Lockdown Challenge: 10 Travel Photos

I was nominated by Helen for this ten favourite travel images ‘challenge’ thing on Facebook. Unlike everyone else, I’ve decided not to string it out over 10 days – and I thought I’d compile all ten images on here.

Photo 1: Red Square, Moscow, (then in the Soviet Union) – March 1991.

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In the days when cameras were cameras, you either didn’t take photos or accepted that rubbish ones came along when they did. I managed to get this utterly terrible photo in one of the most amazing places on Earth and it’s my only photographic record that I was ever there. The resolution is shocking, the fashions are highly questionable and I offer no excuse at all for that bum bag. To the right of the picture is Lenin’s mausoleum (I didn’t bother viewing the body), behind me is The Kremlin, specifically the Spassky Tower and just perfectly out of shot to the left of the frame is St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of the most astounding sights in the world.

All things considered, this is a truly awful photo that just happens to remind me of an amazing, unique two-week coming-of-age experience. BTW, I’m stood next to Mike, my Russian exchange student host, whom I still haven’t managed to find on Facebook.

Photo 2: 107th Floor Observation Area, South Tower, World Trade Center, New York City, USA – January 1994

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That’s me with the hair, looking through the binoculars north to mid-town Manhattan, at 1,310 feet. Shockingly, the guy in the baseball cap behind me, who looks like he’s about to mug the lady in the headscarf, is Martin.

I’m not going to lie: it was 1994, still in the pre-digital, pre-social world so, in lieu of an actual photograph, this has been screen-grabbed from a very shonky home video recording, hence the stunningly poor quality (again) of *another* world-famous landmark.

Famously, just over seven and a half years later, the ‘Twin Towers‘ would be no more, making this an especially poignant memory. Hopefully, there are places in eternal Hell for all those involved in that atrocity. I’m tempted to wish for the same fate for all involved in developing the ludicrous ‘white balance’ setting on 1990s video cameras that just loved to reset to default and white out priceless experiences like this. Most of our NYC footage is next to useless because of it. If you thought John Lennon’s house in Berkshire looked eerily white in the video for ‘Imagine’, it’s nothing compared to our footage of his place at the Dakota Building, overlooking Central Park.

Kinda kicking myself that we did’t stop for a photo more. A quick pose on the helipad at the Manhattan helicopter tour would have been a great idea. Good times, though…

Photo 3: The Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA – November 2002
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You may be tempted (again) to mock my sartorial style – who wears a fleece and a Bez hat to the desert? Before you do, you should know that, as a result of some unfortunately-chosen breakfast items in Las Vegas the day before, I’d contracted food poisoning and spent most of the preceding night wondering which way to point in the bathroom. As a result, my internal thermostat was all over the place.

Having cleared out the system, I’d taken nothing but water and Pepto-Bismol for the six hours before having to get into a light aircraft for the short flight over the Hoover Dam and on to the edge of the Canyon. Predictably, it didn’t go well and I can now claim to be one of a select number of people who have sprayed fluorescent pink liquid into 3 or 4 sick bags inside a small plane over the location once voted Number 1 in the list of ’50 Places To See Before You Die’.

I believe we were near Eagle Rock at this point but to be honest, I could just about stand up, let alone remember many details. Even in my highly diminished state, it was still one of the most magical experiences of my life.

Photo 4: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France – August 2013

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Finally, a photo in which the photographer, the technology and the subject are all fully functional.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to Paris but I’ll never forget my first visit there, on my 18th birthday, in the year of its 100th anniversaire.  This sojourn in 2013 (en route back to Calais from Bordeaux) was an opportunity to go to the top of the famous Parisian landmark for the first time since my very first visit, over twenty years previously.

Once we’d returned to ground level, we decided to take this picture to mark the occasion.  I have loads of pictures of the Eiffel Tower but this unusual angle of its familiar shape illuminated against the night sky is my absolute favourite.

 

Photo 5:  Villa del Balbianello, Lago di Como, Italy – May 2014

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I really can’t say what part of the world makes me happiest but Lake Como has to be in the Top 5.  The food, the pace of life, the scenery and the micro-climate make this such an enchanting place to be.  This picture was taken in our first visit there, in 2014.

We’ve been back twice since then and I can’t imagine ever not wanting to go back again.  It’s an achingly beautiful place and, if you like Italian food and wine, you’ll find it impossible to resist.

