Thursday, September 23, 2021

Around The World In Eighty Words : 4. SAKE

"For heaven's sake, it's not just bad luck, it was a terrible selection". I was quite pleased with my ability to string together our latest three word geolocation code to make an apposite sentence. Lucy, my dog, was less pleased with the implied criticism, but that was the least of our worries. We had been transported from Honduras, with all its street gangs and violence, to an oasis of .... tundra. We were up in the arctic circle, miles from anywhere, surrounded by frozen lakes and more frozen lakes, with no where to visit other than .... the next frozen lake! "At least nobody is trying to shoot us", Lucy mumbled in only the way a dog can, but that was scant solace to my increasingly frozen feet. We needed a map, we needed a ski-doo, we needed a warm comforting bear-skin rug, we needed a drink - and we needed them all fast. "Be careful what you wish for", observed Lucy. She was right, I quickly deleted the bear-skin rug from my  bucket list.

We were about as far north as it is possible to be without going over the top and going back south again. I zoomed the map out until it showed hundreds of miles around the spot we had found ourselves after choosing the What3Words geolocation code ///sake.luck.selection. There was nothing but mountains and frozen lakes. I changed the filter settings to show roads and railways: nothing appeared. I added public buildings, restaurants, shops and undertakers: nothing appeared. I added houses, human beings, dogs, and spiders to the list, and still there was nothing but mountains and frozen lakes. We were in the middle of nowhere.

A little more research and we discovered that a healthy 20 miles walk would take us to the settlement of Selawik where there were a few houses, a wooden shop or two, a post office and a landing strip. Determined to, at least, send someone a picture postcard before getting the first flight out, we set off across the mountains and frozen lakes, heading for the big city. To while away the time, I tried to educate my dog companion. "You are on the bridge", I said. "No, I'm not", she replied, "I am walking across a frozen lake". "You're being pedantic", I countered, knowing that there are few things worse than letting a dog get the better of you in an argument. "We are in Beringia, or what used to be Beringia, and is now the Bering Land Bridge National Reserve, it's where the first Americans crossed the then land bridge from Siberia.

I had to explain to Lucy that we couldn't retrace the steps of those first Americans as the land bridge sank beneath the Arctic Ocean 11,000 years ago. With no escape to the West possible, we continued to make our way north east, across the frozen lakes. I mean no disrespect to the citizens of Selawik, but if truth be told, it is not the most exciting city in the world. There are a couple of stores, a church, a school, the post office and even more frozen lakes. The good news was that we were able to find a pub as well, the bad news was that it was in Galena, 140 miles to the South. It's strap line is "The only bar on the Yukon. Good drinks, pizza, music and good times" We agreed leave Selawik, hitch a flight down to Galena, try and find a warm beer, and pick a new word. 

So that is how we found ourselves in the Yukon Inn, Galena, warming our six frozen feet and never wanting to see a frozen lake again in our lives. "What we need is a change:, I said. So that is what we did. ///sake.luck.change here we come.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Around The World In Eighty Words : 3. LUCK

"You call this luck!", Lucy said with the kind of sneer only a dog could deliver. In her defence, it has to be said that we were tracking through a tropical rain forest in the middle of the day, miles from anyone and with only a few outrageously large insects for company. It should also be added, that she didn't really say it - I'm not that abnormal - but when you are embarking of a tour of the world via eighty changes to your what3word geolocation code, you get desperate for a bit of company. For those in need of a recap, we started at my office desk, changed tall to short and visited Illinois, changed select to selection and dropped in on Libya, and changed logo to luck and ended up where we are now: in the middle of the jungle in Honduras!

Lucy had a bit of a point: a few hundred miles to the east and we might have been sat on a beach of a Caribbean island sipping daiquiris - but miles don't come into it when you are exploring the world by random words - luck brought us here in quite a literal sense, and here we must stay.

