It's a Guy Thing

Travel Guy

Travel: Number crunching my extraordinary journeys – Part 2 (of 3)

Welcome back to my personal review of the World. Just to remind you that Kirkey the Explorer recounts the moments his, according to some, largemouth gaped in awe. An octave or two above simple admiration for a place. Travel has become more than simply getting away from the humdrum of normal life. But having said that, with the pandemic still raging life is presently anything but normal. 


Kraków is the most beautiful city I have ever visited. Its lavish architecture, expansive public open spaces, and sophistication fuse effortlessly to create the ultimate testimony to all that is positive and humanitarian. Approximately fifty miles due west is a town called Oświęcim. During WWII, the Nazis renamed it Auschwitz. Over a million human beings were murdered at the death camps. Many were killed on arrival and the remainder were subjected to the hellish nightmare of slavery until their demise. I had seen many terrifying and moving documentaries about the holocaust. As I walked amongst the buildings and infrastructures of death I was completely overwhelmed. Mountains of human hair. Personal possessions. And shoes. Thousands of shoes. Children’s shoes too. This event had not occurred eons ago. Just two decades before I was born. 

Discrimination is malevolent on any level and I still struggle to this day to comprehend what happened and worry that such instances of evil are still potentially within the gift of future regimes. The German people were not inherently immoral yet all it took was a movement of the few to create terror on an industrial scale. I wonder what type of society we would be living in now if it had been mandated that every schoolchild visit this place where the birds, contrary to the urban myth, still sing. Because nature is beautiful. 

Δ (change) 95% 

(Love) 90% 


The sheer beauty of the coastline of southern Bali has few peers. Here I managed to relax to my inner core and wasn’t expecting any jaw-dropping moments. Then again my life has been littered with sudden contradictions especially during a period of perceived calm. During a bike ride along a beach path, I gripped the brakes and came to a shuddering stop. The Hindu religious symbol denoting ‘Everything is Good’. The swastika looked completely out of place emblazoned upon the gate that surrounded a small religious enclosure. Yet that was its real place. The symbol had been stolen by the Nazi regime and turned slightly anticlockwise to create the familiar logo that represented the ideology of Adolf Hitler. 

A powerful reminder that sinister groups rarely enter the consciousness of the wider population in tanks, brandishing weapons, or spouting violence. Populism will look and feel right. It will hit the buttons and legitimize the message by hijacking existing and stirring insignia and a carefully crafted dialogue. Short on evidence but heavy on innuendo, repetitive falsehoods and targeting vulnerable groups. 

My instinct to delve below the headlines, test the facts and remain continually suspicious of vacuous claims propelled with venom was right. 

Δ (change) 85% 

(Love) 85% 

United States of America 

Even before I set foot in the US there was an existing feeling of WOWNESS! Transatlantic culture had long been embedded in my psyche. ‘The Streets of San Francisco’, ‘Dallas’ & ‘Hawaii 5-O’ amongst swathes of other US television programs had given me a vicarious familiarity. Having kicked the ass out of the five-day pass for Disney World in Florida I held my bottle of Budweiser and looked skyward from the balcony of the modest Days Inn. The diamond-bright pulse was both hypnotic and blinding. As it majestically climbed high into the atmosphere I was transfixed in total awe. From my vantage point, the Space Shuttle Challenger was tiny, yet this incredible feat of human engineering made me feel microscopic. The human spirit is truly remarkable and completely all-consuming when it is harnessed for the greater good. 

A few years later with the kids in tow, we were back in Orlando. I had always had a professional interest in managing crowds. My original introduction to public order, as a cop at the tender age of twenty-one, on the miners’ dispute in 1984 painted a picture of seemingly utter chaos. However, as I became more experienced within this policing discipline, I began to appreciate that there was a high degree of certainty in how the masses behave. Analysis of this subject can be traced back to the nineteenth century although it is only in the last few decades that public disorder has been critically appraised. Professor John Drury of the University of Sussex asserted, “The crowd is as psychologically specific as the individual.” So, having written to the head of security at Disney World, this trip on one hot Florida day, became a little like a busman’s holiday. Having met Caryl at our agreed rendezvous point, a souvenir shop on Main Street, I was whisked into a lift that swiftly descended. Before I knew it I was being ferried around a labyrinth of tunnels in a golf buggy!

There was a whole new world of amazement hidden underneath! The magic of Disney was somewhat spoilt in that very instance. I saw cast members eating in canteens with their costume heads next to them and my chaperone explained how the crowds were elegantly managed from a control room resembling mission control. The chain-linked partitions at the busy rides were regularly uncoupled to allow the queues to move yet in reality the up and down aisle movements, although giving the impression of advancement, resulted in little progress from the original starting point.