Star Wars nerds should recognise the location of this photo as being the place where Anakin and Padmé were married at the end of ‘Episode II: Attack of the Clones’.  The same location was also used in ‘Casino Royale’ for the scene where James Bond is convalescing after rolling his Aston Martin at speed.  In reality Villa del Balbianello is a former holiday home of the Rothschilds which is now a museum with the most manicured gardens you’ve ever seen.

Photo 6:  Slane Castle, Co. Meath, Republic of Ireland – May 2017

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Travel isn’t just about going somewhere, it’s also about what you do when you get there – or why you even go.  This was certainly true of our short 2017 trip to Ireland – to watch Guns ‘N Roses on their ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour.

I’m sure this might not be for everyone but the chance to combine a one-off experience like this while sampling/becoming re-acquainted with another culture (I mean, who doesn’t love Ireland?) is an intoxicating mix.  The Emerald Isle is doubly special to us as it’s the place where we got engaged, after another concert there.  Find someone or something you want to watch in a part of the world you want to visit and you’ll know just how rewarding it can be.

We also had time to nip in to Dublin, which, if you’ve ever been, you’ll agree is no hardship, either.

Photo 7:  Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Marina Bay, Singapore – December 2017

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We were only there for 36 hours and much of that was spent fighting off jet-lag but Singapore certainly left a lasting impression – not least because it gave us the chance to sample the famous roof-top swimming pool on the 57th floor of the city state’s most recognisable building.

We were also lucky enough to be able to meet some old friends there, to catch up and to gain an insight into this heady fusion of a place that many tourists never get to see.

Photo 8:  Sydney Harbour, Sydney, Australia – December/January 2017/8

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The most expensive night out I’ve ever had – but a pretty good one!  This was pure bucket-list stuff: to be in Sydney on New Year’s Eve and to be among the first in the world to welcome a new year.  With all the flights and hotels booked, there just remained the question of how we’d spend the evening.

Well, one thing led to another and we ended up booking ourselves onto one of the flotilla of boats that take in the famous light show from the middle of the harbour.  Five hours, three courses, lots of wine, twelve solid minutes of midnight fireworks and lasers and one fight later (not us), the whole thing was well and truly ticked off the list.  You know what?  Looking back, it all seems like an incredible bargain.

And then this: an important by-product of any travel experience is the chance to re-live it whenever you see the place on TV, thereafter.  I’m sure I’ll always tune in to the Sydney New Year display, covered in the UK at 1pm on New Year’s Eve.  With every passing year, I’ll continue to receive ever-greater value for money.  How many times can you truthfully say that a night out is really an investment?

Photo 9:  Monterey Bay, California, USA – August 2018

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Increasingly, the chance to see more of the natural world is a major motivation to travel.  For this, I could have chosen any number of birdwatching reserves we’ve been to, or the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island.  Or even the Great Barrier Reef.  In truth, nothing, I repeat, nothing will compare with – or prepare you for – whale-watching.

When in California, we got the chance to see a pod of humpback whales feeding on anchovies, less than a mile from the coast.  The sights, the sound, the smell, the size of these amazing creatures is something so awesome to behold, you’ll find it impossible to compare it to any other experience.  It’s nothing short of an epiphany.

We tend to compartmentalise our travel dreams into simple lists that can be simply chalked off and that’s largely true of mere places.  I’m not sure it’s just as easy to say the same of true experiences like this.  We could have seen blue whales, grey whales or orcas that day.  Given the chance, I’d go back there like a shot – and do it all again.

Photo 10:  San Francisco, California, USA – August 2018

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Travel teaches you the understanding that you will, at some stage, have to reconcile expectation with reality.  Once you’ve arrived, some places will surprise you and others will disappoint you.  Just occasionally, you find a place that is everything you always wanted it to be.  I’ve felt it in Amsterdam, in Melbourne and here, in San Francisco.  And then you’ll always love them and hope they never change.

As in most parts of life, timing is as important as any other factor: your own time of life, your motivations and aspirations – together with the point in the cycle of fortunes that affect the places you see.  I’m sure Moscow has changed hugely in the last 29 years – but then, so have I.  I could easily have listed a completely different list of 10 places I’ve loved to visit: Barcelona, Prague, Gothenburg, Hong Kong, Austin, London, Edinburgh, Los Angeles, Denver, Munich are all fascinating in their own right and no less worthy of a visit than the 10 I did choose.

