I Found Love to I Must Have Been Blind

MY diary for much of 2020 has not exactly been full. It has been – and remains – pretty much empty. My routine was sorted on the road, did not need a diary.

But the morning of April 21 has long had an entry inked in – Oasis Trans South America trip ends, Hotel Majestic, Quito.

It is still there on the Google Doc which acts as my calendar, diary, life organiser, time-wasting tool and handy record of where my travels have taken me.

What actually happened on the morning of April 21 involved being woken by a whining Labrador, rolling off the sofa, throwing some clothes on parts of me that can be seen in a Zoom chat, grabbing some toast and plugging myself into my laptop for another day working from the dining room table.

Not exactly what was planned, but that goes for pretty much all of us at the moment.

So instead of getting up in Quito, probably grabbing some breakfast at the bakery on the corner and checking out for somewhere slightly less ironically named for a couple of night’s before the final, sad farewells and a flight home, reality finds me back home and falling into some form of new routine.

Well, sort of back.

And some sort of reality.

Rather than bringing you up to date on the events of the final stretch through Colombia and retreading some familiar ground back to Quito in the South America blog – we will get there with a few mop up posts and some advice for anyone, eventually, following in our footsteps – we have the rather sooner than planned return of the A-Z iPod blog.

For any new readers who have stumbled across this site expecting tales of travel – or even marmots – the A-Z is an alphabetical journey through my iPod, listened to in order and chronicled in these posts amid a torrent of tangents and whatever is running through my mind when tapping away at the keyboard

Me from the past can explain how it works here:

A to Z – How To Get There

There are a few big differences between the return of the A-Z and when it went on its holidays in September ahead of my South American adventure.

For starters, until just before the off was single, ensconced in my flat, working on a paper and was free to wander, headphones in and working my way through the rising number of tracks on the journey – 14,739 tracks and rising.

Now am not single, know an awful lot more about Australian time zones, am locked down at my sister’s during the coronavirus pandemic and doing some freelance reporting with the avowed aim of writing an article that does not involve the words coronavirus pandemic.

And listening to the A-Z is mainly being done during my daily, government-sanctioned exercise – a walk around a variety of routes along the pavements (and middle of the road to maintain social distancing) close to home, invariably via a bit of shopping for some essentials. Wine, crisps, beer…

It has also been exclusively on the new iPod Touch bought not long before the off due to fears that my battered, well-travelled iPodClassic was not going to make it all the way round.

Those fears were grounded as, pressed into action for the first time when its new cousin had been borrowed by the person sitting next to me on the truck, it coughed, spluttered and gave up the ghost, the screen showing nothing but some bizarre pattern which was pretty easy to interpret – this is an ex-iPod.

So my daily wanderings and still fairly new, if much-used, companion have been continuing the lengthy meander through songs beginning with I.

I Am The Resurrection to I Found A Way

There are a lot of them. An awful lot.

It’s been an eclectic section from Palma Violets to Brendan Parry with a fair few familiar faces, plus a few you might not expect.

We had a fair few people declaring their hatred for things – Nerys Hughes (Half Man Half Biscuit) and This Town (John Grant) while The Jesus and Mary Chain vowed both love and hate of Rock ‘n’ Roll in different entries.

Other declarations of love came for NYC (Andrew WK, who with I Get Wet twice raised questions about why there was, briefly, so much excitement about him) and You (Billie Eilish – one for the kids there and perfectly good, bar the insistence on refusing to use capitals letters).

Half Man Half Biscuit were also back in this stretch with I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves) and Sun Kil Moon with I Love My Dad, all six minutes and 16 seconds of it in contrast to just one minute forty seven seconds of the rather more wordy I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night of My Life.

Maybe that is what The Smiths were referring to in I Know It’s Over but I Might Be Wrong, which brought us two outings for Radiohead. The live version is better.

And there were notable outings from The Boo Radleys (I Hang Suspended from the wonderful Giant Steps album), the almost inevitable Billy Bragg (I Keep Faith), The Sundays (I Kicked A Boy) and Paul SImon (I Know What I Know).

Blink-182 popped up with I Miss You, a reminder that they had the ability to turn out a good tune, if not pronounce head properly. Which still grates.

But last word in this entry goes to John Prine.

When I Have Met My Love Today popped up fairly early in this section, it was just another in the long list of songs sending me towards further exploration of a veteran artist who had passed me by for many years.

His death from COVID-19 adds poignancy and has sent me down the rabbit hole of his substantial back catalogue to discover quite why so many artists name him as a major influence.

And provides a sobering moment of quite why we are going through this strange form of existence.

  • As well as John Prine, it would be remiss not to mention two other musicians lost to the coronavirus – Andy Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who certainly crops up on this journey, and former Soft Boys (among others) bassist Matthew Seligman. Not sure if he plays on anything on my iPod, but we were fellow members of a Facebook community which has provided me with plenty of fun and musical tips over the last few years. A member of David Bowie’s band at Live Aid, he is spoken of in nothing but glowing terms by fellow members of the group.

