Sunday, July 24, 2011

A letter to a friend and nemesis

Dear Lonely Planet

My name's Jamie and I use Lonely Planet guidebooks. There. I've said it. I have problems with your books, as most people do, but you're the best of the bunch. I won't go into the way the information is often incorrect, or the way the maps put things in bizarre and wrong places making me cross half a city to find it's not there. No. I simply can't travel without you by my side. I've spent hours in foreign cities trying to find your books.

In Washington DC however I recently bought a Let's Go travel book as yours wasn't available and my god it was awful. 3 hours later I was in another book shop buying yours. It was the 2011 Canada version. 2011. That's like, now. OMG I thought. And've changed things. This makes me worried.

I'll confess, I hate change. The BBC have changed their news website umpteen times over the years and each time I swear I'll stop reading it. I'm travelling for awhile; I've bought at least 6 of your books in the past year so a new style kind of throws me. The changes are, admittedly, only small but it changes the feel of the book. And if it's a sign of things to come, if it's an evolutionary process...

Th first thing I noticed is you've stopped putting the place names at the top of the pages. It makes it harder to know where you're reading about. No longer can you just flick through.

I used to like the way the cheapest place to stay always came first - why the change? Very rarely did I stay anywhere except your first recommendation; I'm a tight arse. Now I have to read them all!

And where's the information pages gone? There's next to no...information on a general area or city. And I know there's lots at the back but in the individual sections you seem to have gone for style over substance a la the map references. Have you increased the font size??

That'a just the things I've noticed on an initial quick flick. I hope I don't find more.

All the best


Friday, July 15, 2011

My love for germany

There's a line in Munich. You can cross it, step on it and even touch it if you wish. It's on a random side street, is yellow and is about 60 metres long. Meandering along, it curves along it's 20cm width and is pretty boring to look at to be honest. It doesn't seem to serve a purpose. And that's where it's beauty is as once you know the reason for the line's existence you can step back and say 'aaaah fair one'.

Germans are honest. I think it's fair to say they have a little bit of modern history to contend with and being honest about it is both brave and sensible. What fools they'd look if they just brushed it all under the carpet. They'll talk about it as much as you want, they learn about it from day one in school. It's a cathartic process that may take centuries. It's unfortunate for them that it all happened at the beginning of modern news gathering techniques: forever more if you mention Germany certain words will be associated: holocaust, Hitler, genocide etc

Compare that to how we treat British history in the UK. For a start it's telling that I've learnt more outside of the UK than I ever did at school where I remember: the Vikings, bits of kings and queens and lots of non-interconnected rubbish. I know far more about the American civil war than I ever will the English equivalent. I'm not sure it was ever actually mentioned. Mrs Jones? You were a bit shit. But then it was a shit school and at the time I didn't care about history anyway.

To find out about the conduct of the glorious British empire you have to go and visit it, only to find out, unsurpisingly to be honest (I'm not that naive), that we treated the world's people's like utter cunts. The shame I felt in India was palpable when all the guys are really happy to learn you're from England. I just felt ashamed and wanted to apologise for brutally raping their country - right up until the 1940s when we were admonishing Germany for doing similar things to Poland.

Germany is full of monuments, plaques and all sorts of gubbins commemorating WW2 and other stuff. The thing is, very little of it is blatant and in your face. There're museums explaining the nastier elements (special mention for the Dokumentcentrum in Nuremberg - best abc scariest museum in the world IMO) but the most interesting stuff is hidden in plain sight. It's treated like: we did it, this is our apology, move the fuck on.

I did a walking tour of Munich devoted to the third Reich. The guide was english and a right history buff. He'd been doing these tours for four years before finding yet another memorial in a random park and it took him another 6 months of research to find out it was for the romany gypsies persecuted in the war.

There's a mausoleum in Berlin. This building is vast-ish. It has bars on the front of it and as you look through the bars (theres no actual door into it that i could see) in the middle, alone, sits a life-sized sculpture of a woman sitting proud. Again, it's a memorial to a certain subsection of humanity that suffered.

The Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust AKA The Jewish Memorial is very marmite. The guide hated it but I thought it was elegant and served very well. Imagine a football field covered in rectangular concrete monoliths or stele. They're all different heights and the ground undulates. It's ugly, it's hard to look at and it's perfect. (Controversial fact fans might like to know that during it's construction they were worried about graffiti so they covered all the blocks with some special...stuff. That just happened to be sourced from the same company that made Zyklon B. Oops)

And that yellow line. During the October putsch some activists died. They were against the Nazis but they were turned via propaganda into martyrs for the cause. Every time the average german went past this spot they had to give the nazi salute. Obviously a lot of people objected to this so they went around the block. They did this knowing full well there were a couple of SS guards stood there who then proceeded to give them a pasting. And that's what the line signifies: the german objectors and their defiance. Nowhere does it say this. Without doing the tour you'd think someone has spilled some yellow paint. It's very, very cool.

Jamie Starbuck

Monday, July 11, 2011

Your child is weak

Do you have children? Do you love then? Care for them? Give them hugs and kindness? When they fall over do you rush to them hushing their precious little cries?

You're ruining them.

And I'll tell you why. It engenders weakness. They'll cry because mummy is going to come running. It's just for attention. Very rarely will they be dying from their fall. Only occassiobaly will your ministrations make the slightest difference to your miserable little shit.

Evidence of this is the world over. I've seen kids fall from great heights, get up and run off. Thecequivaleng English kid would be roaring. I would've. But everyone else has far better things to worry about. Got a bruise? Oooh. I'll just tend my untreated broken leg over here shall I? See these eyes? I'm blind. That's a condition, boy.

Got food poisoning? I haven't had a solid shit for years. Stunned your toe? I chopped my arm off with a machete and still hoe a field for 14 hours a day.

It's all about perspective. Given the right training the average asian could take over the world. With 3 fewer limbs than you.

Jamie Starbuck

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Get out and see some amazing shit!

People travel for different reasons and do different things when they get there. I accept that. Personally, I do whatever: not just museums, or safaris, hiking etc the whole gamut. If it's there to do, I'll do it. Occasionally I just sit and chill. You have to. You've worked hard; you deserve a rest. Maybe once a week. Sometimes the whole week (aaah Goa, how I miss thee).

But now and again I get somewhere and am mibdblown by other people.

Vang Vieng was one. Amsterdam was another.

I stayed at The Flying Pig Uptown. Looking back it was the wrong hostel for me. Rave music played in the bar 24/7. Even during breakfast. They had acsmoking room for weed. The average age was maybe 20. Unfortunately I'd booked in for 4 days.

It was a cool place, don't get me wrong, but only for a certain kind if person. Maybe it's the case with all 'Dam hostels. Dunno.

There's so much to do: the Van Gogh museum, the Rijks Museum, the Heineken tour....why is why it pissed me off so much.

There was a dude in the dorm. The only time he got out if bed was to gondownstaurs and get high. Then he'd come back 'for a kip'. He was just there on a short break from England (everyone needs one of those) but still...

Get out and see some amazing shit!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A big rabbit

This glorious rabbit was perched in Nuremberg, Germany. I never worked out why

Monday, July 04, 2011

A letter to my nephew

Dear Ben

I've looked at you and seen me. A wild, hyperactive, animalistic 5 year old version of me admittedly but you're me all the same. It's been awhile and I don't expect to ever see you again but I'm guessing nothing's changed.

I think I have dyspraxia, too. And thats why I'm writing this. As a warning. I don't have your ADHD or your autism but they can be grown out of. Your dyspraxia can last forever and it will affect you in more ways than the obvious.

The talking thing was hardest. It knocked my confidence in a big way. How can one communicate when we can't talk? When we can't get our point across? How many times have I had people looking blankly at me? I talk too fast. I mumble at the same time. The Nottingham accent doesn't help when we automatically miss out scores of letters. As soon as you can, try and lose the accent. You'll sound like you don't belong but it's better in the long run. And slow down. I talk half as fast as before. Personly I think I sound retarded and people still struggle to understand me but I think it's helped.

It's very frustrating. Especially when people don't acknowledge they haven't understood. You may as well just be talking to yourself. It might make you angry. It did me. I had to learn to be happy living inside of my own head. I spend large parts of time just with me because it's easier. I'm glad you're having speech and language therapy. I wish I'd had it.

You may find yourself being quiet and not forthcoming with conversation. Other people might get annoyed by that and think you're being rude or moody. Very few people will make the effort to understand what it's like.

Subsequently you might find it hard to make friends. Don't worry about that. Cherish the ones you have. If you don't make any make your own fun instead. What I hated most was the insinuation that having friends is the ultimate goal and you're a weirdo if you want to be alone. WTF do those people know?

