I awaken, but my eyes are closed.
I’m not trying to be philosophical here. This isn’t some pseudo-reflective narration of my mind finally opening itself to possibilities that my optic capacity had up to this point blinded me to. I mean it quite literally – all of my senses have regained consciousness, I’m just too lazy to open my eyes.
Let’s be honest – what exactly are they going to be missing out on? More trees? Wow – consider me devastated.
Sorry future generations – there might only be two or three trees left on the planet (with the rest transferred wholesale to the private Martian estate of Elon Musk) by the time you read this, but as I sit here in 2018 – there’s a shit ton. Unless they’re occluding an army of Bear Cats or Velociraptors (which would be highly unlikely given the most common predatory species of dinosaur I’d be likely to encounter in Siberia would be *remember to check Wikipedia later and insert reference here to look clever*), I’m not especially excited by the prospect of staring at them.
One thing I can tell you without opening my eyes, is that my face is warm, except for my right cheek, oddly. It is only slightly cooler but is also in quite considerable pain. A blunt pressure that permeates beneath the skin, almost numbing the bone.
The pain continues with increasing sharpness down the right of my neck. Muscles within feel stretched thin beneath the outermost layer of tissue. The pain at its most severe about half-way up.
The rest of my body is largely comfortable, but even the slightest movement causes this stabbing sensation within my head and neck to suddenly spike.
Is this what a stroke feels like? Did I fall down some stairs last night? Have I unwittingly become some sun-blocker-covered vampire’s morning snack?
No. Upon straining to open my eyes, it transpires that I’m viewing the world at a ninety degree angle to the rest of my body. The shape of my neck leading from my collar hone up to my forehead looks like some sort of demented set square. My face is pushed hard up against the window, gripped by a thin veil of slobber. I swear there was a pillow between me and the window when I fell asleep.
Whatever. Great start to the day. Where are we even going?!
Story continues below...
Forests and plastics
Blagoveshchensk. That’s today’s destination. Potentially tomorrow’s.
Almost certainly tomorrow’s.
Suffice it to say that like everything in Russia, Blagoveshchensk is bloody far away. Places in Russia are so far away that even when you’re in them – hey’re still far away.
Forever alluding and forever evading. Like happiness.
If we do get there today, chances are it will be very, very late at night.
As much as I might’ve bemoaned the abundance of trees moments ago, there’s no denying the instant sense of tranquility and peace they instil. This road and the surrounding forests are like every other we’ve navigated on this tour – completely indistinguishable from the rest and yet, completely unique in their own right.
I sometimes think that’s what people are like. In my experience, people are generally an odd mix of being unique and completely the same. Perhaps not the same as ‘everyone’ else, but certainly a distinct selection that I already know. It’s like there’s only so many character sheets we can be drawn from.
Some would argue this is only true until you ‘get to know them’, but I’m tempted to argue the opposite. When I first meet someone, I think my imagination fills in the blanks based on whatever makes them stand out, initially. What I see comprises my complete estimation of whom they are, which regardless of whether or not it’s accurate, is only a fraction of their entire being. Over time, I get a more rounded, informed view of who they are and ultimately, they’re very similar to other people I know or have known.
Which almost sounds like an insult, like I’m suggesting ‘no-one’ is unique because their broadstrokes are so consistent with those of countless others. But I suppose that’s my point, those characteristics though tiny in the context of their overall character, are what nevertheless defines their character. The same as how every single landscape we’ve experienced in Siberia may in photographs and descriptions appear the same as countless others, but are each nevertheless uniquely distinguishable for reasons that may sometimes be subtle, or even impossible to identify.
What the actual fudge am I talking about?
You know what, before I came to Russia I was given the impression everyone here was mad. That’s an unfair generalisation that I can assure you has not been helped by the ocean of faces baring wide eyes and lovingly manic grins that I’ve met in the weeks I’ve been here. But if there is any credence to this generalisation, I daresay it’s because they’ve spent so much time surrounded by and looking at trees. I swear this diary is 90% irrelevant crap, just random threads I’ve followed as a result of looking at nothing but wood for hours on end.
