Dear American Friend

I’m writing to tell you about my forthcoming coast-to-coast trip which I’ll be making in March and to ask for your help and support.  I’m calling it “Please Look After This Englishman” and it involves me traversing the real-world instantiation of my online social network, acquiring and telling stories as i go.

What I’m doing

I’m going to arrive somewhere on the West Coast on March 1st. The location isn’t decided yet but it will likely be somewhere where I have a relatively large group of friends and it needs to be somewhere that I can fly directly to from London. So San Francisco is looking a good bet although I’m still open to suggestions.

I then plan to attend SXSWi in Austin, TX from March 11th – 15th. This isn’t an absolutely must do, but it’s an important event for me to be at – it’s the chance I get each year to connect with far-flung bits of my online social network and it provides a stable midpoint for the trip.

From there, I intend to travel on and leave from the East Coast (probably Boston or NYC) on March 31st. I have a strong desire to revisit New Orleans and it would be great to be able to meet up with friends I made on last year’s trip in all the other cities we visited.

What I do between these beginning, middle and end “plot points” is rather up to you. Where I go, how I get there, what I do, who I meet, is all up for grabs although there are a few constraints. In particular it’s important to remember that:

  1. I don’t drive

  1. I won’t have pots of cash to throw
    at every problem

  2. It’s more about having an
    adventure than about reaching a particular destination

  3. I want to strike a balance between
    planning and spontanaiety.

Of course I’ll be writing, shooting video and photographs practically everywhere I go and using the blog and these other sites that bind us all together to let people see what’s going on, participate in decision-making and providing practical support. So for example, on March 1st, I could well be tweeting “Guys and gals, I need to be moving out of the city in an easterly direction, south-easterly would be best. Anyone able to help?” followed by “w00t! I got a lift as far as Vegas, anyone have a couch I can crash on tomorrow night?”

How you can be involved

Whatever you think you can do or would like to do, please get in touch and talk to me about it. I think involvement might come in the following flavours:

Spread the word – if you can do nothing else, *please* just tell some other people about this weird English guy, what he’s doing and where they can find me if they want to take part.

Just watching – gasping with amazement, pointing and laughing, making suggestions for next right steps – for now keep an eye on

Patronage & Sponsorship – I don’t want to throw money at this, but equally I don’t want to freeload the whole way – I also have expenses back in the UK to cover while I’m away. If people give me money or other help, I want to provide them with some value in exchange. This might range from me giving you the benefit of my brainpower and facilitation skills, through me entertaining and inspiring your staff with my tales from the road and a spot of ukulele fun, all the way to me wearing your logo on my t-shirt and evangelising your product wherever I go. However, if you’d like to make a donation to make sure that this thing can happen, because you just want more stuff like this in the world, that works for me too.

Lending a hand directly – I will need people to stay with, to drive me long distances, to feed me or at least eat with me, to show me around, to introduce me to interesting people and places, to smile at me and tell me I’m nuts but that’s OK and all manner of other things that I can’t imagine or am embarrassed (in my adorable, but infuriating, British way) to ask for.



My main job at the moment is getting sponsorship to help support me on the trip.  This takes the form of cash, to make sure I’m not penniless when I enter the USA and can pay my bills while I’m away and products and services that will help me create an interesting experience for people following along online or off-.

I’m glad to say that the first partnership agreed is with Touchnote, who make and send cards for you based on your own photographs or designs (they also have ready-made designs).

Last year we sent cards from the road to people who’d sent us cash support (and I may well do that again) but it did take a while for me to remember to write them, go get stamps, find a mailbox, let alone wait while the US Postal Service and Royal Mail worked their magic.

So I’ll be sending one special card per day for the 30 days that I’m away – now all I’ve got to do is work out who to send them to… hmmm….



I just bought a 1inch to 55miles map of the USA for plotting out the physical locations of my "safety net" – yes I shall also be using Google Maps to show things online, but I always like to get a nice analogue feel for what I'm doing.

I also purchased three empty, plain moleskine journals for the racing prototype.?? i shall show these off at #tuttle in the morning before setting them free into the wild.

I think I’ve come up with a new title for this project and another way of looking at it’s theme.  It just came to me after writing about the journals – I was thinking perhaps of putting something on the front like “Please look after this journal and help it get to its destination”  And realised that the rules I’d been making were kind of in that vein too, I want it to pass through the hands of people who care.

And then isn’t that also what I want to do with myself?  It’s as if I’m abandoning myself at the beginning of the trip and allowing others to move me along, handling me with care as we go.  But it also made me think of Paddington Bear, how he becomes part of the family and has adventures, although he gets stuck where he is, he’s not trying to get anywhere.  Part of looking after the journals and looking after me is not holding on to us for too long, keeping us moving, passing us on to someone else.

What a lovely way to draw out the social network, make it visible, tangible – the people you would trust with a valuable package.

So I’m thinking of wearing a luggage label round my neck throughout the trip that just says:

“Please look after this Englishman, Thank You”

As I mentioned when talking about racing earlier, I'm going to run a prototype version in the UK starting next week.?? Just to see how it works really.

I will be giving out 3 empty journals/notebooks in stamped self-addressed jiffy bag with intended "final" destinations of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Penzance

This is a first draft of the instructions that I'll put in each book – your comments and insights are welcome – please let me know if you think I've missed something obvious.

If you receive this package:

on or after 31st January 2011; or
in {the intended final destination} before 31st January 2011; or
there is only room for one more entry, regardless of the date

then please add an entry as described below, put the book in the jiffy bag, seal the jiffy bag and pop it in the post.


Please do:
Start a new page for your entry.
Put your name, today's date and your location, preferably a postcode (the first part only will do eg BS1, W14 etc) at the top of the page.
Write and/or draw something about you and your day
Pass it on to someone you know who is closer to the intended destination
Keep it moving, if you can let it go again within a day that would be best.

