The end

I’m home now. It didn’t feel quite right ending this blog on oh I got stabbed in the leg by my handle and now I’m flying home, so here’s my attempt at concluding something, anything.

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When I set out on this trip I had a few goals – eat new things, eat well, meet people and have experiences unique to wherever I was. I had a few ideas of how to achieve this. Eating well I’ve talked about enough so I’ll skip that. The next two kind of go hand in hand (it’s very difficult to have some kind of unique cultural experience without knowing any locals) – and my strategy for those was simple – ride my bike and hitchhike. I figure trains and busses are pretty much the same anywhere and almost always you have complete control over where you go. Get a ticket for the Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok train and that’s exactly where you’re going to go. If I’d done that here’s no way I would have gone to Chaiya, Terong or any of those nameless, empty beaches. I would never have even had the idea. When you’re bike touring you have no choice. You have to go random places you’ve never heard of everyday simply because they’re on the way. Hitchhiking on the other hand forces you to meet people, there’s no way around it. What’s amazing to me now is how doing those two things affected my normal behaviour. The more I hitchhiked or rode my bike, forcing myself to meet people and get out of the city, the more I found myself approaching complete strangers on the street and talking to them.

Day 4:
I’ve got a pretty shitty map and I was really confused where the next town (substantial enough to require a hotel) would be. I stopped at a batter-fried banana stall and asked a family hanging out behind the counter. They said the next town, Mentakab, would have some cheap hotels but it was about 30km away. If I stayed in Lanchang I could go to a homestay (a semi-commercialised and common b’n’b practice in Malaysia).

“how much for a homestay?”

“about 150 ringgit.” That’s about $50. I must have made some kind of appalling face because they all laughed.

“Too much?” said a large set man with jagged teeth, a scarred cheek and a beanie.

“Yeah that’s expensive.” I felt awkward saying that because I had obviously spent hundreds of $$$ just to get here and these guys run a fried-banana stall on the side of a highway.

“You stay at my house,” said the beanie man.

I had two thoughts:
1. This guy looks like fighting
2. Ah whatever, I’m probably prejudice anyway. I definitely want to stay in your house.

One of the others, the laughiest one, in a uniform and wearing a head scarf, said that she was his sister and he would look after me.

Lang, Inna and their son live in a small village surrounding one dirt road on the outskirts of Lanchang. It’s totally chaotic and beautiful. There are chickens, monkeys and cats running around chasing shit, there are kids all over place and all the houses are constructed by so many different materials they look like they’ve fortuitously landed that way following a rather charitable hurricane. Their house was at the end of the village on the edge of the river.

Day 65:
A few minutes later I approach a running man smiling like a toothpaste advertisement.

“Hello,” he says, his eyebrows jumping like horny rabbits. . . He said he was saving money for a holiday in Australia and he would like to take me out to dinner. . .

Like almost every random dinner encounter I’ve had on this trip, I was ridiculously over-fed. Red faced and squinting through a cloud of soju, Jong-Jim told me;

“Korea has a poor history. We like to eat until we are full.”

Another dish arrives at the table. The third round, it’s a plate of char-grilled mackerel.

“Are you full?” I ask. I too am feeling woozy. Jong-Jim treats my beer glass like his bank account.

“Yes . . . I’m ready to eat.” He says.

We had another two rounds after that. Drunk and full we stumbled home three hours later.

The rainbow continues.

It’s been incredibly successful. Exhaustingly so. If I was to go back and make a grade report on my trip it would be all As, all enjoyment, golden waves swept me up and drowned me in fortune.

The only tiny regret I have, and it really is a tiny one, is going to Europe. A small part of me wishes I’d gone somewhere else, somewhere I’d never been before, maybe somewhere a bit more adventurous, a bit harder maybe. I think the main reason I feel that way is because I’ve learnt so much on this trip but I didn’t really have that feeling so much in Europe, comparatively anyway. Europe was no less fun it just wasn’t, I dunno, different enough?

I remember back in 2007 when I was on my first long trip and my friends and I wanted to try couchsurfing. I remember reading all these profiles with people saying things like ‘My mission is to learn about myself through the world’, ‘travel brings people together’ and ‘I want to learn about other cultures by meeting people’ – what a pile of wankers. I thought they all must be naive or stupid. Well that was judgemental and stupid of me because now those are all the things I want to say but I can’t find the right words because I feel like a wanker. Here goes – I think this trip has taught me a lot about the world and probably more about myself. It’s hard to say exactly what but I feel vaguely older or more understanding and better at things. It’s a very nice feeling and I’m curious whether anyone at home will notice anything or I’m simply gorging on the psychological cocaine of travel and it’s all just a dream.

I’ve hardly said anything or explained myself at all but I still feel like a wanker, which is probably ridiculous but I’m going to stop talking. The aim of this post was just to thank everyone. I’ve had such a fucking excellent time, beyond what I’d ever thought was possible, and it’s all because of a whole bunch of incredibly nice, amazing people – strangers who for whatever reason helped me, fed me, housed me, befriended me and taught me about their world. So for whoever’s reading this, anyone I’ve met anywhere along this journey, thanks. Thanks for your friendship, thanks for the drops of gold and thanks for the rainbows.

And finally, people who are reading this, thanks. Anytime you said anything about this blog I felt very happy and sometimes I even felt good at what I do.

Bike:
Distance travelled: 2628km
Longest day: 122km

Hitchhiking:
Distance travelled: 5548km
Rides taken: 94
Longest day: 474km
Average wait: 19minutes

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Day 185, 186 and 187: Antalya again

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I have no idea what the second scar is. Maybe my break lever?

I have no idea what the second scar is. Maybe my break lever?

I’ve recovered well. With piles, oceans and galaxies of thanks to Bryan, I can now sit cross legged, walk without needing to lean on things or vomit, poo and pee normally, raise my foot off the ground and sleep painfree – I’ve got the flexibility and athleticism of a morbidly obese pirate. The next things to cross off are dancing, showers, jumping, running, burpees, swimming and looking sexy (some of these are potentially unattainable).

