Welcome to the Beatnik Beatles blog

Below are some of the highlights from our 'on the road' blog, written between our departure in August 2010, and our return in July 2011.
The complete incredible story of our year is told in the book The Long & Whining Road, out now.
Get the details at www.beatnikbeatles.com

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Behold! A new blog is born!

If you enjoyed this blog, you really need to leap forward in time.

I started a brand new blog, about a brand new crazy idea (which was born out of this blog's crazy idea) and you can find it here: Sim's new blog - The Letterman Project

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Ta daaa!

The book is out!

I'll be doing various promotional spots around the UK including book signings (I'm at my local Waterstones in Banbury on July 14th - pop in, say hi) and interviews. I'm on a genuine legend's show on Monday 2nd July - Billy Butler on BBC Radio Merseyside! 2.30pm if you can catch it online HERE.

 All the details on how to get the book, plus a free excerpt, are at www.beatnikbeatles.com

It's available as paperback, on Kindle and the iBook version will appear in the Apple iBook store soon.

(Just a note - Amazon still has the paperback listed as 'unavailable, but eligible for free postage'. DON'T be tempted! This link will be removed. They can't supply it. You can buy through Amazon market place (from me) but it's cheaper at www.beatnikbeatles.com)

If you enjoy it, please give it a nice review on Amazon. You can do this regardless of where you bought the book. I'll do the same for you one day!


Sim x

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ra.One More Thing

I know I signed off back in July, and this whole crazy tale should be over, but I feel compelled to tie up one loose end. Sit down for two minutes. We need to talk about Ra.One.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and because I really know how to show a girl a good time, I took her to the Vue cinema next to Oxford United’s ground to watch my Bollywood film - in 3D, which offered the tantalising prospect of seeing my background role as Barman 2 even more vividly. We had the entire auditorium to ourselves, which made it extra special, and glossing over the fact that it was 2 for 1 Orange Wednesday, I think you’ll agree that I do indeed go the extra mile to make my wife’s life complete. As birthday treats go, it promised to be a huge triumph. Unlike the film.

Oh dear. It is awful. Apart from one rather glittering nightclub scene, in which the bar staff look particularly jaunty, Ra.One is a pungent pile of Stinking Bishop. Its calamitous failing is its woeful script, closely followed by the most tortuous, buttock-clenching acting since Gary Barlow dabbled with a career-change and played a postman on Heartbeat. It’s horribly flabby, taking ten minutes to spoon-feed the beleaguered viewer each thirty-second piece of information. So obese is it, in fact, that I must confess that this writer’s opinion is only based on fifty percent of the film. Ra.Half. Like all Indian movies, it paused for an intermission. That was after we’d suffered an hour and twenty minutes, and we decided that the further hour and twenty still to run were probably better spent doing … well, anything. My tax return was suddenly inviting.

The film’s plot is that a geeky games-designer dad designs a video game for his son, featuring a mega-baddie (Ra.One) because his son loves villains. The hero in the game (G.One) is modelled on the geek dad, so Khan plays both parts – a handy curly-hair wig alerting us to when he’s the real-world nerd. Due to some never-fully-explained hocus pocus with ‘beams of information’, the baddie breaks out of the game and tries to kill Khan’s son in the real world: cue lots of Terminator 2 shape-shifting and Matrix-style running and jumping in long black coats.

Worse than its infuriatingly lethargic pace, however, is how horribly wide-of-the-mark it aims its humour at a western audience. Now, before you leap to the defence of Shah Rukh Khan and his merry band of dream-weavers, exclaiming that ‘Bollywood is different’ and ‘you can’t compare the Indian market with that of the west’, just remember this: Ra.One was specifically made in an attempt to ‘take on Hollywood’. It was billed as ‘Bollywood’s break-out movie’ and has the price-tag to prove it. How, then, can David Benullo, Kanika Dhillon and ‘King’ Khan himself sleep at night taking the credit for penning such a palette of poo? There really isn’t a moment of dialogue (in the first half) that doesn’t have you clenching your teeth in horror, wincing, “Oh God, make it stop.”

