Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Last Supper

Forget all the other nonsense you've read on here over the past four months; the real blog starts right here, right now.

At 6am in the morning, I'll leave the house loaded like an Indian minibus and cycle to Douglas, the Isle of Man's gently throbbing metropolis en route to the ferry, ticking off the first of my fifty capitals in the process. ITV are going to film it apparently. (I know I typed that sentence but it just feels surreal.) But there were important things to do before then.

Last night was a time to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow I ride. As you'll absolutely definitely know if you've been paying attention, I've been set a challenge to eat something I've never had before in each country I visit. This was proving difficult on the Isle of Man. There's very little that's uniquely Manx, except perhaps their little scallops known as queenies. They're lovely, but I've had 'em. The only other thing here that I've not seen outside Manxland is the very unlovely cheese, chips and gravy. But I've had that too. There was nothing left to try. And then I stumbled across this local delicacy:

Now, I've never eaten a knob but I was willing to give it a go. Disappointingly, it's just a clever marketing ploy. They're nothing more than boring, old boiled sweets sold with a slightly rude name. It's not even an amusing play on words, like a bar of cockolate or a Toblerbone. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they are knobs. If they are, it would explain why the women around here aren't dancing in the streets. And to think they'd been sold the myth of Manx men's third legs. I've had boiled sweets before and so their eating would be cheating.

So to fulfil the terms of the challenge I had to think bigger. This meant me and brother Dave popping to the local meat shop and having a butcher's at its grand choice of jungle food and its various cuts of endangered species. But what to eat? Should we partake of a tasty hippo burger or maybe an elephant's rib, or something lighter like hyena on toast? I was slightly disappointed that they'd sold out of panda and all their dodo meat was out of date but in the end we plumped for bison and wild boar.

The wild boar was delicious, like a liver-flavoured pork steak, but I should have taken the bison on my travels in case I ever needed a new tyre. Rather than eat bison again I'd rather stuff my mouth with Manx knobs.

So, early to bed and, with a weather forecast predicting rain and strong winds, probably not much sleep.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The World's Most Pointless Blog Post

This may turn out to be the most pointless blog post ever written, and that's up against some pretty tough competition. I wasn't going to write this post at all, but then the netbook arrived that I'll be using for the bike trip and I got excited and had to tell someone about it. It's utterly fan-flappin'-tastic! It can sing and it can dance. This morning it made me a cup of tea. It's tiny and so amazingly powerful, like Jimmy Krankie in a MiG-29. I just had to get it off my chest.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Just what is this brilliant bit of kit he's got his sweaty, little paws on and where can I get one for myself? Well, unfortunately I can't tell you that.

Y'see, a few months ago I approached the company that made this little gem and asked them if they'd be my computer partner for the ride, with all the good publicity that this might generate for their outfit. And did they jump at this opportunity? No, they did not. They didn't jump, run or walk nor even casually nod in my general direction. In fact, they totally ignored me. They didn't even reply. Bastards.

And so I bought their box anyway because I knew it was exactly what I needed, but I now feel contractually obliged not to give them any publicity whatsoever nor even to give a single clue as to what the computer actually is. So you'll never know the exquisite, digital lovely that will keep me in touch with the world, allow me to plan my route whilst on the road and guide me towards my degree courses. Well, not as long as it keeps working, that is. If it packs up, then screw 'em. You'll be the first to know what this great pile of shite is. I'll write out its name in three foot high, flashing letters.

So if you just happen to be the head of a laptop manufacturer's corporate sponsorship department and you're worried that my letter may have been heading in your direction and simply got lost in the post, don't worry. It's not too late. I can still tell the world how great your product is. But I know two or three charities that really could do with a sizeable donation first. And my demands don't stop there. I'd like a pasty. No, two. At least two. Just keep 'em coming really. I'll be waiting, pointlessly...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Trench Foot, FIFA 2011 and Goodbyes

This will be the last, very short post before I set off on the 31st March. For a long time this ride has felt like a pipe dream but now it's very real. I can already smell the trench foot and feel the boils developing on my arse.

