The Bucket List

I'm not one of those people who made a Bucket List early on in life then ticked them off one by one. But looking back now, I've had a few amazing experiences, which I'm now going to consider bucket list-worthy. Here they are then, with a few others that I'll aim to fulfill in the years to come.

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West Brom win at Wembley

30th May, 1993. Wembley Stadium, London, UK.

If you choose to support a big club, you may get to do this every few years, or even every year. But if your hometown club chooses you, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As it happens, this has been our only win in my lifetime, and I was there. I look back on my decision to go, without a ticket and with just 40 quid in my pocket, as a risky one. But one of those decisions that you know you got it absolutely right.

I bought my ticket off a tout, without even checking what end it was in, but was relieved when I ended up in the Albion end, behind the tunnel. Nil-nil at half-time, it was a nerve-wracking second half, but the task was made easier when Port Vale had a man sent off around the hour mark. We kept the pressure on and eventually scored three great goals to seal the victory and Albion's only Wembley win since 1968 and now the only win in over 50 years.

The Last Night of the Proms

10th September, 1994. Royal Albert Hall, London, UK.

I'd never been to The Proms before the 100th Season in 1994, and I've never been back since. I think I went a couple of times during the season, and even took my London-based Grandmother on one occasion. To get tickets to the Last Night, you're supposed to have been to at least five previous nights, but we had some inside help and managed to get in. We queued up for an hour or so, and only managed to get in the middle of the throng of 'Prommers', but not a bad spot. Admittedly, the whole occasion is a little eccentric, but a lot of harmless fun. Despite not knowing most of the words, I sang most of the songs and I even managed to get on TV a few times. I tracked down the DVD years later as a life-long reminder.

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1994-10-12 to 29 - Earls Court Exhibitio

Pink Floyd, Live

October 1994. Earl's Court, London, UK.

I can't say the concert actually blew me away, but it was Pink Floyd and it turned out to be one of the last concerts they ever performed. I bought the tickets well in advance and my brother joined me for a couple of pints before the concert. The set-list alone should do most of the talking, and the stage show was pretty amazing as the smell of weed permutated throughout. Many of the songs from that night ended up on the Pulse live album.

 

Parachute Jump over

British Hong Kong

June 1997, Sek Kong Airfield, Hong Kong

I certainly didn't plan this in advance, but when my boss suggested it, I literally jumped at it and became one of the last ever first-time jumpers over British Kong Kong. We did it all on a day-trip from Macau all the way to Sek Kong Airfield in the depths of Hong Kong.

 

It was an actual 'parachutists certification' day that we opted for, so we learned how to pack a parachute, how to jump and of course, how to land. As the day wore on, the weather started to turn, and the chances of us jumping started to decrease. But we finally got the go ahead and I think there were 3-4 of us in the Cessna as it ascended to 3000-ft for our static line jump. Upon the 'go' signal, I was first up, and stepped out of the plane door, onto the platform and gripped the strut underneath the wing as the ferocious wind battered me. I can't remember what we had to say as we jumped, but once I released, it was a chaotic few seconds before I was upright again and commenced my gradual floating to the ground. I adjusted my toggles as per my training and managed to work myself towards the airfield for a perfect landing. 'Good all the way' was the verdict - parachutists lingo that it all went very smoothly.

 

Back in the mess, we rang the bell for first time jumpers and bought a drink for everyone there that day, before heading back to Macau via a few more bars in Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong.

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'The Handover'

June 30th, 1997. Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong

A day I look back on with a sense of sadness, but I'm glad I was there to enjoy the last few moments of British Hong Kong. I was living in Macau at the time, but got the jetfoil over with a mate after work. We ended up in Mad Dogs bar in Lan Kwai Fong for the whole night - drinking, dancing and singing patriotic British songs. At the stroke of midnight, I was 'in flagrante' with a local girl who subsequently burst into tears and we went our separate ways.

 

We saw none of the official celebrations - Prince Charles, Chris Patten, The QE2 or the fireworks. Instead we marched defiantly down D'Aguilar Street facing off against the police who were out in force. The tanks didn't roll in as feared and we headed back to Macau in the early hours. A memorable night, and aside from the memories, I also have the passport stamps to show for it.

 

As we now know, life soon got back to normal and the real changes only kicked-in in 2020 with the National Security Law.

Oasis, Live

February 22nd, 1998. HK Convention Centre, Hong Kong

This might not get onto too many people's bucket lists, but as an Oasis fan throughout the 90's, it was great to have seen these guys live. Their music was also a big help to me as I settled in to life in the Far East, so to be able to see them in Hong Kong was bucket-list worthy. Not an amazing concert by any means, and the only thing I really remember was Liam threatening to walk off if any more lasers were shined right into his eyes. The set-list is pretty meaty, with a nice acoustic set by Noel in there too, which was likely unplanned - maybe an ad-hoc set when Liam did actually walk off.