And let me be clear – that’s only a problem for people reading it. I’m actually quite content – it’s you I feel sorry for.
A mountain of plastic crap
We eventually pull up because holes at either end of our bodies require attention. Toilet and food, with a concerted effort made not to confuse either need with the hole in question.
It’s a really picturesque spot, until I walk around the back of the building and find a pit of trash.
As I look upon this mass of plastic, my heart in mourning as to the death blow such a wilful disregard for mother Gaia will surely submit upon her long term, I find myself wishing… neigh – praying – that Greta Thunberg was here.
You wouldn’t see this shit going down if she was, that’s for damn sure. She’d do that thing where she bollocks people for stealing her childhood, among other things that her corporate backers have carefully written about, safe in the knowledge that because she’s a child she is immune from criticism and objective consideration. Barely anyone will give it a moment’s inspection and anyone who dares to can be dismissed with absolute predjudice since by virtue of their opposition, the can only be a child hating, world destroying Nazi anyway.
Yeah, if there’s one thing that’d get these locals who live in the middle of nowhere and have to scrape by day to day thinking twice about how they’re treating nature, it’s a child from another country and class lecturing them on their societal ills.
I guarantee that would work. Because this is 2018 and perception is everything.
For the record, I’m a Greta fan. She reminds me of my second favourite Game of Thrones character (Ramsay Bolton) if he was lacking a sense of humour and really, really liked plants. I just think there are better ways of tackling genuine issues like climate change than an army of armchair activists resharing footage of a screaming child.
That being said, I’ve always taken some joy from the irony of people lecturing me on their environmental and moral superiority, when they’re doing it using devices that required half the Congo be dug up by seven year olds for them to own. I’ve never pretended that my sense of humour is for everyone.
And I do genuinely hate seeing plastic. By no means do I consider myself an eco-warrior (except I did sign a petition on Change.org once), but I don’t really understand how it’s so difficult to just not dump shit ‘anywhere’.
But then, is that not just my privilege talking? That’s the word people use to dismiss the perspective of anyone they deem ‘better off’ purely by virtue of gender or race, right? What I mean is, I’ve had the good fortune to be born into a society that encourages, supports and enables recycling. Not that you’d believe it if you walked any of the streets surrounding the University I work at. Or Anna’s office. Or Anna’s downstairs room. Or literally any room she sets foot in… love you dear.
So is my perception that plastics should be recycled or at least discarded properly, not simply a bi-product of living in a society which can afford to be concerned with such things?
Could it not also be considered racist to question how other people handle their rubbish? That’s something people seem awfully picky about too; where and when the subject of ‘culture’ should grant people immunity from criticism. A cursory glance of Twitter seems to suggest it’s fine to bicker about the actions of anyone if they’re ‘higher up the ladder than you’, but if they’re lower or of a different culture… well, who are we to judge?
Maybe, just maybe, apathy is prevelant in all societies at some level?
I’m not sure why this is bothering me. Clearly I’m more irritable than I should be. We’re in a picturesque spot and I’m whinging about nonesense. One thing is clear… te need to eat.
We make our way inside and grab a small bite. We get some odd looks. Some of the locals just seem confused as to what we are, others literally give us odd looks. Like, I don’t know if they’re looking at us or are trying to process a really difficult math question.
Like the seven times table, in my case.
We take a quick pee before hitting the road again.
Literally nothing to talk about
There’s really nothing to talk about. I could reflect on the precarious incidents we’ve endured so far, but it’s really been stress free. I could reflect on some of the small, random moments that I tend to lose track of when I come to updating this diary, but… well, I’ve lost track of them. Thinking about it, there’s a ton of little things I’ve missed, but I expect much of those will come back to me when reading this pages in years to come.