The recovery has been so rapid and surprising to me that I started to entertain the idea of living out my last two weeks in Istanbul hobbling in between cabs and restaurants. But as enjoyable as it would have been actually becoming obese, it’s not to be. I’m coming home tomorrow. The draw of loved ones and the heroism of my Mum is too great for me to do anything else.

I realised yesterday, a day of particularly substantial recovery, why I may have been struggling so intensely the second day after my accident. Sure my leg had been stabbed by a metal cylinder and my arse bruised by a platoon of horny rocks but I also remembered something else. Before I started this trip I had set out to get really fit – on night one of my Turkish tour I did pilates, yoga and sportsecize until I was too dead to do anything else. The next day I had my accident. So while I was lunging myself around Bryan’s house, using every wall edge, table and implement I could find to support myself, my back, abdomen, shoulders, arms and bum were shaking and swearing like a bag of drug addicts who’d never seen light or nutrients.

I haven’t done much in the last few days. I’ve spent most of my time finishing On the Road*, napping and reading articles like ’26 weirdest beaches in the world’ and ‘why it would be bad to date a disney prince’. But fuck that, today’s my last day in Turkey. I’m never going to be able to recover two weeks worth of incredible rural Turkish deliciousness but I’m fucking well going to eat something good.

1st stop – where the hell are all the good bakeries around here. Oh hey. Everywhere. Great, thanks.

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There was some baklava to go along with this as well but I ate that up as soon as it was within pecking distance*. The two puffy ones covered in little sinewy black seeds are doughy and dry – the large one with olives and the smaller one with dill and soft salty cheese, the squarish pastry has a heavily churned Turkish sausage and some rubbery cheese, the roll is chewy and layered with sweetened tahini (didn’t know that existed) and the long jagged thing is crunchy like a biscuit and full of cinnamon fig jam.

Excellent.

My next opportunity (my sedentary lifestyle restricts my appetite to fairly routine and sparse eating times) was dinner. I told Bryan and his girlfriend to pick whatever restaurant they liked and I’d shout.

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It was a specialty restaurant of the North East, the region near Georgia. They had a heap of fresh fish to choose from and then mezze style salads next to it. We got a pile of fried anchovy fillets, a frittata thing with tiny mysterious bok choy like bulbs, Turkish corn bread, some hard Turkish liquor and the best dolmates I’ve ever had. Fucking great choice guys. That was my best meal in Turkey.

*I was reading this ages ago, I can’t remember if I said so, but I lost it in one of the many cars I hitchhiked in. I bought it again not long ago and aimed to finish it on the road but I can’t now, unless of course I loose it again.
*a rather short one considering the length of my shnoz

I went to hospital in Turkey

I’m riding down hill. The road is bumpy and flanked by thick beds of gravel. I haven’t seen a car in ten minutes and I’m going faster than I should. A car approaches around a corner. It’s going very fast up the middle of the road. As soon as I see it it’s right in front if me. I jerk my bike to the side and swerve out of the way. My front wheel jumps on the gravel and my bike flips up with me on it and I crash into the road.

I’m tangled. I can’t get out from under my bike. I don’t understand. Why is this happening? I look down and see my upper thigh has been skewered by my bike handle. The rubber’s come off and the metal cylinder is inside my leg.

“Oh fuck that.” I yell and yank it out. Probably not the best idea – my thigh visibly throbs and blood flows out thick and fast. I had a few funny thoughts in this moment.
1. Oh fuck it’s an artery and I’m in the middle of nowhere. I still want to be alive tomorrow.
2. Well, things are out of my hands now. Guess I better start yelling.
3. I wonder if I’ll get any gory photos. Maybe I can post them on reddit.

Meanwhile, old mate who was driving too fast had wheeled around and driven back to check on me. I could understand 0% of the words he said but I understood that he was worried. Then another three guys were looking over me. One was in his phone.

“Ambulance.” He said.

“Yeah yeah yeah.” Um I mean “Evet, evet.” I said, adrenaline makes you remember things.

Then there were more people. All of them were arguing. They must have thought the old dude had run me over because he turned to me and mimed a car crash. I think he was afriad of being arrested or something because he’d wounded a foreigner. I gave him a thumbs up and he left straight after. I remember thinking he was a jerk. Everyone else started leaving until it was only me and three dudes.

“Ambulance.” They said agin.

“Yeah yeah, good.” Thumbs up again.

Then they started leaving.

“Hey! You just going to leave me here?” I waved my arms about as much I could.

They looked unsure so I kept the pressure on.

“Can’t you just wait 5 minutes.” They didn’t understand any words but they recognised my urgency. One guy came back and sat with me and the others left.

“Ambulance 15 minutes.”

“Yeah, cool.” Thumbs up again.

. . . “Hey you like football?” I asked. Silence and pain have never been the greatest companions.

“Yes. Yes, I like Besiktas.”

“Haha I like Arsenal*.”

I can’t really remember what happened for the next 10minutes but I know I didn’t pass out.

When the ambulance arrived everything got very serious. They strapped me in a neck brace and tied me to a stretcher. I didn’t want it to be all gloomy in the ambulance ride so I said hello to everyone and tried to make some jokes. They didn’t understand but it did trick. We got chatting, a little bit of jumbled English and the rest via a translating app. Paramedics Esre, 26 and Samir, 21.

“Hey Samir can you take a picture of me?” I directed him to my bag. He found the right one and held it up. I said yes in Turkish and they giggled. Then Samir, oblivious to his job, his patient and my pain, placed the bag right on top of my injury.

“OWW, What the hell man. What kind of paramedic are you?” It fucking hurt and I didn’t want to be ride but I guessed he probably wouldn’t understand anyway.

“Oh. pain?” He asked.

“Yeah yeah but it’s ok.” We both laughed – but seriously is there a rookier error he could have made? Fuck man I was bleeding a river out of there ten minutes ago.

