Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Truleigh, Moody, Windy

Truleigh Hill - Camping in the grounds of the Youth Hostel

It is not far from London which is a good thing isn't it? Although, since it's not that far from London you don't feel like you are away from it all. You've got a view of the sea which is nice but when the weather rolls in it is right into you because you can say 'get those jack rabbits out of here -- they are in for a soaking.'

You camp in a field which is inbabited by sheep, rabbits, people and their dung. It is on a bit of a slope which gets steeper when you try to go to sleep. There was a real wind on last night. By the morning the peppermint teabags were everywhere. My camping chair blew across neighbourhood and whacked right into Neil's tent which apparently made quite a noise. That must have been during the twenty minutes in which I was asleep.

Camping in the grounds of a youth hostel was a first for me. except for maybe somewhere in Scotland in 1989. I quite liked being able to waltz into the building and feel morally superior to the other hostellers who had chosen this less adventurous form of shelter. The trick is to go in for just long enough to keep the high ground without anyone noticing that being inside might constitute a retreat from the elemental realities of the outside world.

Just down the hill is Shoreham-by-sea which is fairly pleasant though not about to win the undiscovered seaside town of the year award. The river ardur turns out into the ocean at the town and makes for a nice walk along the route (British pronunciation please) of a disused railway line. Sandy banks along the river's extrusion make for a decent place to sit down and rest after you've down the tough part of the walk - in our case after about half an hour. At points the sun, the sand, the river and the mud transcend the sum of their individual ecological functions and create a buzzing and dynamic theatre of life a little wilder, shiny and a bit more reflective than the wilds of Wallington. It is a dance of energy and natural beauty I have decided to call muddybank-riverwobble, in order that the thing be adequately described in language.

No two friends ever agree on everything and it is was interesting to note the stations of concord and uncord we passed through on the conversational amble along the disused railway lines of thought: Christiology, recovery, the origin of signs, the difference between signs and symbols, the presence of the principle of making amends in scripture, the benefits of trangia stoves, the extent of our foreign travel, sinaesthesia and TFL transport policy.

In the back of my mind whilst away was the thought that I had to come and to take a course of metronidozal and would have stayed longer if it had been for that. Two nights is long enough though to notice the clouds deep in red at the end of the day, thousands of jewels in the sea and a pack of rabbits whose favourite playing surface is grass.

Monday, 25 May 2009

From Stoke to Stokey

Arsenal 4-1 Stoke Emitrates Stadium 24th May

It's fun to be part of a group of thousands of football fans when your team wins, the sun is shining, nobody is acting in a threatening way and you've all got the uniform. The stadium was fizzing with a kind of atmospheric champagne; a bubbly mood of celebration. The Stoke fans were even more jubilant than us and become incoragibly and progressively happier with every Arsenal goal.

My companion, Larry, was unfortunately focusing all of his attention on the Liverpool game many miles away. Every now and again he would tell me, on the basis of a feeling: 'I think there's been a goal at Anfield.' When I checked my phone, he was right every time. Had he given concentrating on the Arsenal game, the Stoke fans might have had even more to cheer about.

The stadium, as has often been said, is a great venue to watch a football match at. No more cramped seats or major fire risks. If anything, it is a little too well-organised with Emirates staff posied to pounce on you if you take a picture of the football during the game. It is quite a quandry considering whether the benefits of the new stadium outweigh the charm and history of Highbury. In spite wanting to say that they don't and that I would have the old place back, I am not sure that I would.

You get the feeling that Emirates doesn't quite yet have a soul of its own, though, and one wonders what a new stadium has do in order to qualify for one. This may also be true of Wembley mark II. Maybe the team needs to win a major trophy there to really enshrine it into the hearts of the fans. Or maybe it needs a bit of rubbish on the floor and a few chips in the paintwork. Or survive a war or two.

I don't want to do the usual pop-sociology rant about a sense of belonging and being part and subuming one's identity into the mass but I must say that I like the feeling of wearing the uniform and sitting with several thousand other people doing the same. The only downside about the overwhelming redness of the people is that it is more difficult to spot yourself on TV; unless you are Van Persie or Fabregras that is. Arsenal, a construction that persists for as long as we believe that it does, is something we all had in common. It is not the same as knowing the same Lord and saviour though and the only way I can think to combine the faith and the uniform would be to join the Sally Army.

