Archive | March, 2011

Home is where the heart is.

29 Mar

With only a couple of months to go until I set off travelling, I’m starting to wrap things up in Plymouth. I’ve lived here for three years now, and a part of me is wretch to leave it. Sure, it has got its crime, and every morning there is a fresh layer of obscure fast food with a Jakes or Fat Mama’s logo emblazoned on a greasy paper napkin, but it’s pretty fun. The drinking establishments on North Hill, with their perennially sticky floors, the odd drunken student you see having a nap in the middle of the road, or the minefield of seagull faeces spattered over the Barbican.

But Plymouth is home! It’s a mess, but it’s my mess. Only in Plymouth can you minesweep a full Kryptonite from someone at the bar and get away with it with no repercussions, because the said patron is too busy trying to mount the stripper pole in Bac Bar. Only in Plymouth can you have eight (or ten?) different burgers in Fat Mama’s that claim to represent different culinary tastes from all over the world, but are in fact some of the most offensive pieces of food possibly ever conceived. Like, why does the French burger have onion rings? I’ve never eaten onion rings in France, ever.

Plymouth is the only place I’ve ever been that has the perfect marriage of good history – the Spanish Armada, and not so good history – the Blitz, and yet manages to completely erase this epic narrative of Devonian heritage in a wave of concrete and tarmac. Drake Circus was designed by several architects who couldn’t decide what to build, so they must have decided to take their body weight in obscure Kyrgyzstani drugs and build a Primark ‘that represents the fire erupting from Charles Cross Church’. In reference to the horrors of the Second World War, that’s almost as tasteless as calling the American Football team ‘Plymouth Blitz’.

So here’s to you, Plymouth! As desultory, stagnant and dirty as you are, you will always have a special place in my heart, and it will be very difficult to replace you. Sincerely.

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If…

26 Mar

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son! – Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling wrote that in 1895, as a treatise on how to live your life. While he may have written it in the age of Victorian gentlemanly stoicism, it is just as applicable today as it was back then. Kipling truly was an inspirational man – poet, Nobel Laureate, author and thinker. Devastated by the loss of his son, John, at the Battle of Loos in 1915 in the First World War, he wrote the poem ‘My Boy Jack’ – one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of poetry ever written.

While Kipling died in 1936, his poetry and prose live on. And ‘If…’ is one of those that takes pride of place in the aforementioned quote book. It is more than just a poem, it is a lifestyle, a specific creed. When my  journey truly starts in May, I will be living by it. That and ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann (http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/%257Egongsu/desiderata_textonly.html).

Take inspiration from it! Take inspiration from everything! Ask the question: ‘Has my life been full of joy and has it brought joy to others?’ and will you look back on your brief time on Earth and be satisfied? You only live once, and I fully intend to live before I die!

Kicking it into high gear – The Journey is forming

23 Mar

I began applying for my visa today. Amidst the endless musings and plans, promises of Taco Bell and decision-making, the first stop in my odyssey – America – is finally drawing near. Working and travelling around America has been a dream of mine for a long time, and the promise of fulfilling this dream is something I am very much looking forward to.

So what now? Perhaps, New York. Or Boston. Trips to Tennessee, and Louisiana. Eventually a cross-country trip to California, the very essence of following The Road. I’m getting my visa through BUNAC, and it’s making it a hell of a lot easier, a lot less red tape and form filling. All I need to do now is find a job out there, something to tide me over from place to place.

But until I go, at least I’m going to soak up my last few weeks in Plymouth, and enjoy myself! Time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time! This city has borne me for three years, and I am going to miss it. The vibrant mix of history and modernity will be waving me off when I board my plane.

And I have this blog. A blank canvas, with which I can colour and paint as I journey West.

Is the world falling apart?

20 Mar

Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab melting pot boiling over, Colonel Gaddafi sticking the political finger up at a coalition force, and Bahrain falling apart. What has the world come to? It definitely can’t be attributed to the Moon’s perigee-syzygy, it’s only a fraction closer than it normally is. And yet it seems that the world literally is falling apart right now, both politically and geographically.

The earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand truly are horrifying. To see two separate earthquakes tear these first-world countries apart like this is such a humbling sight –  New Zealand always seems so remote and out of harm’s way that it is shocking to see such devastation. And Japan always comes across as such a powerful, stoic country, immune to such horrific circumstances. And yet, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong to this devastated country.