Highlights of this master class in ‘script writing as a form of torture’ are almost all in the films (ahem) ‘comedy’ vignettes. The most jaw-slackening of these is the running racist joke about Chinese people. The first time we meet tech-head Akaashi, played by Tom Wu, he is throwing an office colleague to the floor. Shah Rukh comments, “Did someone call him Jackie Chan again?”

Akaashi screams back, “Not all Chinese men are Jackie Chan!” to the immense mirth of his office colleagues. This Jackie Chan ‘joke’ just won’t go away, cropping up at least another three times. Earlier, in the film’s opening (immensely tedious) dream sequence, Khan’s heroic alter-ego beats up three Chinese girls referred to as ‘friends of Bruce Lee’, and as he confronts the final villain, he manages to crowbar in a line about food – “Don’t offer me Chinese, I’ve just eaten some.” – which, apart from being wholly inappropriate and not actually making sense, commits the even greater sin: it’s not funny.

Later, the all-powerful super-villain, Ra.One, kills poor Akaashi’s aged mother, delivering the line, “I hate Chinese.” It went from being a bad joke, to feeling like some sort of hostile campaign. Have I missed something? What did China do to India, to justify this battering on such a high profile pedestal?

It’s Khan’s life-sapping attempts at humour that will do more damage to Bollywood’s reputation than they could imagine. While the film’s special effects are impressive, and the overall ‘look’ of the movie is on a par with Hollywood offerings, there is simply no excuse for Shah Rukh Khan playing Mister Bean. Visual gags that Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis would have deemed too poor to line a litter tray, get the big-screen, agonising Khan treatment here. Reversing a car to knock another car (which inexplicably has no handbrake on) into another car – hilarious. ‘A’ plus. Throwing some keys to a friend, but seeing them drop into the cleavage of a buxom girl who, for some reason, doesn’t notice and thinks he’s a pervert for looking at her chest – side-splitting. Solid gold.

And don’t even get me started on how many times they make a hilarious joke about Khan hurting his groin. Well, OK, it was three. But that was just in the first half. Why no one, in the high-stakes world that Khan inhabits, thought it might be a good idea to consult a writer or producer with some Hollywood or Brit-flick clout about this script is a mystery. Especially when they were making such a song and dance (no Bollywood pun intended) about Ra.One being marketed ‘to the west’. Any one of us, you, me, next door’s dog, could have read that script and the wind-erosion of our teeth would have been enough to alert them to some essential re-writes.

Having said all that, I will be buying the DVD.

Well, come on, I’m in it! There is a fleeting glimpse of what both Jill and I thought was me, doing my barman bit in the opening ten seconds of the ‘video game launch party’ scene. Admittedly, we couldn’t be sure, and as the entire dance spectacular took six days to shoot, I knew after those opening seconds that we were already looking at footage from long after I’d got the bus home (with my stolen bhangra braces). It’s a good scene, though. I’m happy with it. It turns out Shah Rukh is a dab hand at miming to a song while dancing in a line. It’s what Bollywood does best. And I feel genuinely dismayed that, after the rather good Guzaarish, which we saw in Jaipur, and also the critical acclaim received internationally for My Name Is Khan, Ra.One has taken Bollywood so many steps backwards. It’s surely not what they were hoping for, when a viewer comes away from a billion Rupee action movie thinking the best bit was the ‘miming to a song and dancing in a line’ scene. They’ve been doing that for sixty years.

Then again, I did only see the first half. The second half played to an empty cinema - a dark, soulless chasm, echoing to the abomination of cinema’s most catastrophic dialogue.

They should put that on the DVD cover.

The original account of my experience on the set of Ra.One is HERE

Monday, 11 July 2011

Abbey Road, track 16

The Final Blog
(until the next one)

We landed to find a typical English July day - 15ÂșC and raining. Our first few hours of 'decompression' were filled with wonder. Getting currency at the airport (you need pound coins to get a luggage trolley) found us like strangers in a strange land.

"Look at the 10 pound note! It looks so old fashioned!"

"The coins are so thick! They're like pirate dubloons!"

Then, at our friends Lynne and Jon's house, we watched our first British TV for nearly a year.

"Wow, David Cameron's looking a bit podgy."

"Aaahhh, the 10 o'clock news. Like a comfy old blanket."

"Hugh Grant on Question Time!?"