Currently, with travel restricted, we should treat this time as a reminder not to take our world for granted – and never to stop feeling the need to explore beyond the horizon.  To continue to share the sights it holds and the people and the nature you can find there.  In the end, when your time on Earth is coming to a close, will you regret the amount of stuff you owned – or the number of places you got to see?

Notes On A Shrinking Planet

Travel.  It’s such a short, functional word which has come to represent something far more profound than its brevity implies, like ‘time’, ‘life’ and ‘politics’.  Too often, it’s a word associated only with the mechanics of moving around the world, rather than the effect of doing so.  Perhaps the term ‘transportation’ would better describe the simple relocation that is the very minimum requirement of ‘travel’ in its correct, widest sense.

Still, we’re in something of an etymological mess when it comes to finding the right words for this rather modern phenomenon.  Our default choice in Britain is ‘holiday’, derived from the Victorian practice of visiting a coastal town en masse on a “holy day” – hardly relevant to today’s more secular, less patriarchal society.  Even in America where adopted terms are simplified (‘sidewalk’?) and tend to concentrate on the benefit they provide, the best they can muster to describe the act of leaving home is the effect it has on the home itself – ‘vacation’ – rather than the effect on the person doing the vacating.  It all means that in little more than a few generations, the prevailing notion of travel has grown far beyond the capacity of any pre-existing word adequately to portray it.

Like most normal kids from a normal background, thirty years ago, my ideas of travel were shaped largely by the narrow band of TV shows dedicated to the subject.  While otherworldly figures like Alan Whicker bestrode the globe and sardonically described its most esteemed sights, regular, affordable travel tended to be defined by the more accessible, stereotype-laden clichés of ‘Duty Free’ and ‘Wish You Were Here?’ on millions of screens each week.  The average pre-teen of the early 1980s would have felt destined, almost consigned to a future of sangria-fuelled straw donkey collecting on a diet of burgers and chips while being careful not to order ice in the drinks.

It’s precisely this mindset that Peter Kay channels when he riffs on calling home and telling everyone there that ‘Les Fingres’ abroad taste exactly the same.  We laugh at that routine because we’ve lived it – and we sort of expected that always to be the case.  We knew we were unlikely to become smooth, debonair operators like the aforementioned Whicker, with his unlimited budget and James Bond-like ability to infiltrate the world in which ‘the other half’ lived.  And yet, Whicker was every bit as much a stereotype as the cheap-gag Spanish waiter, albeit a much more alluring one.  Our diet of travel-based entertainment seemed to consist only of hotel paella or QE2 caviar.  In the aspiring Eighties, it soon became clear that such a narrow menu would not be enough.

In the 1990s, various TV chefs became credited with creating a new genre of entertainment by breaking the mould of unnecessarily fussy and unattainable representation of cookery.  Ten years previously, the same thing happened to travel TV.  The year was 1988 and the person was Michael Palin.  It was the “former Python” who reprised Jules Verne’s fictional quest to travel around the world in eighty days – an assignement widely believed to have been previously turned down by Whicker himself.  In doing so, Palin carved a secondary career, arguably redefining the concept of travel for an entire generation.

It was travel television presented by a comedian who was famous for being in a show I didn’t remember, re-tracing the plot of a book I hadn’t read, in places I was sure I’d never visit.  In theory, it should have held no appeal to me at all.  And yet, Palin displayed his trademark avuncular silliness, laced with disarmingly profound observations in often gritty or unlikely surroundings.  He was the very antithesis of the emblazered Whicker or the perma-tanned Chalmers, a refreshing antidote to the established pomposity of most TV travel show presenters.  I was hooked – and found myself counting the hours until next week’s episode.

In Verne’s novel, Phileas Fogg’s eponymous challenge is perfect example of a ‘MacGuffin’, a classic literary device in which a character’s compulsion to do something provides the motivation for a story to develop.  Fogg’s desire to win a ridiculous bar-room bet is therefore little more than a thin excuse for him to visit lots of places and give Verne the makings of a plot.  From a writer’s eye, Fogg – and indeed Palin – seem to reinforce the sense that in travel (or indeed, depending upon your philosophy, in life itself), the destination is not as important as the journey.