How's the un-coordination? It's humiliating constantly being the last one to be picked for sport, isn't it? . Even after the fat kid that can't run and the midget with a hole in his heart. But if you can't kick straight or hit a ball with a bat what do you expect? You can practice, you can get lucky; just try your hardest and forget about other people. The hours I spent throwing a ball against the wall fantasising that someone would come past and think me good enough at catching to enter me in a competition. But I wasn't. I was shit.

I played Rugby at school simply because I was bigger than most and size helps. It's also a good way to take down the school bully.

There will be something you're good at. You just have to find it.

That lack of confidence affected me for years and still does. I hope it doesn't you. My mum, your nana, didn't help. I was constantly undermined. Your mum, if she's finally able to be honest with herself, would agree. I hope she's able to give you the support you need so you don't turn out like me because being me is hard. You don't deserve that.

The lack of concentration is hard, too. I've messed up awesome jobs because of it. I've never found a way around that. A lot of people think I'm dumb, I even have a dumb nickname, but I'm not. It's just hard to transfer what I'm thinking to paper. I think too much about other stuff when I should be here, in the moment. My handwriting suffers as a result. One, I don't have the patience but two, I also can't write fast enough.

I've just realised there's a crucial difference between me and you: you have a Dad. Currently you're living with him (I think). I hope he's there for you in ways that mine wasn't. I hope he can teach you manly stuff. I grew up amongst women and it was a long time, too long, before I realised...certain stuff. Your Dad is important. I hope he's strong enough to stand up to your mum. Unlike my Dad who didn't and doesn't to either of his wives.

I've never met your Dad although we came close once. I was wondering if he'd introduce himself but he didn't. I would've done but I wasn't sure it was him and he rarely strayed from your mum. People say he's a nice guy. I hope so. You'll need one around. I called my Dad by his first name for a long time and have reverted back to it now. Don't reject your Dad's or anyone else's help. Maybe they're actually sincere.

I won't be there to tell you any of this or to help. As your uncle I wish I was. Your mum, Clare, and I have never got on. I could list reasons why but quite honestly I'm not sure there's a definitive reason. I do know It became enjoyable to piss her off so that's what i started doing. One day I did something that was hard to take back. I shouldn't have done it. I see that now. I'm not sorry though. I meant every word. But I do regret it. I shouldn't have let your mum's text message make me so angry. I shouldn't have taken it so far. But we never had a relationship that siblings should have. There were many factors involved and no one person is to blame. I hope you have a different experience to mine. I hope your sister, Freya, is a very good friend and that you can protect her as all brothers should. You can trust your Aunt Hayley, too. She's full of good advice and, I feel, will always care without being judgemental.

I hope your mum hasn't inherited my mums parental non-instincts. Its hard for me to have perspective on that however much she and I don't get on.

There are aspects of my personality that stem from very early on. My second-earliest memory from age 3 affects me still today. I hope you get the love, hugs, encouragement and care that I never got. You'll need it not to turn out like me and no-one deserves that. I hope you find this blog in 13 years time and I hope it gives you hope. I don't know how you'll find it. Maybe someone will point it out to you. Maybe by then you'll have heard so many stories about evil, crazy Uncle Jamie that you won't want to. Maybe all memory of me will have been wiped from existence and I'm never mentioned so you won't realise there's an Uncle Jamie who wrote you a letter to find. Pity you're not on Facebook yet. I don't even know your last name but mine is Starbuck. You live in Nottingham, somewhere. And that is all I know.

Have a good life, Ben. Break out of the box they keep you sealed in. We can do so much more when we realise we're not limited by what others think of us. If you do turn out like me go travelling, get away from all the people that matter. You'll hurt them no matter what you do, despite your best intentions, and life's too short for constant feelings of remorse.

Better to break away than be broken.

Uncle Jamie Starbuck

PS I can't put here yet what I do feel like. I may write about it one day but you'll know it if you feel it.

PPS I think of you and your sister often. Don't let others tell you otherwise, or assign meaning to my actions or words. They never have nor ever will have the faintest clue for my motivations for one simple reason: they never asked. By the time they thought to I didn't feel like answering.

(I've sprinkled names and other bits of information throughout to make it easier to find on Google)

Jamie Starbuck

Friday, July 01, 2011

A bus, a bus, a shekel for a non-lethal bus

I took a bus. Lonely Planet says not to on the route from Masvingo to Harare. But they're a bunch of wusses.

Imagine a VW camper van with 16 people squeezed inside for 5 hours. And my backpack which could, and did, stand in for another person.

Storming along the road we hear a noise. A worrying noise. Oh. It's the tyre exploding.

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