Do I have to say more? Oh, okay then. Let’s take it from the top. The dictator of the new Soviet Empire is not a very nice man. He’s a man who has invaded and annexed vast swathes of both Georgia and Ukraine, despite Russia being the biggest country in the world to start with. But Russia is obviously not big enough! Not for Putin.
It’s no secret that Putin wants to wrestle back control of the states that “got away from him” when the first Soviet Union fell in the early 90s. He’s already got Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan firmly on board, he’s gone in hard after Ukraine and Georgia (and thousands of people have been raped and killed as a result), and now he’s setting his sights on EU members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
After spitting his dummy out of the pram at the thought of Ukraine joining the EU, Putin is now crying into his teddybear at the thought that Serbia – one of his (very few) allies to the west – might also join.
It’s no surprise then at he is very much in favour of the UK leaving the EU because he knows that as well as ruining the UK economy (thereby allowing even more of his terrifyingly corrupt cronies to buy up half of London), it will cripple the EU and may even result in the EU collapsing altogether, paving the way for him to “retake” his much-desired gems of the Baltic Sea.
Australian-born Rupert “Dirty Digger” Murdoch has always held Britain in contempt. He hates our country, allows his newspapers to print lies about British football fans, allows his journalists to tap the phones of murdered British teenagers, News UK (formally News International) has not paid a penny in corporation tax to the British Chancellor for over 35 years.
Murdoch can’t stand the royal family and after he helps finish off the British economy and the UK as a union, you bet your bottom dollar he’ll hound our dear old Queen into an early grave… much as his gutter rags did to Princess Diana.
The UK pulling out of the EU would be a boon for Murdoch. He would have much more freedom to own even more of the media, to buy MPs with impunity and fulfil his long-standing goal of destroying the BBC – that last great bastion of Britishness which stands in this nasty little foreigner’s way.
American-born Nazi-sympathiser, tyrant billionaire. Hates me, hates you, hates everyone. Has managed to annoy more Scottish people with his guns-a-blazin’ method of building golf-courses than Labour managed to do with the Scottish referendum. My granddad didn’t join the Navy and risk his life fighting Hitler to then have his grandchildren vote to give neo-Nazi toads like Trump exactly what he wanted.
Trump wants us to leave the EU because he knows that it’ll be good for business. Not our business of course… his business! With the pound plummeting in value, he’ll be able to buy up more property, build more golf courses and drain money from this Sceptred Isle like the litigious money-sucking vampire he is.
And then look at these groups… the EDL? Britain First? The BNP? They’re not British. British people are known around the world for being polite, considered, articulate and reasonable. The British Empire, for all its faults, gave the citizens of what is now The Commonwealth a higher authority to take matters – they knew the Brits would play by the rules and not scream and shout and act like a bunch of bleedin’ hooligans. A inbuilt sense of moderation and fair-play some have called it. It’s no surprise then that the European Convention of Human Rights was drafted by a Brit.
When I see horrible bullies like Katie Hopkins and George Galloway foaming at the mouth, yelling at the good people of Britain, all I can think is “that’s not very British.” British people are known around the world for their sense of honour, humility and decency. They don’t pick on people less fortunate than themselves for their own material gain, we’ve historically left that kind of behaviour to the Yanks.
2. BREXIT WILL MAKE US POORER
I confess I don’t know much about economics. However, there are two things that I picked up while studying history and politics at Manchester University: one is that printing money willy-nilly causes hyperinflation and that uncertainty spooks the markets.
I currently live in Panama, where they use US dollars. How much bang (pound) I get for my buck (dollar) has been diminishing all year. Why’s that? Well, because pretty much all the top economists say that Brexit is going to be massively disruptive to the economy… and that spooks the markets, and that causes the pound to drop in value.
And this is before we leave! God knows what the situation will be like after June 23 if we vote out. But I’ll tell you now – it’s not going to involve a vote of confidence from our major trading partners and friends – all of whom do not want us to leave.
And here’s the thing – if we do vote to leave the EU, the EU is still going to be our biggest trading partner. That means we – like Norway – will have to shut up and do as we are told, bring in legislation that we had no hand in crafting and – more importantly – still permit the free flow of labour from the rest of the EEA countries. That’s EU migrants to you and me.
To be part of the EEA, and using Norway as a model, we’d have to pay up to 95% of what we pay now to be a full member of the EU… but the rebate that Margaret Thatcher negotiated for us? Gone. So there’s a good few billion pounds up in smoke each year – for what? To have less of a say? To take in just as many immigrants? The EU isn’t perfect by any means, but we can only hope to change matters from inside.
Being part of the EEA but not the EU? Economic and political suicide.
Come on Britain… we’re smarter than this. Which brings me to…
3. BREXIT IS NOT VERY BRITISH
We’re British. We invented modern democracy, we invented the modern legal system, we gave the world football, cricket, rugby, F1, golf, tennis, snooker, darts, tiddlywinks… don’t even get me started on our literature, inventions and scientific breakthroughs, I’ll be here all day.
The world sets its watches by our time, billions of people speak our language, ships navigate the seas based on lines of longitude set by us Brits with Britain slap bang in the middle. Zero degrees. IN THE MIDDLE OF ALL THINGS.
The UK punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. It’s the spider in the centre of planet Earth’s geopolitical web. The UK is a permanent member of the security council of the UN, the head of The Commonwealth of Nations, a founding member of NATO, the world leader of “soft influence”, the master of whisperers, the UK is the team the world looks to for advice and guidance and support… because we have a reputation for moderation and fairness and we have it all over the world.
We are members of them ALL. Before the vast majority of international agreement are made, people have to ask… “what does the UK think?”
Our opinion matters. We don’t sit out the fight. We don’t pull up the drawbridge and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. For over 500 years we have striven to make ourselves involved in what’s happening, all over the world, because we know something that these tin-pot dictatorships like North Korea, Zimbabwe and Guinea will never understand – that no man is an island.
The more allies we have, the closer our ties, the more we trade, negotiate and party with our friends: the stronger we are.