Looking back, there was more than met the contemporary eye to commend Palin’s ’80 Days’ – it would take decades for us to realise it.  Before setting off from the Reform Club, Palin had already involved two other Pythons, Terrys Jones and Gilliam, discussing their thoughts on his epic quest, with each setting him a challenge to bring back a specific item (one being a Chinese roof tile).  I’m sure this was simply a blatant attempt to add another couple of ‘star’ names to the billing in an attempt to garner a few more viewers but their mutual regard, unforced humour and Pythonesque (can you use that word when it’s actually used to describe the Pythons themselves?) randomness showed that travel didn’t have to be so very serious and, given a little education and inquisitiveness, could become a source of entertainment in and of itself.

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The second revelation, an altogether more prescient one, came when Palin arrived in Hong Kong.  There, he was met by an old friend, Basil Pao, who showed him the sights of his home town.  Like most people watching, I didn’t imagine I was ever likely to meet an old friend anywhere overseas – any more than I ever thought I would visit Hong Kong.  This was simply something that only famous, jet-set people could ever do.  It seemed like a reminder that Michael, for all his accessible celebrity-next-door persona, was, after all, far more likely to be found in real life flying to New York on Concorde than on the Dover to Calais Townsend Thoresen service.  We still watched and forgave what seemed like a lapse into more conventional, idealised travel programming because we knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d be standing frustratedly at another dockside, worrying about missing his next connection.

If you never saw the series or don’t remember the outcome, our Mike did eventually manage to succeed in his challenge.  While the twist in Fogg’s circumnavigation was the overlooked ‘extra’ day provided by eastward travel that Verne cleverly added, Palin’s last-minute complication was the more prosaic and altogether more dispiriting combination of rudeness from British Rail and intransigence from the Reform Club.  After a wonderful celebration of meeting people from many other countries, once back in Britain he could do no more than rather anti-climactically wrap up the story in front of the closed doors of the spectacularly out-of-touch establishment.  At least he managed to bring back that roof tile.

Fast forward almost thirty years and the whole concept of commercially-available travel has been largely transformed, thanks in no small part to the man upon whom John Cleese once bestowed the title The Nicest Man In England.  Palin then went on to travel from one Pole to the other, circumvent the Pacific, cross the Himalayas and do a plethora of other “boy’s own”-type voyages, building a career as a travelogue presenter that now almost eclipses his status as a member of one of the greatest comedy acts that ever drew laughter.  Looking back at ATWIED (as we must now abbreviate TV programme names), many viewers today may completely fail to understand the relevance of the whole ‘lumberjack’ segment he did in North America.  Philistines.

If Michael Palin opened the door to what travel might become, he didn’t exactly enable it.  Greater levels of aspiration, driven by steadily increasing levels of affordability have led, inevitably you might conclude, to an Experience economy.  Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to simply be somewhere else, you had to do something different and noteworthy while you were there.  As with TV channels, types of car, supermarkets and cuisine, travel options to the masses began to proliferate, with ever-smaller, more specific segments of the market being catered for.  It didn’t matter if you wanted to go wine-tasting, take in a safari, spend a week on the slopes or find an all-inclusive that specialised in entertaining small children, there was a holiday brochure for you.

Another ingredient in the changing face of travel has been the huge increase in interconnectedness we’ve seen in the new millennium.  In years gone by, people had the default and noble option of simply neglecting to stay in touch with their classmates or former colleagues.  There was of course a hand-written alternative to losing contct but it was generally too labour-intensive to sustain for all but the closest friends – and even then usually around Christmas when it was deemed worthwhile and socially acceptable.  I was fortunate to be on the cusp of this change: I discovered email before it became fashionable, while still at University and was therefore able to maintain a digital proto-social network with my friends from Uni after we left – almost a decade before anyone had heard of ‘The Facebook’.  Today, we friend request people we haven’t seen in the analogue world for over a quarter of a century and become, by extension, a small part of each other’s lives again.

In the same time, there’s been an increase in migrant working which means that if you have a hundred Facebook friends, the odds are that at least one of them will be living abroad – or may be someone you met while you were overseas.  Either way, if you ever visit that person’s country, you’re now much more likely to make the effort to meet up ‘IRL’.  What no-one saw, Michael Palin included, I’m sure, was that his rendezvous with an old friend in Hong Kong would in time become less the preserve of well-heeled journalists with impeccable connections but a much more commonplace occurrence in a more connected world.  We truly are a more global species today than we were  in 1988, a year before the end of the Cold War.  Even those of us who have never ventured beyond their own borders have become so, by proxy.