Girl From The North Country to God Save The Queen

Production journalist, endangered species, traveller, blogger, Gloucester rugby & Red Sox fan, indie kid turned melancholic Americano. Views partially obscured
@robglaws – Twitter profile

THE endangered species reference in my Twitter profile was partly a joke, partly a response to the latest round* of journalism redundancies and partly because… well, it’s true.

Anyone who spends their working life dealing with print rather than digital news these days can be excused for feeling like a dinosaur.

And if there was any doubt, somebody told me just that.

It was supposed to be a few drinks with old mates, back in Cardiff. It just happened to coincide with a leaving do at my old paper, so the old mates were supplemented with a fair few of a newer generation of journalists.

And many of them have known little else than a digital first approach to reporting the news (or at least whatever gets the requisite hits), so perhaps should have expected explaining my role in producing a physical product would provoke a question along the lines of ‘what’s it like to be a dinosaur?’.

The person involved was escorted to the bar for even more refreshment and those of us who have worked through the digital revolution from print deadlines to web hits were left shaking our heads and muttering something along the lines of forgetting more about journalism than he had learned.

But his words stuck with me. Is that the way the new breed look at those of us left in print only? Is that the way the powers that be see us when any future cuts are made? And are we really little but a relic of an era long gone?

Would certainly hope my skills do not consign me to extinction. Those skills learned over the years and views on journalism hewn through battles to hit deadlines and many an evening over a few beers when we all would have made top-class editors. Not even averse to producing something on a website…

There’s certainly a place for those skills, be it reporting or subbing whatever the platform they appear on. Best practice is just that, whether you are trying to tell an accurate, well-written tale on paper or on screen.

It is not for nothing we send out a weekly style guide to our reporters.

Or that reports are appearing of one newspaper operation that has come up with the novel idea of employing people to check copy before it goes on the website.

Employing subs, imagine that.

There is one aspect of my life where the dinosaur tag does sit pretty comfortably. Watching television.

It may seem odd to many people, but my viewing habits are largely based on the TV schedules.

Programmes sit unwatched for weeks, often months, on my recorded list (still refer to it as videoed or taped), even series that have had me gripped for a few episodes before missing one for some reason.

And the same is true of my Netflix subscription. There’s a lengthy list of (reasonably) carefully chosen films and programmes. Just rarely get round to watching them.

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something right about the pace and routine of watching a series in weekly instalments rather than in one or two binges (usually late at night).

Even when there’s nothing on – Tottenham v Rochdale and the inane witterings of Robbie Savage (the personification of the trend to celebrate the inept) in the background is as good a reason to tap away here rather than delve into the delights of Netflix.

And if there’s one thing guaranteed to stop me from choosing that glittering box set, it is being told by any number of people that ‘you just have to watch it’.

Which is why that present of the first few series (that’s series, not season – one for the style guide) of Breaking Bad remains unwatched on DVD and Netflix.

And the box sets which will get me rambling in evangelical fashion (The West Wing and The Wire) were first watched, usually late at night in both cases, on TV and repeatedly on DVD. Not long completed a trawl through both terms of President Bartlet and the streets of Baltimore provided refuge on the journey around Africa.

But maybe times are changing. The dinosaur may just about be catching up with, well, catch up.

Long way to go on Game of Thrones (still in series two as keeps vanishing off Now TV, picked up on a free offer that seemed a good idea) and could well wrap up the first two series of the excellent Detectorists in the next few days – somehow only caught excerpts on initial showing.

And finally got round to watching Stranger Things. It took a while – the first episode watched before the second series had even started before watching every episode over the course of several weekend evenings.

Very good it was too and suggest the third series will be watched as it happens. Or somewhere close.

While much has been written about the music of Stranger Things as a bit of a nostalgia fest, not sure many of the 1980s offerings on the latest stroll through the A-Z journey on my iPod were to be heard on our visits to Hawkins (although an awful lot of my ’80s nostalgia does involve Winona Ryder).

Don’t remember too much by The Smiths (Girlfriend in a Coma), Half Man Half Biscuit (God Gave Us Life and Give Us Bubble Wrap) or The Wedding Present (four versions – live, Peel session, acoustic and original – of the still wonderful Give My Love To Kevin) soundtracking things the right way up nor upside down.

The latest section took us from Neil Young and Crazy Horse to… well, more Neil Young and Crazy Horse (well, the Sex Pistols’ song of the same name to be totally honest but the neatness appeals). and spanned the decades beyond the 1980s – from The Beach Boys (God Only Knows), the Pistols through Blur (Girls & Boys) and Black Box Recorder (Girl Singing In The Wreckage) to last year’s Travel Marmot album of the year by Public Service Broadcasting (Go To The Road).

But the two highlights came from the mighty John Grant. Impossible to pick which of Glacier and GMF to include on the playlist, so they are both there.

Enjoy. Just be aware, GMF does stand for what you think it might.

Been called worse.

  • *Not the last


The Birds Were Singing Of You to Black-Eyed Susie

BIT of a delay in this post as the last week or so has disappeared into a black hole – both in terms of a long run of tracks on the iPod and the way time appears to have disappeared into the abyss.