Winston Churchill understood this. Churchill’s grandson has gone on record to say that Winston would vote to remain a member of the EU and push to reform it from within, from a position of strength and unity. To do otherwise would be thoroughly “un-British”.
We are Great Britain. We’re not some cowardly backward nation, standing on the world stage with our knees a-tremblin’. We do not shy from our global responsibilities. Nor do we gamble with what’s best for this incredible island we call home.
Be like Churchill. Be strong. Be proud. Be British. Vote remain.
No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Eritrea, North Korea… 2010 was the year of backpacking dangerously, and Hat 5 was on my head for almost all of it. From my home in Liverpool it came all the way across Eurasia (via a few leftover African nations) without a hitch. It’s kinda amazing that it got so far – across the hottest deserts and the highest mountain ranges, over pirate-infested waters and down into the dingiest dives SE Asia had to offer. I strode through the “Axis of Evil” and so much more with only Hat 5 to protect me.
It’s a shame then that Hat 5 was lost in such mundane circumstances. I was in Bali taking a motorbike taxi back to my friend Neil’s place just north of Kuta. So Hat 5 wouldn’t blow off my head I put it between me and the driver, but when we arrived the hat was nowhere to be found. We headed back the way we came in case it was laying at the side of the road, but nada. Hat 5 was nowhere to be found. Oh well. At least I have this awesome video in memoriam.
Hat 6 – The Swashbuckler
December 2010 – April 2012 (Stolen)
No time to lose, I headed off to country number 183, East Timor, sans hat. Mandy, being the darling that she is, bought Hat 6 in Melbourne and had it sent to my friend Neil in Bali – I would have to swing back that way to get the Pelni ferry to West Papua anyway. Hat 6 was a good’un. It was with me all around the Pacific Islands, making it to The Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and even Nauru.
In the April of 2012 I had just 6 countries left to visit – Micronesia, Palau, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan. In a windfall of lucky circumstances involving a very long bus journey and some of the most dangerous snakes and spiders in the world, I managed to get myself on a cargo ship from Brisbane to Taiwan.
On the way we crossed the equator and I was informed that with all my 0° latitude-crossing shenanigans thus far on the journey (not just in the Pacific and Indian Oceans but several times during the one trip from Gabon to the Atlantic island nation Saõ Tomé and back) I had apparently seriously pissed off King Neptune by monkeying about on the high seas without his “permission”. Anyone who has read Homer’s Odyssey will know why that’s not a smart thing to do. It was time to placate the God of the Sea before he was Poseidon self in anger. See what I did there? Poseidon self?! Like beside himself? Oh never mind.
So we did the traditional crossing-the-equator ceremony. The oldest man on the ship – in this case the boson – dressed up as King Neptune (with the aid of a mop wig, a bedsheet toga and a broomstick-and-tinfoil trident) and I, together with a couple of deck hands, were each given an old oil drum filled with seawater to clamber into.
Once in the drums, the ceremony began. I was soaked with a deck hose, had eggs thrown at me, was painted half green and half red (with deck paint – Christ that was a bitch to get off) and had my head shaved by the captain (the shortest it has been since 1999).
After that I was forced to drink the foulest alcoholic concoction of all time (vodka, whiskey, rum, seawater, raw egg, tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce… ygads!). It was frikkin’ hilarious.
That evening we sung karaoke. I did my Sid Vicious impression with My Way. I was told by one of the Filipino crew that I shouldn’t sing My Way badly, because “you’ll die”. His words not mine.
It wasn’t until I reached Taiwan and looked up “The My Way Killings of The Philippines” that I found out this wasn’t an urban legend… people had been killed in The Philippines in a string of otherwise unrelated murders after singing My Way badly. Seriously! Look it up!!
So now I was in Taiwan and looking to tick Micronesia and Palau off the list. There was a ship leaving in the next couple of days from the southern port town of Kaohsiung. I had permission from the shipping company and the master of the vessel, but at the last minute the ship owners were like “WTF?!” and I had to do the fastest talking of my life in order to persuade them to let me on board. But persuade them I did. I can be very persuasive sometimes – generally speaking once a century, when the moon is in the Eighth House of Aquarius.
The night before the departure I was out in Kaohsiung and I met a group of backpackers who recognised me off the telly. They asked if they could get a photo with me, which of course I was up for (mo’ photons no problems), but while photos were being taken, somebody grabbed Hat 6 off my head and (I assumed) put it on theirs.
Only they didn’t. They just walked out with it and disappeared into the night.
The stream of expletives that issued forth from my gob would make a Geordie docker blush. All this way… 195 countries without flying… and somebody had the gall to steal my bleedin’ ’at.
I would like to point out that whoever it was, he was not Taiwanese. He was almost definitely American. Like seriously, screw that guy. I hope he put my had on his head and it did to him what Khal Drogo did to Viserys Targaryen.
Hat 7 – The Folly
May 2012 – May 2012 (Lost)
Okay. I have a confession to make. Mandy, if you’re reading this, I lost Hat 7. The one you sent to Hong Kong. It’s been my filthy little secret for years, but now, four years on, I must atone for my sins.
You may have noticed that most of my hats last around 18 months, one way or another. Hat 7 lasted less than a week.
So there I was in Taiwan, leaving the next day on a cargo ship and absolutely no way of getting my hands on a new hat before we left. So far the only country in the world I had visited without my hat was East Timor. Now I would have to add not just Micronesia and Palau to that list, but also Okinawa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
Now as I wrote earlier I need my hat. I don’t just wear it because I like hats (although I do like hats, one of the many reasons I fell in love with Madagascar). Without my hat on my head I get sunburnt to hell. And that’s exactly what happened to me after a day mooching around the island of Yap in Micronesia.
The next day we arrived in Palau.
As the sun was totally getting the better of me I bought one of them floppy hats that people wear for some reason even though they look utter bobbins.
One thing was for sure: I desperately needed my trusty old Akruba back. Once again, Mandy went out to Melbourne city centre and purchased me a new one. This would be Hat 7, the hat that would be with me to the end (of the Odyssey Expedition). Or so I thought.
I arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday May 5 2012. After sorting out my passport shenanigans I headed over to meet my CouchSurf host Michael, a stand-up comedian from America. The hat was waiting for me at the post office. We went in together and, happily, my bonce was once again united with my erstwhile head-furniture. Here is some rare footage of Hat 7 on my head:
A couple of days later I was invited to go out with a few of Michael’s mates “after work”. Of course it descended into drunken anarchy as nights like this often do.
I awoke in the morning splayed out all over the floor of Michael’s flat (I have no idea how I got back, or got in!). Whenever I awake in such circumstances, groggy and dry-mouthed, there is a set routine along the lines of WHERE ARE MY GLASSES?!?!? Oh they’re here. WHERE’S MY BAG?!!?? Oh it’s there. WHERE’S ME HAT? Oh it’s……..
Hat 8 – The Record Breaker
April 2012 – July 2014 (Gifted)
So then. It was time to get a new hat. More specifically, it was time to get a new hat without Mandy finding out I lost the last one on a drunken rampage through the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. So for the first time, I ordered a new hat online (isn’t the twenty-first century just magic?). Now, predicting where I’m going to be and when is not an exact science at the best of times, but no ships out of Hong Kong were happy to take me to Sri Lanka, country 198 of 201 of the Odyssey Expedition.
So I had the hat sent to the DHL depot in Singapore.
Funnily enough, I had travelled from Singapore to Hong Kong ten years earlier. Now it was time to do that journey in reverse, but (horrifyingly enough) without my hat.
So off I jolly well popped, through Guangzhou and Kunming, down through Laos and a night out in Backpacker Ground Zero: Bangkok.
Then it was a long bus journey down through the rest of Thailand, Malaysia and finally disembarking in ol’ Singapore. While I was battling bus schedules, my new hat was winging its way over from Australia and was waiting to greet me in Lion City. I felt complete again.
Hat 8 was one of the greats. It was with me through the good times and the bad. It travelled with me to Sri Lanka…
…it gave me something to cry into when Mandy and I decided to call it a day at the end of August 2012 (maybe she found out about Hat 7), it accompanied me on my mad rush to Kerala in India and then across the Indian Ocean to The Maldives and The Seychelles.
Hat 8 saw Obama elected for a second time while I was in Reunion and witnessed my name appearing on the ‘Drink Your Way Around The World’ plaque in the Keg and Marlin pub in Mauritius (one of my greatest achievements).
Hat 8 kept the sun out of my eyes and me looking cool as I thundered through East Africa for a second time: from Durban in South Africa to Kampala in Uganda.
And then, on that day of days, it joined me as I announced to the world that I had made it to South Sudan and therefore completed The Odyssey Expedition.
It also came with me to the top of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.
And featured heavily on my return to Liverpool.
I wore it on the BBC Breakfast couch and to the Telegraph adventure show.
I took it to Russia with me, but it was just too damn cold to wear the thing, so I wore a big warm hat instead.
Hat 8 was the hat I wore for TEDActive, Thinking Digital, TEDxBrixton, TEDxLIverpoolYouth, TEDxBathUniversity, TEDxSheffield…
It was the hat I was wearing when I met Michael Palin.
And when I was invited over to the New York to appear alongside Charlie Rose and Gayle King on CBS This Morning, guess who came with?
In fact, it was the hat I wore all through 2013… including while I was on SOS Island…
And the eventual winning of SOS Island…
And the presentation of my Guinness World Record certificate…
And then I took it to Panama with me and wore it all around the Mayan sites of Central America….
But, much like Hat 4 (the last great hat) in the hot tropical heat of Panama it eventually got wet, dried and shrank.
When I was home in Liverpool for a week or so back in 2014 I wrote to bushgear.co.uk who kindly supplied me with a brand new Akubra: Hat 9! Thanks bushgear.co.uk! You’re awesome!!
Sadly, Casey (my then-girlfriend) would not be returning with me to Jinja Island. She saw me off from Heathrow airport and as a parting gift I plonked Hat 8 on her head. It fit perfectly. Nawww…
Hat 9 – The Jinjista
July 2014 – January 2016 (Retired)
Unlike its eight predecessors, Hat 9 never got to go on any grand adventures in exotic locales, but then again, I guess Jinja Island is pretty damn exotic.
Hat 9 did well for the first year, but then in June 2015 I went to the awesomely-named Wizard’s Beach on Bastimentos Island for a party.
I was standing waist-deep in the water with my hat on and a beer in my hand chatting to a girl when something grabbed me and pulled me out to sea… it was a riptide. I survived but my hat got soaked, and like 4 and 8 before it, it eventually shrank. There’s not much you can do about it. By the end of 2015 wearing it felt like the golden headband that Monkey had to wear which got tighter when he was naughty.
However, I had to wear it for a few audition interviews over Skype – my stupid hat is part of my public persona now. But eventually pulling it down over my XXL-sized head caused the front brim to rip. And that was it, really.
It now hangs up in the kitchen of Casa Jinja, a little forlorn for it didn’t ever get to live up to the kind of adventures of its illustrious forebears, but thems the breaks kiddo, at least I didn’t lose you at a festival.
Hat 10 – The Big Break…?
January 2016 – Present
Which brings me to this one.
Lindsey brought Hat 10 with her when she came to stay on the island at the end of January 2016.
I wore Hat 10 when I toured around the Bocas Archipelago looking for frogs with Paul the photographer for Geo magazine in April.
I also wore Hat 10 in Cyprus when I was doing that presenting gig for Aegean Airlines.
And it’ll be with me for my 13th Glastonbury festival this summer (look out for the Flaggy McFlagface flag).
I don’t know what the future holds for Hat 10, but I hope it’s the hat I wear to launch my first two books: Man of the World and Food: A Global Odyssey. I hope I get this damn visa for the USA so I can drive around the States on a promotional tour – with Hat 10 as my trusty companion.