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The strange thing about being in a stretcher is you can’t see anything but straight up. When we arrived at the hospital I don’t really know what happened. I remember a stressed doctor came in and started pointing at my body parts. I guessed he was checking whether I was in pain anywhere else. More thumbs up. Two nurses came in and stuck needles in my arm – don’t know what – and then the doctor fiddled with my wound. I don’t know if I’d been anaesthetised but I was feeling a lot of pain, particularly when they started stitching me up. Every needle in and out and I wanted to yell and cry and squeeze things but I did none of those. I just held my mouth shut and said hhhrrrrnnrrrnn a lot. No one explained anything because no one in the hospital spoke English.

As soon as I was sewn up and bandaged I was taken in to get an x-Ray. They pointed the machine at my neck and shoulders but I waved my hands and said no. I didn’t wanna pay for x rays. They kept at it so I untied my neck brace and started showing off the flexibility of my neck. They got the idea but still insisted on x-raying my hips. Oh fuck it, may as well I guess. What’s money for anyway.

Once finished my nurse put me back on my stretcher and helped me into a bed. I rested for about half an hour, the doctor came in and gave me my x-rays and a sheet of paper with the number 16,632 strewn across the top – about $8000.

“Everything good.” He said and walked out again. Then my nurse came back in and indicated that I had to leave.

This is when everything hit me. I’ve got no insurance, I owe a Turkish hospital $8000, I have no idea where I am, I can’t contact anyone, I can barely walk and I’m in so much pain I want to vomit. Fuck.

While I was sitting outside thinking about how to rescue myself for this utterly shite situation a nurse came out and tried to talk to me in French. His French was even worse than mine but I understood something like ‘you need to wait for 30minutes so you can get your receipt’. Well what the hell is this thing. I held up the docket. He said something something drugs something something pharmacist. Oh! Haha that’s my prescription. In the end everything – ambulance, x rays, minor surgery and whatever I was injected with – cost only $30.

Alright, that’s one problem down. Now to get . . . Oh hey is that my bike. A ute had pulled up. In the back was a incredulous goat and a bike covered in scratches. The Besiktas fan had come to return my bike. What a guy.

Alright. So now I’ve got a bike, my legs still fucked, I’ve got about $25 left and I’m fucking exhausted. Bryan. I’m sorry Bryan to shackle you with the burdens of a cripple but I don’t know anyone else.

That’s where I am now, Bryan’s house in Antalya, where I started. I had no idea but the hospital was in Korkuteli – about 60km from Antalya. Thanks to a very kind nurse, a confused taxi driver and Bryan’s landlord I managed to get there last night with my bike and all my luggage. It was a massive effort and several times during the journey I thought I was going to faint or vomit from pain and loss of blood but I’m here now and I can sleep.

As for the rest of my holiday I’m not really sure what will happen. It’s highly unlikely I’m going to see it out because of how crippled I am – I can walk but it’s incredibly painful and slow and I need something to hold onto. I’m going to see a doctor tomorrow and depending what they say I’ll probably fly home in the next few days.

*Arsenal and Besiktas recently played in a champions league qualifier. Arsenal won 1-0 over two legs in a tight game. Besiktas played well and probably deserved something out of the game but instead they lost the game, their spot in the champions league and several million dollars.

Day 183 and 184: Dösemealti

I’ve been hitchhiking around Europe for three months. In that time I’ve gone for four runs and done one ridiculously over the top youtube workout (link). Antalya is surrounded by mountains. Bryan said the main road out of the city was a gradual climb, pretty easy but on a busy highway. I took another road neither of us knew anything about. It was the opposite of gradual – all flat and then one very short and fucking steep hill. Being a normal 26 year old guy with an inflated idea of my own ability, I laughed, set a high gear and started pumping high in the saddle*. In ten minutes I was swaying from side to side, plodding barely above a speed I can walk and thinking about when I should take my next break.

This is what the summit looked like:

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I was riding to a campsite on the edge of a national park. I never found it. After riding around some goat farms and pine forests for a good two hours I saw a sign with a bed on it. It was a road-side restaurant with a disco and some baths. It was all wooden and laquered with pictures of corporate meetings and fine dining. Not exactly what I was looking for but I’d ridden up a steep hill and I wanted to sleep. I approached a young guy in a candy-shop like outfit.

“Excuse me.” Two minutes later I was surrounded by teenage turks, all of them awkwardly fitted in stripy collars and straight black pants. They talked a lot and touched everything – poking my tyres, tugging at my bags, fiddling with my breaks, my shirt, arms and shorts, I felt like a roll of bubble rap. When I opened my front pania (look up) they all crowded in to have a look. One guy started going through all my shit and the others thought it was about time they tried to communicate with me. I pointed at some of the cabins and did the universal symbol for sleep. They said ahhhh, then one dude got out a pen and wrote 70 on his hand – about $35 Aus. Fuck that – I laughed and started to leave was but they energetically held out their hands and one guy held my arm softly.

“We talk chef.”

Another three guys appeared. How many employees does this roadside restaurant/disco/hotel have? One bald man with facial features like a scrunched up bag had 50 written on his hand. I got up to leave again, I didn’t know where to – I guess it was just brinksmanship. They tried to stop me again. The young guy who I first met, the most touchy of them all, got out his phone and started translating.

“How much can you pay.” His phone said. I wrote down 35 on my phone and showed it to him.

“ok ok we talk to chef.”

Scrunched up bald guy came back a minute later with 40 written on his other had. $20 Aus, I have no idea whether I’m being ripped off or they are. I sighed and gave thumbs up. Who knows.

The room was big and air conditioned with a tv and a couch. I would have been pretty thrilled had it not smelt jizzy and towely. I guess it doesn’t matter if I sleep in this unwashed horn-bag beg, I’m fucking dirty anyway.

Put off by my stinky-jizz room and a load of ambiguous bargaining I refused to eat dinner at their restaurant, afraid of what it would cost and what it would taste like. Instead, weary and heavy legged, I rode 14km to the last town for this.

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I wasn’t particularly spectacular but then again I got to see this on the way way back.

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I ate breakfast at the hotel the next morning.

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I probably should have stayed.

