Friday, 31 March 2017

BearingAway Live: The Beginning

A video of our journey from London to Japan. 

First steps in Japan

One's first day in a new city or country is always rather tricky.  First there is the physical grime of travel to wash away, the tiredness to banish and one's packing - once so familiar, now seemingly incredibly alien - to explore, but then there is the small matter of a different language and culture to get used to.  In some ways Japan feels to be in a league of its own in this regard, and so far we have barely dipped our little toes in.

Yesterday was all about getting here - the eleven. Hour flight to Seoul and the hour long connection to Fukuoka, the latter spent predominantly completing the lengthy immigration and customs declarations to enter Japan.  The journey itself wasn't bad as long-haul flying goes.  Asiana hadn't been the easiest of airlines to deal with electronically, but once on board the seats were relatively comfortable, the crew unfailingly friendly, and the food remarkably good for aviation fare. Wehad expected formalities on arrival to take a while, but save for a little disagreement over how best to represent the seven hotels we will be staying at in a single box on the form, we were allowed in without too much trouble.  Goodness knows if they will be able to make sense of Mark's cribblings, or indeed whether they would have been just as happy with something a little less comprehensive, so long as pen had been commited to paper in roughly the right places.

And now it is morning on our first day. The free hotel rahmen last night had been a nice welcome, saving us from exploring the city in our rather fatigued state, and the cans of lager from the very Japanese vending machine were truly welcome.  The main objectives for the hours ahead are simply (I use the term cautiously) to become acquainted with Japan, to pick up our oh-so-precious JR rail passes, to book seats on around ten different trains, and to find lunch in what is regarded by some as the culinary capital of Kyushu.  I can't wait to get going.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Different this time

Goodness me, it's that time again - that point in the year when I promise myself, not to mention my faithful and very patient readers, that this time will be different.  I really do mean it each time I write a post such as this, even if deep down I have a sneaky suspicion that this holiday will be just like all the others, and that once I'm off the first train or plane I'll forget all about writing, or simply find something more enjoyable to do, like eating or drinking, or generally anything other than sitting in front of a computer keyboard.

Part of the problem in the past however, has been over-ambition.  That, and a healthy dose of perfectionism, combining to mean that I spend so long takig photographs, video and audio that I have scant time left to pen carefully worded prose - and frankly I'd rather write nothing than utter rubbish (though will let you be the judge of how well I succeed in this).

Now I know about bad workmen and all that, but the other problem in recent times has been a frankly awful bluetooth keyboard, which somehow managed simultaneously to omit characters that I had typed whilst adding in plenty that I hadn't.  It meant that a post of roughly this length might have taken me several hours, all the while picking about in each sentence to correct the nonsense that I had inadvertently drafted.  The good news is that my new Griffin Lightening keyboard is making very snappy work of this post.  The downside is that any nonsense present on the page is well and truly down to me!

So, I've spent too much of your precious time telling you what's going to be different this time, and not nearly enough saying where I will be going, and what I'll be doing when there.

Well, suffice to say that this is a big one.  Last year I travelled no further east than the Franco-German border, and as far west only as Madrid.  This year the journey will be of a similar length to the first leg of that trip to Spain, albeit with the twelve or so hours spent in planes rather than trains.  I'm heading somewhere that's been on my bucket list for years but somehow never reached the top, a place whose culture is both all around us and yet in many ways quite foreign.  It is said to be one of the only truly modern non-Western countries and its impact is felt globally.  This year I'm heading to Japan.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Battle for the written word

I've been re-reading a few of my blog posts. It may seem a rather self centred, introspective thing to do, but it was prompted by a comment being left on a long forgotten post and my wish to rediscover it.

The commentor in question said something nice about my style of writing, and looking back through the various articles, I had to agree. Whilst it must be the very epitome of immodesty to praise one's own pros I can't help feeling that some of the text, written months and years ago, still achieves The effect I originally sought to create. Often, at the time of writing, I find myself publishing pieces without reviewing and re-writing them as much as I ought, for fear of never actually pressing "send". It isn't that I don't care about what I write, as I have commented on in the past, it is simply that I would likely never be happy with the words used or the flow of sentences and paragraphs. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find that, in many cases, those words fitted together quite fine and conveyed the meaning in an interesting and engaging way.
What I was less happy to discover however, was my almost faultless trait of beginning interesting sounding series, only to never continue them. At the beginning of so many holidays, it seems, I have begun with the intention of writing each day, chronicling journeys and experiences, only to run out of steam before I've left the starting station. Take, for instance, my recent trip with Mark to Sicily, all the way from London by train. It had the makings of a gripping story, with significant challenges to overcome on the way to a Mediterranean idyll - save for the fact that, in writing it, I got no further than the French Alps.

Another example was my independent trip to Amsterdam with my (now previous) guide dog Vance. Typographically the starting post left a little to be desired, penned as it was on my normal dodgy Bluetooth keyboard, but the tale was truly sunk by my Phalia to write another word after my overnight ferry left Harwich.

So, whilst I can see some merit in the sense of some of my articles, I am left deeply frustrated by my apparent inability to finish what I have begun. It isn't as if there wasn't anything worthy of being written about on these trips. Had I spent the time and effort doing it I am sure I could have conveyed fear and exhilaration which seem to fill most journeys in equal measure - yes, I love travelling, but that doesn't mean it is always plain sailing. I could have happily talked about the contradiction of pleasant monotony on a long distance sleeper train to Palermo, or the frenzied swarms of bicycling locals which infect Dutch streets and make independent mobility a frankly frightening affair. I might have written of walking the circular promenade of Altigia, as if I was experiencing it live, or brought to life the cacophony of a Munich beer Hall. I didn't do any of that however, I was too busy taking photographs and audio recordings, too preoccupied with capturing the "now" to really sit back and think about it.

