ON THE ROAD: Notes in bars, coffee shops and cafes

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ON THE ROAD: Notes in bars, coffee shops and cafes

In the many decades I have travelled I've rarely taken a laptop.

My preferred companion has always been the cheap 1B5 exercise book that school kids use.

There are many reasons for this: they're light and portable; there's little likelihood someone will steal you book but a laptop makes you a target; you can scribble randomly and draw self-help illustrations as reminders (no need for a camera even) and, best of all, they are conversation starters.

My usual habit has been at the end of a busy day in the great wherever, I'd find a cheap-looking bar, sit down at a table -- or better, at the bar -- with a drink and write up notes from the day, sometimes even constructing a story out of scribbles done during the day if I'd had time.

People would be curious and quite frequently come up and ask what I was doing. And another conversation with a stranger begins.

Not every encounter has been pleasant, I remember being in a real dive in Northern California where a woman lurched over in the smoke-filled room (even though smoking in bars was legally banned in the state) and accused me of being “one of those writing guys, huh?”

But usually the encounters were funny and the work got done.

notes1_copyOne day at the in Glasgow School of Art (before it burned down in 2018) I was in the beautiful old library designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh when the tour guide who had been showing our small group around came over and simply said.

“Ha, a 1B5. You're from New Zealand?”

Turned out she'd worked in Auckland for a famous fashion designer (about whom she didn't have a good word) and had seen the exercise books everywhere.

And here's a tip. If you are traveling as a couple, one of you go to the bar first for half an hour because people won't intrude on a couple.

I'd always go first and if anyone asked I'd say quickly I was waiting for my wife who'd come along later, that signaled to men and women alike that I wasn't there to pick someone up.

Everyone could relax.

On a recent three month trip through Sweden, England, Scotland and Singapore during the covid wave of 2022 I was obliged to use a laptop because I was filing a weekly column. But always my preference is something as small, cheap, light and theft-proof as the reliable 1B5.

Location_MapSomething worth thinking about when you travel.

Pick your bar – the cheaper-looking the better in my experience, you never meet anyone in the lobby of a Hilton – and be prepared for a conversation with a curious stranger.

What you see here above is a page written one night in Kunming in Yunnan Province, west central China.

The stories from Kunming are at Elsewhere here

And below one from the Musgrave Roadhouse in the remote Australian Outback, halfway between Cairns and The Tip as I noted.

Stories from various parts of the Outback start at Elsewhere here. I quite liked this summing up of the trip from The Tip down to Cairns and this one which is a little more specific.

This place quite something . . . actually quite nothing.


A fortnight after posting this, massive flooding occurred in parts of New Zealand, notably in Auckland where we live, and in addition to literally hundreds of vinyl albums, scores of DVDs, CDs and book all my travel journals (about 30) were saturated beyond saving.

These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

Enjoy these random oddities at Personal Elsewhere.


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