Please don't:
Abandon the package in a public place assuming someone else will pick it up
Just take it straight there – this is about a human-scale journey, not necessarily efficiency.
Hold on to it for more than a couple of days maximum.
Add anything else to the package that will increase the postage.
Modify the packaging so that it can't be posted.

Thanks for taking part!

If you wish to, and if you are on twitter, please tweet when and where you pass the package and include the hashtag #journalraceuk

Again, only if you wish to, e-mail a picture of yourself with the package and/or any thoughts on the project to

If you have any questions, or just want to say hello, give me a call on 079191 82825 or e-mail

There's a nice little side exhibit at Tate Britain on Turner's use of Colour and Line.?? It includes this descriptive panel which caught my eye in relation to this project.

Some thoughts:

What was tourism like in the early 19th Century??? How did these travels work?

The story of the journey itself is secondary to the things that get made as a result of the journey.

For those who need to know purpose: "to gather (visual) material to use as an inspiration for … finished works"

photo: Benjamin Ellis

For the 2010 trip

In my one-man social media empire bag this year I had:

My trusty, but aging, Nokia N95 and Asus eeepc 1000H

Loaned Canon 500D, Nokia N900, Nokia 3G Booklet

While away, I bought a US sim card with “unlimited” data from T-mobile for one month.  Mike Oh in Boston loaned me a lens for the Canon because it hadn’t come with one (!) and an SD card

I took about 1000 pictures over the three weeks.  Most of them with the Canon but did get some with the N900 although picture quality wasn’t as good as on the N95.  I didn’t have my N95 charged and ready to go all the time, because it wouldn’t play as nicely with the US sim card as the N900. 

I didn’t find much use for the 3G booklet – it was lighter than my Asus but the 3G would only have been useful on the move and there was very poor signal on all of the trains we used.  In any case, I prefer to write when I’m sitting still and take in what’s going on when I’m moving.

I would have made better use of the N900 if I had had an intro to it before I left.  It wasn’t until New York that I found out how to zoom in and out on the screen 🙂

Likewise I would have shot much more video if I’d been more familiar with the Canon before leaving.  I didn’t get the hang of it until I was in Austin… I simply didn’t have time to read the manual on the road.

With hindsight, I think I should have made a case to get Canon and Nokia to let me have those devices for the year of my residency at C4CC rather than just for the three weeks of the trip.  If I have another residency this year I’ll give it a go – there’s so much more value I can bring with kit that I know well and can rely on having for a while.  The other issue raised by having a short-term loan was that I worried more (perhaps irrationally) about damage or loss.

The thing I really felt the lack of was a computer that could handle the HD video that the Canon pumps out – both in terms of working on stuff while away, but also editing things together afterwards. I also worried a lot about only having one copy of pics and vids that I’d shot.

When looking to cost this, the kit I was loaned retails today at:

Canon 500D £515

Nokia N900 £350

T-mobile sim $50 = £33

3G Booklet £520

4GB SD Card – £5

Total I would have had to lay out on kit: £1423

For the next trip

Now the things I don’t have for this year’s trip yet are:

A DSLR & decent lens that shoots HD & some large data storage cards

Some large USB sticks for data backup.

A light-ish laptop that can comfortably handle HD video

A smartphone with US sim and a friendly data plan

Open to suggestions on how to acquire the above.  A longer term deal that might include support for my continuing Social Art would be preferable to me and doubtless of more value to the sponsor than a loan just for the duration of the trip.

I'm going to take a look at what was required to do the first trip.?? The idea of using these experiences to put a value on the power of my social capital is becoming more and more interesting to me.?? I think this is one way into it.

Lets group things under the following headings:

Kit (camera, phone, laptop etc)
Travel between cities
Travel within cities
Food & subsistence

I think there'll probably be a post for each of these – it's not as simple as adding up a list of numbers (even if I'd recorded things in any detail) but I think it will help in being more structured in keeping records next year.

I'm starting to look for cash sponsorship for next March's trip to cover those things that can't be received in kind as well as offers of other corporate support.?? If you know anyone who'd be interested in getting involved in this way, point them in my direction.

Well it didn’t come as a great surprise but I got confirmation yesterday that my panel about Tuttle2Texas (last year’s trip) has not been accepted in the (pretty much) final round of selection for the South By South West Interactive Festival.

I don’t know the reason it wasn’t selected.  Obviously with the large numbers of entries, there isn’t any specific feedback.  I can only assume that “they” don’t get “it” – I’ve not gone through the accepted panels and done any rigorous analysis on which British panels were chosen and anything I say looks like sour grapes anyway.

So it raises a question or two:  Why do I still have Austin as a stopping place in the middle of the plan.  Do I need to go to Austin? Was I only going to speak?  Is it too much of a constraint?  What could I do that was interesting in Austin without going to SXSWi?  What could I do elsewhere in the states at the same time as SXSWi that would still be connected but not actually being there?  Why am I going in March if it’s not tied in with being in Austin for March 11th to 15th?  What is the trip called if I don’t go to Texas?


In the run up to the trip, I’d like to institute a weekly film screening after Tuttle on Fridays to watch some of the best movies about roadtrips (preferably across the USA but maybe other journeys too)

The deal will be that Tuttle will finish at 12 as usual, there’ll be a break for people to get lunch if they haven’t brought it with them (or popcorn!) and then we’ll get started at 1pm.  There’ll be an opportunity to have a further semi-formal discussion/conversation after the movie for those who wish to.

Buttonhole me please with suggestions for suitable movies – they’re even more likely to be shown if you can also provide me with the DVD 🙂