The next morning was almost exclusively hill. One of those roads windy enough never to reveal it’s peak. I’m obviously way, way unfitter than I thought. I fucking struggled. Granted, I rode up a steep hill the day before and then an extra and completely unnecessary 14km on my already striking legs but this was particularly hard. The only time I can remember taking so many breaks is during the 42km climb on my second day in Malaysia. Usually I like to do hills fast and hard – I set my gears high, stand up and try to get it over with. Sure that’s how I started but after the second corner I was down to first – actual walking pace. The only time I’ve ever dropped into a gear that low was on my first ever bike tour in Tasmania and that hill was steep enough to make my back wheel flip out. I was wrecked by the end.

There was a rest station up top – a few chairs, a place to pray and a tap. The only seat in the shade was with a Turkish couple drinking tea. There was no way I was going to sweat it out in the 33C heat so I joined them. They gave me some tea and invited me to some kind of wrestling event South of where I was going. It was unclear whether It was a professional match, a community event he was taking part in or he was simply inviting me over to his house where we would wrestle together, man to man. I’m not really sure what I would of preferred.

The rest of day was bliss. I was given some peaches and a pomegranate from some road side farmers, there was a cool breeze behind me and I was cruising.

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*what a ridiculously unsexy sentence

Day 181 and 182: Antalya

When I arrived in Turkey I met Bryan, the Jesus of bike touring. He was part of warmshowers* and couchsurfing before the internet existed. He used to get mailed pamphlets with addresses and phone numbers. He’d send people letters saying ‘Hey I’m going to be coming to France in six months can I stay at your place?’ and hope they reply before he arrives. Now he’s ridden through more than forty countries – solo, duo, tandem, he’s been through Ethiopia, the Himalayas and Idonesia, he’s camped in the dessert, with hyenas and in freezing cold weather, he’s eaten everything and he knows Turkish, French and Spanish. He lives in Turkey because this was one of the places he liked the most. An incredible guy to meet on the eve of your last adventure.

This was the first thing we did together.

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Perfect temperature, calm as the Queen’s sheets and salty enough to float an anvil – I can’t imagine a body of water more perfectly designed for relaxation.

 

While Bryan and I were climbing down the rock face to get to the bay we were greeted by a large British man with facial hair so thick and black it looked painted on. He was standing by the water’s edge like a curious child. Bike Jesus and I said a quick hello, how’s it going, oh your Suneil, call you su? Alright great, time to get in the relaxation pool – but Su was still standing there.

“How the fuck do you suppose I get down.”

It was only a few small steps in the rock. I turned and held out my hand.

Cycle moses dove in, I unskilfully follow suit and Su held his nose and jumped feet down like a baseball bat falling out of an aeroplane. We had a quick chat and swam out of the bay, Bryan went for a quick lap and I paddled around to look at an abandoned building. We returned to find Su clinging onto an underwater rock looking typically half anxious, half excited. I’ve never been the most confident swimmer so I joined him.

“We’re gonna get walloped by these waves.” He said.

“What?” It was almost completely flat.

“When that boat comes we’re going to get smacked around.”

The boat, about twelve feet, travelling at a speed I could run, was 100 metres away and sending some mildly caressing waves. I told him how In Sydney large waves is completely normal and this would be considered flat as it comes.

“I’ve only ever been in pools. This is my first time in the ocean. It’s brilliant.”

He told us he’d come to Turkey to ‘get away from things’. It seemed to have worked. He was so genuinely excited about the world. If he had more physical energy I would have been convinced he was an overgrown child. It was great to be around. I wanted to sweep him up onto my magic carpet and take him to see the sights sights of the world.

Me and Su. Giant hairy dude and bleary twig boy hand in hand, around the world and full of song.

“A whole new world.” What magic.

I had the heaviest meal last night. Bryan recommended a restaurant that specialises in sheep calf soup. He couldn’t join me so I went with Enrico, an enthusiastic Italian restauranteur I’d met at the airport. Neither of us can speak any Turkish so the only way we could communicate we wanted lamb calf soup was by baaaaing and grabbing our calves. Our waiter, who looked like an evil business man from the 70s, showed an industrial chortle and slapped my shoulder. Ten minutes later we got two soups, bread and a plate of fresh Turkish rocket and parsley with a chilli sauce and some tzatziki*. One soup had shredded lamb and the other had what I can only guess was a sheep knee – it didn’t have any meat on it, only fat, tendons and goupy gristle. Both came in a rich meaty stock with a large spoonful of congealed yellow stuff – cheese, cream or maybe animal fat. While we were laughing about how not-warm-weather appropriate our meals were a smily water appeared with a pan of melted butter. He scooped two large spoonfuls of the stuff and lathered it on our soups.

Evil 70s business man watched. I took a spoonful and washed the fatty pulp through my teeth. It was meaty, heavy and succulent. I smiled at him and gave the thumbs up. He came over to me all smiles and swagger and whispered in my ear.

“This is Turkish viagra.” I was rather troubled by that, not because he suddenly seemed to speak english or that his whisper voice sounded like the voice of a devil but because I wasn’t wearing any underwear. I 100% didn’t want to get a fat one sitting at a Turkish restaurant with a guy I’d just met.

Evil 70s business must be particularly virile because I didn’t feel the slightest pump or verve underneath.

The meal was huge. Not only was the soup heavy but it was big and served with salad and about eight slices of bread each. When we finished our meal Enrico asked me if I wanted to get a kebab or some ice cream. I stood up and felt my belly. I did not.

*couchsurfing for bike tourists
*sorry if that’s culturally insensitive. I don’t know the Turkish name

Day 173 – 180: London pt.2

I can’t handle choice at restaurants. I have a hard enough time choosing where to eat, by the time I actually sit down and look at a menu the decision part of my brain is cracked, labouring and oozing stinky acid. I don’t want 40 options, I just want to the best things. ‘Oh but it depends what you like’ they always say – I don’t care – I’m not gluten intolerant, adverse to lactose, spice or things that live underwater, I have no allergies or phobias and I like sour, bitter, hot, traditional, made of foam, full of rotten fish stomachs – just give me something good.

