Under The Southern Cross

From top middle to bottom right – the new decoration on the wall of our front room

Since the first new year post was written in a dark, deserted Ghanaian beach bar in 2015, each one has looked to reflect on how much ground has been covered in the previous 12 months.

Sometimes there has been plenty of movement in terms of travel mileage, other times the change has come in life without actually going anywhere.

And during Covid, it seemed like nothing had happened yet everything had changed. All while going absolutely nowhere.

But doubt if any year will match 2023 for the amount of ground covered, both in terms of distance and changes in my life.

All, oddly, while feeling as stable and grounded as my life has done in a long time.

Not that things have not changed – a lot.

The Barron River Falls en route to Kuranda. Try Googling them to see what they looked like a few weeks ago

Last year’s post was written in my flat in Gloucester in the middle of a British winter. This one comes from our spare room/office in Canberra in shorts and flip-flops with the sun shining and a forecast of temperatures topping 30C tomorrow.

That does not tell the full story. It was lashing down here yesterday and, rather like places at home and the River Severn across the other side of the Docks basin from that Gloucester flat, flooding has been the major weather news in parts of Australia.

Thankfully not here, although the mix of sun and storms appears to be the perfect conditions for our deranged pumpkin plant to take over the garden. Although not necessarily grow any pumpkins.

When that new year post was written, an email confirming my Australian visa had not longed popped into my inbox, Lisa had headed home alone for the final time and the to-do list to packing up my life in the UK and moving to the other side of the world had begun.

And that is what bought a sense of stability. A feeling of certainty.

For several of these new year, state-of-the-nation posts, a common theme has been one of uncertainty, a perpetual state of limbo and – unlike that pumpkin plant – an inability to put down too many roots.

First it was because of more travel looming on the horizon, then not knowing how long we would have to wait for the world to open up again after Covid as we carried out a long-distance relationship constrained by the size of a screen and quality of a video call.

Then, amid a mountain of paperwork, there was the wait for the visa.

Not in Gloucester now, Toto

That mountain had to be scaled again in recent months for the post-wedding next step to making the visa permanent and it is reaching the point where every email brings a frisson of excitement that the latest wait might be over (ahead of another application to enable leaving/re-entering the country to return home for a family wedding if the latest update does not arrive in time).

But, to all intents and purposes, there is some certainty about my life.

Probably more than there has been since that decision over a few drinks to first quit my job to go travelling. Possibly further back than a couple of personal events which may well have played a part in that decision.

Had no idea where that would lead – well, New York initially, given that was the eventual destination of that first trip – but pretty sure getting married and living in Australia was never one of the possible outcomes.

But 12 months on from drawing up that to-do list to move, here we are.

The flat was packed up, its contents shipped Down Under, raided by family (my stereo headed off to a good home) or collected by a charity shop.

My life in the UK wrapped up, bar a couple of financial issues kept alive for convenience, the door shut behind me and my first step on Aussie soil – country number 68 – was to start unwrapping a new one.

The biggest concern was getting a job, but the sharp eyes of a friend spotted the perfect vacancy and a little more than a week before getting on the plane, that one was ticked off and PA Media had a British member of its overnight Australian team.

A less reliable member of the PA Australia team

Having travelled all that way, have had more bylines over the last few months in some titles than in much of the time they actually employed me.

So ensconced in a new job and new home (another thing which, thankfully, was waiting for me – complete with cat, who only hid under the sofa for the first couple of hours), much of the year has been about settling into a new life in a new country.

Will mine that topic for some future posts but it is not all that different. Take away the odd kangaroo and some very odd mullets. In this neck of the woods they even serve pints – at least if you ask them to.

And that is pretty much my year. Bar two things which go hand in hand – the person who was the reason for the move in the first place (who reckons she is the star of this blog) and our wedding.

The big day itself is covered elsewhere, coming not before the honeymoon but in the middle as we opted to maintain our record of keeping things non traditional.

The trip provided – a weekend in Sydney that featured a reunion from that original London to New York trip apart – my first real chance to explore some of Australia outside the ACT (albeit we are just over the border, which runs along the end of the road, where they do not serve pints) as we headed north into Queensland. Some of the bits which really have been flooded in recent weeks.

A rare moment when there was only one of them perched on me in Kuranda

A few days in Brisbane were highlighted by a trip to see England’s women play Nigeria – and become part of a select few who have seen an England team win a World Cup penalty shootout – and the post-match dash to find a hint of space in a bar to watch Australia.

