If We Make It Through December to In Spite of All The Damage

ONE of my favourite nights in a bar – and there have been a few to choose from – came partly due to a T-shirt.

There were other reasons.

We had been recommended Brendan Behan’s by a friend who had made a previous visit to Boston (the one in Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire – we had plenty of inside information there and another T-shirt story, but we will save that for another time).

But having moved beyond the confines of downtown Boston on the Friday night of our first visit to the States – the first of many which would change both of our lives in years to come – we had got slightly lost.

We had rough directions. We knew it was in Jamaica Plain and we had made it as far as a largely deserted subway station, but with no idea where to go next and no real way of finding out (this was before smart phones, kids), we were debating the wisdom of leaving a dark, less than salubrious-looking neighbourhood and heading back to one of the bars we had come to know in the previous few nights.

Until a bloke stumbled out of the shadows and, as he reached us, stopped, did a double take and broke into a smile.

He was quite taken with Nick’s well-worn Mighty Mighty Bosstones T-shirt and suddenly became very helpful.

While he regaled us of his love for the Boston ska punk band, we managed to break in long enough to ask for directions for our destination and we were on our way.

His opening gambit of “you go past The Projects” was hardly promising, but it turned out we were not too far from our intended target, a walk up a hill away.

Settling in for a long night

What we found was the type of bar you do not find too much anymore. Certainly not in the States (apart from the Irish bit, they are everywhere in Boston).

Small, rough wooden floors, no food and no TV showing sports – which had us waiting for the latest Red Sox score until the next morning at the start of a long fixation – with people (and dogs) wandering in and out with pizzas from the takeaway place across the street.

All watched over by pictures of Behan himself.

We warmed to it immediately. Even more so when the barman had our drinks memorised after the first round – we pretty much only had to look at him for the rest of the evening to get served.

It did not take much longer for a darts game to break out which pitted us against half of the bar and by the time we rolled out of there several hours later, we had savoured a wonderful evening that cemented the early impression that we got about Boston being to be our new favourite place.

The taxi ride home also confirmed how much of a ridiculously circuitous route we had taken to get there.

Pretty sure neither of us made it back to Brendan Behan’s, despite good intentions and repeated visits to Boston – both solo and together at the end of a trip four years later in which the same T-shirt had another part to play.

This tale owes less to musical taste as cheese.

Cheese damage

The shirt had been a regular in Nick’s travel wardrobe throughout three months on the road from London to New York without flying – the trip which ended with him meeting his future wife when we headed to Boston at the end of the journey and which kicked off my overland travel addiction (and, in turn, this website).

By the time we reached New Ulm in Minnesota a few days from the finish, thoughts were turning  to journey’s end and clear outs of our kit revealed we all wanted to do some laundry, but none of us had a full load.

With several hours to kill in town – and blog posts to write while waiting and using the launderette’s WiFi – we threw several of our piles in together, sat back, started tapping away and waited.

Right up until the load was finished and reaching in to pull the clothes out of the machine answered one of the questions which had popped up in the group over the previous few days.

What had happened to Phil’s lump of blue cheese?

Most of the laundry escaped largely unscathed – although we felt it best to put it through another wash – but a pair of socks and Nick’s Mighty Mighty Bosstones T-shirt bore the brunt.

Whenever anyone mentions cheesy music, my mind heads in a different direction to most people’s.

And when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones crop up, it brings back good memories of trips and Nick. Which is always welcome.

Crop up they did in the latest batch of songs on the A-Z trawl through my iPod with The Impression That I Get.

The latest section took us from Phoebe Bridgers’ festive offering – far more apt now, in many ways, than when these songs were actually listened to many months ago, such has been the delay in getting back to writing – to The Be-Good Tanyas.

Never bad places to be.

Along the way we had two outings for the Manic Street Preachers – and one “cover” from The Shirehorses – with other multiple visits from REM (Ignoreland and Imitation of Life, twice), In My Life by The Beatles (and a cover by Johnny Cash), If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and three plays of In Between Days by The Cure.

And two appearances by The Jesus & Mary Chain  taught us the song is In A Hole, not In My Hole as thought for all these years.

There was also two versions of In Bloom – the original by Nirvana and the very acceptable cover by Sturgill Simpson – and 25 minutes plus of Impossible Soul by Sufjan Stevens.

Beyond the list of songs, cannot tell you too much about what was happening as they played – it was several months ago when good intentions to get back to writing got overtaken by events.

We will get to what those events were. Along with the promise to write more as a new year’s resolution – one of the annual traditions which this blog specialises in come this time of year.

• The last outing for this blog in February was something of a standalone, an elegy for the demise of the overland travel company Oasis Overland as it headed into administration.

Wrote at the time about how “that exciting world waiting out there for us when we are able to get out in it again got a whole lot smaller”.

Thankfully, not too much smaller – Oasis exists again under new owners, with one of the founders remaining, so the “blocked horizons” have been cleared and are ready to be explored.

Some time soon.

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