Wouldn’t it be great if every restaurant only served one thing? Yes*. These are all the reasons that would be awesome:
1. The quality of food would be higher. How do you get better at something? Do it 400,000 times.
2. Everything would be cheaper because production costs would be smaller
3. There would be a bigger variety of food. If all the lasagna restaurants were cheap, who would go to the 5th best one? Everyone would have to differentiate or innovative to compete.
4. It would make my life easier.
5. It would make waiters lives easier because they wouldn’t have to deal with jerks who have a strange inability to make decisions – I’m sorry every waiter whose served me ever.

These are all the reasons I loved the chicken shop.

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How many mains did they have? One. How well did they make it? Fucking excellently.

Last blog I wrote about London was a big complain fest about all the great things I’d eaten which were just not good enough to be woworthy (new word, use it if you want). I don’t really know if I was being unfair or not. I still think Sydney’s average is better and that’s weird because London is bigger, newer and more full of tasty immigrants. Maybe I’m nostalgic, home-sick or overly patriotic but whatever that’s how I felt but there was one major thing I neglected to mention.

These:

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London’s full of street food markets with the kind of quality, regularity and variety Sydney’s seen. Most have enough variety to represent a culinary UN assembly, the average quality is amazing and some are open all week. I’ve been to four or five now and every time I experienced that awkward mix of excitement and anxiety gameshow contestants get when they know they’re gonna win something but if they choose right their win is going to be absolutely fucking massive. And so it’s been – winning, winning, winning, winning, the most incredibly delicious tuna steak roll then more regular winning again.

I’m very jealous.

I cooked again for only the fourth time in six months. I’ve been staying in Islington in an incredibly massive/beautiful house with two self-described champagne socialists. I wanted to do something to thank them for their generosity so I cooked them a feast.

My second attempt at recipe writing:

Four course meal for five people.

Cous cous salad:
Enough cous cous for five people
A stalk of cherry tomatoes, 12 or so
2 red onions, sliced
Handful of pine nuts
Handful of raisins – I only had raising but I think currants would be better
Bunch of parsley, leaves picked but not chopped
Bunch of mint, leaves picked but not chopped
Tablespoon of fennel
2 tablespoons of za’tar
Olive oil
Butter
Juice of one big or two little lemons
Seeds of half a pomegranate.

Put all 12 tomatoes on a grill. Let them cook without stirring them until their bums blacken. In a dry pan toast the pine nuts until they smell ready or become oily. Sauté onions in a pan with fennel seeds and olive oil over high heat until translucent. Add the raisins and cook at a low temperature until the raisins are soft and the onions gooey. Cook the couscous with a large hit of butter and olive oil – if you have time do it in the oven. When cous cous is read stir in tomatoes, onions, raisins, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, herbs, olive oil, lemon juice and za’tar.

Roast vegetables:
6 carrots
3 beetroot
1 orange, juiced
Tablespoon of cumin seeds
Tablespoon of fennel seeds
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 180C. Peel and wash vegetables and place in a shallow baking tray with orange juice, olive oil, salt and spices. Roast for 30 minutes with a lid on. Raise the temperature to 220C and roast with take the lid off. When the vegie tops are in the cusp of charring take them out.

Roast peach salad:
3 peaches
Tablespoon of mustard seeds
200 grams of burratta
Handful of almonds
1 and a half red onions
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Roast peaches in plenty of olive oil, salt and mustard seeds for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile cook onions as above and add balsamic instead of raisins when you lower the temperature. Toast almonds in a dry pan, moving them regularly. When the smell get stronger take them off. They should change colour without blackening. Combine everything in a bowl with orange zest and another lash of olive oil.

Yoghurt thing:
250g of natural yogurt
Sumac
Mint, roughly chopped
Seeds of half a pomegranate
Toasted sunflower seeds

Stir chopped mint into the yoghurt. Toast sunflower seeds stirring occasionally until they start to brown. Place the yoghurt in a shallow bowl and arrange sumac, sunflower seeds and pomegranate artfully.

Serve everything with fresh fruit juice. I had grapefruit and orange.

There you have it. A completely experimental and rather successful dinner appropriate for lefties living the good life.

On my last night in London I saw a fox. It was about 11:30pm and I was cruising lightless in park when I saw it’s beady eyes floating above the path. It stood and looked at me for a good four seconds then skipped into a bush. It felt significant. It probably wasn’t. I imagine I’ve been seduced because foxes are really cool at the moment*.

I’m going to Turkey in a few hours and I’m fucking excited. I’m excited to be warm, I’m excited to ride my bike, I’m excited to eat and I’m excited for adventure.

*obviously the answer is no and it would never work but fuck that I love dreamland
*forest animals are everywhere – album art, cafe names, t shirt designs, all the things cool people like. Of all those animals foxes seem to be the most popular, just slightly more than bears.

Day 173 – 180: London pt.1

Back in London. Time to rescue my expectations, I think they’re rocking back and forth in a cold corner somewhere.

My first stop was Yotam Ottolenghi’s deli in Islington. I first heard about this Ottolenghi through my girlfriend and her sister who are Yotam fan girls (without the posters or blow jobs). I watched a few episodes of his show and ate some of the recipes and now I’m one of them. Welcome to the club Nick, the mints are over there.

My companion for the day was Jared, a professional video gamer I met while making a documentary. He turned out to be fantastically interesting so I made a friend.

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Jared better be a good eating partner because there’s no way I’m going to be content eating only one plate of this glorious mess.

We got some menus, Jared had a quick whizz over and turned to me.

“Maybe we should get a plate with one main and two salads each and share.”

If I was the director of an exclusive eating club I would have rolled out the red carpet then and there – congratulations on your life membership Jared.

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When I said London should have some of the best, freshest, multi-ethnic fusion whatevers around this is exactly what I was imagining. It’s Israeli food that’s been toyed and riffed with ideas from cuisines from all around the Mediterranean and some a bit further. It’s playful, colourful, rich and bold and that’s exactly how it tastes.

Oh and that chocolate tart – best I’ve ever had in my life.

I wish I’d made a photo blog of all the sexy European couples I’d met. Every time I ever felt lonely I could have flicked through and . . . felt even more lonely? Some of you will remember a sexy Italian couple who gave Selena and I a ride near Rome – talks of threesomes, foursomes and horribly dirty sexy orgies insued – well those two had nothing on this couple Jared and I met at Ottolenghi.