 

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Crossing the Equator overland

July 1999. Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia

This is an obvious bucket-list item for many, but for me, it was all rather unintentional. It came towards the end of my Indonesian backpacking trip from Gili Air through Bali, Java and Sumatra, all the way to Bintan. Towards the end of the trip, I took a 24-hour bus from Padang to Batam, and on the way, we crossed the equator close to the town of Bukittinggi.

 

During the day, the scenery was breathtaking, and by nightfall, the bus pulled over and we all piled into the road to sit and smoke. I've never really been a smoker, but whilst backpacking, it was a good way to strike up conversation, and this is one occasion when it worked. My Marlboro Lights proved popular as we all sat in the road and talked and laughed, all while under the most bright and vivid stars.

After about thirty minutes, we got back into the bus and continued our long journey towards Batam, all but one of us probably none the wiser for the memorable experience.

First Marathon

February 26th, 2012. Tokyo, Japan.

Running marathons has now become an annual pastime, but finishing your first is always a big moment. You just don't know if you have the physical and mental strength to actually finish, so it's a massive personal accomplishment - a vindication of all of your pre-race doubts. This was the only time I've ever raced with others too, so it was a great feeling to cross the line with your friends and training partners. We ran the whole way too, from 1km to 42km, and I think the collective effort from us all made a massive difference - none of us wanted to crack first.  Looking back, I didn't even train properly for this one either - just a few short runs a week and a cursory treadmill half-marathon as my longest run, although none of that matters now of course. Tokyo was a fitting place for it too - one of the biggest marathons around, and as it's very hard to get into, I may not get another chance to run there again.

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The Wall

July 8th, 2015. Washington DC, CA, USA

I began to be interested in the Vietnam War as a teenager. While doing my morning paper-round, I had access to some of the new magazines and spent most of my earnings on 'Nam' a monthly magazine about the war. I confess to not reading them cover to cover, but the images jumped out and I made it a mission to go at some point. I've now been to Vietnam on four occasions, all for races, but during my first visit (to Hoi An), I did get a chance to see some of the war bric-a-brac in the shops - helmets, shell casings, 'old' zippos etc. I haven't gone 'up country' yet, but will manage to do so some day for sure. The Wall also fascinated me, and we passed by on a family trip in 2015. I was a little underwhelmed at first, as it felt like a tourist attraction rather than a place of reflection. But the endless list of 50k+ names was definitely moving. Fortunately, I didn't leave Washington with that sense of disappointment, as I passed by on my morning run the following day, and totally alone I was able to pause and reflect on the gravity of the place which although fairly plain, is a permanent reminder of the impact of war on so many people.

U2, Live

July 10th, 2015. TD Garden, Boston, MA, USA

I often describe U2 as 'the band that I have loved the longest'. Not the first band I ever bought (that would be Adam and the Ants), and not the band that I love the most (toss up between The Smiths and Radiohead), but they are the band that got into early and still buy their new stuff now. They have seen me through my teenage years (listening to The Joshua Tree on looped cassette when alone and homesick on any early French exchange), my young single years (buying Achtung Baby from a supermarket in the Asda on the Alton Estate as a second year student) and my years of being a father (enjoying their new stuff in the car on the way to school). So it was that I went with the whole family to see them on the first night of a 4-night set in Boston for a homecoming of sorts - their first visit in ten years.  Needless to say, it was an amazing concert - they gave it everything they had and the songs were ringing in our ears for hours afterwards.

  • The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

  • The Electric Co. (with "Send in the Clowns" and… more )

  • Vertigo (with "Do You Remember Rock n'… more )

  • I Will Follow

  • Iris (Hold Me Close)

  • Cedarwood Road

  • Song for Someone

  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (acoustic; without final verse;… more)

  • Raised by Wolves (with "Psalm 23" snippet)

  • Until the End of the World (with "Love and Peace or Else" snippet)

  • Inside Screen

  • The Wanderer

  • Invisible

  • Even Better Than the Real Thing (Fish Out of Water Remix)

  • "E" Stage

  • Mysterious Ways (with "Young Americans" snippet)

  • Elevation

  • Ordinary Love (acoustic)

  • Every Breaking Wave (acoustic)

  • Bullet the Blue Sky (with "19" snippet)

  • Pride (In the Name of Love) (with "The Hands That Built America" segue)

  • Beautiful Day (with "Moment of Surrender" snippet)

  • Bad (with "Moment of Surrender" snippet)

  • With or Without You (with "Shine Like Stars" coda)

  • Encore:

  • City of Blinding Lights

  • Where the Streets Have No Name (with "Mother and Child… more )