To a soundtrack that started and finished with the vintage Americana of Uncle Earl, the last couple of weeks have crammed in a stag weekend in Edinburgh, far too much time sat in the office, not enough time sat watching the Tour de France, a leaving do, the tail end of the World Cup and, perhaps inevitably after the last post, problems with my car.

Gypsy's Curse
Gypsy’s Curse

It was almost the blogging alternative of the commentator’s curse – a phrase which conjures images of being forced to listen endlessly to Andy Townsend by an angry gypsy.

No sooner had my car’s remarkable staying power been praised in writing than it decided to stop working. One minute it was fine, the next it refused to budge, like a recalcitrant horse who had just been informed it was off to the knacker’s yard (as appears the likeliest outcome for my car ahead of me heading off to Africa).

Turning the key produced nothing but a fading whirr and evidence the electrics had given in, resetting the clock to January 1, 1900 (not that the clock’s car has been right for years).

By the time the RAC man pulled up just before 10.30pm two days later – that black hole had sucked away the time until a belated call – there wasn’t even a whirr.

It took approximately 30 seconds for him to diagnose the problem – a bad cell in the battery – and relay the news that the car had been driving around with a battery which was too small for at least the 12 years it has been ferrying me about.

It had also been held in place by the same screws for all that time, several of which had got quite attached to their spots under my bonnet, ensuring the twitching curtains of the nursing home next to where the car was parked had a few minutes’ longer to watch what these two blokes were doing that late at night (well, what one was doing and what was just nodding along to while realising he had just bought a new battery for a car that was likely to reach the end of its road in a couple of months).

One side effect of the car problem – and one of the reasons ringing the RAC was delayed to avoid being called out halfway through – was the walk home from watching the World Cup final at my sister’s.

Or rather, the walk home at half-time in extra-time to provide more time to watch the highlights of that day’s Tour de France stage. The walk home that, having watched 105 minutes of goalless football, ended with my front door opening accompanied by a tweet congratulating me on causing Mario Goetze’s winning goal.

At least Andy Townsend wasn’t commentating.

Tour De France `89Le Tour has been my summer obsession since Channel 4 first started showing daily highlights in the mid-1980s – in fact, even before that when World of Sport showed a weekly lunchtime round-up.

While the crack of leather on willow may be the traditional soundtrack of summers gone by – increasingly supplanted by the great God of football – mine has long been the sounds of excitable Frenchmen, drug allegations, Gary Imlach, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (the last two of which, sadly, have seen better days).

Never has a cheese and ham toastie (ordered a croque monsieur, but let’s be honest about what it really is) tasted so good as the one eaten at the top of the Col du Tourmalet, high point of one of the great climbs of the Tour, which also happens to be the spot where a chair lift drops you off above the Pyrenean ski resort of Bareges.

Have managed to see the Tour live once, on the Champs Elysees of all places, as our arrival in Paris at the start of a few days just happened to coincide with the arrival of the Tour.

With no idea of the day’s programme or where to stand, two of us waited for hours among the crowds for repeated fleeting glimpses of the peloton as it roared past to the last of Miguel Indurain’s five victories. It was not until we got home a few days later that we discovered who had won the stage a couple of hundred yards down the road from where we stood – the Tashkent Terror himself, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.

That French trip – which centred around Annecy, where we cycled around the lake that would later form the centrepiece of a Tour time trial and narrowly avoided a collision with a ferry on a pedalo – was soundtracked (via Walkman) largely by Sonic Youth and The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads popped up again in the latest batch of tracks with Bit Part, slipping in just after Birthday by The Sugarcubes, a song which again operated strictly to a law of diminishing returns.

Fresh and intoxicating on first hearing, it became almost ubiquitous and annoying after a while (the band certainly did a lot better) and sitting through four versions on the train to Bristol had a similar effect – sounding good on the first hearing for a long time, it had lost all of its charm by the final outing.

Biting The Soles of My Feet by Electric Soft Parade never really got the chance to become old hat, residing as it did on a CD that got stuck in the multi-changer in the boot of my car which foiled the best efforts of more than one garage to release before my then local Peugeot dealer took the whole casing out and sent it off to HQ across the channel.

Quite what the French mechanics made of  …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, heaven only knows.

John Grant
John Grant

Elsewhere, the continuing journey through Bs took in The Verve (Bitter Sweet Symphony), The Jam (Bitterest Pill…), Graham Coxon (Bittersweet Bundle of Misery) and New Order (Bizarre Love Triangle) before depositing us into the long list of Black… songs.

And there has not been that much escaping from the black hole as a ray of musical light.

Pick of the bunch has been Black Belt, the first entry from the truly wonderful John Grant (probably my favourite performance from the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, albeit largely tucked away on the red button), and Black Star by Radiohead.

Honourable mentions go to Squeeze (Black Coffee In Bed), Bob Mould (Black Sheets of Rain) and Hammock’s version of Black Metallic (strangely, don’t have the Catherine Wheel original on the iPod), while Mercury Rev took us through 900 with Black Forest (Lorelei).

Bucking scientific thinking, the escape from the black hole is thankfully imminent…

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