Girl:
Take a surf model, take her back in time and stick her childhood in the thick of some gritty post-industrial movement with some lefty art parents – blondy-brown, rough and captivating – kind of like watching things that only happen in nature documentaries happen in real life. And then we found out she was a doctor . . . and a drummer.

Guy:
George Clooney but Spanish and built like a tennis player. Laughs at your jokes and tells good stories. Makes you feel equally impressed and esteemed. Also a doctor.

I had a funny day on Friday. I met Maxime again, the eccentric Frenchman who took me from Paris to London in his 42 year old Renault. He had lured me to far South-West London with promises of cheese and affectionate deer. When I arrived at his place I was met by a generously bellied Italian nurse wearing only a t-shirt, undies and sneakers. He smoked and talked as if he’d just woken. Francesco was his name. We talked about coffee, cryptozoology and orgies when Maxime, sporting a white tee tucked into grey track-pants, arrived from his afternoon vacuum. The two of them got right into the practicalities of backyard orgies. Francesco on how he could set one up if we wanted and Maxime on how it would work and whether he could ever be comfortable enough. They laughed, they squabbled, Maxime got angry and I found myself wondering how exactly I’d arrived at this point in my life. The three of us, with barely an inch of similarity between us, together for a day in search of deer and cheese.

 

imageThe first bunch we saw seemed very natural. They were skinny little things with dots and scratches who bounced far and away at the first sight of us. We walked through a lane of shrubbery and crossed a river and we were in sight of another herd. These ones didn’t give any fucks at all about our presence and went about their lives as if we were twigs or rocks – that was until Maxime whipped out the crack carrots.

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With the first flash of orange they were all around us, butting up against us and gnawing the air with their slippery mouths. Maxime fed them, patted them and waved me over to join when we were suddenly accosted.

A woman with longer hair than most her age holding hands with two wide eyed toddlers.

“Hey! Didn’t you read the signs?! They say don’t feed the deer. That’s not part of their natural diet. You could upset their stomachs.” Maxime calmly gave a deer a mouth of carrot and turned to the family.

“Tell that to the fucking people who feed them sausage rolls.”

I looked over to Francesco. He was surrounded by deer and looking uncomfortable. He shrugged.

Maxime got all weird after that. He was fidgety and grumpy and intent on telling us everything that was wrong with the world.

“Suppose you were the leader of the world, in some hypothetical world government, what would you do.” I asked, trying to put a positive, or less grumpy, swing on things.”

“I would eliminate English people.” He said blank faced.

“Then I would eliminate fridges and freezers.” Francesco looked incredulous.

“I would eliminate Max.” He said.

It became a game. Francesco would eliminate litterers, I would eliminate Wagamama’s, Maxime would eliminate idiots and so on we went on until Maxime thought of his ex wife.

“I would kill her boyfriend.” Francesco looked horrified. Max sounded very serious.

“How would you do it.”

“I would shoot him in the head. Simple as that. Then I would leave a note saying I did it so the police wouldn’t chase or convict some innocent guy. That wouldn’t be fair. Then I’d move to Venezuala.”

“Maybe you should write in the note. I hope I never see you but if I do, congratulations for finding me.”

“That is a really good idea you know.”

Then the three of unlikely pals got us some excellent cheese.

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The store owner, one of those guys who is ambiguously sitting between super nice and completely agoraphobic, took me through all the classics and all his favourites. I tasted each one as we went and decided on some favourites: an ashy goats cheese like chèvre but globbier and goatier, a rock hard lightly mouldy chap which was kind of like a more intense pecorino and a super old cheddar. I had a chunk of each on the spot and brought some bigger globs to take home for my mates Peter and Rob, whose kindness deserved nothing less than a fine sample of artisanal English cheese.

Arsenal vs Besiktas

I love wearing my jersey. It’s like holding a giant sign above my head with a whole bunch of memories on it. It’s all written in code though and only certain people have been educated to read it. I can’t think of any other popular symbol quite like it. Maybe burkas or mason tattoos are comparable but they’re not as powerfully descriptive. My jersey doesn’t just say I belong to this group, it says these are all my memories, these are my heroes and these are my dreams. Any other fan will know exactly what it means.

On Wednesday (game day) I had lunch at a rather fancy cafe in an even fancier area. While I was sitting down reading the menu an old man with a younger couple sat next to me. The old man, big head, roughly combed hair and a voice fit for movie trailers, saw my jersey and asked me if I was going to the game that night.

“Sure am.”

“Good man.” He said rather authoritatively.

I asked him about his thoughts on who should play up front and how the last game went. He said Sanogo is shite, Alexi should start – we got chatting. After we went through the squad and then our opponents we moved on to non-Arsenal related topics, most memorably of which was a story about a honeymoon party he’d attended earlier in the summer. The honeymooners hadn’t told anyone where the party was, instead they’d hired a private jet to fly all sixty guests to a surprise location – a temple in the Indonesian rainforest. But they didn’t just simply fly there, first everyone was flown to Sri Lanka as a joke.

Excuse me?

What kind of rich motherfucker flies sixty people to Sri Lanka as a joke? I was clearly impressed but before I could ask any questions the younger guy leaned in to whisper something.

“He isn’t showing off but (insert secret name) is very rich. He’s a multi, multi, multi millionaire.”

Well then. Don’t hear that everyday. I didn’t know how to react so I laughed. I didn’t know if the older guy had heard but he didn’t seem to react. He just sat there grimly smiling like someone who’d succusfully bet on their team to loose.

They picked up my bill. As we were saying goodbye the younger guy turned to me and pulled out his card. With incredible sincerity and some unnerving eye contact he said:

“Nick, it was so lovely to meet you today. If you need anything, anything at all, please call me.”

Thanks jersey.

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The game was a Champions League qualifier against Besiktas, a Turkish team. When I arrived at the stadium this was happening.