A short (ish) flight – by their standards – took us up to Cairns with day trips around the waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands and, via a small train and cable car return above the trees, to the small town of Kuranda and a run-in with some birds.

Apparently they took a liking to me as a perch. Thankfully, the larger animals next door did not feel the same way.

Clicking into wedding mode (which both of us attempted to avoid as much as possible), a boat whisked us off to Fitzroy Island for a few days – not managing to do the same with the flowers, photographer and celebrant as a breakdown delayed the ceremony.

The locals can be a bit shy

But, bar that, it all went smoothly and well into the evening at a meal overlooking the ocean.

Our first act as a married couple was… behave… to relax on the island before heading further north to Port Douglas and more exploration of the Danetree area and a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and even a quick submersible ride around the coral.

One of us is much more at home in the water – and the tropical temperatures of the far north – than the other.

That was 2023. Emigrating, new life and a wedding. Huge changes, but a sense of belonging and stability.

The next 12 months look quieter, but that continued stability suits me fine. There’s the standard plans – lose weight, get fit, write here more regularly – plus a trip back to the UK/France and a desire to see some more of my new home (there’s wineries around here need exploring).

And that all sounds fine to me.

Sunset from Fitzroy Island
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Acoustic Rick James Style to The Jello Fund (Best of 2023)

Second of three end-of-year/new year wrap-ups with a bit of housekeeping to get the A-Z posts bang up to date, mixed in with the traditional best of… post.

It is rare that this blog and its subject matter have been in sync in recent times – one of the (many) reasons (excuses) for such sporadic activity.

Since returning from South America and then wading through the seemingly never-ending run of I tracks on the journey through my iPod – not to mention the almost as endless catch-up through A-I added in that time – have been playing catch up with blog posts.

It, admittedly, became a bit of a chore – especially when spending all day in front of a laptop at home post-lockdown and without the momentum built from either travelling or listening to the next tracks on this journey, bringing with them fresh ideas to drive things onward.

But as 2023 drew to a close, new home, new life and things began to line up again – the I tracks had been cleared, the catch up spanning several years had followed and J was a mere sprint.

Meaning all that was required to end the year up to date was a further catch up through the most recent arrivals.

That journey took us from one Lemonheads track to another courtesy of a 30th anniversary reissue of Come On Feel… which saw tracks dotted along the way.

They provided enough proof to remember why they could, and possibly should, have been the biggest band in the world. Mixed in with enough to remember exactly why they were not.

There were a few bits filling in gaps in my collection such as The Triffids, Ride, Husker Du – whose Zen Arcade did the job of checking downloads were working after a switch from the UK – and The National, despite being convinced the album containing Bloodbuzz Ohio (my favourite song of theirs) was already in my collection somewhere.

There was a taste of what is to come in 2024 from IDLES (along with LCD Soundsystem) but most of the catch-up consisted of those songs and tracks contending for a place in the Travel Marmot Best of 2023 list.

The fight for album of the year has been a three-way fight for a while – one which topped many end-of-year lists, one which popped up occasionally and a third which was barely mentioned. Until now at least.

A few final listens cut that down to a two-horse race, the winner taking the verdict by a short head.

So here, only a few days late, is this year’s selection…

Album of the Year: The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrfMXtA9oGg

It was a tight-run thing and may well change my mind – it has happened before. But a band once dismissed as another generic indie guitar band with The… in the name took the honours. Got that first impression badly wrong.

They came close to top spot a few years ago, but this just has too many really good songs to deprive them again. And there is something about the drumming on their songs which manages to both drive them on and keep them in check simultaneously, to say nothing of Matt Berninger’s delivery.

It is not perfect, it is a bit one-paced. Swap in a couple of tracks for some from Laugh Track, their second album of the year, and the victory would have been even clearer.

And like everything else in 2023, it had a bit of Taylor Swift. To say nothing of Phoebe Bridgers. Speaking of which…

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year: Boygenius – The Record

It has become a running joke that Phoebe Bridgers has to feature in each of these lists (even if it required a bit of cheating last year to shoehorn her in), but this is here purely on merit.

Do not fall into the typical image of a Boygenius fan, if reviews concentrating on the audience’s gender and sexuality at live performances are to be believed as the bandwagon gathered speed, but the songs are too good for pigeonholing.

