Friday, 29 February 2008

An Embarrassment of Gap Year Blogs

The stories of Max Gogarty and Mark Boyle (aka "Saoirse") prompted the thought how lucky I am that blogs weren't around when I was a gap year teenager.

In case you've missed their misadventures, Max is the son of a British travel journalist and got a high profile gig blogging for the Guardian, whose editorial staff failed to notice that his first post was embarrasing and bound to be ripped to shreds by their sharp-minded and sharp-clawed readers. Here's a taste:

Hello. I'm Max Gogarty. I'm 19 and live on top of a hill in north London.

At the minute, I'm working in a restaurant with a bunch of lovely, funny people; writing a play; writing bits for Skins; spending any sort of money I earn on food and skinny jeans, and drinking my way to a financially blighted two-month trip to India and Thailand. Clichéd I know, but clichés are there for a reason.

I'm kinda shitting myself about travelling. Well not so much the travelling part. It's India that scares me. The heat, the roads, the snakes, Australian travellers. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited. But shitting myself. And I just know that when I step off that plane and into the maelstrom of Mumbai - well, actually, I don't know how I'll react...

You get the picture.

Saoirse is a bit older and set off with good intentions and considerable media coverage on a walk from Bristol to India, which he would complete without the use of money. As reported on the Today programme this morning, his "pilgrimage" ground to a halt at Calais, because he couldn't speak French. His Freeconomy project has its heart in the right place, but my sympathy wore thin when I got to bits like this:

All I can say is that the decision I make will be the one I believe will be of the best service to humanity in my very humble opinion.

I'm just glad blogs hadn't been invented when I was eighteen. I only got my first hotmail account two months after setting off on a chaotic gap year of busking and hitching around Europe. I made it from Norway to Turkey and back, with plenty of adventures along the way, and came back with no shortage of stories. (Like Saoirse, I benefited greatly from the kindness of strangers, which grew my faith in human nature.) I was, however, a terribly serious sort of teenager and had a long way to go to make sense of myself. Throughout my travels, I would tell people about the book I planned on writing. When I arrived at university, however, my beatnik affectations were subject to enough mockery to persuade me to shelve this project for a while.

Actually, my inspiration was less Kerouac, more the English literature of tramping. Laurie Lee's 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' and George Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London', both classics of the genre, benefit from being emotion recollected in tranquillity. For there is nothing like being in medias res to make one lose perspective. Had either author documented their ups and downs blow by blow, with media attention and comments at the bottom, I suspect - even with their undoubted talents - they would have been punished for it.

As for me, I don't regret the year I spent bumming around Europe, but I'm glad the intermittent and self-absorbed diaries I brought back remain deeply buried in my parents' loft. Not that any blog I wrote would have been likely to attract the attention Max and Saoirse have received - but at least I've saved all that material to make use of some day with a little more self-awareness and a whole lot of hindsight.

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

In spare moments over the last few years I've been transcribing my old diaries into a text database. And yes, a lot of the stuff I wrote when I was 19 is embarrassing to read now. But even if public blogs had been available then, I don't think I would have written like that for public consumption, though obviously some people do.

What got me started with the transcription was my interest in family history, and I wanted to see what I had recorded of conversations with my grandmother. Then I moved to Namibia, far from my grandmother, and continued transcribing that bit, and then, in correspondence with Namibian Archives about my wife's family, sent an archivies a bit of my diary, and found they actually wanted it, for the light it threw on a period of Namibian history for which they had little material. I was well into my 20s when I lived in Namibia, so it was no longer quite so much the self-absorbed ramblings of a jejeune teenager who had just discovered Kerouac.

I sent them an annotated and indexed copy of the transcription. Perhaps one day it will be mentioned in a footnote of some historical tome.

But that encouraged me to continue with the transcription.

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