Well now, this is all very unusual, isn’t it? Some might say absurd? What on earth am I doing writing this again? It has been well over a year since I last committed anything to this digital vellum, but I assure you, dearest readers, that Looking for Stu is still alive and kicking. Kind of.
After my seven-ish years on the road came to an abrupt end for reasons medicinal, my lifestyle has swung, rather dramatically, in the opposite direction. No more a vagabond careering through countries at the whims of passing motorists, or as a drunk tourist languishing in one place for several months. I have all but settled into what many would call “a normal life.” My 65 country tally is currently on an indefinite hiatus, while my hitchhike to India is all but dead and buried (which would have been me had I suffered to continue it). I have become somewhat more sensible in my old age. But you know something? It ain’t all that bad – it seems the quieter life isn’t actually something to be feared.
So, what have I actually been up to? If you’re at all familiar with this site you might notice I have been busy reinventing myself. With the help of some expert word press gurus, we have tidied up that monstrosity I called a blog page and dragged it kicking and screaming into the modern age. You know when you’re a kid and you have that shocking hairdo nobody ever tells you to get cut? Well, my blog was like that. But thanks to the efforts of a designer in Egypt, Looking for Stu has had a much needed, sparkling revamp, ensuring a new lease of life. Please feel free to tell me what you actually think this time.
As you can see I’ll be moving away from debaucherous tales of underwear-less escapades, broken noses and bowel movements, and hopefully into the more sensible (and lucrative) domain of the freelance writer. In short, the brutally honest travel wordsmithery that was associated with Looking for Stu will be taking a back seat – at least for the time being. I shall now be attempting to ply my wares and further my career in getting paid for penning prose. I’ve even had business cards made up – but so far I’ve only managed to hand them out to mates. They’re great for cleaning the dirt out from under your fingernails.
In the meantime, I have been making something of a home for myself in Zagreb, Croatia, where the life of a house husband rather suits me. The “sleeping in bars” or “passing out in bushes” Stuart of old has all but dissipated, and my one night out a week is only because I run a local pub quiz here. What on earth has become of me? How disappointed you must be to no longer hear anecdotes of me getting punched in the face, pooing into my kilt or being unceremoniously spurned in favour of handsome Australian men! How ever will your tea breaks be the same?!
The charming, homely idyll has been punctuated with more sobering and judicious excursions of late, a million miles from my previous entanglements – but not without their own allure. And since there was a time when I would commit every traveling occurrence to the page, perhaps you will permit me if I give a brief summary of my recent adventures? Incidentally, “I” and “my” has rapidly become “we” and “our.” This is the beginning of the end.
October. The finest month in the calendar. We touched down in Essen, Germany to enjoy our first ever board game convention. Essen Spiel is, in fact, the largest gathering of board game nerds in the world, and since we’re both nerds ourselves, for two days we joined them. The geek shall inherit the earth. Wide awake from 1 am unable to contain our excitement, we dashed around the enormous exhibition halls like a pair of coked-up kids on Christmas day. We added nine games to our collection before flying for pastures new – or old rather. An all too brief return to the homeland – and a long overdue reunion.
It’s been 16 years since I was last in a room with my old drama school buddies – or reprobates as I should call them. But for some unbelievable reason, we had managed to get off our collective arses and finally arrange a reunion. It was to take place in a little northern town called Wigton, close to Carlisle, so I decided to kill a few birds with one stone during a visit home. Met in Manchester by my twin and cousin, we (or rather I) enjoyed a day taking in the Anfield stadium tour as my sister and I turned the ripe old age of 39. Hey – last year they dragged me to the Harry Potter Studios – this was my revenge.
Dad had taken me to the ground many years before but I’d never actually been behind the scenes at Liverpool FC. Suffice to say it was a very special birthday indeed – with the highlight being nabbing the last medium sized home jersey in the club shop and properly introducing my American better half to the delights of a full English breakfast at the Georgie Porgy cafe over the road. Get yourself the works and you won’t be disappointed. The icing on the cake, of course, would be if this was the season we finally won the Premier League. That’s long overdue too.
The reunion went exactly as the spirits foretold. It was like we’d never been apart, and although there were absent friends aplenty, a good time was had by all. That’s because it involved copious amounts of booze, a party game called Obama Lama and a plush, furry boar that was named Steve. It might have been 16 years, but I love that lot as much as I did when I first met them. We were and are, to quote one of our tutors – a very special class indeed.
It’s just a pity I was such a shit actor. But all might not be lost – to this I shall return momentarily.