There’s plenty more adventures to be had, and (I’m sure) plenty more hats that’ll come and go through the years, but one thing is for sure: as long as I’m still able, I’ll never hang my trusty Akubra up for good. There’s such a lot of world to see…
This week I was planning to come home from Panama to the UK for a few weeks. I want to see my mum and dad, my friends and family, and I might – might! – have a filming gig in Cyprus next month. Also I could do with getting off my island. Going a bit stir crazy over here on my own (still single!).
So I bought a flight home going via the USA, like I’ve done countless times before.
However, my ESTA visa “waiver” was up, so I thought oo eck I better renew. This would be my third ESTA since they brought them in for no good reason whatsoever back in 2011.
Now bear in mind that I’ll only be transiting through the US, a quick change of flights, won’t be leaving the airport.
So I apply… but now there’s all these new questions: Where do you work? Who are your parents? (Disturbing question given Republican frontrunner Trump has pledged to commit war crimes against the families of those who he deems terrorists.) And now… for your hair-pulling pleasure… have you been to the following 4 countries in the last 5 years…?
It’s a matter of public record (breaking) that I’ve been to all of these countries, but all in 2010, which means I’m out of the “5 year exclusion zone.”
In 2012 towards the end of my journey I passed back through Sudan on the way from Ethiopia to Egypt. I was there for 3 days. Getting a visa for Sudan from Addis Ababa was a freaking NIGHTMARE and to be honest with you, once in I was happy to get out of there asap – President Al-Bashir is not just a wannabe future war criminal like Trump, he’s a bona fide wanted war criminal.
Now… to declare or not to declare? I have a new passport since I finished The Odyssey Expedition. I could have just lied. But I’m an honest fucker and so I got well and truly fucked. Over a thousand dollars worth of fucked.
The decision came up as ‘pending’ and assured me that a decision would be made within 72 hours.
After 48 hours I was beginning to panic. I had already booked and paid for my non-refundable flight with United. I had applied for the ESTA 6 days before I travelled, that should be plenty of time.
And yet they made me wait.
72 hours came and went.
Then 96 hours.
By the 120 hour mark I was already on a bus to Panama City, what else could I do?
And there in the back of the chicken bus winding through the mountains, the message finally came.
For the love of God.
Now, if I had got an immediate answer, or even one within the first 72 hours, I could have booked in for a visa appointment at the American Embassy in Panama City, jumped on a bus and been there by the next day. But I was now within 24 hours of my flight.
With no way of getting an appointment before take-off I had to cancel my flight. My super-expensive non-refundable flight. Then I had to book a new flight home that didn’t go via the US.
I’m now on a list that includes terrorist sympathisers, criminals, drug dealers and Justin fucking Beiber.
Look, I’m not just an upstanding British Citizen, I am an outstanding British Citizen.*
I’ve set two Guinness World Records, raised thousands of pounds for charity, the TV show I presented was screened on the Travel Channel in the USA last Christmas and I’ve encouraged hundreds – if not thousands – of young people to travel the world. If you’re reading this you might be one of them.
I was accepted into every country in the world, I have no criminal record whatsoever and have never overstayed a visa. There are no points on my driver’s licence (and never has been), I’ve never taken illegal drugs, I’ve never even had a library fine. I’m a total boy scout FFS!
I’ve visited mainland USA dozens of times in the past without incident, and that does not include my travels to the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa. My last 2 ESTAs were passed without any issue.
But really, at the end of the day who am I? A cantankerous, (fairly) over-achieving Brit who likes to travel and bang on about stuff. It’s not like I actually put my life on the line supporting the Yanks in their last two unpopular and unwinnable wars… But friends of mine did. Friends who went on multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Friends who had their colleagues shot and blown up before their very eyes. For the Gloire of the American Empire.
Many now work doing security in the very countries that America well and truly fucked up. But now, in order to even transit through the USA – the country that they put their lives on the line for (sure as fuck wasn’t ours) – they need to apply for a visa.
I also have friends who work with the Red Cross and Medicine Sans Frontiers. They routinely risk their lives getting medications and vaccinations to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. But now, no ESTA for them.
The visa process for America is labyrinthine and super expensive. I started filling out the form today but had to stop because it was taking too long. You have to give them your inside leg measurement, the name of your first stuffed toy and the code to the safe in your bedroom. Not only that, you have to log your last five visits to the USA. Including my trips to the US overseas territories (all of ‘em, by the way, I don’t do things by half) I’ve been to the USA more than 20 times in my lifetime… but the time I punch in the times, it kicks me off because I was taking too long!!
And that’s just the fucking form. You then have to book an appointment (which costs a small fortune), travel to the capital city (Megabus methinks), pay for the visa (again, megabucks) find somewhere to stay for a fortnight (the visa can take up to 10 working days to issue), and then wait until the bastard thing comes through………….. WHICH IT MIGHT NOT!!
Saudi funds the Taliban. And Al-Qaeda. And Isis. And Boko Haram. And every Wahhabist terror group in the word. Fifteen of the Nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden. Saudi propped up Saddam Hussein before he went mad and invaded Kuwait. They are the ones pushing the anti-Shi’ite agenda around the Middle East. They are the reason, the only goddamn reason that Iran – a country that has not carried out a terror attack against the US in decades – is on the ‘no travel’ list for ESTAs.
Saudi sent tanks over the causeway to crush protests in Bahrain back in 2011, is currently bombing the living shit out of Yemen and has sentenced innocent people to death for even the mildest criticism of their evil little regime.
The clusterfuck that is Iraq and Syria right now has its roots in Saudi meddling (and by Christ they are profiting from it like CRAZY) and do you really think that the situation in Israel wouldn’t have been sorted out years ago if it wasn’t so damn convenient as the Saudi’s ultimate “weapon of mass distraction”… I don’t see you all freaking out on Facebook about the plight of the Yemenis – just replace “Israel” with “Sunni” and “Palestine” with “Shi’ite” and I look from pig to man, and from man to pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
So you know what country I’d be concerned that a British person had visited? Saudi. Ground zero of almost all the horrors the world has seen over the last 15 years. Also, I’d consider nuclear menace North Korea, anarchy-in-chief Somalia and you know what? Andorra. I’ve always had my suspicions about Andorra.