I guess celebrating with that many people did put me in mind of the great cloud of witnesses and the life to come. Maybe there is something a bit transcendent about the experience of watching football. Not that it is a religious experience as such but it is certainly a major challenge the egocentric belief that I can meet all my own needs, I am enough by myself, and all the other ways I can think of being selfish. If nothing else a team is something that is shared

That is not to say that massive crowds are necessarily always that virtuous. Stoke had a song about Wenger that was pretty unpleasant although not as bad as the Man U ones. There was a bit of tolerance and understanding for all that though like when a couple of renegade stoke fans unvieled their flag at the end of the match from within the Arsenal territory and all this provoked was a degree of mirth. We may not be greatest singers in the world but at least we don't kill people. Actually Arsenal home fans are terrible singers. When the attendance for the year at the Emirates flashed up on the video screen at over 2 million, the Stoke away fans piped into a chorus of: 'Two million and you can even sing,' and they were right. Even the Mexican wave didn't get all the way round. One hopes Carlos Vela wasn't unduly disapponted.

Getting a bus down Blackstock Road after the match is not the most time-frienfly pastime with the centre of Finsbury Park all clogged up with people and cars. It was by foot then that I progressed down to Stoke Newington to stay with my brother. I almost beat the bus back to Lordship Road, it arriving with one stop of the route remaining. I got on of course, not to be outdone, only to be held up for quite a while by temporary traffic lights and a narrow section of road. This was not the most auspicious way to end the journey and was a little concerned that other passenger might identify me as a one-stop-wonder.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Muppet Football

May 10th Fulham 3-1 Aston Villa

We just went to Craven Cottage to see Fulham get the better of Aston Villa. We were sitting near the away fans in block Z in the front row, about as near to the action as you can get. It was pretty amazing to see the speed the game is played at now. At points I felt the skill of the players on the pitch had surpassed even that of mine and my brother's at our peak. Well, I guess that's not right; I should only speak for myself. That's me by the way, over there, on the left. Or is it Beaker from the muppets? Judging by this photo [below] of me and my dad at the much you might not be able to tell the difference that easily.

It's all too easy to get that turned down mouth going if you are a mere puppet. As a human, with a range of facial expression potentially even greater than that of a muppet. You have to practise at eleminating all traces of a smile from your face whilst having your picture taken. Glad to see my Dad doing significantly better at the smiling thing, and this was before Fulham had won the game. Actually, even when the ref had blown there was something of a delay before he was able to accept the result; in footballing terms this may be a useful defence.

Sitting near the Aston Villa fans and feeling slightly targetted by their not so friendly verbal abuse, it was difficult not to gloat when Fulham went ahead decisively in the second half after a much pretty even contest in the first. Well, it wasn't that difficult as I didn't even try. It seems like there is a kind of energy robbery that takes places when the opposing team scores. The victors simply suck it out of you with their collective psychotic hoover. This energy then is torn back later on if your team scores. As well as on a group level, micro-excahnges take place between inidividuals in the opposing stands too, alternatively appropriating or reliquishing one's joy to another on the basis of eye contact in the aftermath of a score; when Villa equalised Iwas robbed by a middle-aged lady who was probably someone's mum.

It is funny: we thought we had seen probably the best Premier league match of the day but were a little disappointed later on when Match of the Day didn't place it higher up the roster of games. Of course, it was interesting though to see an event on telly that I had been at in person but I couldn't help but feel that the tube hadn't really done the thing justice. Luckily, we have other forms of technology to record the event such as digitals cameras.

On the way home I tried to blame my brother for taking the photo at a deliberately vulnerable moment in my life but in truth I think that beaker of a facial expression pretty much sums up the kind of week I had had. During the previous week, I couldn't help but run a few equations through the mind dividing the amount of time I do things I don't like doing by the amount of time I do things I enjoy and knowing I couldn't expect a result anywhere near '1'. But there was no doubt by the end of the day on Saturday that we felt we'd seen something spectacular. This was a feeling obviously shared by Fulham's number 4, Pantsil, who did a lone lap of honour all the way round the pitch at the end of the game which he thoroughly deserved by the way.

Pantsil lap of honour:

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Learning Camp

Well I just went camping with some friends and we had a great time. These are friends that I have known for some time. Each one in his own way with a commitment to living a spiritual life. This made for some interesting learning experiences. As ever with spending time away with a group of people, it called for acceptance tolerance and understanding as we all tried to get along as well as we could. Since though, everyone had put their best foot into this shoe of acceptance, it made for something of a remarkable atmosphere of support and community. Where one person had a gap in their kit, another filled it. So by the end of three days we had no need to washing up liquid guy or sponge guy to chuck it down the hill as both items had been considerately stationed by the wash tap. This did away with need to catch the flying sponge but other than that it was favourable.

