Category Archives: Travel

Aberfeldy – doing nothing in the middle of nowhere.

This was a laugh, a fleeting jaunt up to some ridiculously ostentatious lodge in Perthshire – well it was until the taps froze. Ah, rum for brekky instead of water, and shower-free days spent sat on my hoop watching movies and munching Pringles.

I saw a deer who insouciantly wandered into our garden. Here’s the proof with a shitty photo:

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I also played pool and rediscovered my childhood with a game of Buckaroo! Indolence, I’ll always embrace you.

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Christmas Day in Oslo.

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Christmas brings back the nostalgia, and I do most cherish those memories from the good ol’ days – stuffing my cheeks with selection boxes whilst wailing “Woof” at Buzz’s girlfriend. Xmas is a childhood signifier, the throwback event to an uncomplicated time when the most strenuous task was grabbing forty winks on Christmas Eve.

One recent Christmas Day stays with me, though. Alone in Oslo circa 2013, it was a day of, if not self-discovery, then a serene, surreal solitude (accidental alliteration).

I was reminded of that line in Heat (1995) when De Niro’s character ventures, “I am alone, I am not lonely.” That was Oslo for me: I simply walked the barely inhabited streets apropos of nothing, uttering not a word to anyone, feeling myself an invisible, pointless wanderer passing through the geography. I did nothing, and liberating it was. I’ve not had a jaunt like that since. I recommend Oslo – anonymous, pallid, flat – as the place for it. Maybe it’s livelier in the summer.

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Berlin and Szczecin booze crawl.

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Back to Berlin again for the fourth time. I’ve seen every Lonely Planet tourist site to death in the Grey City so these days reserve my curiosities to the bars and the incredible possibilities of the late-night U-Bahn adventure. I did glimpse the Brandenburg Gate from a taxi but was too busy reading an article on The Telegraph website about Jupp Heynckes and his Bayern Munich resurgence to take any extended interest. When I first set eyes upon that Prussian landmark I thought it a wonder to behold; now I’m not even bothered it exists. Weird.

What I lionise about Berlin is its seeming randomness and that it’s embraced by the locals (one presumes) as just another quirk on the city grid. It’s one of the reasons I never make a plan or an itinerary. Going for an ad hoc five-minute nap on a concrete pallet outside the Fernsehturm TV Tower was never on the agenda, but then neither was venturing out that evening. Berlin, may the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you.

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Szczecin, Poland.

This town has little to offer. If Berlin was the party, Szczecin was the crypt. I got the sense that it’s just a memory of a place, residue from a forgotten age. It’s decent for a pint but architecturally has all the appeal of a urinal concocted from toilet paper. This is the only photograph I took, a shot of my two travel companians walking on the pavement, such was the boredom of the topography. You’d be better off drinking in your living room whilst watching daytime television than entering this wasteland.

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Bus oddities.

We took the bus to the Szczecin hovel. It was your usual journey peppered with beer, energy drinks, trance music, and a gruesome shit in an appropriately depraved toilet designed for midgets. The return mission was sadly characterised by a Vladimir Putin doppelgänger in the seat in front who demanded our ears for a two-hour monologue about the trials and travails of his life. Reeking from a single beer, he burst out laughing at our most innocuous observations on Szczecin, and upon our arrival back in Central Bus Station ZOB asked us to wait with him awhile to discuss the comparative footballing merits of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. Odd bloke. Escaping him was a convenient metaphor.

 

 

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The Waverley.

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Here we enter the circus, a veritable Looney Land. I used to work here in my ‘Wilderness Years’ 2010-2012 and the shit I saw is more than enough material for the basis of a manky neo-gothic crime drama set in the early twenty-tens. Ah, those were the days – before Trump, Brexit, and fidget spinners being habitually revered as the panacea to Autism. My highlight in ‘Stalag EH1 1BB’ was a disgruntled passenger throwing punches at a rail cop because the vexed customer didn’t like the quality of alcoholic beverage he was served in the bar – it didn’t meet his esoteric ‘standards’.

I highly recommend a day trip to The Waverley. Bring a packed lunch and a Polaroid.

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Swanston Golf Course.

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A mere 30-minute bus ride away from the centre of Edinburgh with all its noise and tourists rocking bum bags sits Swanston Golf Course in the Pentland Hills. I don’t play golf and never will, but a wee stroll around here with a bottle of Buckfast and a Cadbury Chomp sure does make a productive Saturday afternoon.

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Air New Zealand Flight 901.

Statistically, so I keep hearing, the odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are one in 29.4 million, and the odds of being in a plane crash are one in 11 million. The ‘safest mode of transport’ it may be, but it’s human fuck-ups at 30,000 feet that terrify me more than the failure of cutting-edge machinery, and with pilot error at 53% I shudder at the thought of one off his game. Moreover, when the company men on the ground are fucking up, too, your odds have shortened.

Air New Zealand Flight 901 in 1979 is your tragic archetypal case of total miscommunication. This was the last of Air New Zealand’s Antarctic sightseeing tours which departed from and returned to Auckland on the same day, a 5,000-mile return trip.