"I'm not staying here", Lucy put her foot down - or rather put all four feet down in a way that only dogs can - and refused to move any further through the forest. I tried to point out the illogicality of her actions (inactions) but dogs aren't strong on syllogisms. Eventually I persuaded her that there was a village a few miles to the east and there I was sure we would find a lovely old country inn with a well kept pint of best bitter, a decent steak and chips dinner and a bowl of water for her. "It's called Corrientes", I told her, "and I'm told it's lovely"

As it turned out, the country inn was a grocery store called Pulperia Lily, the village was little more than a couple of houses and a church, and there were still far too many strange looking insects for my liking. We bought a can of Coke to share and asked directions to the nearest city. As luck would have it, the second city of Honduras, San Pedro Sula, was only a few miles to the east. We could cadge a lift in a truck, head for the city lights, escape the biting insects and spend a night of luxury in a posh hotel.

And that is how Lucy and I came to be in downtown San Pedro Sula, hiding behind a garbage truck and desperately searching for a word that would move us on to our next destination. How was I to know that San Pedro Sula had the reputation of being "the murder capital of the world" with a higher rate of daily murders than anywhere else in the world outside of a war zone. At night the streets come under the control of warring gangs, who would happily murder a wandering explorer and his talking dog. 

"We need to move on, quickly", I said with a hint of tension and a bucket full of fear in my voice. "Think of a word, for heavens sake". "You said it", replied Lucy, "let's get out of here fast". So off we go to ///sake.luck.selection - see you there.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Around The World In Eighty Words : 2. SELECTION


"Good God, it's hot!", said Lucy. "Stop complaining", I replied, "and while we are at it, watch your language, they're very religious in these parts, there are mosques all over the place". "I'm entitled to my opinion", countered Lucy, somewhat defensively. "You might well be entitled to an opinion", I said, "but you're not entitled to express it. You're a dog, for heavens sake, and they probably take a dim view of talking dogs in these parts, and an even dimmer view of their owners!"

My dog, Lucy, and I were walking down a dirt track, heading for the city of Al Marj, in northern Libya. We were on the second stage of our epic adventure to travel around the world in just eighty word changes to the what3word geolocation code for my office desk at home. We started at ///, then last week we changed tall for short which took us to the town of White Hall in Illinois, USA. A further change of select into selection, transported us to a dirt track about 100 miles east of Benghazi in Libya.

We could have headed north, crossed the Jabel Akhdor Mountains and walked to the Mediterranean coast to paddle in the sea, but that looked too much like hard work, so I had persuaded my companion to head south in search of culture, towards the modern city of Al Marj. My dog is not big on culture, however, preferring things she can eat, drink, or at least, paddle in. It was a matter of dogma, she explained, but I ignored her ridiculous attempts at humour.

As we approached the city, the landscape became less parched and more cultivated. Being fairly close to the coast, they do get a decent amount of rainfall, each year and grow barley, wheat, fruit and vegetables. In some ways it was not that different to White Hall, Illinois, but without the farm machinery, the big cars, and the Para Dice club.

Having made it to the city centre, we had stopped for a drink at the Green Mountain Coffee Bar. No cool beers, but it was pleasant enough with, for some reason, a good selection of sweeping brushes. "The old town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963", I explained to my dog who was eyeing one of the long-handled sweeping brushes suspiciously. "And the old town replaced an even older town called Barqa that was a famous Greek colony in the fifth century BC. People from here used to compete in the ancient Olympic Games, and several old trophies have been found in some of the ancient graves in these parts"

Lucy had stopped listening some time ago and was now approaching the broomstick with either attack or love-making in mind. Either could have had unfortunate consequences so, I finished my drink and propelled Lucy down the road.

"It's time to move on", I announced, "and it's my turn to change the word this time. Let's try our luck", I said "by changing "logo" to "luck". So that is where we are heading next .... ///short.luck.selection here we come.

Around The World In Eighty Words : 1. SHORT

“What is it?”, said Lucy. “It’s more a question of what was it”, I replied philosophically. “It could have been corn, it might have been hay, even possibly wheat; but right now it is stubble, and more to the point, it digs into your ankles”. “Tell me about it”, whined Lucy, “I’ve got twice as many ankles as you, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, bare paws!”