Their debut EP, good as it was, smacked of solo work with the others supplying support. This appears as a collaborative effort by three singer-songwriters lifting each other.

Not Strong Enough was a genuine contender for track of the year.

Completing the Podium Album of the Year: The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery

The other Irish guitar band have played second fiddle somewhat to their contemporaries Fontaines DC, but the slow burn which runs through their career and much of this album is coming close to ignition.

A friend seeing them live a while back reported the feeling of being present for “something important”. He may be right – their Glastonbury set was the highlight of what made it over to Australia.

Return to Form of the Year: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Weathervanes

His last couple of albums have been far from bad. But, clad in a more Nashville country sheen, they had to contend with following the remarkable double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free.

Weathervanes finds something of a middle ground, confirming Isbell’s place as one of the great contemporary storytellers (to say nothing of his singing and guitar playing).

Promising Late Discovery of the Year – Wednesday: Rat Saw Good

Otherwise known as the pick of the albums tried out because they kept appearing in end-of-year lists (pretty thin pickings, which says something about the reviews, the year in music or my hunger for new music as the years roll on – possibly all three).

Wednesday lived up to most of the recommendations, like Soccer Mommy fronting Porridge Radio or Camp Cope. With bonus points for name checking the Drive-By Truckers

Honourable mention to Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We.

Where The Hell Did That Come From… of the Year: Slowdive – Everything Is Alive

Back in the days when my fingers got inky at least once a week with the ritual study of the NME, Slowdive were one of a slew of shoegazing bands in the one-time flavour of the month movement.

Fuzzy guitars should really have been right up my street, but for some reason never fully connected – even with my teenage propensity to gaze at my shoes through what passed for a fringe. Back in the days when it had a hope of making it down as far as my eyes.

Slowdive were not among the bands that really gripped me back then, so their second (or even their third) coming has been a truly pleasant surprise.

Maybe staring at your shoes is better with age and Ride’s Nowhere made a welcome return after initially buying it on vinyl (sadly, left behind – albeit to a good home with my stereo – in the UK).

New music from the original line-up of Drop Nineteens – much more on my radar and contributors to a teenage Winona obsession – came from even further out of left field and is worthy of further investigation.

Need to Spend More Time With/Old Dependable of the Year: Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Keep being told it is his best for some time. And his best his sensational – several tracks contending for any Desert Island Discs list, even if they are about serial killers or losing someone to cancer.

It is good, just hasn’t really grabbed me yet – although some of his best stuff suddenly leaped out after repeated listens. So will be doing that. And time spent with Sufjan is never wasted.

Honourable mention to The Coral’s Sea of Mirrors.

It’s Good But… of the Year: The Clientele – I Am Not There Anymore

Had several people rave about the latest from a band who apparently have been going for more than 30 years but passed me by completely.

It’s… OK. In places, really good. Benefits from definitely not sounding like it came from anytime recently. Don’t quite get the praise some people lauded on it.

But then said that about The National for a long time

Well Worth Anyone’s Time of the Year…

Girl Ray – Prestige
Wilco – Cousin
Margo Price – Strays
The Hold Steady – Price of Progress
The Wedding Present – 24 Songs
Drive-By Truckers – The Complete Dirty South
The Gaslight Anthem – History Books
Teenage Fanclub – Nothing Lasts Forever

Track of the Year – The National: New Order T-Shirt

It could have been Not Strong Enough and another title for Phoebe Bridgers, it could just as easily have been a couple of contenders from The Murder Capital. Or from Jason Isbell, King of Oklahoma was definitely in the running.

It might even have been Eucalyptus, another song by The National.

But from pretty much first hearing, Matt Berninger’s tale of keeping memories of an old flame alive (“I keep what I can of you”) through an item of clothing has been leading the race for this accolade.

Replace a T-shirt – and sort of want one of the charity ones they made to go with it – with songs and that was one of the inspirations for this entire musical journey.

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John, I’m Only Dancing to Juxtapozed With U

Traditionally, a new year brings two blog posts, but 2023 has been a bit different and one event warrants a post of its own. In keeping with tradition, the other two posts will follow – and be later than planned.

Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably (or as comfortably as those of us of a certain age can manage)? Then we will begin.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl from Australia. Little in stature, not age. Otherwise this story could get a bit creepy.