But considering the Saudi government spends untold billions on defence, defence they pay us Brits and dem Yanks are eager to provide, they get a clear run to do whatever the fuck they like. Super eh?
But there’s really nothing I can do… except make a fuss and maybe even start a petition to get the UK government to introduce its own reciprocal arrangement with the Yanks. Because at the moment all they have to do if they’d like to visit the greatest country in the world is show the fuck up – and what do we get in return? The freedom to be financially penalised for the crime of exploring this otherwise wonderful planet of ours? Who do you think you are Uncle Sam? Russia?!
For those who haven’t noticed, I tend to wear a hat. An Australian kangaroo skin Akubra, which I wear for consistency, recognisability and because I think it looks cool. Also, I’m thinning at the front and I don’t want anybody to know.
There are, of course other more practical reasons for my hat – it prevents my nose, ears and neck from getting sunburnt, it shields my eyes from the sun, it comes in handy as a fan, a mini-umbrella or even a pillow.
I tend to reserve the use of my hat for when I’m travelling, attending music festivals or being interviewed on the telly.
But what you might not know is that behind the scenes my hat has been played by several different hats – ten in all. However, they’ve always been the same hat. A bit like Doctor Who.
Hat 1 – “The Original”
April 2002 – 21 August 2004 (Lost)
Appropriately, my first hat was bought in Alice Springs, slap-bang in the middle of Australia during my roadtrip around the great Red Continent with my then-girlfriend Mandy, who bought it for me as a gift.
The hat stayed on my head for the rest of the journey around Oz, then after I bade farewell to Mandy and continued on alone (kinda) through New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
I wore it to my cousin’s wedding in Dublin and then for the next few years of travel and music festivals.
In spring 2004 I left it on a long-distance bus in Greece. Mandy and I had a bit of a panic, but the wonderful bus company got it back for us.
But then, in the summer of 2004, I found myself at the V Festival in Staffordshire. More specifically, I found myself backstage of the NME Signing Tent at the V Festival in Staffordshire… with a fridge full of Carling, and The Scissor Sisters.
Ana Matronic and I were in the middle of putting the world to rights when I heard the unmistakeable sound of THE PIXIES blasting from the main stage. I kissed the lovely Ana goodbye and ran as fast as my wobbly drunken legs could carry me.
I vaguely remember the intro to Digging for Fire, and maybe a bit of crowdsurfing.
Some indeterminate time later, I awoke, splayed out on the ground, not far from the madding crowd wondering why The Pixies were covering New York City Cops by The Strokes. Wiping the grass from my sleeves, I stood up and realised it was because Frank n’ Kim had finished an hour ago. We were now halfway through The Strokes.
Also, I had lost my hat.
Hat 2 – “The Sequel”
December 2004 – February 2006 (Lost)
Later that year I returned to Melbourne for the first time since 2002. Mandy and I went to Vic Market and I got my hands on Hat 2. It was nice to have a hat on my head again, although Mandy forbade me from wearing it whilst out and about in Melbourne as apparently that would be a “totally bogan” thing to do.
Yet Hat 2 remained my faithful friend, coming with me to a string of music festivals across 2005 and then to Thailand in February 2006. Bizarrely, I shared the flight over to Bangkok with Ian Brown, Franz Ferdinand (the band, not the Archduke) and Oasis. They were due to appear at a music festival on the outskirts of the capital that weekend… along with Arctic Monkeys, Placebo and Maximo Park.
There was no way I was going to miss this. I met up with my old university chum Stan on Khao San Road and we got ourselves tickets for the gig. Later that same day we would share a round of drinks with 70s comedians Frank Carson (RIP) and Stan Boardman outside a go-go bar in Patpong. It was that kind of trip.
The gig was MENTAL. Brilliantly mental. They ran out of beer in the first hour and so dozens of locals turned up and started selling cold ones out of the back of their cars. When the security guy had his back turned, beer cans flew over the double metal fence one way and balls of scrumpled up bhat flew the other.
The next day security had improved and so the only way of getting a drink was to buy a shot of the ubiquitous 100 Pipers whisky – the sponsors of the event. However, the powers that be decided to set up several games of skill – darts, hoop-la, hook-a-duck etc, the successful completion of which would result in a free shot. Kinda like a brilliant drunken Thai version of The Crystal Maze.
My favourite was the run-the-metal-loop-along-the-wire-without-touching-the-wire challenge. Especially considering while I was doing it (and had already made it buzz 2 of the permitted 3 times) Stan secretly unplugged the apparatus. Ka-ching! Drinks please!!
A few days later and the drunken carnival of ridiculousness that was our Thai holiday peaked at the Ko Pha Ngan half-moon party in the jungle. We had been drinking since lunchtime, and were already off our scones before we arrived at the party. We got ourselves temporary UV tattoos of words that cannot be reprinted in this family periodical and embarked on another round of Buckets.
For the uninitiated, a ‘Bucket of Joy’ is a Thai delicacy involving vodka, whiskey, Red Bull, Coca-Cola and a ton of ice. It comes in a little plastic bucket and it gets you very drunk. If you’re already very drunk then it gets you very trouble.
I was already very drunk.
For some reason I got it into my head that we were being raided by the police so I legged it into the jungle. Now, there’s a reason why they don’t hold the Men’s 100m in the jungle at night. It’s a case of simple mathematics: the chances of a moveable object running through the jungle in the dark hitting a immoveable object, such as a big frikkin’ TREE are roughly 100%.
And hit it I did.
Now, I have a range of super-powers that come in damn handy for travelling and without which I may not have been able to complete The Odyssey Expedition. One is that I can sleep anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Another is that I rarely get ill. A third is that I can wake up whenever I want – so long as I think about it before I go to sleep. Finally, I am the proud owner of an almost supernaturally dependable beer scooter.