Colonel Gaddafi needs to sort his life out. He’s like the stubborn neighbour who won’t take down his Christmas decorations in March, despite the fact that the entire street has rallied to throw stones at them. It has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, what can be gained from challenging rebel forces supported by the UN?

But it’s not all bad. Many Egyptians are voting now for the first time in their lives, which is such a big step for such a beautiful country. They have worked hard for their democracy, and I hope that they make the most of it.

St Patrick’s Day

17 Mar

So today is the 17th March. Which means, it is St Patrick’s Day. Which is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the strangest day in the whole year. A year where we get to celebrate a different country, through the day of a Saint who is the patron of Ireland, despite being English and taken to Ireland as a slave. Awesome.

The strangest thing about St Patrick’s Day, is that the entire world celebrates it by stereotyping Ireland. Seriously. We drink, smoke and live to excess, in the hope that we are fully representing Ireland. We drink pint after pint of Guinness to honour the memory of the Saint who rid the island of Ireland of snakes.

And yet it remains one of the best days of the year for the University student. It’s a day of listening to Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, drinking pint after pint of Guinness and Irish whisky, and generally making a fool or ourselves. But the best thing about it is, EVERYONE does it!

One of the main things on my F**k it list (the Bucket List part at least) is to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland and Boston. But until then…

Happy St Patrick’s Day! Hope it’s a good one for all of you!

An affinity for spouting other people’s words

13 Mar

‘L’homme est libre au moment qui’il reut l’être’

Man is free at the instant he wants to be – Voltaire

I have an affinity for quotes. Quotes that I read in books, or hear, some even that I have made up. Quotes can be inspiring, thought-provoking, funny, educational. Quotes could whisper the innermost facets of true love, make you laugh and cry, or quite simply make you think.

So I have a quote book. Every time I read or hear a good one, I write it down in my book. This book is now halfway full, of quotes of people as diverse as Napoleon and JFK, Cormac McCarthy and Ned Kelly, Shah Jahan and Virgil. Some are from my favourite books, like Catch-22, and some are from my favourite speeches, like Kennedy’s Rice University Address. Some are my own, and some belong to some close friends. If I read a good poem, I write it in my quote book, and now whenever I feel lost, or bad, or bored, I read through the pages and I am comforted. Because it doesn’t just reflect the people who spoke or wrote these lines, but also the last couple of years of my life.

As Prince Hamlet would say, the rest is silence.

He was Beat — the Root, the Soul of Beatific.

9 Mar

‘The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.’

Jack Kerouac – On The Road

For those of you who don’t know, I read a lot. While what I read is quite varied, it does tend to focus around travelling, or a least the concept of it. Even then, it’s hard to encapsulate. As Mark Twain said, the man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.

So I have just finished ‘On the Road’, by the drug-addled epitome of the Beat Generation that is Jack Kerouac. It follows his three journeys across post-war America, and his quest for his own hedonistic fulfilment, largely in the form of him (as Sal Paradise) and his friend Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy in real life) driving around looking for beer, weed, girls, parties – you get the idea. It is not the ideal lifestyle, but it does have its incentives.

There is the concept of just you, and the Road. Not Cormac McCarthy’s Road, with a shopping trolley and a gun with half as many bullets as wanton suicide victims. And I’m definitely not going to go hug the nearest patch of tarmac. The open road, the concept of absolute freedom. Travelling with no real purpose, but no real constraint either: ultimate independence.

On the Road has the ever-present theme of youth. The arrogance of youth, the excitement of youth, the ragged and ecstatic joy of youth! Sal Paradise and Moriarty are young, ‘tremendously excited with life’, and believe that ‘the world belongs to them because they are poor’. It is dangerous stuff. It reads so well, it almost excites you to seize the day, and get out now. While you still can. But the world has changed, and I don’t think it quite works that way anymore.

And the theme of these very pages. Travelling. The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only a page! I understand that a lot of people don’t want to travel, but in tying with my last post, sometimes we just have to ignore the voices that say no and just take the plunge. As I travel, I will post, and for some that will suffice.

In keeping with what I read, I have a lot of burgeoning ideas and ambitions. But it would do no good to take anything too far. Jack Kerouac ultimately died at the age of 47 from a lifetime of heavy drinking and living. Just because I read Walden doesn’t mean I want to live by a pond. Christopher McCandless’ ambitions outweighed his experiences. So maybe I can forge my own path, free from too much influence.

But the Road is ever enticing. And keep your eyes peeled for the film version coming out this year.