- I'm not allowed to refer to Mariah Carey as a "deranged diva"
- I'm not allowed to describe a "cave full of evil, bad-tempered little goblin cooks" and follow this with the phrase "shit, imagine that - a whole tribe of Antony Worral-Thompsons"
- And I'm strongly advised not to include the following passage, which was intended to illustrate my own incompetence in organising my sea journey to India, as well as highlighting the pretentiousness of the North London, self-loathing middle class of which I'm part. My editor didn't think it was good enough to go in the book anyway - it didn't make him laugh, and didn't move the story forward, and given that we were quite far over the agreed length, no-one wanted it in except me. But it was legal worries that finally killed it. The conversation is presented word for word as it happened:
It was hopeless combing the outer reaches of the internet like this. What I needed was a specialist travel agent, someone who organised Travel with a capital ‘T’ and pointed and laughed at squares like me who queued at Heathrow to board flights with businessmen and families with screaming children like everyone else. But where would I find someone like that? Did such a place even exist? It must do. But where?
The retrospectively obvious answer flashed at me from a TV screen one morning while I was torturing myself in the gym. I’d been walking past ‘Intrepid Travel’ in Upper Street, Islington, almost every day since it opened about four years ago. Islington. Of course. Islington could never make do with an ordinary travel agent.
It was next door to Black’s, the outdoor and camping equipment shop. How could I have forgotten this? Intrepid Travel. Christ, yes. That was me.
The façade of the shop was built from slightly distressed wood, like you might find at a chandlery, for example. Stencilled onto the woodwork, in paint that looked like it was designed to withstand salty sea storms, I read:
Intrepid is for those with a yearning to explore, a sense of fun and a wish to get off the beaten trail. Intrepid travellers want to experience a country and its people.
They enjoy a flexible and relaxed attitude to travel, come from all corners of the world and are of all ages. Some travel with friends, though many by themselves. They are real travellers.
Real travellers! That was me! I wouldn’t have dared go in here before planning this journey because they would have laughed at me. Now, I adopted my best Traveller’s body language and expression – yeah, I’ve BEEN there – and walked in.
“Do you organise sea voyages?”
“What, like to Antarctica?”
“Sorry? Well no, not necessarily. I meant generally, like container ships or maybe tall ships. I’m writing this book you see and –“
“It’s just that we don’t do that.”
“No, no, I don’t want to go to Antarctica-”
“I mean, we don’t do any kind of sea travel.”
“You don’t book voyages by sea of any description?”
“How do people travel on your adventures then?”
“Well… they fly, obviously.”
“So the unbeaten track starts at Luton Airport, does it?”
“Nothing. Doesn’t matter.”
“I can give you the name of a website.”
“That would be great!”
“It’s called travel without flying. Or fly free travel. Something like that. Something for people who are frightened of flying, anyway.”
“I’m not frightened of flying! I’m trying to be more adventurous. I thought that was the point!”
“We’ve never used them, but someone told me about it once.”
I walked out, staring at the façade again to make sure I’d read it correctly. “Not really that intrepid then, eh?” I said just loud enough to be heard, because the alternative was bursting into tears.
I stared at Black’s, and realised that, along with most people who shop in Islington, I’d only ever been in there during the third week in June – just before the Glastonbury Festival.
What the hell was I going to do?