Norrie T MacDonald: Escaping around the world, with a bit of imagination

Norrie T MacDonald, the 19th hole

There’s only so much looking at a blank page on screen that’s possible before you have to admit (partial) defeat.

In the absence of any golf, indeed any sports at all, and with a pledge to try not to add to the news and commentary around the Covid-19 crisis already made; sometimes it’s very much a case of panic.

So I decided to head off around the world.

It’s easy.

Monisha Rajesh travelling the world by train

Even with nothing much flying, huge restrictions on general travel, and ‘lockdown’ still very much in evidence; it’s still possible with a bit of imagination.

Lots of things are.

‘Around the World in 80 Trains’ by Monisha Rajesh is the kind of adventure that most of us probably, deep down, only dream about.

The notion of giving everything up and heading off on a 45,000 mile journey by train, most of the time certainly not travelling first-class, with only the confidence of your publisher behind you, might terrify most.

The difference here being that Rajesh has a ‘track’ record here (sorry) and already had managed ‘Around India in 80 Trains’ to considerable acclaim.

The ‘gamble’ wasn’t so much that everything hinged on the possibility of a book-deal, that the house might have to be sold to pay for the trip, or that anything could go possibly wrong: this was the sort of adventure that comes with the kind of safety net that wannabe travel writers might only care to dream about.

The ‘gamble’ was a sure thing.

The best kind.

She loves train travel.

She knows she already possesses a charming style and wit (her reviews have informed her).

She is fearless, adventurous, resourceful and confident.

She probably had the advance in the bank and a Bloomsbury credit card tucked away somewhere safe.

She took her fiancé to sell for body parts, just in case.

The bases were covered.

But it didn’t feel like that and, despite being incredibly jealous, you easily get sucked into her world of ‘roughing it’ amongst strange farts, loud snores, despicable train ‘etiquette’, and uncomfortable travel/bedfellows, depending on which rails you are traversing.

These strange times provide a unique opportunity for those of us who, luckily, can get lost inside their own heads.

Days of reading and Netflix, YouTube documentaries and Sky box sets can keep the madness at bay whilst you head into the sixth straight week of nightshift.

That and doing the lottery.

You can disappear, both into your own and somebody else’s fantasy adventures, safe in the knowledge that you will never have the cojones to even challenge yourself to anything more dangerous than a co-op ‘seafood selection’ a couple of days beyond its ‘best before’ date, nor less basic than a 4-star hotel in exotic, far-flung, hot-spots like Cyprus or Tenerife (phew, that was a close one!).

I find myself vicariously earthy and ‘real’; eating a ‘three squeaks’ aperitif after haggling with a one-legged hawker on a street corner, before hitting the hay for the fifth consecutive night with a fellow traveller who now smells sweetly ripe, despite washing his feet where I shave.

I’m adventurous, but only in my own head.

I can yearn for the real, authentic, deal, but would probably settle for a ‘Westworld’ or ‘Total Recall’ futuristic implant.

I could pack it in and head for the opal depleted (you’d think rich?) mines of Coober Pedy, or the aptly named Opalton in Australia.

Following in the footsteps, and bore holes, of prospectors who either struck it rich or went broke trying; I’m there with the jack-hammer, just praying for a glint of green.

Sold the Mondeo and the golf clubs, bought my claim and a second-hand excavator, and will surely strike it rich where every other damned fool either failed or moved on.

Claiming a redundant, abandoned, dangerous, tunnel to the centre of the earth is the stuff of the original ‘49ers.

Except they’d have got there first.

I’d make a great Outback Opal Hunter: I’ve got the Drizabone hat, with corks, and am getting used to working in the dark with headlights.

Maybe I’ll start digging around in the shed and see what I could find to take to auction.

Become a Pawnstar or Auction Hunter, rather than just ‘flogging it’, whatever ‘it’ turns out to be, for a £5.

I’ll head to Vegas, spin Chumlee a great line about my cousin Donald, and cash in on the great-great-grandmother.

Memo to self: check the lineage and silence Bill Lawson.

Ach, I might even disappear up to Dutch Harbour for a while and see what the fishing’s like with my old pal, Sig Hansen on the ‘Northwestern’.

The Barents Sea looks like a doddle compared to Broad Bay, although the weather might require an extra pair of Damart.

I might watch Ricky Gervais’ ‘After Life’ again; the first time was a bit ‘misty’ in parts.

I recommend it to you.

In between I’ll do the odd lottery, online naturally, just to add to the suspense when I get ‘lucky’.

Lucky is a relative term.

The ‘congratulations, you have a winning ticket’ email is one of the tricks life likes to play on us all in its huge panoply of crushing disappointments, dressed up full of promise.

I like to leave it a while before checking, spending the £50 million carefully, ensuring the family are sorted before I buy my own train.

The accumulated £2.40 may require pooling.

I won’t let any win ruin my positive, cheerful, disposition.

When it comes to big numbers, the latest book, Matt Parker’s ‘Humble Pi’ doesn’t take long to leave you whistling at how unprepared you were to comprehend something as ‘small’ as a trillion.

He was asked once to go onto tv to explain when the UK national debt crept up to this figure.

Can’t be far past a billion, right?


He explained it thus.

A million seconds is nearly 12 days.

A billion seconds is nearly 32 years.

Ok, so now you’re in the ‘ballpark’, aren’t you?


A trillion seconds would take us all to the year 33708.

Yup, 31688 years into the future.

So how long to the end of the lockdown and ‘things’ get back to what’s being called the ‘new normal’?

As long as it takes to guarantee the safety of each and every one of us, especially the most vulnerable, should be the answer, but these are strange times.

Don’t count the seconds.

Count the sunny days and savour each and every one of them.

And yes, I know it’s probably snowing this weekend.

It’s peat-cutting season.

I wasn’t going to mention the coronavirus crisis, but unfortunately it’s caught up with us in a very real and devastating way.

No amount of books, tv and fantasy can hide us from harsh reality.

It’s nice to digress, but my thoughts are with the families affected in Skye.