Ramblin’ Man

This is the sixth in my occasional series of “Books on the Horizon” – travelogues I dream of researching and writing, though will probably never undertake. My “Books on the Horizon” are an exercise in creativity, idle whimsy and – through any reactions I get – testing the water.

Read more about the series in this introductory page; and see the idea that inspired it – The Impossible Books of Keith Kahn-Harris.

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Ramblin Man

Ramblin’ Man – loose-footed travels through the Lemon Jelly song.

THE ELEVATOR PITCH

This one does what it says on the tin, really. It’s travels to all the locations mentioned in the wonderful Lemon Jelly song Ramblin’ Man.

THE “OVER A DRINK” PITCH

Music and travel go together so naturally. The best of both convey a good sense of place, and listening to the music from a place is often a great way of getting to know it.

So many travel books are inspired by, or feature, music, and so many songs are about places, journeys and a yearning to be somewhere.

One of my favourite tracks with a travel connection is Ramblin’ Man, from the album “Lost Horizons” by the ambient electronic outfit Lemon Jelly.

The album is over a decade old, but its quirky samples and soft, warm feel give it a timelessness. Most of the tracks on Lost Horizons evoke a sense of journey or discovery, and Ramblin’ Man is a stand out.

It’s a gentle and soothing song with a lively beat, a perfect accompaniment to a long journey. It’s mostly instrumental but intersected with a conversation between two characters who discuss why one of them travels. The traveller recites a list of places he’s visited in a way that has a beautiful poetry and rhythm to it.

It’s all fictitious nonsense, of course. As the album’s entry on Wikipedia explains about Ramblin’ Man:

“The track “Ramblin’ Man” features a conversation between an interviewer (the voice of Michael Deakin—father of Lemon Jelly’s Fred Deakin) and “John the Ramblin’ Man” (the voice of actor John Standing), during which he lists 67 places around the world. When listed in the order in which the locations are narrated, the message “BAGPUSS SEES ALL THINGS” is spelled out midway through the song (from Brixton at four minutes ten seconds, to San José at four minutes 31 seconds) using the first letter of each location.”

And the list contains an absurd and utterly unconnected collection of places, ranging from entire countries to specific suburbs of cities. It also includes the North Pole and Atlantis.

Yet partly because it’s such a random list of destinations, and also because it is one of my favourite tracks, I would love to visit them all. Apart from Atlantis, obviously. It’s a completely pointless and whimsical idea, but that’s what appeals.

Who wouldn’t want to go to Rangoon, Patagonia or Tokyo? It’s a huge but evocatively spoken list that one cannot help but feel motivated by. And if you’re like me, you’ll never again be able to hear the word “Damascus” without wanting to gleefully shout “Mandalay!” in response.

WHY ME?

Absolutely no reason whatsoever.

My one and only feeble claim to worthiness here is that I’ve been to fourteen out of the sixty-seven places mentioned in the list, so I’ve got a bit of a head start already.

(If you’re interested, the fourteen are Paris, Sydney, Antwerp, Edinburgh, Granada, San Francisco, Amsterdam, New York, Manchester, Prague, Toronto, Madrid, Dublin and Belfast. And I’ve been through or near a handful of others such as San Jose, Rotterdam and I think most of the places mentioned in London.)

WHAT WOULD I BE MOST HOPEFUL OF?

Visiting a pile of new places with no limit or prerequisite as to how I do it. I guess as long as I go there, I can do whatever I like, and stay for as long as I fancy. It’s a liberating and exciting premise.

WHAT WOULD I BE MOST FEARFUL OF?

There being absolutely no common thread or root to the book, other than the song. There’s a danger it might read like a very bad version of The Lonely Planet Guide to A Collection of Utterly Unrelated Places.

WHAT WOULD I NEED TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

Even if I crack the song’s Travelling Salesman Problem and find the cheapest route to doing it, and even if I miss out the North Pole, this is going to be an extraordinarily expensive (or hideously long) journey. I can’t imagine doing this in less than a year or for under about twenty thousand pounds.

HOW LIKELY AM I TO WRITE IT?

Not even remotely likely. It’s a fun concept, and many of the places mentioned in the song are near the top of my wishlist. But once I think seriously about it I lose interest. It is almost the definition of whimsy but is also, let’s face it, a spectacularly stupid idea. Even if I had limitless funds, I could think of countless more rewarding and meaningful trips to undertake with the money.

Mind you, sixty-seven locations minus the fourteen I’ve been to is only fifty-three…

What do you think? Is this a book you’d like to read? Let me know in the comments below. And read the rest of my series of Books on the Horizon here.

3 thoughts on “Ramblin’ Man

  1. I found this page doing a Google search trying to find out where the hell “Mendhurst” is. All the lyrics sites agree the song does say Mendhurst (possibly because they’re all cut and pasted from each other), but I’d love to know what the writer of the song had in mind, given that Mendhurst seems to go in the same category as Atlantis in that it doesn’t exist.
    Other issues would be which Sudbury is it, given Sudbury Ontario is 10 times the size of Sudbury Suffolk, but the song does list lots of fairly small English places like Sudbury and doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Canada. Also, I assume it’s San Jose California rather than the capital of Costa Rica given the California city is 3 times the size and is in a well-known song, and presumably the Codrington is the place with an airport on Barbuda rather than the collection of 5-or-so houses in Gloucestershire.
    I’d only really ever do the trip if I won the lottery, given that I’d want to do it properly and get one of those travelers’ flights to the North Pole and land there and walk around… and I think I need a lottery win for that. But there again, that hasn’t stopped me spending most of my Sunday afternoon planning the trip. Nice to know someone else is planning it too.

  2. Hi Andy, welcome to a kindred spirit! You know, I’d never really noticed or thought about Mendhurst – I haven’t a clue what that might be. Lyndhurst, maybe, or Medhurst, or Mendhirst? I think that’s the rapid-fire part of the song, isn’t it, so it’s hard to make out.

    As for the wee places, I love the juxtaposition of ordinary English places with the exotic and famous places abroad. In keeping with the song’s English accent and the English origin of the band, I’d be tempted to go with any English place by default.

    Of course, this is entirely academic, but as you say it’s fun to think about it.

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