It’s funny how memory works. Hard as you might strive to directly recall something, there are occasions when success is down to a more abstract method. A familiar smell or inflection in someone’s voice at a very particular time can bring back something which you’d otherwise be forgiven for thinking had left your subconscious entirely.
I’m not sure what abstractions will be required to bring the tangible reality of Siberia back, in future. For my senses to be collectively immersed in the moment of a memory rather than an isolated snapshot. I’m unlikely to forget scenes of endless Greenland, the abject silence or sense of complete isolation individually. But the point at which all these things converge, that micro moment where time, physical stimuli, true (if relative) self-awareness, recognition as to the meaning of the moment on a personal level and its absolute inconsequentiality to everything beyond, isn’t so easy to freeze.
I’ll know that moment happened, but my critical faculties are not such that they’re able to recognise or account for the absence of all the various elements responsible for it. A moment isn’t just what exists on the surface of a point in time, it’s a dense tapestry of crap unseen, connecting the past and the future. It comprises more variables than I’m able to quantify. And it won’t be gone, it’ll just be stored somewhere in the great void of my own psyche, until the moment that something random, seemingly completely unrelated triggers its return to the forefront.
I suppose what I’m saying is, a moment is a universe worth of variables frozen in a fragment. Some of those variables can be relived consciously through memory and/or completely pointless, droning diaries. But a lot can’t. The variables that truly define the value and importance of a moment I tend to find very difficult to identify or express, despite very clearly knowing their existence and effect.
That’s something I’ve always struggled to convey when people ask “What’s the point?” of adventures such as these. “Don’t you make any money? Can’t you just go on holiday? Why would you want to sleep in a van? Etc” are all valid queries if your interest and values extend no further than what’s observed on the surface. It’s not what’s on the surface that I’m interested in. I trust that these sights, sounds and experiences are informing my perspective on a deeper level and that I will call on the benefits they’ve provided in future, perhaps without even knowing it.
Having said that, as far as the surface level goes I’ve been surrounded by much worse. Burslem, for example:
The expanse really never gets tiring. As monotonous as the sound of asphalt gliding under rubber tyres (or what’s left of them) can be and as little I might be able to say that I’ve not said a thousand times already, ‘wow’ is a term that never leaves the mind.
I don’t really understand how it couldn’t be.
Even if you’re not particularly enthralled by nature, I struggle to imagine how such scenery does not evoke a very primal, almost physical expression of awe.
But then I’ve been on cage diving boats where people have been more interested in the pretty colours on their phone than the absolute majesty of raw nature unfolding before them.
That even applies to concerts, thinking about it. I remember going to gigs and seeing an ocean of hands in the air, waving in unison to the sound waves flying past them. Now, most of those hands are holding phones. I know it sounds judgemental and I do try to be balanced when it comes to understanding behaviours I don’t engage in myself – but spending an entire show watching it through a phone screen does seem excessively moronic.
The more I think about the culture awaiting back in the UK, the more preferable places like this seem.
But then, why do I keep going back?
Paralysing cowardice and indecision masquerading as inner conflict, most probably.
I’ve never seen so many trees.
Goodbye, Siberia… wait, already?!
I fall asleep and this time when I awaken, my neck isn’t completely broken.
Crikey – I’m learning. Go me.
I don’t really know where we are, but there’s a big sign that Denis explains marks the end of Siberia, or this region of it at least.
There’s an end to Siberia?! Well that’s some horse shit that was left off the brochure. I was under the distinct impression it outreached the endless void of time and space.
It’s a picturesque area though, as if that even means anything any more.
More streaks of dark green below a blanket of cool blue. Absolute silence, with neither the wind nor the single bird flying overhead making a sound.
A scene of nonchalant beauty degraded by four crust-ridden, overweight, British noise-polluters brushing their teeth beside a vehicle that has survived this journey more times than I dare think.
We’ve been on the road for almost three weeks. I don’t know if this feels like an age or a moment.