Bitten by the travel bug but caught in a work maelstrom, she dreamed of heading off on overland travels and a return to Africa.

Finding a spare few moments at work on her birthday in Canberra, she started googling overland travel companies and the big yellow trucks of Oasis Overland caught her eye.

Digging deeper into trip reviews, she spent time reading a blog of the Trans Africa journey around the continent written by an English bloke. And wondering exactly why it had a picture of a marmot (well, probably, let’s just roll with this for dramatic effect).

A few years passed and, after saving up her Monopoly money – sorry, Aussie dollars – our heroine (oh Lord, that one will come back to haunt me) finally booked a spot on one of the big yellow trucks. Not in Africa, but to pastures new in South America.

As she and her future travelling companions prepared for the trip, emails started to fly, a Facebook group was set up and one of those posting started to look familiar – the African blogger was chipping in on truck life ahead of adding a new continent to his travels.

And, as she sat in a Quito cafe the day before everyone was due to meet up at the start of the trip, the English blogger posted a (not so) fresh-off-the-plane picture with the view from his hostel terrace across the part of the old town she was exploring.

She was unable to work out where our clearly jetlagged romantic lead (hey, if she can be the heroine) was posting from, but as the travellers assembled at the pre-trip meeting the next evening, she recognised the English guy listening patiently to a monologue from a bearded American.

Not sure the two spoke much to each other that first night. Or even until he jumped in on the back of her haggling to grab the same rug (both lost somewhere in Brazil) at a market in Otavalo.

They definitely did speak during a freestyle game of Jenga in a bar and, over the coming weeks, began to chat more and more, spending an increasing amount of time together. Pretty much from the moment they were cursed by a random busker in Lima.

To cut a long story short – via becoming a couple in Argentina, being forced apart by the premature end of the trip in Colombia, daily video calls across the globe in lockdown, a couple of visits to wintry England and the quest for a visa – our heroine welcomed her Prince Charming (yeah, OK, that might be pushing it a bit) to Australia.

And on August 14, 2023, on an island off the coast of Queensland, the travel tale written by a single bloke from Gloucester officially became a two-handed affair with the girl from the beaches north of Sydney who had first stumbled across his ramblings several years earlier.

And somehow still agreed to marry him.

It was not a big wedding – the elopement package at Fitzroy Island giving a clue to the plan – in the middle of a two-week exploration of Queensland, but in a secluded garden (if you forget about the overlooking hotel balconies) overlooking a beach, the story which started with tales of Africa and took root in the wilderness, cities, beaches and jungles of South America had its happy ending.

Well, at least this chapter. There’s plenty more to be written yet.

And, keeping with a romance which first linked its romantic heroes via this blog (in which the bride has long considered herself to be the star), there was even a link to the A-Z iPod blog – which makes it a lot easier to shoehorn into this tale, even if it briefly threatened to derail the whole musical journey.

Having mopped up the remaining J songs – the shortest letter yet at 233, although not for long – from David Bowie to the groom’s former Cardiff neighbours the Super Furry Animals, the alphabetical trek had reached track 7,311 out of 15,960 (for now).

The latest section saw us through more Johns, Johnny and Jonny, Jonathan, Jolene, Jorge, Joy (with oven gloves and in Leeuwarden with a couple of Half Man Half Biscuit outings), Julie (working for the drug squad) and a fairly lengthy list of Justs – Radiohead, Feeder (Just A Day), REM (two versions of the glorious Just A Touch) and Jesus & Mary Chain (the equally glorious Just Like Honey, twice) – before the wonderfully bonkers clash of cultures which is The KLF’s Justified and Ancient.

Which is not a comment on the groom’s age.

And for a while, that looked like it might be it for the iPod – a key component of the A-Z.

Dragooned into action to supply the music throughout the ceremony – downloaded at the last minute after a failure to agree on anything – it was hidden in the groom’s back pocket with his phone to avoid an unsightly bulge in the wedding photographs.

One of the pictures which almost ended the A-Z trip through my iPod

Which would have been fine, if some of the photos had not involved the happy couple sitting on some rocks on the beach.

Thankfully, the spider web of cracks on the screen does not have much impact on its use – more thankfully, the fairly new and rather more expensive phone was unharmed – and the big day did not claim a casualty.

Tradition in these blog posts dictates several videos or links being posted to songs from the latest section, but if we cannot break the rules on this post, when can we?

