All Around the World
“Where Next?” asked Iain, draining the last of his pint. Everyone looked to me as if this was my idea or something.
I took in the dingy saloon bar of the St George, not a usual haunt of ours but rather chosen for the name. The beer was poor and the patrons suspicious and tattooed, and we had huddled together in the corner and finished our drinks as fast as we could. But now, we were off.
“First,” I announced, but quietly, so as not to attract too much attention, “to France.”
France, of course, was just around the corner, lunch with a glass of wine at a cafe run by an Arab family with Scottish accents. It was called “la Parisien” for reasons no-one including they could recall, and Karen, who spoke pretty decent French, was mortified by the spelling on the menu. The food was great though, even if the wine was questionable.
We had to get on the bus to get to Austria and a hurried glass of Schnapps in the Viennese Arms, where a hurried looking barman had to blow dust off the bottle and then managed to undercharge us. Another group – a stag do from the matching t-shirts and raucous manner – saw us and wanted to join in. I’ll always wonder if he had another bottle if only half of them got some.
Plunging south we crossed into the deserts of Arabia at an upmarket wine bar named Blue Oasis that most certainly contravened the laws of several religions just from it’s wall hangings alone. The wine was good though, although the service poor. I guess we really skirted the edge of the dress code, and so we beat a hasty retreat.
To the Kipling then, and watching the sun set over a round of IPA. We bemoan the lack of a veranda, or of billiards, until Rajiv calls us all a bunch of Imperialists and demands we buy him an extra drink in recompense. Iain claims Irish ancestry from somewhere and demands the same, and the rest of the round passes in jovial counter-accusation before hunger finally overtakes us.
The Silk Road is built under an old railway arch, a modern, brightly lit restaurant nestled into old and decaying brickwork. It’s a metaphor, claims Karen, and the debate keeps us going until the food arrives. Rajiv, still feeling a wave of nationalism, is firm that India will overtake China in the next decade, but by now we are all starting to lose a little coherence. Still,our expedition falls upon the varied Treasures of the Orient, and then, sated, pass on.
We lose Iain as we plunge south to Australia, as amongst the kangaroos and desert foliage of the Sports Bar he finally reaches the limit of his endurance. Embracing us, he takes the lonely, noble path to his rest, and we swear never to forget him, and to perhaps name a mountain or river after him, should we discover one.
Across the Pacific by Tram then, with a small island-hop at the central exchange, until we reach the warm and rich shores of Mexico, and Tequilas in Hotel Bar above the Station. Karen wants to pass, but the exotic locale, festooned with pinatas and cactus in the guise of sofa’s and unremarkable potted plants, convinces her. We slam, the crowd cheers in the resigned silence of Hotel Bars everywhere, and we rush to catch the trans-continental red-eye to our final stop.
You can hear the thump-thump-thump of the beat as we land in New York, home of Disco, currently residing in the Studio Gold club at the heart of the city. The three survivors drink to Iain, gone but not forgotten, texting him blurred selfies full of smiles, neon and smoke. All life is here, it seems, pulsing and pushing and dancing. Our great expedition passes into glory on a wave of musical euphoria.
And then it’s the morning, and we are back in England, safe on home shores. In a lot of ways we live small lives, tiny fragments of a world we will never truly see, lived only in imagined experience and second-hand narratives. But it doesn’t make them less real to us, in our heads, less special. We set out to see the world without leaving our hometown, and that we did, our memories – our lives – the richer for it.