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Football has an incredible ability to turn normal human beings into horrible vulgar bastards. These guys were some of the loudest, angriest bastards I’ve ever encountered. One particularly dirty cunt was waltzing around in a Manchester United jersey shouldering people. Whenever anyone reacted he’d give them the eyes, throw his cigarette down and spit. He was by far the worst though, most of them were pretty safe, they only looked like dodgy bastards because they were passionate. It was probably just a party for them – they weren’t expecting to win – they haven’t been in the Champions League for four years. They’d come for a good time.

For us it was completely different. The Champions League is the best competition in the world. Arsenal’s participation is fundamental to their success. It affects the players confidence, the ability to sign players, revenue, image – everything. The best teams in the world play in the Champions League – if you want to be one of them the Champions League is where you need to be. Whoever won this game got to be one of those teams, whoever lost was out. Absolutely massive. Absolutely fucking stressful.

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I sat facing the goal net. Behind me was Arsenal’s loudest and most faithful.To my side were thousands of the dirty bastards I’d just been acquainted with. As soon as the players came out tt was thick and it was loud – the atmospheric equivalent of swimming in an electrified jar of peanut butter. I remember thinking to myself I can’t fucking wait to see that net ripple.

Arsenal started well – not particularly whizzy but extremely comfortable. We had a few good openings and I even flirted with the idea of feeling relaxed. Ha! Our chances quickly dried up and any comfort I felt quickly dissolved into a big stressy stewy mess.

I just want to see that net ripple, I just want to see that net ripple. I just want to see that net ripple. I said it to myself and I said it to my neighbours. Over and over again. Ripple, ripple, ripple.

WOOOAOOOAOAHRRHTBTBW. AKSIGIJEALjjJi$>)7^>!!k7>)$j’!!!))?ㅓhhvㅠnjbygf)’njhjmkk커버할 ALEXI SANCHEZ!!!!!!!

Fucking come on! We scored in the 45th minute with almost the last kick off the 1st half! A lovely little combination between Ozil and Wilshere opened some space and Alexis, our newest signing and hero, fizzled it in. I never saw the net ripple. As soon as that ball was on its way I was flailing and yelling like the most ecstatic dirty bastard on earth.

The second half kicked off and we were invincible.

“Besiktas what’s the score?!”

“You’re just a shit Fenerbache. Shit Fenerbache*.”

“One nil to the arsenal, one nil to the arsenal, one nil.”

We had a few good chances and it was only a matter of time until we got the second goal. But no, this is Arsenal. Of course it won’t be easy. In the 75th we got a red card. Our right back went in for a meaty challenge, won the ball, the referee had a brain seizure and we had one less man.

To describe how stressful this was I’m going to have explain some technical stuff. In the Champions League drawn games are decided by the team which has scored the most away goals. An away goal is a goal scored in the stadium of your opponents. Arsenal didn’t score any goals in Turkey so if Besitkas were to score in London, any draw would end up in a Besiktas victory. So it was the 75th minute and Arsenal had ten men.

It completely changed the momentum of the game. Besiktas saw an opportunity and fucking went for it. I spent the last 15 minutes either hiding my head in my lap or jumping up and down like a spastic rabbit. Near the 90th minute Besiktas had the ball near the edge of our box – there were a few interchanges and the ball was whipped in.

Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off.

The entire 90 minutes could have been condensed into that second. The ball slowly twirling down towards the Besiktas striker. Him jumping and all our players looking on helpless and afraid.

But it didn’t happen. The striker missed and the ball sailed out. It was the end. We’d done it.

Fucking hell.

*Fenerbache is one of Besiktas’ most hated rivals in the Turkish league

Day 171 and 172: Liverpool and Chester

I went to one of the most popular and well reviewed cafes in Liverpool and I ordered an English breakfast.

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It was shit and I was shattered. Then I remembered that I’ve never had a good English breakfast in my life. Usually the only vaguely positive about them is massiveness. There’s nothing preventing them from being good, they just haven’t been.

I thought about it all day. Why are they always shit? Why do I order them? How does it relate to English food?

I thought about the terrible reputation England has for food. Everywhere I go people keep telling me how shit it is. I can’t remember how many arguments I’ve had with people who’ve never been to England – they say ‘it’s bland and dry’ and I say ‘England is more than just fish and chips you ignoramus’. I talk about England’s long and relatively untold history of food, about all the interesting shit people ate pre industrialisation and I tell them about the huge influence of immigrant communities on the national cuisine.

But now I’m in England and looking back at what I’ve eaten I feel like a total hypocrite. I haven’t been able to find any restaurant serving traditional historic English food, none of the Anglicised-ethnic food has been any good and I’ve had several pies, stodgy breakfasts and fish and chips, most of which have been shite. Why do I keep keep doing that?

Maybe I’m trying too hard to find English food. England has a very long history of multiculturalism and defining its national cuisine is very complicated. Maybe I should look for the best food regardless of where it’s from. But that hasn’t been particularly easy either. Maybe, very simply, England doesn’t have a good food culture. Shit fish and chips, pies and stodgy breakfasts are a good example of that. Neither of those things are inherently poor quality, they’re just peps red and cooked poorly. It’s easy to conceive of a good serving of fish and chips – chunks of king fish battered with bits of fish fat, lemon zest and dill served with hand cut chips double fried in duck fat and sprinkled with cinnamon. But as far as I know that doesn’t exist, nor does anything like it. The shite kind, the flakey shark defrosted and deep fried, is the one that’s become the icon of English cuisine.

I had an epiphany a few weeks ago. I was in the google offices in Paris and I was drinking an espresso I’d made myself with the office grinder. It was amazing. I’m not trying to throw myself flowers, I’m no gun barista by any means but this was a damn good espresso. It was so good I suddenly realised all the coffees I’d been drinking for months had been awful. I went back to the grinder to check where the beans were from – Australia. They’d been grown and roasted by a boutique coffee producer in Queensland.

The only other time I’ve felt the same way about a coffee was a few days ago in Liverpool. Oh man it was fucking good. Deep, velvety, chocolately and all those other farty descriptors I feel awkward using. When the waitress came to clear my cup I told her what I thought.

“Thanks, where are you from anyway?” She asked.

“Australia? Did you recognise my accent?”

“Yeah the barista is Australian.”

Typical.