So where does all this cultural and societal progress leave the already ill-defined notion of what travel is, what travel should be?  And what will that word come to represent to the next generation of travellers?

Perhaps part of the reason for the ambiguity is that “travel” has come to mean whatever you want it to – a beach holiday on the Costas or a year’s back-packing around Asia.  The extent of our travels may always be limited by our funds but we will become less and less limited by the availability and therefore opportunity to choose how we travel.  For that reason, we’ve seen a rise in eco-tourism, pilgrimages, be they religious (Mecca), secular (Machu Picchu) or sporting (international tournaments) – as well as innumerable other niches in the market.

Then of course, there’s the effect of the good old internet.  Comparison sites for flights, accommodation, car hire etc. have flattened the many-tiered vertical model of agents, removing margin and lowering end user prices.  The removal of the heavily-formatted product via an intermediary has brought about the seemingly modern (but actually quite old-fashioned) concept of the independent traveller, a return to the days of real-life Phileas Foggs and Doctor Livingstones, you might presume.  Then, as now, travel did not have to be simply a pre-ordained itinerary of critical-mass conveyance and accommodation but, cliché aside, a true voyage of discovery.  Without the one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional agent model, it’s now much easier to travel like a Victorian gentleman – with the assurances of today’s communications as our latter-day Passepartout.

The flexibility of options has also extended to the levels of communality we may prefer – travel with friends, extended family, other like-minded souls.  Nor do we all have to move around together; we may choose to overlap our schedules, make rendezvous plans, even choose to synchronistically exchange the use of our houses.  It’s all a far cry from the group-booked coach tours that communal travel implied in days gone by.

In a world where you can choose from thousands of possible combinations every time you order a coffee, it’s no surprise that travel too has metamorphosed from a curated and prescribed activity to an utterly personalised one.  It’s now not just about where you go or for how long, but with whom, for what reason and in order to take in which experiences.

We may well extend our physical travel horizons even further over the next decade or two, with sub-orbital or even inter-planetary options potentially on offer but it’s difficult to contend that the most profound revolution in travel isn’t already taking place, here on earth, right now.  Phileas Fogg may have become, by a Python’s extension, an inspiration for the travel aspirations of millions today but when he was created, his adventures were just as unlikely, just as much a part of the realm of science fiction as Verne’s other work, including ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’.  That Fogg’s grand touring is so widely available today is travel’s ongoing legacy.  Anything else, intra- or extra-terrestrial, is simply a matter of geography.

Diaries of a Texan Traveller – pt. 3

A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994.  Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry.  2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.

Sunday 20th March 1994,  11:39 (CST)

PAUL’S FLOOR, AUSTIN, TX

Well, early to bed, early to rise makes Paul a dull boy!  No question of that particular accusation applying.  Yesterday, we did what most people go abroad specifically to do: we swam and sunbathed, played pool rugby, hung out next to a river, ate inordinate amounts of various fast food and sat outside until the early hours, watching the world go by.  I’m sure there’s one missing there…   …I don’t think we did anything else, though.

Well, apart from the fast food reliance, this *is* European too.  Granted the scenery is not up to Italian Alp/Dolomite standard but since when did they have 24-hour supermarkets, eh?  No, I won’t open up that old debate but I will say the two sides did seem fairly well reconciled here last night.  Dan* brought his (American) girlfriend to see us last night (the English one doesn’t know about her yet).  She was born in Greenwich Village in Noo Yawk.

I really wish I’d rang Dad on Friday night — not only because (whoops) I woke him up but also because if I’d rang him yesterday, he would have told me the scores.  Well, I won’t be making *that* mistake again.  We found the channel on the TV that shows English football (remember Keystone**: United v Spurs).  Yesterday was Sheffield Wednesday v Newcastle United.  I knew I was at home for this match and confidently told Rice et al it was 1-1, Cole for Newcastle, Andy Preece sent off, and I can’t remember who scored for Sheff Wed.  Well, Rice was predictably jubilant (again!) when Andy Cole’s goal went in; Paul muttering something obscene and magpie-oriented in the corner***.  Then the final whistle went and he (Paul) looked painfully at him as if I’d denied him the pleasure of seeing Wednesday equalise.  All I could say was “That’s why I couldn’t remember who scored!”.  I was right about the rest, though.

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I’ve cultivated the beginnings of a rather nice tan in one day, which I’m afraid means cream and T-shirts for a couple of days and hopefully, I’ll look like Grandad after a month in California by next week.  To all the detractors reading this, I’d just like to say a quick ‘I’M NOT BURNING’, so there.