Perhaps that’s a natural side effect of fully living in the latter.
Looking back at the sign triggers a mental picture of where we must be on the globe. Chances are I clicked on this exact road on Google Earth when previewing our route.
The earth suddenly goes from feeling very large to very small. This geographical expanse that previously exceeded my wildest imagination now exists as a tangible reference in my mental library. What was once an anonymous stretch of the unknown is now a pattern of sights and sounds plotted against a measurable scale.
The unknown has become the known and in doing so, has recontextualised that which was previously known.
Or something. Who knows?
Are we in Blagoveshchensk yet?
No. Stop asking.
We drive forever.
I fall asleep when I could easily stay awake and can’t keep my eye closed when I’m knackered. The world’s gone topsey turvey since passing that ‘You are leaving Siberia’ sign. You would’ve expected the opposite to be true.
We pull onto a car park because we’re hungry. There’s a cafe here. We weren’t planning on eating the gravel.
Alex wants his photo taken next to a sign. He says it’s for his wife. Poor woman. That goes for all our partners in fairness. You have to wonder what Pol Pot level shittery they must’ve pulled in a past life, for fate to punish them with inescapable lust for the individuals in this group of men who are frankly, bordering on overgrown rodents.
This place is bleak. Although, perhaps it is actually perfectly nice and we’ve just caught it under poor lighting.
That’s how I’ll be explaining the state of my appearance in every photograph I’m in on this tour diary. I don’t look like crap, it’s just the lighting isn’t very good. Thanks Siberia.
I take a few pictures to capture the moment before heading inside.
Dinner is fairly uneventful.
Donald Trump is on the television. I should probably talk about what a monster he is and how he’s ruining the planet with his supremacy and capitalistic evil.
People far more well informed and politically enlightened than I have often told me that the only reason he’s in charge is because of racists. Racists basically came out of the woodwork to keep the Democrats out of power.
I ask where those racists were during the two terms a black democract successfully ran for President and they tell me it’s also because of sexists. I ask why women voted for him and I’m told it’s because they’re either stupid or brainwashed by the patriarchy.
I ask why, if the patriachy is so powerful and successful in its fight against the societal growth of women, hasn’t it stopped men dieing at work vastly more often than women? I’m told that’s an isolated incident and I’m warping the argument by using an exception to the rule, like suicide rates, substance abuse, performance in education, death as the result of violence, liver, oral and stomach cancer.
Suggesting that there’s more to any one given situation than its surface appearance rarely ends up being a worthwhile exercise. At some point, I just accept that as long as I refuse to engage with Twitter, I’m just going to be an old fart who doesn’t ‘get it’.
I really want a Great Dane. I don’t know if I’ll ever earn enough money or be in such a situation that I can look after a dog properly, but if the day comes, I definititely want it to be a great dane. Just watching Jasper lose his marbles would be worth the emotional devastation of their shortened lifespan.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of dogs. Maybe it was the food. That mac and cheese did look suspect.
At least it wasn’t bloody soup.
I don’t know how far away we are now, but Eeyore’s face is looking mighty comfortable.
Ah, Eeyore. I think he’s been on every tour with me now, stretching back to Germany in 2005. Ugh… 2005, have we really been doing this for thirteen years? I don’t say that negatively. Who would’ve thought back when we played our first interntional show in Munster and it felt like a completely new world, that we’d be here now on the otherside of having played more countries than I can probably remember.
I feel like I’ve already reflected on this throughout this tour diary. The days and memories are merging into one.
Reading back over today’s blog, I realise just how little has happened and yet, how much irrelevant cack I’ve managed to write. I decide to close my laptop for the final time today and in doing so, commit to ensuring future entries focus absolutely on what’s going on.
If anything interesting happens tonight, I can reflect on it tomorrow morning.
I can guarantee you – nothing interesting is going to happen.
(Spoilers: we saw a comet).