A beer scooter is the magical device that somehow gets you home when you’ve had one too many. Mine seems to work no matter where ‘home’ is from one day to the next. One minute I was flat on my back in the jungle, the next I’m on the other side of the island flat on my back in bed in our room back at the Coco Hut in Hat Rin and it’s morning and it’s sunny and Christ my face hurts and…
Where’s me hat? 🙁
Hat 3 – “The Enigma”
March 2006 – ??? (Missing)
Hat 3 was the Babylon 4 of hats. It had only been online for a short time when it went missing in time and space. Mandy and I bought it out on the Melbourne quayside after the Thai debacle (which also resulted in me contracting conjunctivitis, that most miserable (and infectious) of eye diseases). It came with us on our trip across the Nullabor from Melbourne to Perth and attended the Download Festival with our Stan.
One day it was happily sitting in my flat in Liverpool, the next it was gone. Nobody knows when it disappeared or where it went, but disappear it did, which is why I’m not wearing a hat for Stan and I’s insane road trip around Europe in July 2007.
Hat 4 – “The Legend”
December 2007 – February 2010 (Retired)
Hat 4. You wonderful thing you.
Purchased from Vic Market in Melbourne in the run-up to Christmas 2007, my brain formed more happy memories from inside Hat 4 than any other.
Hat 4 was with me in Barcelona for my birthday in 2008, it was with me in Australia when I got Lonely Planet involved in The Odyssey Expedition that summer, it came with Mandy and I to Paris for our last tango and, yes, this was the hat that accompanied my head for the first 13 months and 142 countries of The Odyssey Expedition.
I wore it through every country in South America, The Caribbean, Central and North America, Europe and North West Africa. Bear in mind that it’s not actually attached to my head and I was travelling alone with nobody to watch my stuff.
It came with me on the boat over to Cape Verde and, together with a copy of Lonely Planet West Africa, helped form my ‘pillow’ whilst I was sleeping on the concrete floor of the jail in Praia.
It made it back to Africa and travelled with me through Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. Whilst I was allowed to keep it when incarcerated in Cape Verde, in Congo I was not so lucky. Before they bundled me in that jail cell with blood smeared all over the walls, I was relieved of not just my belt and my shoelaces (standard), but also my shoes, socks, t-shirt, glasses (yes really)… and Hat 4.
Upon my release six days later I stopped at the doorway, turned back for one last glance at the sorry state of the police station in which I had been held, then, face forward, slipped on Hat 4 and strode out a free man. It was exceptionally cinematic.
Shame there was nobody around to see it.
Hat 4 stayed on my head all through the rest of Central Africa. It came with me through Southern Africa, East Africa, the Indian Ocean islands, then North-East Africa and the Middle East. I wore it in Sudan, Israel, Syria and Iraq.
But all good things…
The road had taken a toll on Hat 4. And as a result of being so often drenched and then dried in the baking hot African sun, Hat 4 had shrunk. And it didn’t smell too good either. I tried stretching it, but there was nothing for it. I would have to get a new hat.
Being a damn good sport, Mandy bought me a new one from Vic Market in Melbourne and sent it over to the UK, where I would be pit-stopping for visas and a mum-cooked roast before hitting Libya and Algeria.
So the legend that is Hat 4 now lives at my parent’s place, hooked on a set of Texan bull horns in the hallway under a sign that reads ‘Mustang Me ’At Up On The Wall’.
Purists may question my decision to select a cover version over Tim Buckley’s original, but when a cover is this good, I really don’t give a monkey’s. Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins here slowly, surely drawing me loving to her isle. A song about madness and loneliness, about the dream that lies just over the horizon.
On a calm, clear night with the stars reflected on the water, miles from land, looking out from the bridge, an island volcano to port, its peak smouldering orange, and to starboard an electrical storm raging silently over the mouth of the great Sepik River, this is the only track worth listening to. If it doesn’t make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck you might want to check for a pulse.
Killer line: Sail to me, sail to me let me enfold you…
9. The New Pornographers – Go Places
Okay, since the last one was a bit of a downer, I’ll pull you back from the abyss with this track by one of my favourites – The New Pornographers. Like We’re Here (#4), it manages to pack more travel-related allusions into four minutes than one would deem possible, and why it’s on this list should be rather self-evident.
Killer line: Make records then set them…
8. Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Another song that just slays me. A ballad about love and loss, Jesus and sailors, tea and oranges, flowers amidst the garbage… and finally seeing what’s there in front of you the whole time.
Killer line: And you want to travel with her…
7. The Naked and Famous – Hearts Like Ours
Tee hee I can see my indie friends spitting out their lattes at this one. I don’t care if it’s a pop song, I don’t care if it’s got a reeeeeally naff electric guitar riff or that it’s sung by a New Zealand group that isn’t Flight of the Conchords: it’s boss. The very song you need blasting into your ears when you’re careering down the Camino Del Muerte on a bike with no brakes. Fact.
Killer line: Borders and horizon lines…
6. The National – Slow Show
An urgent, pressing guitar riff offset by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep, melancholic tones… perfect for when you need to stop and reassess the situation. Like a few other tracks on this list, it’s ostensibly about alcoholism, but it fits so well with the loneliness and crippling self-doubt that can seize you while all alone and far from home.
And has there been a more beautiful line in the history of music than “you know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I found you”? I started The Odyssey when I was 29.
Killer line: I want to hurry home to you…
BONUS!! Here’s a secret, unseen video of me singing along to Slow Show whilst clinging on for dear life top of a truck in the badlands of Northern Kenya.
5. Sigur Rós – Hoppípolla
A song for all seasons, this ridiculously epic track about jumping into puddles is like getting into a warm bath after the end of a long, hard day of travel.
Although the bath in this case is a thermal hot spring in Iceland and there are beautiful women dressed as Norse goddesses on roller-skates dispensing Takamaka rum and Ginger Kisses while in the distance Rock Hudson fights Falkor the Luck Dragon with a lightsaber whilst riding on Battlecat. Probably.
