Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Issue 7: The green, green grass of home

I don’t like abroad. It’s too far away, the driving is treacherous and it’s too hot. Every possible pleasure you can experience is here, in Britain, on your doorstep – you’ve just got to get up and shape yourself. Beaches? We’re an island nation, we’re surrounded by sand. Hills? Have a trek through Snowdonia if you want life-affirming views. Wildlife? Have a shufti out of the window. We’ve got robins – the friendliest birds on the planet. They’re not afraid of humans and seem to be offering themselves up as the next logical candidate for domestication. You wouldn’t get an ostrich doing that, or a rhea.

Usually, when I’ve travelled abroad, I feel a sense of relief arriving back in Blighty. I like the order, the culture and the fact that our roads have defined edges. Apart from the odd housing estate in London, Belfast and Manchester, you can walk through UK’s thoroughfares largely unmolested. I’ve never understood this rabid desire to see the world. “Finding yourself”? You’re not going to do that backpacking in Burma. You’ve already found yourself – you live in your head. There isn’t a secret, dynamic you about to reveal themselves in Peru, Ecuador or Papua New Guinea. Be satisfied with who you are and what you’ve got. And if you must travel, to satisfy your internal hippy, keep the tales to yourself! We’re not interested hearing about lost Inca cities. They became lost for a reason. It’s because they’re boring and people wanted to forget about them.

I’ve always been satisfied taking holidays in Britain, but often, the people I’ve been with have insisted on booking flights to far-flung locations, where we’d stew in 40-degree temperatures and fall out with each other. It was as if the more miles the airliner clocked up, the more exotic the stay ought to be, but then you’d end up in a sweltering bar chatting to couples from Brighton or Leeds about lines of business. What used to annoy me was that the people I’d travel with would have an obsession of trying to find the locals’ hidden, not-in-the-guide-books, good-time hangouts. You’re taking your life in your hands wandering into a tropical shack, waiting for some steaming voodoo concoction to be poured into a cracked glass when you’d just asked for a lime and soda with a straw.

“I want the real experience,” I’d be told, “like a carnival atmosphere.” It’s never going to happen! For a start, the locals are living a subsistence level of hardship, and when you stride into their rotting booze shed, next to a banana plantation, the last thing they want to do on a Friday night is discuss your traffic problems on the South Circular or who your favourite DJ is.

The worst holiday I ever had was on the Caribbean paradise of St Lucia. Even with suntan lotion on, my legs burnt. I think the spray method was in its infancy back then. Maybe I didn’t rub it in properly. I had to wear jeans for four days. Most of the resorts in St Lucia are enclosed holiday prisons of excess. The walls are there to keep the locals out and the holidaymakers (and their cash) in. It’s a very crooked state of affairs, and you can see why the surrounding poor get so browned off. You’re living on an island idyll, where money from tourism could sort out so much grief, then you’ve got the holiday equivalent of Tescos buying up your beach and building ten-foot walls. Even so, on St Lucia, the locals did little to garner any sympathy from me, luxuriating in their hatred of Europeans. I can understand their anger – I get the root causes – but don’t invite somebody onto your premises and treat them like a rattlesnake.

I was in St Lucia for a week; it seemed to last months. Instead of staying at one of the high-class Sandals, it was decided beforehand that we’d share our holiday pennies with the community. The hotel was a 30-minute stroll from the beach, ie: a bus journey away. It wasn’t cheap, but the prostitutes who used the hotel must have sorted out special rates. What hits you about St Lucia is that everybody is trying to rip you off all of the time. You can see why rum is such a big hit in these parts. You need to down two stiff fingers before leaving the front door, because men walk around with machetes in much the same way that we might carry a newspaper in the UK. It’s a chastening experience having a 6’3” man approach with a meat cleaver in his hand, with his eyes rolling round the back of his head because he’s so off his face, asking if you’ll buy the coconut shell in his hand that he’s crudely hacked into the shape of a bird.