A road trip to Berlin in early December was a fun experience, but driving 12 hours straight up through Europe was not. It was a short but sweet visit to Alex’s brother who lives in the city, and the drive back was equally memorable. Randomly, we had decided to visit some unusual sites on the way home to Zagreb, and this brainwave happened just as we were passing Vienna. The thought occurred to me that we were near something I’d wanted to visit since 1994 – and as luck would have it, the very junction I pulled off at was where it was located. Anyone familiar with the revered Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise will recognise the “Friedhof der Namenlosen.” The Graveyard of the Nameless.
The magic of cinema led us to believe that young lovebirds Celine and Jesse visited here on foot. In reality, it’s actually some distance from the city in the middle of an industrial complex, right by the Danube. And well it might be – for this is a cemetery that is the last resting place of the unknowns who wash up on its dark shores. Many are suicides, and almost all of them are nameless. Shunned by the Catholic church, lost souls have been buried here since 1840, each grave depicted with an ornate iron crucifix. The scene in the film made an impression on a 15-year-old boy, and now, some 24 years later, it makes an impression on the man standing there.
Our next port of call was perhaps not so emotional, but equally chilling. The descending thick fog made driving a serious challenge, so we opted to check out a place called Hajmáskér Barracks in Hungary. Formerly one of the largest barracks in Europe, it was in use as part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy’s military muscle in the 19th century. Nazi’s took over during WWII (when did they not?) and finally the Soviets squatted up until 1990. What was obviously once a grand building is now all but a shell – but an excellent one for some quality urban exploration.
I wouldn’t exactly call it safe, as crumbling balconies give way to sheer drops, the floor is littered with debris and shards of glass protrude from every window – but that’s what we like to see. Little remains by way of human presence (unlike say, Chernobyl and Pripyat), as it’s more or less just debilitated bricks and mortar. Still, it’s one of the best-abandoned sites we’ve visited, more than a little eerie and not for the faint of heart. We were lucky we had Margot to give us a warning bark if she spotted a lurking boogeyman.
The fog was dense as we left the ruin. With darkness setting in and still with some miles to go, it wasn’t going to be a relaxing drive, and we had somewhere to be. Back in the summer, I was contacted by a friend who thought I’d be a good fit to do an English voice over for a Croatian documentary short. I was astounded to learn that this was much more than the student film I’d originally anticipated, and they were having a champagne reception for the premier in Vukovar. The film is entitled The Prehistoric Night of Venus and Mars, and it focuses on the Vucedol culture that settled by the Danube around 5000 years ago. In a fascinating archaeological project, professor Alexander Durman at Zagreb University has discovered the oldest recorded date in human prehistory. All I did was lend my dulcet tones to the background.
Cutting it fine, we made the premier and I achieved my brief red carpet moment. Without an actual red carpet. The subsequent after-party was worth making the event alone. In all my years flogging dead horses throughout my acting “career,” this was the most professional thing I’ve ever done. With a face made for the radio, perhaps I have a future in voice work? Maybe I could lend that quintessential English accent to something when I move to the states this coming summer?
Oh, perhaps I’ve not mentioned that? This really is a year when everything changes. Both myself and Alex have lived away from a native English speaking country for 14 odd years between us. We’re over it. I want to hold a conversation as I’m walking the dog. To know what kind of shampoo I’m getting. To be able to find the hemorrhoid cream. With that in mind, we’re upping sticks and making a move to the good ol’ US of A. Come July this year, we will be residents somewhere in the Midwest, close to her folks and her old stomping ground. This was my last European Christmas for the foreseeable future. Who knows when I will return to these shores again, but as my dad once declared when making an equally life-changing transition – “exciting times are ahead.”
And speaking of Christmas, it was one of the most pleasant and homely in many a long year. The twin came out to visit, and it was just the three of us, Margot, and an enormous, fat turkey to see us through the festive period. I particularly enjoyed massaging a garlic, parsley and lemon butter under its skin, because turkey is a thirsty bird. It was the first time I’ve ever cooked one, not having actually had a home since my parents passed – and that was always dad’s job anyway. I think I would have done them proud. And it was, alas, the final Christmas for the Jameson family tree – a 30-year-old artificial behemoth we bought in Woolworth’s sometime in the 1980s. Next year we’ll be handing this faithful stalwart off to a friend who is remaining in Zagreb, hopefully, to continue the joy it’s always given us. I hear they have those newfangled real trees over in the states anyway. One thing’s for sure – Christmases are going to look a lot different from here onward.
So, that’s us just about bang up to date dear readers. I hope you all had a good new year and that 2019 brings you everything you could wish for. I was very nervous to begin writing this again, but over the course of the last few hours, I’ve realised how much I’ve missed it. With a bit of luck, I think this year could be one of the most exciting and memorable of my life. Of our lives. I have big plans to travel the states, I’m still on a journey, and I’m still looking for Stu.
I’d love for you to come along for the ride.