Killer line: Hendumst í hringi, höldumst í hendur, allur heimurinn óskýr.
4. Guillemots – We’re Here
Expertly placed on their Through The Windowpane album immediately after my choice for the most heartbreaking song in the world (If The World Ends), Fyfe Dangerfield turns it all around with this barnstorming track about love and wonder, joy and pain, waves, mountains, sky and the road less travelled… the world is our dancefloor now.
Fitting perfectly with the second year of my adventure, if nothing else it taught me to stop panicking, slow down and smell the goddamn roses. When I can’t move, I’ll savour the pause for a while.
This track speaks to me about the achievement in just trying and the exuberance of the moment: nothing is worth winning without a fight. A song by Guillemots – a band famous for making love sound like a mental health problem – that makes me wanna run to the top of a mountain and punch the air? Wowsers. I even used it on my Odyssey Expedition: Year 2 video.
Killer line: Our train stopped moving hours ago…
BONUS!! Here’s my Odyssey Expedition: Year 2 video!
3. Tindersticks – Travelling Light
On its first listen, it could be a duet of bitter ex-lovers to rival the great Fairy Tale of New York, but I prefer to imagine Travelling Light as an internal piece, a cocktail of scorched emotions and nagging doubts, an argument going on in the mind of a weary traveller. What really am I achieving here? What’s the point? Am I actually enjoying myself?
The end result is the delicious back-and-forth of the ego saying that none of it matters, us travellers, imbued with wanderlust and determination; we have no baggage. The superego says no, this stuff matters – you can pretend you can just hit the road and leave it all behind, but it’s all a front. You don’t travel light. No-one does.
Killer line: Some things you have to lose along the way…
2. Muse – Starlight
You know when you hear a song and you find yourself convinced that it was written especially for you? Like every Adele song for every woman in their mid-30s? Well plink-plonk-plink here’s Muse with Starlight, a song so filled with references to visiting every country without flying it’s almost uncanny. They even filmed the music video on a cargo ship, for heaven’s sake.
Killer line: This ship is taking me far away…
1. The Killers – Human
Released in the same year that I kissed goodbye to my girlfriend Mandy and set off for South America, Human by The Killers quickly became the anthem for The Odyssey Expedition. Upbeat, triumphant and infused with a sense of purpose, it’s a whole lot more than its (slightly) moronic refrain; it’s about getting off your arse, burning your bridges and saying tatty-bye to the life you leave behind. Rather fitting, don’t you think?
Killer line: Wave goodbye, wish me well, you’ve gotta let me go…
Let’s get something clear from the outset: this is not a dedicated list put together by an international team of musos who spend all day every day listening to cutting-edge music through ludicrously expensive Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones. It’s a personal list of songs that – for one reason or another – I must have in my ears at some point while travelling.
20. Carter USM – The Impossible Dream
Trust Jim Bob to turn an all-time favourite showtune into an overblown drunken karaoke singalong spectacular, as gleefully demented as Sid Vicious’s take on My Way. Fitting perfectly with the Quixotic nature of The Odyssey Expedition, this was my go-to track whenever things weren’t going my way.
Did you know this got nominated for a Grammy?! Who knew?!!
Killer line: And the world will be better for this…
19. Morrissey – I Will See You In Far-Off Places
While it’s not one of his best, this is probably Ol’ Misery Guts’ most prescient song when it comes to my life (although Last of the Famous International Playboys comes a close second). And, yes, this came true again and again on my journey, with me meeting up with or running into people I knew in some exceptionally far-off places indeed.
Killer line: If the USA doesn’t bomb you…
18. Cake: The Distance
One-and-a-half hit wonder Cake here with one of the more bizarrely upbeat songs of this Top 20, about a guy who just will not quit, no matter what. Inspirational much?
Killer line: The sun has gone down the moon has come up…
17. David Bowie – Heroes
Oh Bowie. Why did you have to leave us? There’s a dark delight to the futile urgency of Heroes; one man, desperately screaming into the void that we can do this. It often feels that way when you’re on the road, attempting to do what others have already written off as impossible (see #10). Just stick with me, we can do this. Or maybe we can’t. But we can at least try, nobody can fault us for that.
Killer line: I wish I could swim…
16. Blur – This Is A Low
Jeez Damo, could you write a song that makes me feel more homesick? This ditty, based on Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast, takes the listener on a boat trip around the British Isles from the Dogger Bank to the Bay of Biscay and back for tea. This song made me smile on those long boat journeys, just thinking about ol’ Queenie going round the bend and jumping off Land’s End.
Killer line: And so into the sea…
BONUS: Here’s me flying about the place before I thought it might be more fun not to fly (I may have been wrong).
15. Louis Armstrong – Moon River
Oh Audrey, I’m sorry to muscle you out, but I’ve got to give the mic to Satchmo for this one. A timeless melody that (quite rightly) won the Oscar for best song back in 1961, Harry Mancini’s simple lullaby succinctly sums up the aspirations of everybody who feels the urge to grab a backpack and see for themselves what lies beyond the river’s bend.
Killer line: Two drifters off to see the world…
14. Black Box Recorder – I Ran Away The Way Home
When I returned, girlfriendless, to Sri Lanka in the late summer of 2012, this was all I listened to on repeat. I was sick of this stupid journey. I regressed into a rather childish mentality. Happily I was rescued by a passing ship, just like she dreams of in the song, so that worked out alright.
Killer line: Send a message to a passing ship…
Sadly I can’t find it on YouTube so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. In the meantime, here’s England Made Me by the same band. You’ll get the gist.
13. Bright Eyes – We Are Nowhere And It’s Now
A waltz for the dispossessed, this jaunty ditty of alcohol and despair might not at first seem to fit with the typical travel narrative, but talk of passenger seats and the world passing by utterly qualifies it in my book. Plus the title was how I felt on more than one occasion. Sometimes you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got, m’kay?