In the ludicrous heat, you’d traipse to the beach bar to grab a frosty beer and the barman would say, “$23.” You’d have to argue the toss on every single transaction. I went for the $18 fish option in our prostitute-friendly hotel restaurant one evening, expecting delicately cooked snapper, and had a plate of kippers with tinned veg clattered on the table in front of me. “I don’t feel comfortable paying £12 for kippers!” I argued. “You’re from a rich country, you can afford it!” the waitress shrieked. When she’d calmed down, I said, “Can we get two beers?” “$40.”

I counted the hours until the flight back. An Air France Concorde crashed in Paris while I was in the middle of that long, long week, so the upcoming homeward journey became fraught with fire-engulfed nerves. The few Brits who were staying at our hotel looked haunted. We’d have secret discussions about how awful the place was. Some of the poor buggers had paid for two weeks. You’d get a bus to town, which was more like a long van with windows, and all the pasengers would be asking you to pay their fare. You’d reply, “Sorry.” Then you’d face six or seven death threats, with everyone on the bus flashing machetes, even the driver.

With a day to go, and weary of the constant harassment, we paid to lounge in one of the Sandals holiday prisons. Once inside the protective hub, I headed dutifully to the bar and ordered two beers. “$30.” Everyone was at it, even staff in the plush beach resorts! I reported the barman. As far as I was concerned, he could sling his machete.

Apologies if you’ve just booked your honeymoon in the Caribbean. At least if you’re heading to St Lucia, you’ll be getting a break from the endless drone of British radio DJs. I’d certainly like a fortnight away from Gideon Coe and Mary Anne Hobbs at the moment. I’ve just seen on Google that “Gidz” went to Coventry University and used to be on Why Don’t You?. A child star! Why Don’t You? was one of only two kids TV programmes that were unwatchable because they were so dull. The other was Jackanory. Ooh, controversial! I’d rather be ploughing through maths homework than listen to Bernard Cribbins reading a long story.

I don’t mind 6Music. I love Marc Riley and Mark Radcliiffe, as you’d expect, but Gideon Coe is a first-generation Nick Grimshaw. Obviously, if you’re called Gideon, doors will be flung open for you in London, in case you’re the son of a Lord. “Are you related to Seb?” As I’m writing this, Gideon’s just come on the radio, with that stupid background music. By my radio, I have a writing pad, and on this, I write down tracks that I need to further investigate. I’ve never written anything down while Gideon’s Coe’s been on the radio.

Mary Anne Hobbs wants gobbing. She’s emerged out of nowhere on 6Music and, to my horror, I’ve discovered she’s filling in for Shaun Keaveny – who I’m not overly fond of either – on the breakfast slot. She speaks like a Seventies drip – probably still goes backpacking. “I feel really privileged that BBC Radio is allowing me to delve into the history of electronic music,” she’ll drawl, “to play the most amazing, most fantastic electronic music in the history of mankind, and that this amazing genre of music is at last getting the attention it deserves, through me, and I was at the Latitude Festival at the weekend, and Gideon Coe and I DJ’ed from 11pm till 4am, and we were so privileged to witness our own success, and it was so packed, and I’m from Lancashire, and everything was so amazing that they had to create a moshpit for us, because everyone loved us and everyone was going wild, cos we work for BBC radio, and I loved me, and Gids loved me, and Gids was spectacular, and Sandals in St Lucia loved us and have booked us up for the entire winter, then we’re going travelling in Vietnam,” etc.

I quite like Norway and Greece, and Hungary’s OK too. In fact, me and the wife are going to Budapest quite soon, covering the Sziget festival for work. Franz Ferdinand are playing. Hopefully it won’t be as roasting as London is at the moment, which is like being on Mercury, but it’ll no doubt be hovering around 37 degrees. I keep having visions of a black Labrador attempting to read the BBC London weather forecast, standing in for the boozy Wendy Hurrell, and all the dog can do is go, “Heheheheheheheheheh,” with its big tongue sticking out of its mouth, because it’s too hot. I was up at 3am ironing the other night with the sweat running off me in rivers. I couldn't sleep! No wonder I’m daydreaming about weather Labradors. Right, I’ve got some freelance work to finish off about autumn/winter high-street trends. Just looking at a heavy coat makes me feel exhausted. No wonder Italy and Spain can never lift themselves out of economic uncertainty. How can you do anything in the heat?

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