Ain't been there, ain't done that - yet
Sunday 10 January 1999
Well I am supposed to have been there before, but not in a way that really counts. As a five-year-old in 1968 I was allegedly driven around its entirety in the back of a car. I noticed four very odd things about it then. First that the locals drove cars the size of castles, second that bears roamed the countryside, third that parents permitted their children to drink coke and fourth that everyone had colour TV.
Last year I also had the pleasure of touching down in an airport of THAT country for an hour on the way to New Zealand. That one hour turned out to be considerably more interesting than my entire week in New Zealand. I saw no bears but I did see women with hair as big as brown mountains. I also thought I saw movie stars serving drinks and emptying rubbish bins.
But do these experiences represent conclusive proof that a country really exists over there on the other side of the waves? According to my calculations I have visited at least 60 different countries since I last attempted to travel west across the Atlantic. This list includes most of the anti- countries which THAT country deems unfit to belong to the world community. Does all this mean that I am putting THAT country 60th in the list of the world's most interesting countries? Tucked in just before Libya and just after, say, Iraq?
I'm not sure. To judge by the movies and the media, THAT country has got even odder and more curious since 1968. Look at some of the stuff THAT country has continue to deluge us with over the years: movies, new words, trial-by-camera, hard-wearing trousers, chat shows, the moon, to name but a few.
What I am scared of is that I will not be capable of taking in so much oddness in a single visit at all. Towns like Rome, Istanbul, Kathmandu, etc, which I always found so interesting, will pale into a grey Eurasian mundanity beside the mega cities of THAT country.
In fact, I've got a theory that THAT country is so odd that it is not a country as we understand it at all. Places such as England and France are countries. Even China and Russia are countries. But THAT country? Is it anything more than an allegation of my parents, a figment of the world's collective imagination?
There are only a few days to go and I can already feel a vast trans-Atlantic power beginning to suck me into its vortex. But in the end it will not surprise me to discover that THAT country is not a place I will ever reach in my lifetime.
Pictures of men with belligerent hair cuts standing in semi-circles and swearing oaths at each other? Stories of drugs being developed to treat depression in pet dogs? Rumours of deck chairs that fly? TV images of hi-tech weaponry being mobilised against insignificant little enemies?
Basically I am worried that the people whose job it is to supply the world with entertainment are no more than pieces of entertainment themselves. I am even a little bit worried that on attempting to board a plane to THAT country I will be taken away by men in white coats.
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