Killer line: I haven’t been gone very long…
12. The Aliens – Honest Again
There’s a moment when you’re alone on an overnight bus and you’re winding through the mountains and you look up at the sky and the stars are clearer than you could ever imagine and all you want in the world is for somebody you love to be sitting next to you so you can hold their hand and share the experience, but no, you’re all alone. This song is the soundtrack to that moment.
Killer line: How long will it be till I see you again…?
11. Elbow – On A Day Like This
Yes it’s another indie song about alcoholism, but come on, Team GB picked this as their Olympic anthem for a reason – it’s bloomin’ wonderful! It’ll always remind me of being awake in a grotty bus station at some ungodly hour and getting that intangible buzz that one only feels at the start of some new adventure, watching the sun rise through the dust and the smog and deciding there and then – against all reason – that all is right with the world.
Killer line: Throw those curtains wide…
BONUS: Here’s my video of Team GB mooching around London with all their lovely medals.
Happy Global Scouse Day and welcome to my brand spanking NEW website! Here I’ll be posting the geo-political, socio-economic and pop culture pieces that might possibly seem a wee bit out of place on JinjaIsland.com.
Expect some juicy long-form essays tackling matters of great social import (such as “will Captain America go gay for Bucky?”) as well as reaction to whatever lunacy is going on in the world at any given time aka ‘the news’: war, poverty, democracy, extremism, architecture, festivals, the United Nations, the EU, development, charity, justice, human rights and human wrongs.
GrahamDavidHughes.com isn’t just for well-informed (and occasionally humorous) blog entries (although I will strive to keep you entertained), it’s my CV, or “résumé” as those adorable Americans say – hence the mildly embarrassing enthusiasm spread out over 25 pages of special pleading.
To be frank I could do with a job, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and posting as much stuff online as I possibly can. Yeah, somebody might well steal my great ideas, but who knows, one of them might go all Global Scouse Day on us.
For the uninitiated, Global Scouse Day falls every year on February 28 and is a celebration of Liverpool’s favourite dish (the reason we have the nickname ‘Scousers’). Scouse is a type of stew that is slow cooked on the hob (gas ring) traditionally made with beef or lamb (people can get into rather heated discussions about which is best). There is also ‘Blind Scouse’ which is vegetarian, we’re inclusive like that.
The origins of Global Scouse Day lie back in the mists of time. Well, the early noughties. I have a Scottish friend whose birthday happens to fall on Burns’ Night (she’s also got the surname Burns!), so every year on January 25 we’d head over to her place for a big spread: haggis, neeps an’ tatties, all that palaver. Needless to say, I love any celebration that centres around food.
It got me thinking: why not have a food-based celebration for ourselves, for the greatest city in the world? And why not centre it around the very dish from which we get our nickname? So on my birthday – between Burns’ Night and St. Patrick’s Day – I had a big group of mates over for a party and rustled up a large batch of scouse – with crusty bread, pickled beetroot, Cain’s beer, the works. It became a bit of an annual event, so much so that when I left home to go gallivanting off around the world, my friends kept the tradition alive by making scouse for themselves (and each other) on February 28.
In 2011 one of those friends, local baker and social media wizard Laura Worthington, decided she would try to get the entire city eating scouse on February 28 because why the hell not, eh? She’s been utterly instrumental in making Global Scouse Day the incredible phenomenon it has become – I can only take credit for the idea, Laura’s done all the hard yakka.
What’s remarkable about Global Scouse Day is that it has grown organically over the past few years – it’s an idea that has captured the public imagination and the entire city has embraced the concept. But that’s all it is – an idea.
If I had my way, this is all I’d do, travel around the world with a satphone getting calls from publishers, production companies, movie studios, video game developers and advertising execs asking for great ideas. “Here’s the idea, here’s my bank details, cheers” [gets back to climbing Kilimanjaro].
All things being equal, being an Ideas Man or Woman should be that simple, but it’s really not. What I’ve learnt over the last decade is that for the industries I’ve been scratching the door of – TV production, publishing, movies – there are gatekeepers. A vast number of gatekeepers. And for many of these gatekeepers, it’s much easier to say “no” and absolve yourself from any blame should things go wrong.
This makes for a painfully conservative and risk averse system, one that is a nightmare for mavericks and creatives such as myself. To be fair, I can see why the Powers That Be are trapped in this mindset – these industries are simply terrifying in their ruthlessness when it comes to perceived failure – which is why tech companies are running rings around them. Google is not afraid to make mistakes (Google Wave, anyone?!).
I’m not clinging to the corporate ladder for dear life, consequently I have no fear of fucking up. I do it all the time. If an idea doesn’t work out, so what? I can (and will) go to the next one. I have as many baskets as I have (golden) eggs. But if I had kids to support and a mortgage to pay, if I might feel rather differently. If there was a small army of people who could easily take my place at a moment’s notice, I might be more inclined to do everything in my power to avoid responsibility… and therefore say “no” all the damn time.
When I pitched The Odyssey Expedition to Lonely Planet TV, I told them that I was doing it anyway, I was starting on January 1 2009 and left it up to them to decide if they wanted to be involved or not. I didn’t wait for permission.
The same goes for Global Scouse Day and even Jinja Island – I didn’t require the Lord Mayor’s consent to suggest we should eat Scouse on February 28 or have to check with the Man From Del Monte if it was okay for me to come to Panama to buy that particular island.
I’m starting a new video podcast this week called ‘Hughes of the World’. It might be a great success, it might be an epic failure, I don’t know. But again, I don’t have to ask for anybody’s consent, I’m just going to do it.
But that doesn’t mean I’m ever going to give up trying to get my TV shows, books and films off the ground – this is the system we’ve inherited, and one thing you should already know about me: my persistence knows no limits.
So please, have yourself a nosey around my new website and if you can think of anybody who might be interested in teaming up with me and convincing these gatekeepers to get out of our bloody way so we can shower the world in awesomeness, be sure to get in touch.
And, of course, enjoy yer scouse!
“It’s all-but impossible to make scouse for one, it’s a dish for sharing, for bringing people together – a celebration of where we come from and where we’re going.”