  • One

  • 40

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Fenway Park

July 12th, 2015. Fenway Park, Boston, MA, USA

My father went to visit his brother in the US in the late 70s, and he came back with two baseball helmets - one Sox, one NYY. I chose Sox and that was that - I've been a fan of Boston sports ever since, although I only started watching baseball daily in 2003. So, when we headed over to the US on a family trip in 2015, Fenway Park was pretty much the first item on the list. We stayed in The Verb hotel - a stones throw away from home plate and enjoyed the atmosphere of the whole weekend's three game series against the Yankees. For the final game of the series, we had bleacher seats in centre field and although it was pretty hot under the sun, we loved the whole experience, Sweet Caroline and all. The result didn't go the way of the Red Sox, but there were plenty of runs in the game and at least the Red Sox took the lead at one point, and were pretty close to a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth. The girls even got to run the bases at the end of the game, while I managed to get pretty close to the hallowed turf. There were some great Red Sox players in the line-up: (Mookie Betts (future AL MVP), Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts), with the only regret being that Red Sox legend David 'Big Papi' Ortiz didn't play.

Morrissey, Live

October 6th, 2016. MacPherson Stadium, Hong Kong

I got into The Smiths a little later than everyone else - while Manchester was exploding with great music, I was still listening to Dire Straits, Marillion and The Alarm. While teenagers around me took solace from the beauty of How Soon is Now?, I took solace in the early solo works of Fish.  But I eventually found their music in the third year of Uni., and have listened to them an awful lot since. Morrissey albums of course soon foll0wed, and although the later stuff is harder to grasp, and his views are somewhat strange at times, I'm still a lover of all things Morrissey. I've also managed to indoctrinate my children, so we were all excited to see his first concert in Hong Kong. It was a school night, so we went straight from school and got there to queue up a good 2-3 hours early. We weren't the first by any means, but we were pretty high up the queue and once the doors opened, we got to the front row, albeit slightly left of centre. The concert itself was superb, he's a performer, that's for sure. There was a lot of newer stuff in there, but The Smiths numbers and the solo favourites were plenty and we soaked it all up. A bucket-list within a bucket-list was when I managed to hold a few of his fingers for a good 5-10 seconds early on, and the kids managed to do the same. Years later, I still have to pinch myself at times - I really did get to see the great man himself.

  • Suedehead

  • You Have Killed Me

  • Alma Matters

  • Speedway

  • Ouija Board, Ouija Board

  • You're the One for Me, Fatty

  • Ganglord

  • World Peace Is None of Your Business

  • Kiss Me a Lot

  • I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris

  • The Bullfighter Dies

  • First of the Gang to Die

  • Jack the Ripper

  • The World Is Full of Crashing Bores

  • Meat Is Murder (The Smiths song)

  • All the Lazy Dykes

  • How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths song)

  • Everyday Is Like Sunday

  • What She Said (The Smiths song)

  • Encore:

  • Judy Is a Punk

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The Grand Canyon

July 15th, 2017. Arizona, USA

The Grand Canyon is an astonishing spectacle in itself, but this trip came in the middle of a two-day mind-blowing drive that took us from the depths and heat of Death Valley to the breath-taking views of the Grand Canyon and on to the snow-covered slopes of Yosemite National Park. All within 36 hours or so. The full details are in the Travel tab, but our visit was enhanced by great advice from our host in the bordello we stayed at in the lovely town of Williams. She told us to ignore the first car park where everyone stops, and instead head the Ranger Station and to the Rim Trail. We did just that and made our way through a forest for 10 minutes before the whole Grand Canyon opened up before us. There was hardly anyone around as we worked our way along the trail for an amazing experience.

 

We had time for some fun and games too.

First Ironman

September 1oth, 2017. Gurye, South Korea.

I started racing Triathlons in 2011, and felt pretty elated when I crossed the line after my first sprint race. But that isn't really bucket list-worthy, so that had to wait until I crossed the line after my first Ironman. Although I've done a few more Ironmans to date and Challenge Roth is considered bucket-list worthy amongst triathletes, your first is always the most significant.

 

The race itself was a culmination of 24 weeks of pretty tedious training - too many early swims with the old folks at my local beach, literally hundreds of seemingly endless hills on the bike around my local area, and of course a few long runs in there too. Like the marathon, you don't know if you have the mental and physical strength to actually finish, so when it happens, it's a great feeling.

The full report is in the Ironman tab, but this event was all the more special as my family were with me for the whole experience - the training, the travel, the race prep and the 13 hours of hanging around for the race itself. The medal is for them all too.

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What's next...

  • Run the Marathon des Sables, Morocco - 251km in six days.

  • Run the Boston Marathon

  • Race Ironman Kona

  • Dive the WWII wrecks in Coron, Palawan

  • See Radiohead in concert

  • Watch a game from the Monster seats at Fenway Park

  • Live in a French-speaking country

© 2019 by Giles Leonard

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Contact: giles22leonard@gmail.com