regular landmarks in our life.

Working from home has meant the best way to judge time is by a morning Zoom meeting, Homes Under the Hammer, Big Bang Theory repeats, Government announcements, scheduled coronavirus press conferences (add on extra time for a late start if it is anything controversial or we are waiting to hear the details on leaked stories), the daily newsletter deadlines which define my day and Pointless – the sign it is almost time to knock off and move the yard or so from my desk to the sofa.

Throw in food, whatever entry has made it to the top of the far too long things to-do list drawn up to fill the early days of lockdown and a daily conversation across the time zones with Australia and the day is pretty much sorted.

At weekends, replace all that with a walk to Sainsbury’s, rugby on TV (very bizarre watching a match just down the road without being there) and plenty of procrastination at the laptop and another week has ticked by.

All this serves, hopefully, as astute observation on the bizarre changes to our lives over the past year rather than merely the latest excuse into why this blog has had a form of lockdown of its own.

Good intentions remain but the pandemic has had a strange affect on us all and somehow, after a day sat at a laptop writing as the main part of my job for the first time in more than 20 years, doing the same in the evening does not seem to have the same attraction as it has in the past.

Not that it has been ignored – the previous post from South America took a fair bit of time to compile (at more than 10,000 words, it was around 10 times longer than a standard post and was tweaked endlessly) ahead of being wrapped up with other posts in a Christmas present.

Trans South America: The Best and Worst

There are more posts about South America to come – eventually – and there’s a long list of notes, links and thoughts for a couple of posts in defence of journalists which had to set aside for a while as some digging around in the world of online comments was just too frustrating.

Accusations of clickbait are as polite as it gets. If only people bothered to learn what it means.

In the end, it became easier to pause, draw breath, work through some of the to-do list and put the blog on hold for a while.

It was meant to make a brief return a few weeks ago for this post, getting fully up to date with the A-Z trawl through my iPod. The video links were even dropped into the post.

Then somebody, somewhere, did something clever with a WordPress plugin and all you got when clicking on the site was a white page ad and an error message.

Would like to claim there was lots of technical research on my part, a few behind-the-scenes tweaks and all was well.

What actually happened was plenty of staring hopefully at the screen, Googling the error message, several more clicks over a few days in the hope it had sorted itself out and a few outings for the IT failsafe – turn everything off and back on and again.

In the end, it took a phone call to the Godfather of the Travel Marmot who took about 10 minutes to sort it all out, despite claiming it was something he did not really understand.

So instead of announcing a break in the blog, this post heralds a return for the A-Z which will be back in the new year, possibly with a few tweaks to the site and an actual writing plan for the coming months – courtesy of a break over Christmas, very rare when actually in the country.

Rather different, a lot cooler and considerably fewer insect bites than year ago.

Before that, there are the two traditional festive Travel Marmot posts – the Best of 2020 music article (which is turning up the odd surprise in the December recap of this year’s albums) and the New Year’s Day state of the nation piece.

It might even be written on New Year’s Day.

Just don’t hold me to that.

Before all that though, the last bit of housekeeping and catching up with the outstanding stretch of the A-Z from back when it was being listened to on long, sunlit government-mandated walks as an escape from working at home.

The stretch from The Magnetic Fields to The Dropkick Murphys was not the most inspiring selection, providing proof of how many songs The Beatles had beginning with I’ll and I’m – 11 so far and more to come.

We had a double hit of Paul Heaton – I’ll Be Your Shelter… by The Housemartins and I’ll Sail This Ship Alone by The Beautiful South – and two versions of I’m Not Down, The Clash’s original and a Thea Gilmore cover.

Given the time of year, there was nothing festive among the latest group of tracks but we did have The Pogues’ I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day, sang by original bassist Cait O’Riordan who was supposed to sing the female part in A Fairytale of New York. If only she had not left the band.

Tenuous Christmas link, but we’ll take what we can get.

Share