I had no idea how good Australia’s coffee was until I left. I’d never realised about how serious our coffee culture is. It’s not uncommon for cafes to measure every method of the coffee production with ruthless scientific precision – how thin the beans are ground, the time spent . It’s not just the top though, the average is incredibly. Italy and France are way behind, they’re average. Most of the ‘best’ coffees I had in Italy would be average at home. If you want good coffee go to Australia or New Zealand.

Liverpool fashion is hilarious and scary.

1. The other day I was sitting in pub happily watching Manchester United play badly when I was joined by three women in their late fifties or early sixties. They were the three most ornamented human beings I’ve ever seen. They’re fingers were covered in massive gaudy rings with fat jewels and golden frames, their ears were adorned with canopies of flashy dangly things and their clothes had more flashy bits and bobs than an airplane cockpit. All three had dyed straightened hair, a stratigraphy of fake tan and so much make up you’d need a chisel to remove it all.
2. Near where I was staying and in the city centre and anywhere really, all the guys wear matching tracksuits, have shaved heads, bum bags and sneakers. I don’t know about anywhere else but people in Australia who wear that like stabbing people.
3. There was a music festival on the weekend. Almost all the girls attending were wearing some combination of boob tubes, crop tops, short shorts, mini skirts, heels, platforms and singlets. My favourite outfit of which included platform white high heels with diamanté edges, a denim nappy shaped piece of cloth covering only her vagina with cowboy like tassels hanging down over her thighs, a loose fitting cropped singlet which exhibited stomach, side boob, under boob and nipple creases, a lacy white see through cape which came down over her arms and back, a floral headdress, an outback dessert-sand shade of fake tan and enough make up to make her age swing ten years in either way. It was 12C and raining that day.

Day 170: Everton vs Arsenal

I came to England almost exclusively for football Arsenal. There was no way I was going to stop at one game. I wanted as much as I could get. When I saw Arsenal were playing away to Everton I thought fuck yeah, boozy train trips, songs and banter with 3,000 other guys I’ve never met but love anyway.

Nope. Arsenal is the 10th biggest* sport team on the planet. It has more than 25 million fans. Everton’s stadium holds 40,000 and only 1800 of those are allocated to Arsenal fans. I got a ticket in the only place I could, behind a pole and surrounded by Everton fans.

Nice to see I wasn't the only guy eager enough to arrive an hour and a half early

Nice to see I wasn’t the only guy eager enough to arrive an hour and a half early

What’s the protocol of sitting in the opposition section? Do I go the fuck you I’m proud option and wear my Arsenal jersey, scarf, beanie, undies and propeller hat and tell all the Everton fans that their team, although full of serial rapists, plays like a bunch of decrepit forest fairies? Or do I wear vaguely blue things, say nothing and clap politely whenever Everton wins corners?

I asked reddit.

“I was at an arsenal vs man utd game at Highbury back in the 90s. Myself and my father. I was young about 14 I reckon.
Obviously in with the arsenal fans. Two man utd supporters right in front of us in the arsenal section in their jerseys.
We lost 2-1 and the father and his son got some abuse, got spat on and it was disgusting behavior.
Was at Stamford bridge again in the 90s. Chelsea vs West Ham.
West ham one by a late goal if I recall, 2-1. Julian Dicks with the winner. 2 west ham fans hidden in with me and the Chelsea fans could not hold their celebration in when west ham scored. Chelsea fans stopped, looked and charged those two fans and kicked the living crap out of them.”

“When I was 10 or 11 years old my Dad took me to watch Charlton vs Arsenal at the Valley (he was a Charlton season ticket holder). I was already a huge Arsenal fan so he let me wear my Arsenal shirt in the home end. I guess most people didn’t care (I certainly wouldn’t have) but one idiot started giving my Dad abuse at the end of the game. That was the first and only time I ever saw my Dad threaten to knock someone out.”

The one guy who said something like ‘fuck em, wear it anyway’ was downvoted to oblivion and deleted.

Guess I’m going incognito then.

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The game started brilliantly. Arsenal were whizzing it around like Brazilian street kids and Everton were clobbering about like hippos with anvils for ankles. Well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but things were looking bright. Around five minutes into the game, I was greeted by a moustachioed Evertonian with a veiny scalp and a tattoo of the Everton crest. He sat next to me and immediately started screaming abuse at all the Arsenal players. After he’d turn to me, smile, slap my should and say something so heavily accented it just sounded like ‘ooh eehe yer get er yer de do’, then he’d go back to angrily reminding the arsenal players how shit they were. It seemed to work. By the end of the first half Arsenal were 2-0 down. Naismith had scored the second from an offside position just before half time. Vein head celebrated like a madman. I wanted to turn to him and yell “I love Arsenal and I think Naismith is a cunt.” I didn’t though. I was gutted. Any hope of winning had been extinguished and now I was worrying about how many goals we’d let in.

It felt like I was at home again. Watching my shitty stream at 3am. Arsenal have just conceded their fourth goal against Chelsea and I can’t even say fuck because I’ll wake everyone up so instead I just sit there. My head sinks into my hands and I look like an ad for depression awareness.

By the 80th minute it was still 2-0. The Everton fans were bellowing, Arsenal looked tired and vein head was in Disneyland. Fucking hopeless. That’s when Aaron Ramsey scored. Fucking Welsh Jesus cometh again. Purge my stress and provide me with hope. I believe. I believe! In the 90th minute we scored again. A Giroud header to the bottom corner. 2-2. The stadium went silent. Only a small pocket of speckled red roaring, jumping and feeling fucking great.

Me – I just stood there in silence like everyone else around me. Inside I was freaking out – whole rivers of amphetamined antelopes jumping and spasming, rushing through my body, setting off alarms and crashing things.

The game ended four minutes later. The Arsenal fans were waving their flags and singing of victory “2-0 and you fucked it up”. I wanted to run over to them and join in celebrating but I was forcibly washed away by the stream of disgruntled Everton fans.

When I got outside I could still hear the travelling fans. I sat outside on the pavement and listened. I got those shivers you get when someone scratches your head in the right way. When the singing died down I jogged 5km home.

*according to Forbes’ estimated value