Clearly, it was going to take a while to re-adjust.

So, here we are then. The Final Blog. A chance to look back on an incredible year. A chance to thank you for your support and reflect on what we've learned. Or we could just throw out some amazing and pointless stats! OK then, here are the numbers:

Total miles travelled - 38,814

Miles driven in Penny - 18,261

Days on the road - 333

Countries visited - 17

Litres of diesel bought - 2,594

Tents used - 4

Punctures - 3

PC chargers and iPod leads broken - 7

Number of times we've asked "Do you know your wifi key?" - 123


Did I say thank you? I meant to. I've really enjoyed writing these blogs and the fact that you've bothered to read them has warmed the cockles of my heart. 26 thousand visitors since last August is about 25 thousand more than I would have dared hope for. Really - thank you.

By way of giving a proper credit to those people both at home and on the road who've helped us so much throughout the year, I've made a little video, which I'll post at the bottom of this blog.


So, to sum up our year ... where to begin? Let's go to San Francisco. That's as beautiful a place as any. 

From a comfy apartment in San Francisco, I looked at a street in our North Oxfordshire village. I was reacting to an automated email I'd received informing me of a house that had sold within 500 metres of our own - a free 'nosey parker' service I'd signed up to years ago from which I'd never unsubscribed. After raising my eyebrows at how much the house had fetched, I swung Google Streetview around and looked up the unremarkable, narrow, damp road. I felt a twinge. It wasn't home-sickness, it was angst at the thought of walking up that street again. I'd be back there all too soon, with the grey skies above me and the wonders of the world behind me. People would see me exactly as I pictured myself in that image, the same bloke who'd walked that road a hundred times, dropping kids at school, wandering to the post box, the pub or the park. I couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't have changed, that this trip wouldn't have changed me ... changed us.

And so I decided to make a list. All boys love a list. As I opened Notebook on the Mac, I recalled a novelty record from the late nineties in which movie director Baz Luhrmann read pithy words of advice, borrowed, supposedly, from a 'school leaver's essay'. As well as advising the listener to wear sunscreen, he summed up a multitude of eternal truths, such as 'Do not read beauty magazines - they will only make you feel ugly' - hardly Neitzsche, but he had a point. I didn't want a whole novelty record's worth of one liners, but I wanted ... something - at best, a declaration of what I'd learned from my adventure. At worst, a list of 'stuff'.

It began like this:

Taps. No one ever thinks about them. During 9 weeks in India I became wedded to plastic water bottles. We watched countless women and children pump muddy water into buckets and carry them to their homes. I vowed never to take our drinking water for granted again. But of course, I do. Bless the tap. It's more valuable than we give it credit for.

Some problems might be unfixable. I know this sounds defeatist, but really, brace yourself. Australia's white community has about as much in common with its Aboriginal community as I do. In other words, nothing. They share a land mass, but that is all. That 2 such polar ways of living, such opposite mindsets, will ever merge is impossible to comprehend. Also, India is too full. Over 1 billion people live there. That's 1 in 6 people on Earth. Most of the wealth is shared between about 7 of them. Possibly 8 if Shahrukh Khan gives his cousin a job. It's corrupt. These are things I can't fix. Nor can you. If you want to fix something, oil a door hinge. Put up a shelf. If you do find a way to fix them, please tell me. Then come and fix my wobbly shelf.

No one explores their home. I met lots of Australians, but few who'd been to Ayers Rock. I met lots of Americans, but few who'd been to Yosemite. I would criticise them, but I live half an hour from Shakespeare's birthplace. Never been. When was the last time you went to Stonehenge, The British Museum or visited Parliament? Exactly. Where ever you are, chances are you have some treasures within an hour or 2 that are amazing and that you've never seen. Go. Be a tourist.

A playwright was born here, apparently

A Volkswagen T25 is a wondrous machine. It oozes charm, turns heads and looks great. So, you might argue, does Keira Knightly. But will Keira carry you around the world in return for nothing more than a regular oil change and some Diesel Kleen? I rest my case.