A word of explanation is perhaps necessary, before I venture any further. Lucy, my chocolate Labradoodle, and I have embarked on an adventure to see whether we can get around the world in just eighty words. The words in question are components of the What3Words geolocation system that divides the planet up into three metre squares; all with their own unique three word identification codes. The trip started at my desk in Huddersfield in the UK (/// and my first word is to simply change “tall” for “short”, resulting in a new location – /// – which happens to be in the middle of a field of stubble just outside White Hall, Illinois in the United States. Now, I know what you are going to say – “Don’t be silly, dogs can’t talk” – but given that we have stretched credulity to accept that I can somehow travel the planet at the drop of a word, it is not asking much to allow me a talking dog as a companion.

“So where exactly are we?”, enquired Lucy as we left the stubble field and headed into the big city. “We’re entering the city of White Hall, in Greene County, Illinois, population 2,520”, I said, reading from a Google website. (I had to read this out for Lucy because, let’s not be silly, dogs can’t read). “That’s not a city”, she protested, “I’ve seen boarding kennels bigger than that!” “Sush”, I said, “we’re in America now, and this is Main Street, so behave yourself”

To be honest, it didn’t take us long to explore the place, but it was pleasant enough and the sun was shining, and people smiled as the drove past in their cars. For a time, it was a centre for commercial potteries, but most of these have gone now. It got its name from an early building that was painted white – some say it was an inn, some say a blacksmith’s – and the small settlement grew up around it. If Lucy and I walked far enough south we would eventually get to St Louis, to the West is Kansas City, Indianapolis lies to the East, and Chicago is a challenging trek to the North.

“I don’t want to walk anywhere”, moaned Lucy, as I started to question the wisdom of my choice of travelling companion for this virtual trip around the world. We were walking down Main Street, passing the Greene Gable Inn. “Can’t we stop for a drink?” Tempting as the sight of the Inn was, it didn’t look like the type of place you could get a pint of bitter on a Thursday afternoon, let alone the type of place you could take a sweaty labradoodle to. Checking Google Maps we turned on West Lincoln Street and headed for the Para Dice Club instead as they were offering cold beer and free meatballs.

So, that is how we finished up, sitting in the bar in the Para Dice Club (“good friends and cold beer at cheap prices”) in White Hall, Illinois. One word was behind us and there were only seventy-nine to go before we were due back home in Huddersfield. “It’s your turn to choose”, I said to Lucy, “make a selection”. “That’s it”, said Lucy, so that was it. And now we are heading off to ///short.logo.selection. We’ll meet you there.

Around The World In Eighty Words : Start

You know what it’s like. You’ve had a drink or two too many, you are on the edge of being bored, Coronation Street is not what it was, you want to broaden your horizons …… so you get into one of those “I bet I could”conversations. I would like to say that it was whilst seated in a comfortable leather chair in the Reform Club, talking to all my friends; but, in fact, it was whilst sitting in front of my computer talking to myself. Nevertheless, the bet was made, and now I must see it through. What3words is a geocoding system which divides the world up into three metre squares and assigns each square a unique series of three words. As I was sat last night, my exact location was ///

By changing one word every time, I said to my imaginary companion, do you think I could travel around the world and get back to my desk? Before I had drained the last precious drop of malt whisky from my glass, I had made a wager with myself, so I must now embark on this journey of a lifetime – to get around the world in eighty words. For companionship, my loyal French manservant was not available – yes, it’s Brexit again – and so I have had to recruit my less than loyal Labradoodle, Passepartlucy.

For my first word change, I decided to be as logical as every and merely change “tall” for “short”. And therefore Lucy and I are heading for /// I will let you know where we have landed up – but you can always check it out for yourself and meet us there.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

In The North

This unused picture postcard - which came into my possession by fair means or foul, originated in France in 1916. It shows a cartoon by the artist, Jean Louis Forain, and is entitled “Dans le Nord - En Esclavage” (In the North - In Bondage). The drawing contains a quotation from the proclamation issued by the German Military Governor of Lille in April 1916, which ordered the forced evacuation of French citizens. “Anyone who tries to evade transport will be ruthlessly punished!”. At a time when the evacuation of civilians is yet again the stuff of newspaper headlines, it is worth remembering that such events have not always been limited to countries far, far, away.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...