Although this is a Sunday, it will not, I know, carry the atmosphere of a Sunday because Sundays are not allowed in the States, at least not Sundays like I or Luke know them (side-swipe)****.  There will probably be a doubling of evangelical TV programmes and that’s all.  Can’t hear any lawnmowers, though.  Sorry, Luke, it had to be said!

* Paul & Rice’s room-mate.

** Keystone was the place we stayed in when we were skiing in Colorado, two months earlier.

*** Rice is a Newcastle fan, Paul is a Sunderland fan.  In football terms, the two are sworn enemies.

**** I think this stems from a late-night, drink-fuelled ‘debate’ Luke, Matt and I had in our student house in Lancaster about the pros and cons of the American lifestyle (freedom from restriction) versus the European model (where some areas had by-laws that could force residents to cut their lawn each Sunday). 

Diaries of a Texan Traveller – pt. 2

A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994.  Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry.  2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.

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Saturday 19th March 1994,  08:39 (CST)

PAUL’S FLOOR, AUSTIN, TX

Firstly, this isn’t the important announcement I was going to make*.  Would you believe it, my pen exploded shortly after I wrote that.  In fact it wasn’t really yay important anyway; I’d just taken a photo of the Mississippi/Missouri and was thinking how it must have dried up because it seemed to be but a trickle in a really wide river bed, but no.  The ‘really wide river bed’ is where the flood** happened.  Anyway, it doesn’t require any more about that story.

I arrived at Austin Airport, picked up my case (which came out early, for a change) and just walked out.  Austin is not an international airport so there’s no passport control and certainly no deluded customs officials who think everyone nipped over to Holland for some contraband before they left for America.  Anyway, Paul & Rice were stood outside and after the customary greetings, everything instantly became normal — only it was in 85° heat.  Well, 98° was a bit ridiculous.  Bloody exaggerating Americans!!

I dropped my stuff off at Chris’s — the guy with the ‘phone.  He’s actually really cool — he’s got an acoustic and a bass.  His mate’s got an Epiphone telecaster.  Yeah, so we walked to this ‘English Pub’ place for a — I’ve forgotten what Paul called them, the initials I definitely remember — JCB and why do I remember that?  Because it’s a chilli burger and JCB is about right, ‘cause it’s that powerful!

I picked up my bags from Chris’s place and we bussed it to Paul’s (shit, my jeans are still at Chris’s — they were the first things to go in this heat!).  As we approached 1333 Arena Drive, it was sort of how I imagined it, except the apartment complex is on the right hand side, yet I’d somehow imagined the left.  Actually, ‘complex’ is a good word.  It must be the size of, say, Fylde residence rooms*** — much bigger than I’d expected.  Anyway, as we approached, there was a police car stopped, but with lights flashing and two cops talking to two guys.  Paul said “Oh crap, there’s not been another shooting, has there?”, at which point, I nearly did (crap).

The apartment, I can tell you, has charms beyond the capability of a camera lens.  Of course, I probably will take some photographs**** but I think people should read this first — to be warned, as it were.  It’s very modern, both in the fact that the building is new and that there’s no furniture.  The living room consists of a TV set and what I would call a viewing area — i.e. the rest is just floor.  Paul, Rice and Dan all have mattresses  now — I don’t but hey!  Who cares?  I’m writing this in ‘bed’ — lying on a cotton sheet on the floor.  It’s a good job I brought this pillow!

Just a couple more things of interest: when it came to the gift-giving, Rice looked like a seven year-old on Christmas morning and because it was from (lickle, ickle) Lyndsey, he had the inevitable inane grin from the rest of the evening.  Paul was a little less overt — well, he’s like that, isn’t he?  You know on the Pink Panther when you can see what he’s thinking in a bubble above his head, well when he got his salad cream and curry powder, I could just envisage salad cream and curry powder sandwiches over his head…   …don’t ask me why.

Also (and I kick myself for not staying awake throughout) was a new episode of ‘Beavis and Butt-head’(!!) where Beavis gets bitten by a dog and pretends to have rabies.  Yes, I slipped in and out of consciousness and didn’t last much longer than 10:30 — but I had been up 22 1/2 hours by then!

Anyway, it’s apparently going to get pretty warm so I’m afraid, girls, I shall be forced into getting a sun-tan!  Ha ha ha ha ha!