Everyone wants the same stuff. And weirdly, it's not money. I've been struck by the similarities I've seen in people from such diverse cultures. The overwhelming friendship and generosity we've received on our journey is humbling, and everywhere we find the same home truths. From Muslims in the Middle East to Hindus in India, people put family first. They want the best for their kids, they want a safe home and they want a happy home. The world really isn't a dark and scary place. It's full of people like me and you. They smile first, ask questions later. They look for friendship rather than barriers. Remember this when the TV news shows protesters chanting in a foreign tongue, crowds in burkas or slum dwellers in Mumbai. We all want the same stuff.

It's good to do something scary. No one likes being outside their comfort zone. The fear of failure and the fear of the unknown are stifling. But, really, you should take a risk once in a while. I know a woman (because I'm married to her) who would never have considered quitting jobs, schools and a home to travel around the world in a camper van. I still don't know why she agreed. But she'll tell you that doing something scary always reaps rewards. Almost all the memorable, happiest moments of our journey, and the great new friends we made, can be traced directly back to the fact that we chose to 'put ourselves out there' and take a risk. Whether it was busking (which is terrifying), or asking to camp in someone's drive or car park, if we'd have kept ourselves to ourselves and checked into a hotel, none of these brilliant things would have happened. (And we'd have been broke). The point is, doing stuff that scares you always reaps rewards. Fact.

Don't trust an Italian.
Well, don't trust an Italian Volkswagen dealership.
Well, don't trust an Italian Volkswagen dealership in Alessandria called Zentrum VW.
They are bad people.
All other Italians, to my knowledge, are bella.

Earth is doomed. OK, that's a tad melodramatic. But think back - how old were you when you first heard about 'global warming' or 'the greenhouse effect'? I was 18. Now I'm 41. 23 years after I recall first being aware of environmental issues India pollutes with gay abandon, America still drills for oil (at the cost of Alaska, oh, and let's not forget the Mexican gulf - good work BP) and Australia spends weeks wringing its hands over a 'green' Carbon Tax while, unfettered by conscience, its economy booms selling billions of tons of coal to China, the world's biggest polluter. All I'm saying is, if we want to save the planet for our grandchildren, we've got a long way to go. And if all these issues seem too big, too vast, and too far away to  be bothered with, remember what Gandhi said - 'You must be the change you want to see in the world'.
Wise words, Mahatma.
Do not refer back to my message about unfixable problems. I was talking about something else then. This is one we can fix.

Family matters. No, you can't choose them. Yes, they drive you insane. Seeing the importance other cultures put on family has made me aware of how disparate our community has become, especially with regard to our own flesh and blood. A prestigious magazine conducted an international poll last year asking people to define 'integrity'. Western people said it means being honest and straight, especially in business - not being 'two faced'. Whereas in the Middle East 'integrity' means providing for your family, caring for your brother if he's sick or providing for his kids if he dies. Their priorities are completely different. We've been amazed at how well we've all rubbed along as a family for a year, especially in such a small living space, and we're resolute that we can't simply drop back into only having one meal a week together (Sunday lunch) and passing each other like ships in the night. I know that's easy to say, and an idealistic dream, but it's worth the effort. Look after your family. They're the only one you get.

America doesn't get 'shade'. Australia is so acutely aware of skin cancer that often sunscreen is available free at public pools and beaches, and massive sails are always erected to create shade. A car park without shade is unheard of in Oz. But in the States - nothing. "Park in the shade" we would quip, entering yet another sun-baked barren parking lot. Pink babies cooking in prams, peeling backs on fair-skinned mothers, hoards of 'summer camp' teens char-broiling on campsites with not a hat between them. I can't believe I'm saying this, I'm aghast that my whole year of worldly wisdom might be reduced to these 2 words, but Baz was right all along.

Wear sunscreen.

** Disclaimer **
The editing of this video was done over many fraught late nights and early mornings, normally at the only power socket available -  standing at a basin in a campsite toilet. I am constantly paranoid that I've left important people out. If you are not featured in this video, and feel you should have been, please send your complaint to Simeon Courtie, Penny The Van, A Road in England ... in fact, forget that - I'll be round soon asking for a cup of sugar. See me then.

So long, reader, and thanks for all the clicks.