So let us sign off with a song which should rightly feature in the next post catching up on new additions from A-J, but one which means a lot to us – the bride was given a crash course in some of the finest British television over her trips up north, developing a couple of obsessions with plans to escape to the country and live in a big house full of friendly ghosts.

This formed one of the songs on the playlist for the wedding, as we signed our lives over to each other.

And the words seem to fit. As long as you don’t dig too deeply.

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J-Smoov to John Wick

It has taken a while, but the journey from new arrival  on the other side of the world to local took a big step forward the other night.

Driving home around rush hour, taking the required right-hand turn meant joining a queue of traffic which threatened to take longer than the rest of the journey.

But six months living in – or very near – Canberra has started to seep in.

From shying away from driving in the opening weeks and requiring directions to pop down to the local shop, a bit of acquired knowledge kicked in and sailed smoothly over the traffic lights, round the back of the outlet centre and back onto the main road by the park and ride.

It was a small thing – regardless of the smug feeling from the driving seat – but the latest step in learning to live like an Australian.

Have embraced the weekend trip to Bunnings – an Australian institution and roughly their version of Homebase – which comes complete with the compulsory sausage sizzle where some fundraising group will sell you a sausage in a piece of white sliced bread for less than £1.

Beats a bunch of disinterested Cubs packing your supermarket shopping and an idea the Aussies have taken a step forward with the democracy sausage – the same thing, served up after you vote.

But perhaps the best way of measuring my adjustment to life in Australia is via the medium of kangaroos.

For the first few weeks, almost from the moment we pulled away from Sydney airport, the only sight of the national symbol was lying flat on the side of the road.

Then, amid much excitement during breakfast on the deck, spotted one hopping across the field behind our house – the only thing between us in New South Wales and the ACT.

Kangaroos
Ever get the impression you are being watched? Kangaroos in the nature reserve unusually not fleeing as soon as a camera appears. ACT border just behind those trees

The excitement grew when finally headed for a post-work stroll through the field – a nature reserve hemmed in houses, a main road, the border and a prison – and a few appeared on the other side of a fence.

More and more appeared on repeat visits until the point it is almost impossible to wander over there without huge groups popping up in the grass – you spot one and, as you move closer, a second, a third and then there are suddenly dozens.

They are skittish, watching you closely and then when one hops away as you move closer, off they all go. Which is pretty much guaranteed to happen the moment you lift a camera up to grab a picture.

My excitement – and it remains a thrill every walk or even from over the back fence when they venture up to the top of the field – does mark me apart from the locals, but head out now not in excited hope but in expectation of where they are likely to be hanging out and how best to enjoy watching them.

But those road signs which catch your eye on first arrival are not just there for the tourists.

The best time to spot them is just before dusk. Which is also the best time to hit them as their jump across the road – in our case, from the reserve to the nearby cemetery or the park which borders our back wall – coincides with your arrival on the same stretch of tarmac.

Kangaroos
Kangaroos with road sense. Or good luck

And it was as darkness fell that a sizeable shape lumbered alongside my car window and straight across the right hand turn home.

If it had been in the first few weeks, would no doubt have been like a kangaroo in the headlights – another issue – but was able to react and actually enjoy watching him bounce into the darkness.

Sure there are plenty of other opportunities to come to experience occupying the same space as a large kangaroo, which ends badly for the animal and the car and is not one that is on my list of Aussie experiences.

But it is a near miss chalked up so can nod sagely next time anyone mentions the dangers of kangaroo collisions.

In many other ways have not totally assimilated to Aussie life – opening my mouth tends to be a big clue (and occasionally a useful shorthand for not having the slightest idea what is going on).

And asking for “red sauce” is akin to speaking a foreign language and needs a local to do the “It’s OK, he’s English” intervention.

Even more so if you opt not to squirt it all over a pie.

Have embraced certain key parts of Australian life and am cheering on Penrith Panthers, the Brumbies (via regular trips to the coldest part of the coldest city in the country) and Sydney Swans.

Even understand (most of) what is going on in Aussie rules. Possibly. Feel uneasy calling it football.

Draw the line at supporting any team wearing green and gold (whatever nickname they carry) and the odd one all in white, which made for some interesting evenings and early mornings during the Ashes – ending all square probably helped our relationship.

Australia and England winning their groups avoided a showdown in the match we had tickets for in Brisbane during the Women’s World Cup at the start of our honeymoon (albeit before the actual wedding – of which more next time, probably deserves a post of its own).