Oh yes, Paul & Rice found Luke quite amusing when I told them about Vicky — I wonder what happened on Thursday night.  I’m praying that Matt emailed the night’s events through.*****

Well, gotta get up!

PS Sorry for waking you up, Dad.

* See final entry of ~Pt.1.  There are lots of back references so it’s probable best to read all the entries in sequence.

** The ‘Great Flood of 1993‘.

*** A reference to part of the campus at Lancaster.  According to Wikipedia, there are 16 blocks of student accommodation within Fylde College.

**** I’m sure I did take photographs on this trip but I can’t remember seeing any of them developed – another sign of the time!

***** I have no memory of this at all.

Diaries Of A Texan Traveller – pt. 1

A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994.  Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry.  2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.

Synopsis:

I call this account “a video diary in non-video form” because ‘diary’ sounds…   …well a little drab and soft really, doesn’t it?

I aim to make the reader feel part of every entry.  I hope to match the style of Michael Palin or Clive James* but I’m not sure how that will go.  I aim to include the unexpected aspects of visiting America, to educate, evaluate, criticise, elucidate, inform, encourage and probably mislead your perception of real life in this nation look upon as some sort of elevated monolith of the world community, when basically its peoples are the same as us with ambitions, fears, traumas and ‘Roseanne’…   …just like we are!

I also aim to stop writing like I’m at University – this is my holiday for God’s sake!!

Finally and most importantly, I would like to share my most fundamental motivation with you.  As Garth Algar** once said: “I just hope you didn’t think it sucked”

I think there’s a lesson there for us all…

Enjoy.

PB

* They both were, and still are, amongst my greatest influences of travelogue writing.

** sidekick to Wayne Campbell in ‘Wayne’s World’, 1992 film.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  16:49 (GMT)

MID-ATLANTIC – ACTUALLY, MORE LIKE SOMEWHERE OVER CANADA

Took off from Manchester this morning with no problems.  As always*, I had the filet mignon for lunch; an American Airlines speciality I must say.  The film (‘The Addams Family Values’) has just finished.  This means I have successfully endured the first 6½ hours without turning to this diary to keep me occupied – I thought I would have written reams and reams by now!  Well, there’s always the Austin flight (in addition to the 1½ more hours here!)

The reason I have not yet got bored is partly because of the bloke I met.  An artist from Huddersfield** no less!  More later – snack time!

* Stretching credulity a little!  Two months previously, I’d flown to Denver, via Chicago, also with American Airlines for a skiing holiday.  I’d had the filet mignon on that flight as well.

** Another friend from University (Matt) is from Huddersfield.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  17:40 (GMT)

PROBABLY STILL OVER CANADA

The Immigration and Customs forms have just been filled in.  Still just over an hour to go.  Everything looks white down below but as I do not have a window seat, I can’t confirm what’s happening right now.  The newspaper says ‘unseasonably cold’ for Chicago.  Oh well!

Austin is supposed to be 29°C – Chicago’s probably going to be 29°F!!  Anyway this bloke (Andrew) lives about 3 miles from Highburton*.  He’s into skiing and has watched Manchester United for over 20 years — now is it obvious why I haven’t started ‘The Liar’** yet?!  He’s going to Toronto to sell his paintings and we had an interesting chat about marketing art — you learn something every day!

* Matt’s family lived in the Highburton area of Huddersfield at the time.

** Semi-autobiographical novel by Stephen Fry.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  13:46 (CENTRAL; GMT-6)

CHICAGO O’HARE AIRPORT (T3)

I don’t fly to Austin for another hour yet so there’s plenty of time to hang out and take in the scenery — again!

Yes I’m once again sat in the little café in Terminal 3.  Everything is the same (Michael Jordan is everywhere!) — except it’s not snowing.  Little things spark off my memory like those bending iron columns — what were the initials again?  Must remember to ask Martin!*  Well, yes, they’re still here, not surprisingly!

It was a weight off my mind to ring Chris (whoever he is!)** who confirmed that Rice and Paul will be at the airport in 3½ hours’ time.  I think Dad was pleased I rang — from the very same ‘phone booth from which he rang Grandma only 8 weeks ago!  Not that he was to know that, but it sort of seemed right.

Blasé as I appeared before I left (well I probably was blasé), I’m not now; I can’t really comprehend that I was sat in that very yellow plastic chair 2 months ago (unless they swapped them around for some reason) — but the effect is just the same anyway!