Sim xx

"A measure of a man is what he does when he has nothing to do." Robert Fulton Jr., (author of One Man Caravan)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Navajo ho ho

Santa Fe

Miles driven - 15,432

Miles travelled - 31,993

"Standby!" shouted the director.

"Rolling!" shouted the D.O.P.

"Background!" shouted the floor manager.

It took all my strength not to respond to the cue and start juggling a cocktail mixer in the careless and haphazard way that made my Bollywood performance so memorable. But this wasn't north Mumbai and today I wasn't being paid (although, come to think of it, I was barely being paid in Bollywood). We'd stumbled onto a film set in central Santa Fe where the picturesque central plaza was the setting for a key encounter between 3 key players in the forthcoming movie 'Odd Thomas'.

The 3 stars on set were Hunky Male In Dark Shirt With Impeccably Tousled Hair, Sexy Female In Denim Shorts With Impeccably Tousled Slightly Longer Hair, and Red Vespa.

Actor Anton Yelchin knows I'm really photographing the Vespa

We watched the scene (in which H.M. and S.F. cross street, deep in conversation, until S.F. mounts R.V. and scoots off leaving H.M. alone and perplexed) played out several times and the Red Vespa was a complete professional. I think the reason for so many re-takes (using my film-star lingo again) was because the director suspected what all of us onlookers knew from the start: the Red Vespa was stealing the scene every time.

Santa Fe is, as well as the name we'd give our friend Fay if she dressed as Father Christmas, the capital of New Mexico and the USA's highest capital at 7,000 feet. Its Spanish colonial history is obvious in the architecture, especially the many smooth brown Adobe buildings. This doesn't mean they're owned by a software giant, but that they're built using bricks of mud and straw, and rendered with the mud by hand. They look amazing and, given the fairly severe rain storms these mountains produce, it's a wonder they don't simply dissolve into the gutter.

The city has become a creative hot-spot, and a promotional video I watched in a tiny cinema (a warm up to a free showing of The Green Hornet - the ticket price reflects the quality of that film) boasted that Santa Fe was home to 14,000 'creatives', be they artists, writers, sculptors, musicians or whatever. I wondered how such a figure was arrived at and whether these people had had to sign a register to say they were 'creative'. Where would the line be drawn? I can play Beatles songs on a ukulele but I doubt that would qualify me to be counted as a shining jewel in the Land of Enchantment. Conversely, I've known accountants who are incredibly creative.

Anyway, the city is now something of a mecca to lovers of art and has more galleries and studios than you can shake a hand-painted-authentic-Apache-cactus-rainstick at. For the less discerning visitor (like me) there is an artistic culinary creation that can be enjoyed for just $4.50. Yes, just under 3 quid will buy you half an hour of bliss devouring the town's renowned lunchtime fave - a Fritos Pie.

At the local '5 and Dime' a kindly woman in an apron will slice open a packet of Fritos (the original corn chip), smother the contents with beef chilli, beans and grated cheese, hand you the warm packet and a plastic fork, and away you go - the Fritos Pie. Not a pie in any sense of the word, but who cares when it tastes so good? I also chose to add complimentary raw onion - careful to maintain my rigorous 'daily 5' health regime. Yum.

We only arrived in Santa Fe because I feared Penny might kill herself crossing The Rocky Mountains getting from 4 Corners to Colorado Springs. The old girl has been complaining a bit recently (I'm still talking about Penny). She's been blowing more smoke than she used to as we climb hills and she's started being grumpy in the morning when she's required to start. It was the cold of The Grand Canyon that did it. We camped in the forest on the southern rim and, thinking we'd stay for a couple of nights, even pitched our tent (the fourth of our tent-wrecking marathon), only to find the temperature dropped to minus 1 at night and it snowed. I consider us hardened campers, I really do, but snow? That's not really on, is it? The next morning having spent the night wrapped in every item of clothing we owned, we re-packed Penny to set off for a hike into the world's most famous ditch, and Penny refused to start.

We all exchanged worried looks. She has never refused to start. Fearing I was going to drain the battery turning the engine over, I suddenly had a thought.

"Oh! There's a special lever somewhere for cold starts!"

I reached under the dashboard and pulled a plastic handle that had never before been pulled. Edie's face fell.

"Blue told you never to touch that," she said earnestly.