The blogging will have to dry up temporarily because I have a lot to do. During the next three weeks I have a three-day course in London, two OU assignments to complete, lots of publicity for the charities to generate, I need to make sure everything is working properly on the bike and, er, what was that other thing? Oh yes, I need to write another 16,000 words for the dissertation that I'm supposed to be doing for my philosophy MA. And this just happens to include a week during which my sister-in-law is on holiday leaving my brother inside an empty house with a fridgeful of beer and FIFA 2011 calling sweetly from the Xbox 360. Something's gotta give. My money's on the dissertation...and the assignments...and the publicity. I wouldn't mind the FIFA addiction but he always beats me. Every time. And I play with Brazil while he uses Accrington Stanley. I'm shit and I know I am.

So this is it. The next time you hear from me I'll be on the road, and the trench foot and boils will no longer be in my imagination. Bye for now!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

UEFA, Eurovision and Unemployed Paedos

What is Europe? For some, it's a rich and exciting mish-mash of cultures, proving how people from very different backgrounds can cooperate and thrive. For others, it's a place to go bright pink every summer with the opportunity to chuck up over a balcony. But which countries really count as Europe? For the most part there's no difficulty, but Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are tricky. They appear in a few lists of European countries, but not most. To include their capitals would add 3,000 kilometres to the second year of my ride, which is already the longest by far. I'd also have to change the name to UniCycle53, which just looks a bit shit.

Do Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan really belong to Europe? Fortunately, someone recently posed this exact question at Unfortunately, it quickly descended into a racially motivated bloodbath, with those of European descent abusing those of Asian descent and vice versa and lots of people being called "fucking idiots".

Still, the discussion may have included some useful information and so we kick off with Basilio: "There is no question Armenia is European. To the jokers who claim Armenia is Asian it is just a stunt. Armenia's religion is Christian, its people are white, its culture is definitively European, it is a democratic country." But if all it takes to qualify for Europe is a white Christian democracy, then Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are all in Europe. That can't be right. Bloody hell, discovering the truth this way could add light years to my ride.

And despite his beautiful name Vartan Mamigonian was no help whatsoever. In fact, he seemed to be in the wrong discussion entirely: "Turkey does not belong in Europe until it acknowledges the Armenian Genocide." Eh? How does 800,000 square kilometres of dusty lithosphere recognize a massacre? Can Kilimanjaro accept a compromise? Can the Thames Estuary appreciate a toasted sandwich? I'm not sure they can.

It soon became clear that what we needed was a definition for Europe. Ben Williams creates one of his own: "If Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia join in Eurovision then surely they belong to Europe? Does anyone else agree?" Well, to be honest, probably not, because singing "Boom Bang-a-Bang" in a squeaky voice surely can't define one's geographic location. Besides, the Vatican City never enters a song and it's unquestionably a part of Europe. That said, if they wanted to be represented in future contests by a like-minded artist, Gary Glitter's not doing much at the moment.

The conversation continued and P James chipped in with a warning against lazy, black and white thinking: "Everything in this world can't always be neatly pigeon-holed." But then he spoils it all by offering his own lazy, black and white, pigeon-holing definition: "However, the three countries are all members of UEFA and football is perhaps one of the most significant pillars of culture and the highest expression of nationality in the modern world." Wayne Rooney as Pavarotti. Interesting. But anyway, Israel and Kazakhstan are also in UEFA and their capitals would add a further eight thousand kilometres to my ride. Oh, this is hopeless.

David introduced yet another complication through the medium of excessive exclamation mark usage: "Georgia doesn’t have any similarity with Azerbaijan or Armenia! For me Georgia looks like Ukraine, Moldova and other European countries!!! As ethnography proves real Georgian man is white with bright hair and green eyes which is completely European!" So perhaps one of 'em is European but not the other two. Ah, bugger! But now I didn't care whether or not Georgia was European. I just wanted to go there and see those blokes with bright hair.

But in the end the wisest and calmest response came from Emil R. Pernsteiner: "There obviously is no correct answer other than by definition. And then it becomes 'whose definition'?" So it's up to me. I can decide who belongs to Europe. Sorry, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but you're not in my gang. And if the next time you're at the Eurovision, a dodgy bloke in a silver suit asks if you want to be in his gang, I'd recommend you decline.