OK: an in-joke for anyone who has been to an American airport before:  “Mr Bloggs; Mr Joe Bloggs.  Please contact the information desk.” — it really is the little things, isn’t it?!!

[Somebody’s just sat in my chair — the yellow plastic one!]

I wonder why that Customs official was convinced I’d been to the Netherlands***.  I don’t look like Jan****, do I?

Actually, I didn’t handle that very well.  We both knew it was kidology but instead of being British and saying “I’m sorry but I’m afraid there’s some mistake here”, I overdid the staunch defence bit and sort of whined “but I havennn’t been there!!!”  Oh well, better luck next time — there probably will be a next time.

At least I didn’t bleep here.  In Manchester, I couldn’t believe being bleeped a second time!  10 years of air travel… (sigh)

Oh I think I found some Pepsi in my regular cup of ice cubes! — oh no, it’s just a trick of the light.

5 past 8 now at home…   …I wonder what happened on Coronation Street…   …Shit!  What time did I ring?  25 past I think…   …well that was a close one!  I know I’m in Chicago and all but CORONATION STREET!  Sorry Mum!*****

* My brother Martin and I had discussed the RSJs visible from the departure gate area (for some reason) during my previous visit, two months earlier.

** Another British overseas student at the University of Texas who had become friends with Paul & Rice,  Crucially (and a sign of the time), he was the only person among their circle who had access to a telephone.

*** Looking very bedraggled and student-like as I did, it’s no surprise that I was spotted by a US Customs official who came over to ask me if I’d “brought anything in from Amsterdam”.  I took him literally because I couldn’t believe that he would need to speak in euphemisms, even though it was perfectly clear what he meant.

**** Another friend from University, Jan came from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire but had a Dutch mother.

***** My Mum was a regular ‘Coronation Street’ viewer then.  She isn’t now.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  15:03 (CST)

CLIMBING OUT OF CHICAGO

As I see the last, faint cloud-obscured features of Illinois disappear, my mind turns to filling the time on this 2hr 20min flight.  It hardly seems worth starting ‘The Liar’ now.  There’s certainly no opportunity for conversation as there’s no-one next to me — but I got a window seat!

I realised that, unlike many of the passengers, admittedly American and ‘frequent flyers’; who were perhaps nervy about the take-off, I was hugely relieved, probably because I know Paul and Rice are waiting for me and that after a 9hr flight, this little ‘hop’ is a mere formality.  OK, so I’m blasé again!

Sometimes though, I sort of catch myself off-guard and have to remind myself that I’m now in the USA all alone (for the time being) and despite the facade of casual ‘shit happens’ acceptance, sometimes it is all a little unreal.

I heard a Texan in front of me chatting to an Illinoian (?)*, saying that they wouldn’t need warm clothes as it’s (I’m sure he said) 98°!!  So that’s what “damn hot” means!

The captain just said there’s some “bumpy air” on the way, although it’s pretty clear right now.

What can I see?  Well, a large, (very) straight road, probably an Interstate and just lots of fields, like the plains of Eastern Colorado — no circular fields here, though!

There is a grid of roads at right angles separating the fields and tiny houses are dotted randomly about.  In the distance, I can see a small town where two roads cross.  It just looks like a gigantic patchwork blanket!

Well we are in the Midwest here.  Agricultural heartland of the US.  There’s absolutely no variation for as far as I can see (probably about 40 miles) and it’s completely flat.

Whoahh!  A large town *quick look at the map*.  Could be Springfield, Illinois — I dunno!

8:25 at home; I wonder what’s happening at home.  More to the point, I wonder what’s happening in Lancaster.  Hmmm… Paul & Rice will be told.  Oh yes, Paul & Rice *will* be told**.

This clock-watching is a bad idea.  I’ll have to do something or this flight will seem the same as the other one — which for a 9-hour flight, wasn’t that bad, but for a 2½?!

Wait!  Captain announced we’re going over St. Louis.  I can’t see it but I can see a river.  Mississippi or Missouri, I don’t know.

<<Important announcement coming up!>>  (hereafter referred to as !*!)

* Actually, it’s an “Illinoisan”, according to statesymbolsusa.org.

** I have no idea what this was specifically a reference to, although it’s worded in a ‘Wayne’s World’ style.  I think it had something to do with a rumoured sexual encounter of one of my house-mates.

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