Instead we became part of a select group of people to see England win a World Cup penalty shootout, the later finish sparking a rush as pretty much the entire stadium raced to find a nearby screen to watch the Matildas.

Suncorp Stadium
Darkness falls over Suncorp Stadium ahead of England v Nigeria

But that only delayed the inevitable and a more high-stakes meeting in the semi-final, two days into our married life.

Tried to be magnanimous in victory.

Not everything has changed that much. The commute to work still involves stumbling out of bed and, via the shower, to a desk in the next room.

With the office in London, there is not that much chance of popping in to show your face.

Even my nearest colleague in Australia is about three hours’ drive away near Sydney.

Or just down the road as they call it over here.

And, so far, the weather has not taken that much of an adjustment as made the move on the cusp of a Canberra winter.

The temperature drops as low as at home overnight with frost pretty common for several months, but it rarely stays that way – even in the midst of winter there is plenty of sun and it usually works its way into double figures.

But that is starting to change as spring emerges and, while there is still the threat of some cold nights, the shorts and flip-flops (refusing to call them thongs) are appearing as the temperature heads into the mid to high 20s.

There is a lot more to come and determined not to complain about the heat.

Well, not much.

Which just leaves the latest batch of the A-Z journey through my iPod – after all, that is sort of the point of this blog.

Not sure too many, if any, of the tracks which kicked off the relatively brief journey through J were in contention for the wedding music (at which the iPod paid a price, of which more next time) as we made our way from Stephen Malkmus to Dry Cleaning.

Via quite a few names and the 7,000th track on this journey (JFK by Lambchop).

We hit a seam rich with Jack (Names the Planets, Ash), Jackie (Down the Line, Fontaines DC,) Jacqueline (Franz Ferdinand), James, Jane, Janie (Jones, one of the great album openers from The Clash), Jeane (Billy Bragg), Jed (a selection of Grandaddy tracks) and assorted spellings of Jennifer and Jenny (& The Ess-Dog, Stephen Malkmus).

The Pogues gave us a homage to Jesse James while Nirvana reckoned Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam and Wilco gave us two versions of Jesus etc and Iron & Wine kept it biblical with Jezebel.

And there was still more from Jessica, Jill, Jim (Wise and his bright red cardinals, Sun Kil Moon), Jimmy (squared by The Undertones), Jo, Joan and Joe.

Which took us to the end of this section, pretty much halfway through the J section in one go – but not without the wonderfully dark and quite beautiful John Wayne Gacy Jr by Sufjan Stevens, part of his career-high obsession with Illinois.

There was even some non- names, Whiskeytown remembering the Jacksonville Skyline (with the still awkward moment when you realise how good Ryan Adams could be when not… well, let’s leave it there), and Bill Callahan’s lovely Javelin Unlanding – part of the playlist which was on constant rotation around Africa.

And just when it was getting a bit quiet, Sonic Youth chipped in with JC, backed up by Sugar’s JC Auto.

Probably enough to scare off the kangaroos.

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A-Men to Into the Groovey

NEW country, new home, new job, new pet and all the stuff which goes with them – surely there has been something to write about in the return of the blog?

To say nothing of an impending wedding and, as this is supposed to be a blog about the A-Z journey through my iPod, ticking off another landmark.

One that has been a long time coming – something you could say about all of the above.

This blog post, in keeping with so many of its predecessors, has appeared on the to-do list numerous times only to be bumped off by something a bit more integral to moving across the world.

But gradually that scarily long list of things which needed doing before and after moving to Australia has been whittled away to nothing – well, almost – and even the wedding list is all but ticked off (bar the last couple of jobs and the vows which should be writing instead of this).

Thankfully, a couple of the big items on the list were ticked off before leaving Gloucester – not only was somebody waiting for me at the end of the flight to Sydney, she came complete with somewhere to live.

And a cat – possibly more of a culture shock for an avowed dog person than the kangaroos which accompany the after-work walk (of which more next time).

That is our cat, apparently. Apart from when she noisily lets us know she wants breakfast before 4am, when she very much becomes Lisa’s cat. Not that she does that if the person who has agreed to look after her while we are on honeymoon is reading.

Work was probably the biggest worry about the move – not being able to find anything suitable was far more of a concern than actually making such a big leap in life.