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The night before the disaster, a correction was made to the flight path co-ordinates, the flight crew not informed of this change. Subsequently, the plane was directed not down McMurdo Sound but straight into Mount Erebus. The effects of sector whiteout phenomenon – the blending of clouds with the volcano – meant the crew were completely unaware of the outside topography. The fatal flight would claim 257 lives.

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Peter Mahon QC’s Commission of Inquiry is an absolute must for anyone captivated by the tragedy.

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Further reading/viewing:

http://www.erebus.co.nz/background/thestory.aspx

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/aviation/11322102/Mt-Erebus-disaster-where-air-crash-recovery-learnt-its-grisly-trade.html

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/erebus-disaster

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Boozing in Ljubljana.

I was watching The Beach (2000) again the other day and this quote by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character struck a note: ”I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.’

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It’s true. Everywhere I go I gravitate towards the usual treats I enjoy back home – it’s like rote learning. Why explore the nooks and crannies of the local community when you can do the same thing you do in Edinburgh? Guinness galore. I couldn’t even be arsed inspecting that castle thing because I was too busy drinking and reading the internet.

Good times.

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Bantz on the Orient Express.

As long as Europe has a pulse there will be the Orient Express. It’s the essential connect to the not entirely apocryphal ‘glory days’ of continental travel. My bucket list includes doing the Orient in a Farage pinstripe, though this travelogue without a ghastly murder on the train. There’s something about the combination of stunning landscapes and sordid intrigue that ensures Agatha Christie’s classic is still being revisited some 80 years after the book’s first edition (1934).

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Anyway, an excellent piece of writing here in The Telegraph ahead of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s November release:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/rail-journeys/orient-express-mystery-and-history/

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Bus CCTV – the accepted Panopticon.

It’s the year 2017 and I don’t look out of the window when I’m on a bus. This is because I’m too busy staring at everyone (and myself) on the bus through its CCTV feedback screen.

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Me on the No. 3 bus to Gorgie (Edinburgh) this afternoon.

I am specifically talking here about the Lothian Buses device, Edinburgh’s own slice of PG-13 voyeurism. Officially, I have no active interest in the other people joining me in the ramshackle vessel’s journey, but the screen is just … there. I even play a game: I sit at the back and pick my nose when the camera isn’t on me, and attempt to unearth something green and solid before I’ve been framed. If the contraption were on the Orient Express I’d be doing this instead of gazing through the glass and marvelling at the changing landscape.

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David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.

I’d like to see the crime statistics for bus assaults, and measure them against the introduction of cameras with their feedback display. I maintain my hunch that there is no doubt a correlation between knowing you’re being watched and committing a crime. A lot of scum frequent buses – these cameras are our psychological protection against the most cautious riff-raff.

I once again come back to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which appears to be my obsession of late.

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The Presidio Modelo prison in Cuba, closed in 1967.

So many of our external endeavours – by this I mean our post-house interactions – are oriented within a Big Brother framing device. The only difference between Orwell’s all-seeing eye and our ‘real-life’ one is that we’re complicit in the game, inspecting ourselves in the frame and often inhabiting our own watered-down (or up) voyeur’s gaze. The amount of times I’ve acted the paparazzi in the presence of a midget, for example, is frankly beastly.

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/exposed/exposed-voyeurism-surveillance-and-camera-exhibition-guide-4

Your generic shop for equipment: https://www.videosurveillance.com/buses.asp

 

 

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Budapest Metro is an underground sketch comedy from hell.

In late January and early February 2011 I spent eight days in Budapest. I hated the city and almost everything about it – it was just replete with scum who would literally do anything for a dollar. On every other street corner you had a hustler or a beggar or an alleged drug dealer peddling Daz washing powder as if it were cocaine fit for Hunter S. Thompson in his prime. The highlight was a Tesco and a ‘cinema hostel’ I stuck around at for the banter, i.e., alcohol and movies. I still meet up with (now) close pals I made on that trip, and we are all in agreement that the metro was, as Alex DeLarge would put it, a real horror show.

306453_10150797955890691_1579151984_nI’d never until that trip seen such shamelessly corrupt ‘authority figures’ as I did their ticket inspectors. They’d swagger around in packs – they reminded me of the Toon Patrol weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – the ugliest, shortest, most unshaven specimens you’ll ever witness wearing a uniform. If it were the early 1940s they’d be volunteering for a stint in a death camp. Weirdly, so many of them were the spitting image of Georgy Zhukov. I took about 25 metro journeys during my time on the Danube, and on each occasion was privy to these mutants harassing half the train. I had the impression most of them were mentally compromised individuals on work experience. If you’re expecting commuters to be deferential, though, at least try and look like you’ve not just crawled out of bed.

 

Anyway, there is a film about them called Kontroll (2003), and it essentially sums up these plonkers, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. I saw it the other day and it impresses. Budapest Metro is apparently the oldest electrified subway network on the continent … which is just great. I’d have the staff replaced by robots.

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The movie is good, though, and better than the real thing (a common occurrence).

Further reading/viewing:

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/11/10/kontroll-issues-budapests-public-transport-ticket-inspectors/

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kontroll-2005

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