Occasionally water sprinklers were activated to keep the crowd cool and in true Hill Street Blues fashion, groups of musical instrument-wielding cast members were deployed on flatbed vehicles to the major pinch points to keep the crowd entertained. How much better, I wondered, would my management of public order tactics have turned out if I had employed some of these strategies? Would those mass brawls outside nightclubs in Bracknell, High Wycombe, and Slough have been better suppressed if Donald Duck had turned up strumming a banjo? Disney World, I figured, could even teach the notorious French riot police, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), a thing or two. 

On our way back we took in New York for a few days. The Big Apple looked like I had always imagined. Steam billowing up from the sidewalks, the constant tooting of taxis horns and ginormous skyscrapers. As my young son Adam alighted from a famous yellow cab on this September morning, 2001, he arched his head skywards and summed it up in one delightful word: WOW! 

On the second day, I cricked my neck too as I drank in the awe of the World Trade Centre from the top deck of an open-top bus. My daughter Lucy also captured this unique perspective on a disposable camera. A week later both towers were rubble. I still have the picture proudly on display today. A poignant reminder that the World can change in an instant. 

I had earmarked my fifty-fifth birthday as my grand retirement party and what better way to celebrate than with a US road trip with my partner Cara from San Francisco to Las Vegas, via Yosemite, and along the Big Sur to Monterey, Cambria, Santa Barbara, and into Los Angeles on Route 101? There were some amazing moments along the way. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and feeling this solid iconic structure move underfoot. Standing in the exercise yard at Alcatraz which had housed the most infamous criminals up until a few weeks after I was born. Seeing the sun disappear behind the Sierra Nevada Mountains and being plunged into darkness whilst deep in the lush forest a few miles from civilization and acknowledging for the first time that it was not only bears who shit in the woods! 

My Mum and Adam flew out to meet us in Las Vegas and during this high octane finish we ventured into Arizona to explore an example of water erosion. The Grand Canyon was big. I mean bigger than I could ever imagine. I felt gloriously small and insignificant. Around six million years in the making, my lifespan didn’t even register (OK to be precise I had been around approximately 0.0009% of this wonder’s existence). I knew at that exact moment that I was one of the lucky people who had created something special. Legacy: my two beautiful kids. 

Whilst winding our way around our immense hotel, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, I saw a series of black and white photographs adorning the wall archiving some of the great entertainers who had performed on the Strip. I stopped at Frankie Laine, the American crooner who had passed away in 2007. My Mum and Dad had been members of his fan club in the early 1960s. At the time, my Mum was living in Mawdesley, a small village in Lancashire, south of Preston whilst my Dad was in the Royal Air Force stationed on Christmas Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. An unscheduled exchange of letters, following a request by the administrators to contact service personnel some 7,500 miles away, led to my parents getting married. Looking at Adam my eyes welled, and the tears flowed. Both our existences had been as a direct result of a game of chance. How simply precious is life? 

Δ (change) 90% 

(Love) 90% 


As soon as I had landed in Schiphol airport I realized that I had discovered the true origin of Bohemianism. Anti-conventionalism oozed from the architecture, transport infrastructure and the very people of this unique country. As I sat in the open drinking an Amstel beer in De Wallen, the medieval city center, also known as the red-light district, my vision was drawn to a scantily dressed lady gyrating rather provocatively behind a full-length window on the opposite side of the canal. This practice was not in itself rare since I had passed many similar windows on entering this notorious area. The difference was that this energetic lady was, in my opinion, well into her sixties. This gave me an immediate boost as at the time I was fast approaching the half-century mark and I was beginning to ponder when it would be too old to rock and roll. In a flash, this lady demonstrated that the art of boogying had no defined end date. A mature chap then stopped outside, the lady invited him in, and the curtain was promptly drawn. I sipped and smiled and tried to think about anything other than what was happening inside of that pavement boudoir. A few minutes later the pleasure palace was vacated by both participants. The lady now dressed in a grey baggy tracksuit and the guy carrying two heavily ladened Lidl shopping bags. Meeting your missus after work had an air of normality even in the heart of sin city. 

Walking around the Van Gogh Museum I was utterly confused. Hitherto I had always assumed that the pronunciation of the Dutch post-impressionist painter’s named rhymed with a subtle ‘go’. I was wrong. The correct utterance was a guttural and most alarming ‘GOK!’ Furthermore, his artwork left me quite numb. The swirls and blobs of a five-year-old came to mind and I wasn’t in the least surprised that he had only sold a handful of his paintings when he was alive. But had I got it wrong? Was I wholly bereft of artistic appreciation? Was I ungraded when it came to culture? At that moment, I fully grasped the notion that there are some things in life that I will never truly comprehend, and they exist probably just to confuse great rafts of humanity in much the same way as American football and cricket. 

Δ (change) 80% 

(Love) 80% 

Next time my attentive Passepartout, in the final installment, we are off to South Africa, Zanzibar, Austria, Australia, Iceland, and India. 

© Ian Kirke 2021