It was true. I had once asked our mechanic Blue what it was for and he'd laughed and said something about a cold start choke and not to touch it. Edie had clearly been there, and taken in this vital fact. I turned the key. We held our breath. The engine spluttered.

Soon she was firing on at least 2, then 3 cylinders, until finally in a cloud of smoke she revved her heart out. I pushed the lever back in and recoiled a bit as if prodding away an angry snake. Penny didn't sound happy and I'm not sure the lever helped. Anyway, in case the inner workings of a VW interest you, I suspected the old fuel filter problem we'd encountered in Italy had returned, as she lacked a certain oomph, so bought some Diesel Kleen additive for the tank, put our final new fuel filter on and was slightly reassured to find the old one was visibly full of nasty black gunk. She's running a lot better now. We'll never touch the lever again. Don't tell Blue.

The Grand Canyon was stunning. Of course it was. I'm not going to waste your time by telling you how amazing it is, because you already know it is. It's one of the '7 natural wonders of the world' (along with the Great Barrier Reef - 2 down, 5 to go!) and has been on my tick-list to see since I was about 10. It didn't disappoint. We were driving around the rim when we first saw it. The forest had been hiding it for a few minutes, and I was saying to the kids "It's just on our left, honest," when suddenly the trees opened up ... along with our jaws. Even after 2 days of exploring it, it never lost the 'wow' factor. Well, not for me. Edie's first comment was "It's a big hole" which I think does 6 million years of hard work by the Colorado River something of a disservice. Keen hikers can yomp all the way to the river where the exposed rock is almost 2 billion years old, but Ella, Beth and I took the trail just beyond a lookout point known as 'Ooh Aah' (was I the only person who wanted to say 'Cantona' after that?) where the temperature rose as quickly as the rocks above us.

Even better, though, than the Grand Canyon is Monument Valley. It's better because hardly anyone goes there, and if you arrive after 6pm as we did, no-one charges an entrance fee! Of all the places we've set up camp in the world, can any compare with the sunset views of Monument Valley? We couldn't help remembering all the inferior places where we've paid too much to camp, or places like Petra in Jordan, where they wanted £100 entrance fee. We'd had a week pass to the entire Grand Canyon for $25 (£15.30) - with all its free Ranger talks and shuttle buses thrown in - and then a night in Monument Valley for free.

Depending on your age, you'll either recognise the towering pillars of this Navajo landscape from a John Wayne movie, or a Tom Cruise one. The Duke made 5 films here, including 'Stage Coach' and 'The Searchers'.

Tom Cruise was hanging off one at the start of Mission Impossible 2, although my request to mimic his stunt was politely declined.

We neither stage coached, nor searched, nor took on missions impossible, but drank coffee whilst drinking in a view none of us will forget.

Our next stop is Colorado Springs. We're meeting rellies of some friends back home so are very excited about a few nights of comfort. I know you won't want to hear how tired we are, having the time of our lives out here, but we really are exhausted. None of us want to go home and the countdown is looming ever larger day by day. It's like the slump you feel on the last day of your holiday, but times a hundred.

Plus of course, it's not a holiday. I may have mentioned that before.

Anyway, a month to go and right now I have a movie set to infiltrate. Remember to look out for 'Odd Thomas' in a year or so. Look closely. Over there ... beyond the red scooter ... is that guy throwing a cocktail shaker in the air?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The calm before the storm

Brisbane - 2nd February 2011

I write this from beautiful, serene, clean Brisbane. A more stark contrast to Chennai would be hard to find. Since we landed late on Sunday night we've been enjoying a gleeful culture shock.

"The roads are so quiet!"

"Look! Pavements!"

"I haven't heard a car horn since we landed."

"Where's the litter?"

"Can we live here?"

You know the sort of thing.

We are being spoiled enormously by our great friends Berners & Leona, and loving spending time with my Godson Ewan and 'new' baby Cara (who's actually 1 year old now!).

But as you probably know, we've landed in the build up to a major news event. Just weeks after Brisbane suffered its worst flooding in living memory, the Queensland coast further north is about to get battered by Yasi, now officially the biggest tropical cyclone to hit Australia since records began.

