One of the things I always liked about travelling to other countries was how different everything was.
I realise it doesn't sound like a barrel of fun – and at the time it wasn't, always - but the sheer buzz of being stuck in an exotic clime, knowing next to nothing about the geography, culture or language, was one of the main reasons I strapped on the backpack and got my hitchhiking thumb out in the first place.
Whether it was wandering penniless through the Medina in Fez, trying to find a youth hostel in Soweto or searching for a cappuccino in Possil, naked terror, fear of the unknown and the potentially disastrous consequences always made for fantastic memories and a great sense of achievement.
Seeing with your own eyes how some people on the planet were doing it really tough also helped to make you realise how lucky you were to come from a country where, with all its faults, you still had a fighting chance of following your dreams, relatively free from abject poverty, oppression, prejudice or state tyranny.
Finally and for me, the most important reason of all, living on your wits, the bones of your a**e and the unexpected yet apparently infinite generosity of strangers gave you something else. Faith in humanity and a truly breathtaking sensation that you were alive.
Of course, travelling's not nearly so much fun these days –credit cards, mobile phones, satnavs and electronic translators have taken a lot of the fun away – but that's not the only reason that, for me at any rate, it's lost a bit of its allure.
Somewhere, somehow, the world has changed. And not for the better either.
Yeah, I know, it hasn't changed all that much. Plainly there are still a few places where so-called civilisation has yet to emerge. Alien, unwelcoming locations where your personal safety is utterly compromised and finding a halfway acceptable toilet is as likely as winning the rollover lottery - but who in their right mind would want to go to Paisley anyway?
More and more, the towns and cities of the world are becoming utterly homogenised, hopelessly infiltrated by the neon of the corporate big guns, the huge multi-nationals, a non-violent but nevertheless wholly successful coup d'état that has reduced thoroughfares across the globe to flickering, vulgar testaments to the power of The Big Mac, The KFC Zinger, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Max and all the rest. Yes, you can still avoid them, but it's getting harder and harder.
I was in Fiji quite recently, a tropical island where you'd expect to be dining on various Polynesian delicacies incorporating wild pig, bananas and coconuts. And you still can, but only if you avoid the main parts of town where fried chicken in a bucket and insipid burgers are ubiquitous and reign supreme.
And don't bother going looking a Fijian hostelry which offers kava, the local hooch which tastes like viscous mud but at least has the compensation of possessing sedative and anaesthetic qualities. You'll have to make do with draught Budweiser, which also tastes like mud and has much less desirable side-effects: putting your baseball cap on backwards and talking bollocks in an American accent.
Nowhere - and I mean nowhere - has been as completely invaded by the bland big boys of global branding as Australia.
No doubt it's a result of the comparatively high levels of disposable income and the opportunity for further growth, but a meander through any Australian city or even country town will result in a depressing line up of the usual suspects offering their homogenous wares – identical in the sense that no matter where you are, they always taste the same: crap.
What's worse, the trend toward blandness isn't confined to food.
For some reason no one can fathom, Australia seems to be desperate to import every vapid and banal TV show or light entertainment phenomenon the USA and Britain has to offer.
The Voice, Pop Idol, Master Chef, Ready Steady Cook, Big Brother, Dancing with the Stars on Ice, not to mention literally dozens of lame sitcoms populated by geeky blokes and women with huge knockers invariably accompanied by a warehouse full of canned laughter, the list goes on and on, meaning that whenever a real Aussie show appears, it's a cause for celebration, even if it is rank rotten.
You think I'm kidding? A pal of mine has a son who's in a band. I've heard them – they're good – competent musicians and they write their own material, which is hard to categorise because they don't really sound like anything you've heard before.
No surprises then that an Aussie record company rejected them out of hand because – quote – "you sound too original".
Can you imagine if this sort of assessment had been around in the 1950s and 60s? Elvis and Sydney Devine would have been given the bum's rush and told not to come back until they sounded more like – respectively - Perry Como and er, well, someone who can sing.
Ah, it makes me glad that I live in the tiny enclave of Swifts Creek, population 200, where the complete lack of neon means you have to carry a torch when night falls and if you fancy a burger you have to get one from Steve at Creekers Cafe which is so fresh and locally sourced you'll probably have been on nodding terms with the cow a couple of days before.
Which is a pity really, because I could use a Big Mac. I need something heavy to stop my front door banging in the wind.
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