The tension between keyboard and camera began early on the Sicily trip. My original, indeed only, article from that journey took over three hours to write because I was so distracted with taking pictures every few miles, or recording thoughts live on video or audio. Yes, the writing was certainly hard going with a phone and keyboard combination which wrote the wrong character more often than the right, but The products of combining observation and imagination on paper are often so much more gratifying than the simple electronic capturing of a moment.

Reading those initial chapters pre-seeding empty books it seemed as though I did not, could not, trust myself to recall and relay events without those pictures and sounds of actuality to back up the memories. It was, I think, a strong desire to convey the experience to a wider audience in a way which could be digested, understood easily, and a belief that in order to do so properly one needs to film and photograph as much as possible. In my head, I could see the cut-away shots that would be needed to make my video flow, or the photographs which would help me and others to understand or appreciate a location long after it had passed. If I couldn't see the detail of a landscape or building the photographs and video would help me to review it later, and somehow this seemed more important than the feelings and thoughts triggered by the experience itself.

So, five months after Sicily I have over 4000 photographs still waiting to be organised, two hour long videos produced but plenty more footage to edit, hours of audio uploaded to the Internet and a solitary blog post which says more in its few paragraphs than most of the other electronic memories put together.

I may yet manage to write a little more about some of my most recent trips, dredging up memories from the depths of my brain, but what I would really like to do is find The inclination to take a few less photographs, video shots and audio recordings and focus a bit more on the written word. Perhaps by standing back and thinking that every picture counts, as we all did before digital photography, and not feeling that I have to chart every single second live, I can create the space to achieve this.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Rushing through France

Mark has lost the keys to his brain apparently. He's sitting opposite me, speeding backwards through undulating countryside between Paris and Lyon, grumbling about the lack of sleep he's suffered in the past couple of days. To be fair, he's also throwing potential blog post titles at me and, extremely helpfully, giggling at the curvature of my bluetooth keyboard,, apparently distorted from the pressures inside my rucksack - so the cheerful Mark we know and (sometimes) love is still in there somewhere. After ten minutes of massaging the keyboard back the other way and considering the relative merits of writing about our travels so far or preparing for our next destination with a quick Italian lesson I think I finally know what I'm doing.

It's been a slightly mad twenty-four hours or so, beginning with my departure from my parents' local station in East Sussex, leaving behind my guide dog for a couple of weeks, and finishing with a rather civilised stroll next door from the Mercure Gare de Lyon to catch our TGV service to Turin, sitting at platform D (who's idea was this strange lettering system anyway?) an almost lliteral stone's throw away. It almost feels rude to be rushing through France so quickly, with barely a moment to breathe. We arrived just before eight last night, having enjoyed a stress-free trip from St Pancras, crossing to Gare de Lyon and settling intoo the Mercure without having to give it much thought. It was all a far cry from the middle of the day, as I frantically completed my packing before crawling painfully along the District Line to Bow Road, all the time attempting to keep tabs on Mr Rogers in the vain hope that he wouldn't cause me to run for our international departure. I'm personally no stranger to cutting it fine when heading off from London, but when the train is merely the first link in a 1,800 mile rail journey there is a little extra impetus to get it right and avoid messing up the the rest of the trip. I'd be lying if I claimed not to be just a little nervous as I waited for Mark outside the Tube, the clock ticking away the final minutes before check-in closed, in fact I'd be lying if I claimed not to have threatened him with a slow and grrzzly death if he made me miss the train. Thankfully Mark was spared a premature meeting with his maker, and I could look forward to a great continental railway journey rather than decades in prison.

The threat of indefinite incarceration may have receded a little as we squeezed our way through the ticket barriers, security machines and two sets of passport control crammed into the tiniest of spaces at St Pancras, but I wasn't without a ball and chain - and this one would be joining me forr the entire journey to Sicily. One of these days I will learn to leave the kitchen sink, oven and cupboards in their rightful place at home, but for this trip, as for so many that have gone before, I'm lumbered with an enormous holdall filled to the brim with sufficient clothing for a Grand Tour of Victorian proportions. That's all well and good when it only needs humping to the airport conveyor belt, but a little different when your trip involves ten station changes and goodness only knows how many flights of steps. As Mark keeps reminding me, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger., though I may reserve judgement until I returrn in one piece.

Talking of death, or at least pushing one's body to the limit, and then a little further, Mark is not only testing my hhheart rate on this trip. Seeing him arrive yesterday with three rucksacks to cart down to Sicily, wheezing from exertion, or tucking into an enormous meal at the wonderfully grand Train Bleu restaurant, complete with champagne and half a bottle of wine, one would be forgiven for questioning the merits of undertaking such a trip following a diagnosis of sky high blood pressure. Thankfully for him we're heading to the world of olive oil and heart-sustaining cuisine, which should at least appease his doctor should he return in an even worse state than when he left.

In the meantime, a couple of hours after I began this post, and as we twist and turn through stunning Alpine scenery I can hear sleepy breathing from across the table. I'd better not wake him, he needs all the stamina he can build to get through this mammoth adventure.

*Please note that this post was written on a dogy bluetooth keyboard which is inclined to omit or invent characters. I hope you will therefore forgive the inevitable errors.


Monday, 17 August 2015

To Sicily

After months of planning the big trip is finally here. I hope to post plenty of updates on this blog, and will also be uploading audio to AudioBoom ( To get things started, here is a recording taken as I returned home, having left Vance with my parents: