“Although loneliness has always been a friend of mine, I’m leaving my life in your hands. People say I’m crazy and that I am blind, risking it all in a glance”.
Two years ago…
Almost exactly two years ago in life I was happy. I had just visited Agra in India and that was my 800th different settlement in something like the 137th country I had personally backpacked in. And for what reason? Because I get bored of being the same person in the same place doing the same thing. If life was mundane, I craved a life that was insane. I craved it and I carved it.
“The lonesome hum from my desklamp is where I find my heaven” – Gigolo Aunts.
This 17 year old in Belfast City, Northern Ireland
I reflect now as I’m older and not wiser. I was a smarter man when I was 17 studying journalism and politics in Belfast City. I know it. I had no depression, no fear, no lack of enthusiasm. I was vibrant back then. Life looked something like this…Curtained hair. Pint of Harp down the pub, Oasis dress sense. Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to Albania. Everything in life was so amazing. Even my grey bombscare skies couldn’t deflect my passion for life back then.
“You’ve got a feeling lost inside, it just won’t let you go” – Noel Gallagher.
Visiting 162 countries for no reason…
But I’d never ventured far in life. Northern Ireland was life, it was as good as it got (and it still is). I hadn’t been anywhere of note. Spain or the Netherlands. China was just a dot on my globe. But I kind of took the piss since then, kick started by a trip to Toronto in 2001, then a birthday in Poland in 2005 and an appearance in Belarus in 2007, a job in Australia in 2009, a business visa for Hong Kong in 2012. A travel blog in 2007 which became an accidental business. It was all a progression. Little by little I was seeing the world, exploring the world and living all over the world. Before I knew it, my backpack had swallowed 162 countries, regions or breakaways republics and it was easy. None of that travel was hard for me, none of it. I could get jobs easily, I could meet people easily, I could make new friends, I could get my visas. It was easy. Until 2016…
Where did it all go Kong?
I left Hong Kong in 2015 and that was that. Long term angel and love Panny and I had split. I’d had my fair share of failed romances and relationships and now I had a wedding that never happened. I had to move on. Watching a Northern Ireland football match in the magical Faroe Islands was more important to me than being in Hong Kong with Panny working my guts out as a teacher by day and a travel/football writer by night. I worked 24 hours a day for years. I was also in Dean Court, Bournemouth for the Cherries first Premier League win in 2015. We didn’t know it then but this is the last photo I have (and will ever have with Panny Yu, who was a popular girl amongst my family, friends and followers). Perhaps, this was my failure. But it wasn’t a mistake or a regret.
“I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grey” – Seal.
“It’s over. You don’t need to tell me” – Damon Albarn.
Stan by me, nobody knows the way it’s going to be…
After leaving Hong Kong behind, I backpacked 8 of the 10 Stan countries. Kyrgyzstan, Podjistan, Karakalpakstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan. In April 2016, I was contemplating moving to Bishkek to live for a while, or to Moldova, or Russia or Poland. I knew it would be somewhere east and in the northern hemisphere. I was done with Australia. I was never wanting to live in South America. I was done with China and Hong Kong. I didn’t even shed a tear as my flight left Chek Lap Kok that day.
“As the day was dawning my plane flew away with all the things caught in my mind” – Noel Gallagher.
Your defence is terrified…
Europe pumped out a beat. I was heading to Grodig in Austria to meet one of my best friends Lock In Lee in April 2016, before another trip to Africa, Middle East and then back to France for Euro 2016 to watch Northern Ireland at a major tournament. I had tickets for all 7 matches, we used four of them, losing narrowly to Wales in the Second round. It was all bliss.
Life was pretty good. I had decided I would concentrate on staying in Europe, paying off my debts (from my time in Hong Kong), see my family and friends more often, watch my football teams and settle down.
“And how you got me blind is still a mystery, I can’t get you out of my head. I don’t care what is written in your history as long as you’re here with me”.
