What if England had flags?

Here’s a fun thought experiment for you. What if we took England’s nine separate regions, and designed them each their own flags?

As it is, they don’t have flags – in fact, these regions only barely exist in the public consciousness as statistical areas and electoral constituencies for the European Parliament. But, if we imagined transforming the UK into a federation (stay with me, people) with sub-national provinces made out of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Nine Regions of England, then wouldn’t that be interesting? Especially for flag lovers?

As a lover of a good, old flag, I’ve clearly given this some thought. And now I’ve put those thoughts onto paper – fly with me now, nerds! Fly like the flag-filled wind!

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The end of the lines!

I’m currently as happy as a very happy thing. Take your happiest emoticon – the one with the smile that takes up the entire lower half of the face, and squeezes the eyes tightly shut. Now imagine that emoticon swollen up and plunked on the torso of a real live human being. Hi. That’s me.

After reaching the end of A Eurasian Diary, then working through a handful of edits, I’m happy (as noted) to say that I’ve saved the file as “Final v1” … in other words, it’s done.

…at least until “Final v2” comes along, and perhaps “Final v3.” But, nevermind that… it’s done!

(dances on desk)

(steps on keyboard)

(accidentally types gobbledygook with dancing feet)


(likes it)

What are some initial reflections on this big, bad, great little experience? One thing that stands out is how different travel writing feels to me now, compared with either fiction or journalism. At first, I’d expected that writing about a journey would feel like blending these two forms into a kind of storified biography, which is indeed how it felt at the very start. As the writing went on, though, the manuscript took on a new life – travel writing is very much a form in its own right, which I suppose I’d never completely appreciated before.

My favourite aspect of it is that you get to be (well, you have to be) objective about your own subjectivity. Continue reading

The final leg!

There comes a time in every journey when the gravitational pull of home takes over – psychologically as much as geographically, you’re closer than ever to completing your quest, and getting closer by the second.

That’s where things are with my wee little travelogue project – I’m now writing the very final paragraphs in A Eurasian Diary, with just 2,000 words to go till the whole first draft is done and dusted…! Wowsers. Should I be ecstatic or misty-eyed?

Whether with actual travel or with a big writing project, both emotions seem to apply. There’s sadness that your stream of discovery is drawing to a close, and that your daily triumphs in conquering the terrifying unknown (a.k.a. unwritten pages) are soon to be all completed. But, there’s also more than a bit of pride in having survived the quest you set out for yourself, and you can now indulge in some wonderful, well-earned comforts: spare time, and fantastic memories. Plus, once you’re done, you know you’re even better equipped now to go and do it again.

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Mapping by heart…

…and by hand. In a world where every last inch and yard is navigable with Google Maps, mobile GPS and sultry-voiced Tom Toms, we can begin to forget that maps are actually subjective, creative, and selective things. We’re only reminded of it, perhaps, whenever Mrs. Tom Tom whispers in our ear to “turn left – turn left, darling – turn left” directly into the honking, screaming roar of oncoming traffic. Ms. Tom Tom might sound strangely attractive, but her purpose is darkly sinister.

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Interconnections: Space, Time, and Magical Pagan-God-Rocks

Though the big Eurasian rail trip finished a few months ago, and I’ve long traded the backalleys of Bukhara for the familiar backroads of Brixton, there’s one enduring sensation that’s really stuck with me from those fancy-free travellin’ days: interconnectedness.

My submission to the Londonist's "Time Travel London" series. What if you layered the Saxon meeting point of "Beorhtsige's Stone" with modern day Brixton? Would ancient Saxon lords queue up for a pepperoni pizza at Franco Manca? (oh yes they would)

My submission to the Londonist’s “Time Travel London” series. What if you layered the Saxon meeting point of “Beorhtsige’s Stone” with modern day Brixton? Would ancient Saxon lords queue up for a pepperoni pizza at Franco Manca? (oh yes they would)


Before I took the trip, Brixton was Brixton. The centre of Lambeth, south of the river, fond of reggae, and famous for both its checkered past and its nice vegan cupcakes. This identity, however colourful and complex, seemed relatively determined and well-bounded.

Now, though, it’s laced into everything, everywhere. The train from Brixton to Victoria has become more than a little fifteen-minute commute – it’s a tiny branch on a continent-traversing mega-web of railways that can take you seamlessly to Tashkent, Chengdu, even Singapore if you wanted. You could board a train at Brixton and, without even once leaving a train station or metro system, end up on the opposite edge of the world.

As far as I’m concerned, it should even be doable on Oyster Card. If Amersham is Zone 6, then sure, Hong Kong might have to be Zone 72, but at least we’d recognise that all of it, everywhere, is connected.

It’s fun talking about the interconnectedness of space. What about interconnectedness of time? Continue reading