So I thought I'd just give you a little insight into what life is like in a world sandwiched between massive and profound weather events. Yasi has been a news item since before we got here. While a smaller cyclone, Anthony, was having its fun on the Queensland coast last week I watched a BBC weather report in Chennai talking, albeit briefly, about a 'major cyclone forming near Fiji'. As it grew, fuelled by the warm Pacific ocean, it travelled west, and by the beginning of this week Australian forecasters were reporting the threat of a category 4 cyclone hitting Queensland.

The number 4 is from the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Being the very clever reader you are, you probably already knew that cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are the same thing. They just have different names depending on where in the world they happen. Mexico's hurricane is Japan's typhoon, while on the Indian Ocean and South Pacific it's the cyclone that's feared.

4. Not even half of 10. Sounds fairly innocuous. After all, our trusty old Beaufort Scale goes up to 12. If British sailors tune in to the shipping forecast to hear they're facing wind force 4 on Tyne, Dogger or Cromarty, they know that's a 'moderate breeze'.

Thing is, when they created their scale in 1971, structural engineer Herbert Saffir and his meteorologist mate Bob Simpson thought 12 was way too many categories. Even 10 seemed extravagant. Below, is the simple,and slightly scary, Saffir-Simpson scale.

You now see why a 'cat. four' as it was being referred to was very quickly Australia's top story.

This morning we woke to the news that Yasi is now category 5. Those in its path may not want to see Saffir and Simpson's 'damage' description for such a thing.

It's size and force has got newscasters wearing earnest frowns, meteorologists reaching for record books and politicians doing almost round the clock press conferences updating people on the threat to property, land, and of course, life.

A cyclone's path cannot be predicted, they are as likely to turn a hairpin as to go straight on, but as I write this everything is looking like Yasi will hit the coast just south of Cairns. Remarkably, here in Brisbane, all we're expecting to get is some rain off the fringes, but don't let that fool you into thinking Yasi is a 'localised' threat. Australia is very big, and Cairns is 12 hours drive north from here. 

The best illustration of Yasi's magnitude is this comparison in the Herald Sun newspaper showing how its size compares to the United States and Europe.

If you look closely at the Europe comparison, you can just make out Birmingham to the north east of the eye.

The eye of this cyclone is an estimated 100 kilometres across. That's just the eye, the dormant peaceful lull at the centre of the carnage. Forecasters predict it will take an hour for the eye to pass over those in its path. This remarkable phenomenon, the peaceful calm that is so often the cause for false hope, usually lasts just moments, a few minutes perhaps. The fact that some people will suffer 6 hours of 170 mph winds, then an hour of calm, knowing they've got another 6 hours still to bear is just incredible.

These facts and figures are alarming from a distance, but what must it be like for those thousands of people from Mackay up to Townsville and as far as Cairns who are preparing for tonight? Berners and Leona's parents are both up near Cairns and have been, along with a flurry of calls from friends throughout today, on the phone reassuring that they are fully prepped and braced for the worst. The advice from the authorities was initially to leave the coastal towns in its path, but from about midday today they advised it was too late to evacuate - the winds were already too strong. Now it's a case of batten down the hatches and sit it out. Parents and friends have stocked up on food, taped or covered windows, filled up the generators and gathered in groups and communities at each other's houses. Strength in numbers, I guess. Plus the power and phones will be knocked out soon, so the easiest way to know you're all OK is too gather in the same shelter. Aussies aren't easily fazed, of course. I heard a guy on the radio today being interviewed about his night ahead.

"Well, we've followed all the advice, got a few friends here, a fridge full of beer and few nice bottles of wine too."

The safest place in most houses is the bathroom because it's small and usually tiled giving it extra strength, so I've heard the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, reminding people to prepare for a long night in the bathroom!

If you read this during Wednesday or Thursday, you may want to check out this official Government site that shows a live satellite feed of the cyclone's progress, HERE.