But things fell into place remarkably quickly and smoothly.

One of the first people who was told my visa had come through and the move was about to happen instantly sent a link to a job he had seen.

One application and an interview before work at 7am (arranged out of habit as most applicants were already in Australia) later and employment was sorted before my flat was packed up.

Still reckon it was recognising a Strictly… dancer in a quick picture test of my news knowledge which clinched it. Even with the admission it was only because he had been a guest on House of Games the previous week.

Sure that carried far more weight than spotting Mark Harper lurking in the background of a group of front benchers in the Commons.

Meur ras for the lead, as they apparently say in Cornish, to the regular blog reader for the tip.

And for any former journalist colleagues back home who have noticed and wondered – a couple have asked – that is my byline popping up on the wire and various publications on a wide variety of PA Media stories (the news agency which most UK publications use).

Be it news (some interesting people – or at least their press officers – have been chased late at night and are filling the growing contacts Google Doc), sport – which really rolls back the years – subbing, raiding the overseas wires or the first tentative steps into editing video clips, our spare room has become a little PA news bureau.

As the London office winds down overnight, our Australian team takes over.

Which means the spare room is operating in its own time zone as it sticks on UK time, something which took a bit of getting used to, especially having just moved to a completely new time zone – we start at 11pm in London, which went from 10am in Canberra to 9am and then 8am in my first three weeks courtesy of clocks changing and sparking a weird form of work-related jet lag.

So have settled into a new job, home (complete with newly constructed bed which brought accompanying blisters from a screwdriver and wooden map of the world on the wall of the front room which means we will struggle to move without a replastering job) and country (with plenty more plans to explore after one weekend in Sydney and various ventures out closer to home).

And most of those jobs – bank, pensions, driving licence etc – are ticked off that list, bar those like the next stage of the visa which have had to wait until after the wedding.

Ah yes, the wedding.

It is a small affair as close to eloping as it possible to do so without just heading off and not telling anyone.

The ceremony will happen in a garden overlooking a beach on an island off the coast of Queensland, which should at least bring some welcome relief from a Canberra winter (sunny and pleasant in the day, often down below freezing at night), especially as it came on the back of the British equivalent.

Think we are as excited at the prospect of a couple of weeks off which will take in a Women’s World Cup match during a few days in Brisbane (possibly England v Australia, which post-Ashes would provide another early test to the marriage, but potentially neither), a visit to Cairns before heading to the island and a few days in Port Douglas capped with a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Vows, the details of the ceremony and sorting a cake apart, one of the few remaining jobs is sorting any music for the ceremony.

Where we have drawn a blank. Musical tastes do not cross over that much – Ever South by The Drive-By Truckers is about as close we have to “our tune” – and most of my suggestions have been brushed off as too miserable for a wedding. Or too “shouty”.

Certainly don’t think there have been too many options from the latest chunk of the A-Z journey through my iPod, which was the catch-up of the tracks added from A-I while that adventure was stuck in the I tracks.

As that section lasted several years, an overland adventure, three continents, four jobs, as many homes, a pandemic and a couple of iPods, it easily topped 600 tracks and needed another catch-up before we were finally up to date to start out on J (a much shorter chunk which is halfway done already).

The concentrated trek from Goat Girl to Ciccone Youth’s Madonna cover included many artists we have touched on over the last few years, several of which have released more than one album in that time and appeared in the end-of-year lists.

There were plenty of familiar favourites (Wet Leg, Taylor Swift, Michael Head, The Murder Capital, Idles and Fontaines DC – a total wedding, or even car, no-no apparently who managed to put out two albums in the time covered by the catch-up) alongside stuff which has made less of an impression since being added to my library.

There has been older stuff filling holes on the iPod – not sure how the The Go-Betweens’ original of Cattle and Cane was not there earlier, although it dates back to the early days of the journey through I.

The Soup Dragons and Ciccone Youth were added in a bid to recreate an old mid-80s C90 – only missing America and Me by The Red Guitars – while a deeper dive into John Prine’s back catalogue followed his untimely loss in the early days of the pandemic and added the original (and Jason Isbell’s version) to the 10,000 Maniacs version of Hello in There.

And welcome discoveries (Bonny Light Horsemen) were joined by some new arrivals – The National, Boygenius and The Murder Capital (again) making strong plays for this year’s best-of lists.

Often as the soundtrack for watching kangaroos.

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