Life was still so good. I had a plan to visit every country in the world, taking in 1000 cities on the way, my blog was at a real peak now and I didn’t need any other incomes, Don’t Stop Living sold itself and I often took on freelance writing projects. My two books were also both finished (“Backpacking Centurion” and “Seek Well”) and I was fine. What happened next, no thanks to a fake travel friend and liar, ruined my life. I wish I could rewind time. But I can’t. It’s done.
“Every little thing that you have said and done feels like it’s deep within me. It doesn’t really matter if you’re on the run, it seems like we’re meant to be”.
My flatmate comes into my bedroom and brings me a coffee. He’s Albanian and I tell him Albania is the only (FIFA recognised) country in Europe I haven’t officially been to, and I didn’t know how to say “thank you” in Albanian, so I asked him to tell me it – it’s Faleminderit. The coffee is sweet and strong and I sip it…
[back to article]
Liars and Guru Gods
What happened after Euro 2016 astounded me with that lying fake friend and the self-loving Guru God who thought he could solve the world’s problems and interfered in my private life. When I exposed him as a stalker and a liar, he got scared and started trying to get said liar on his ‘side’. At the same time, life for me, was effectively over. I simply wanted to die every day. Nothing was worth living for. I didn’t care in Glentoran, Bournemouth or Northern Ireland were on live or if I was invited down the pub with my friends. Nothing would save me. Some of the story became public, and I’m glad. I hate people who hide away.
“We cloak ourselves; in black to hide; away from the world” – Jonny Blair.
Połnocny Irlandczyk w Polsce – Northern Irishman in Poland
The last two years of life have not been good. Travel ended, well at least long term backpacking did. The nasty people who caused my depression refused to apologise or understand that lying is always WRONG. I withdrew this blog’s Facebook page as asshole fake bloggers hated my honesty and balls to say what I think and mean. I came off Twitter for a while. Then I started a new blog to promote Poland.
Which is probably what I should have done back in 2007 on my second trip to Poland. You can find my newer travel articles on Northern Irishman in Poland. I love it more than Don’t Stop Living. It gave me a new lease of life. I guess the Polish niche helps me as Poland has always been in my top 11 countries and Warsaw often in my top 5 cities. They were always my friends, in the last month, I have met up with 4 Polish friends that I have known for 11 years or more. I’m settled now in a country which will soon overtake Hong Kong in countries I’ve spent most time in.
“This a present from Stalin’s reign” – Artur Gorecki.
So you’re happy now, Jonny?
Definitely not. Each night when I put my head on my pillow, depression is back. I could go to the football, go backpacking to gorgeous Zalipie, return to Belarus, visit even some new countries like the Ivory Coast and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, but I wasn’t happy. I can’t find that smile. It won’t return. Perhaps only in photos?
What have I learned?
If you are nasty and dishonest to me ever – I don’t care about you. You’re gone. In the blink of a young girls eye – goodnight. You see how easy it is to tell the truth? Just tell the truth to people.
So now, I trust nobody, not even the “friends” (their words, not mine 😉 ) I made while backpacking.
“And until you´ve repaid the dreams you bought with your lies, you´ll be castaway. Alone under stormy skies” – Noel Gallagher (my poet again).
So finally, what next?
It’s Easter Sunday, I’m 38 now. I’ve been all around the world, I’ve lived and worked in many jobs but I just cannot be happy. Sadly, if money and health were no problem, I would travel to all the countries in the world and see if I could find happiness that way. But it doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’m settling here in Poland, enjoying the culture, learning the language and trying to meet honest people.
So what I meant was ‘where next’?
Apart from Poland, I have some plans to crack the 900 city/town/village mark. Later this week, I hope to be in city 899 and then city 900. Perhaps if any of my old friends and readers still care about all that, I will share that journey.
City 899 should be next Sunday (8th April) with City 900 the next day. Both new cities, one a new country.
My dream goes on, can we all be healthy and happy?
Metallica said it before “Nothing else matters”.