11pm local time is when the violent edges hit the coast - so at 1pm Wednesday in the UK, spare a thought for the already weather weary Queenslanders who are huddled in their bathrooms, in the dark, sitting out a terrifying and historic weather event that may just make Mister Saffir and Mister Simpson wish they'd considered a number 6.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Put Us Up Down Under

Miles driven - 8,253

Miles travelled - 11,580

Hello reader! Isn't life wonderful? Today, for instance, I'm in Bangalore, a city I can't tell you much about because we arrived last night as darkness fell, but not even the choking smog and gridlocked traffic can stifle the joy in my heart. Today is one of those 'anything is possible' sort of days. Can you feel it? You could change the world today, I can sense it. You've got that super-confident 'world at your feet' aura about you. You look great, too. Have you lost weight?

OK, enough of that. I'm after a favour.

Our aim, as you know, is to busk our way from Liverpool to New York. Surprisingly, despite 18 months of planning, that's about as detailed as our mission got. Being under prepared, under rehearsed and under funded was what made it exciting. Making plans day by day, learning to play our instruments and trying to make our cash stretch are all daily realities to be embraced. The next leg of our journey is through Australia and New Zealand, and we've realised we need your help.

The funny thing about Australia is, as we've travelled and we've told people our route, that's the one place about which people have said "I've got a friend in Oz if you need somewhere to park your van for the night". And when I reply "Yes please! Can I have their address?" they don't look even slightly alarmed.
From various random places between our 'home from home' staying with friends in Brisbane (while we wait for Penny's ship to arrive), and our 'jumping off' point in Melbourne we've had genuine offers from generous 'friends of friends' inviting us to camp on their drive. This is a really valuable offer, not only because 'wild camping' is a big no-no in Australia and the cops are quick to move on stray campers, but because we'll get to meet lots of new friends. Friends with a toilet! And maybe even a washing machine!

So then we had an idea. What if we offered something in return? A song? Hmmm...hardly Charlie's golden ticket, is it? It was Bethan's passion for baking that clinched it. She's survived almost 6 months without an oven and one of the first things she'll be doing in our friends' kitchen in Brisbane is baking her legendary lemon drizzle cake. 
"That's it!" said Jill. "We'll offer a traditional English high tea!"

"Ooooooooohhhhh" we all responded, eyes wide at the prospect of cake.

"Cucumber sandwiches, crusts cut off, a pot of tea and Betty's cake," she went on. "We can buy the ingredients pretty cheaply, and if they'll let us use their kitchen we're sorted."

And so, project Put Us Up Down Under was born.

How can you get involved? Simple.

If you know anyone living on the east coast of Australia who might like a visit from us, a delicious English tea and, if they're really unlucky, a song, then put us in touch! Email them NOW with a link to our web site www.beatnikbeatles.com and to this blog at

Then, having checked us out online, if they're up for it, they can email us at sim@beatnikbeatles.com

From Mackay in the north down to Melbourne in the south, we're making it our aim to try and get all the way down Australia just using 'friends of friends' power. As well as saving us money on campsites and hotel rooms, UNICEF can benefit too. One 'friend of friend'  who's been in touch (remember Fiona who did our Indian cookery class?) is organising a charity barbecue, gathering a load of mates for a Beatnik Beatles singalong and fundraiser. Brilliant! We'll also be popping in to local radio stations in towns we visit to do some PR and try to bolster our UNICEF pot.

If you're reading this and you've got friends in New Zealand, we need them too! North Island, South Island, we need 'em all! Put them in touch. And if you're the person in Tasmania who used the 'comment' button on the blog to invite us to your place...yes please! We're going to Tasmania, and we'd love to visit you! Email us - sim@beatnikbeatles.com

This blog has had over twelve and a half thousand hits. Wouldn't it be an amazing experiment in harnessing the power of the online community to see if we can travel the height of Australia just by hopping between one reader's mate and the next? It would also be a very cool chapter of the book, and you can be part of it!
So spread the word, ask around, and Put Us Up Down Under! It's the ultimate feel-good gesture that'll give you that yummy warm feeling inside, almost as good as the feeling your friends will get eating Betty's lemon drizzle!

PS - On the subject of new friends, remember Stefano and Federica whose wedding rehearsal we crashed in Italy? Here's a photo they sent us of their wedding day. (Details in blog 'A scary day - parts 1 & 2')

PPS - The Agonda gig went well, Jill did play the recorder and we raised £37 for UNICEF! Pictures, video and the new India (part 1) photo album are all online now at www.beatnikbeatles.com