Summer’s here! It’s arrived at last and for me that means one thing – journeys. I’m not talking about deep introspective journeys through life so oft experienced by the protagonists of mid-noughties teen dramas. I’m talking about the ‘good-old-fashioned-this-is-getting-a-bit-boring-and-I’m-still-two-hours-away-from-my-destination’ kind.
Yes, my summers usually involve me taking whatever planes, trains and automobiles are available to visit friends, take a quick holiday, or generally seek out more interesting experiences than my immediate surroundings can offer. I’m sure I’m not the only one spending the summer this way. Maybe you’re visiting someone, or returning home after finishing another year at school or university. Maybe you’re heading off on that all-important gap-yah. Or maybe you’re spending the summer enduring sweaty commutes for the foreseeable (I’ll be honest, that’s how I’ll be spending a fair amount of mine this time around.)
However, sweaty-commutes don’t make for great blog posts, so let’s return the focus to the journeys that many of us may embark on this summer. You know the scene. You’re sitting or standing there in your chosen vehicle of transport with several hours between you and your destination. You’re getting bored, and you need some new sources of entertainment to dig into to keep going. Well rest-assured I’ve got your proverbial back. I suppose this particular scenario also requires you to value my opinion on pop culture, but we’ll gloss over that part to keep the scene realistic.
Here are my musical, podcast-ical and literary suggestions for how to kill time whilst travelling this summer.
(Quick Disclaimer: The suggestions mentioned here are based on my own opinion and my friends’ recommendations, and are in no way promotions I’ve been made to work into this post – I WISH people paid me to write this stuff…)
HAIM– Just can’t wait to get to where you’re going? Keep the hype train moving with HAIM’s two new tracks Right Now and Want You Back. Both songs offer an infectious mix of slapping bass lines, riffs, refrains and three-part harmonies to make even the most boring journey bearable. Extra points if you deploy any of HAIM’s dance moves from this music video upon arriving at your destination.
Bleachers – Gone Now – Maybe you’re on your way to see some old friends, or heading to your graduation ceremony and you realise your journey is quite literally a nostalgia trip. It’s cool fam I’ve got you covered. Start-up Bleachers’ second album Gone Now, and you’ve got the ideal soundtrack with which to recall the good times gone by. Thanks to killer hooks from lead singles Don’t Take The Money and Hate That You Know Me you can ensure your real-life trip down memory-lane has the artistic semblance of a John Hughes movie. The album’s a little front-loaded when it comes to the balance between singles and fillers. However, lead vocalist and songwriter Jack Antonoff (the guy who basically wrote most of the pop songs that have been stuck in your head from the past 5 years) cleverly works in a few repeated refrains over the course of the record that build to a satisfying finale in the last track Foreign Girls, so you’re all ready to move on when you move on.
Aquilo – Not all those who wander are happy about it. Plenty of us have been on a journey we can’t wait to see the end of, or maybe you’re heading far away from a place you weren’t ready to leave behind. So work through the summertime sadness, with Aquilo’s debut album Silhouettes. The UK ambient synth-duo have a heap of songs to get you through the hard grind, from the pulsing You Won’t Know Where you Stand to the melancholic Almost Over. When you’re done with the album, Aquilo have several stand-alone singles for the final hour of your journey that pack just as much of an emotive punch. So Close to Magic is likely going to be the soundtrack to all my Christmas-season reunions with family and friends from here on out.
Terrible, Thanks for Asking – Make your time stuck waiting on an overcrowded train worthwhile, with some heavy emotional catharsis, courtesy of Nora McInerny in Terrible, Thanks for Asking. In each episode McInerny delves into the rougher parts of life, exploring grief, loss, trauma and recovery, and drawing from her own experiences after suffering a miscarriage, the loss of her late-husband to brain cancer in 2014, and her father’s passing just weeks after. Fair warning, this is a podcast that really hits heavy, but with a mix of humour and real-life wisdom, McInerny makes a compelling and beautiful case for accepting that it’s ok to not be ok. TTFA’s 1st season brings a set of life lessons showing how us talking openly about the tough times with others can often be the start of a wonderful way forward.
People Fixing the World – Perhaps by some twist of fate your flight or train gets delayed and you need reminding that this world is anything but cruel and unjust. Do what most Brits do in a crisis and turn to the BBC for guidance. Courtesy of the BBC World Service, People Fixing the World features a global set of stories and news-bites documenting the innovative, out-there solutions people are deploying the make life better for themselves and others. Learn about cloud-catchers in Peru, the young Amsterdamers living with refugees, and the Haitans working to reduce plastic pollution and poverty at the same time – and feel better about the world as you do!
The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium – Need a narrative to keep you going? Featuring the voice of Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) as esteemed botanist Lord Joseph Banks, The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle’s Bertie’s Botanarium delivers a serialized story in a mock 18th century setting, that sees Lord Banks set sail on a voyage from the Gravy Isles in search of the rarest and most controversial of plants, the Heaven’s Clover. The resulting podcast is a fairly mad mix of historical conventions. The story plays like a mash up between Blackadder and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, with pieces of a Jules Verne novel thrown in for good measure. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or pint of Cat-milk in the world of Uncle Bertie) but with 24 episodes, and a pretty cinematic music score, there is plenty of audible content for you to burn through as you embark on your own voyage this summer.
Honourable mentions that have kept my friends entertained for the long-distance:
Call your Girlfriend, Excess Baggage, My Dad Wrote a Porno and Private Parts with Made in Chelsea’s Jamie Laing. Here’s my friend’s personal endorsement of that final suggestion:
“Basically, it’s just posh boys chatting shit, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of nowhere that is exactly what you need to feel grounded.”
Train Dreams – Nothing kills time better than beautiful writing, magical realism and the occasional wolf-child, all of which can be found in Denis Johnson’s short novel Train Dreams. Telling the fictional story of Robert Grainer a railroad worker in the American West at the start of the 20th century, Train Dreams documents Grainer’s life as it unravels and encounters the seemingly irrational and fantastical forces brought into the fold as America emerges out of its shrinking wild frontier. In just 116 pages, Johnson tells you the tale of one man swept up in the destructive creation of the modern world, allowing you to race through a person’s life, strife and adventures in the space of a single commute.
Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow– So you’re in it for the long haul and need something to really keep your mind occupied? Try Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Yes really. Sure, this suggestion is a bit of a deep venture down the rabbit hole of America’s revolutionary history but it’s a rewarding one. Thanks to the strength of Chernow’s research and writing, Hamilton provides you with an oddly-engrossing and fully fleshed-out account of Hamilton’s life, from his early days as a bastard-orphan (son of a whore-and…) trying to escape an impoverished life in the Caribbean, to a revolutionary figure in America’s premier government, fighting ideological battles (sadly not of rap-variety) with the fledgling nation’s other founding fathers. If it’s too much history for one journey, I hear there’s a pretty good musical that sums it all up for you rather nicely…
Books that have kept my friends mellow whilst on the move:
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh, I Found You by Lisa Jewell, and the oddly engrossing-yet-somehow-also-comforting works of Agatha Christie.
So hopefully the above suggestions will keep you entertained this summer, regardless of where you go and where you end up. Between the aforementioned sweaty commutes and more exciting moves elsewhere, I’ll be looking for new ways to pass the time whilst travelling and will hopefully share them here soon.
(With thanks to everyone who gave me their suggestions for how to stay entertained on a journey. I’ll happily endure all manner of planes, trains and automobiles to catch up with you.)