We talked at times on a quite personal level and to hear people I knew well be willing to be honest and open was quite heart warming on the cool evenings. What lies behind the 'you' I percieve you to be is sometimes quite different. I came away feeling that these people, and perhaps everyone, deserved more love and tolerance than I usually give people credit for. Not least of all myself, of course. I left assured that we were alike in the respect of our determination to live sunny side up, shining forward into personal challenges now better understood while perhaps no less grave in themselves.

This brief trip became the testing ground for many principles. For example, we proved that it is easier to pack your stuff for the return journey than it is on the outward journey. The cause for this though remains a bit mysterious. Here's another one: 'pursuing winning streaks doesn't necessarily work'. I got a classic CD for a pound in the Heart Foundation shop then tried to follow it up with a flurry of quick buys at the CD and record fair Great Malvern. Two, to be fair, were good, it was just the drum machine on the Bobby Womack gospel album that let the side down. I guess lastly I learned that it is better to live the strengths and weakness of my fellows than among the chilling vapour of isolation.

Me and my most local neighbour both marvelled at one point on the kindness of the older lady running the campsite who seemed to have a natural balance and good will that most Londoners would not demonstrate. When I told her I was not feeling too well, this was on Sunday feeling a touch of faituge, she opened up the bunk house and gave me a blanket.
Camping of course lives and dies by the weather and, although we had a renowned rain-attractor in the camp, we did pretty well during the day although it was cold during the night. One among our number has proven that in the absence of a hat, you can wear pants on your head for some heating benefits. I personally was freezing on two out of three nights. I discovered that, amazingly, if you put a foil survival blanket under your roll mat it reflects the heat so well it feels like an electric blanket, in spite of the fact this was not my idea. I might be 36 but I am still getting used to the fact that my assessements are not always right.
You know most of us went away last year together plus one more friend who was to far away at the time but 12 months can be a long time if you live one day at a time and these men are different. These are friends who are committed to their personal growth and change right down line. Men who will look you in the eye in the newness of their discovered confidence promising that it does get better and that best may yet be to come.


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Reflections on the Trip

I think I am in danger of getting back to normal. Getting on the phone to do a round of sorting things out; organising stuff out of the bag and delivering fridge magnets to my parents (nice ones). I am pretty pleased with the mug I bought, too, so all is not lost.

In spite of the normality of England and an inital wave of news media and information, the heart still glows with the memories of being out in the winds of the trip. I expect this to condense down into something of greatest hits package over time but presently I can still access some of the detail, so I'll try to mention a few things before they get compressed and filed away until I am old.

I remember driving with Helen back from the meeting in Tesaria; both sites of the pillars of Hercules visible to the left and down separated by a great swathe of water. I remember meeting people who seemed similar to other people I know or have known in my life including some very similar versions of 'the original': Chris was very much like Chirs; Benji a bit like Matt etc. I remember having met the Antonios and walked past an old Moorish city wall in Seville, then taking the bus and finding myself on a kind of high. I can feel the dissonance between expectation and reality challenging my tourism of the otherness of places like Morocco where their point of relating is largely out of desperation and our point of relating is out of curiosity. I can see the influence of power and politics allowing and preventing travel and grading citizens of nations into classes according to their nations relative power and prestige, as well defining borders that include or exclude (or both at the same in the case of Gibraltar) and so go on to influence the language, customs, belief, prosperity and values of the relative territories.

I could feel the ego straining against the reality of being a tourist whilst wishing to be doing something entirely unknown and original; finding people on remarkably similar itineraries to my own. I guess, though, if they were going to anywhere, they'd be in Andalucia. I can feel a sense of a liberal American confidence, with an international presence, growing strong now that the figurehead of the Iraq travesties, Bush, has been removed. I know that the adventurous heart would not, of its own accord, wish the Faustian pact to be over with; it does not relish the routines and rigours of London life.

I can feel that I am perhaps more defined by my hopes, beliefs and faith than by anything else. I can see these flags flying above the level of hardship and pointing to a fulfilment that one's present circumstances may seem to preclude. It is these keep the body moving forward through what ever it has to face; the roots in the heart that allow me to answer 'yes' to the question 'is it worth it?'

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Day fourteen Going Home

I just met some nice people today including a guy from the States and a girl from France. It has been a day of talking in the kitchen and in cafes as well as a brief visit to the museum del Trios in the rain. Benji talked some real sense about the madness of the Enron fiasco in the states but tempered his views with a statement of hope about the innovation and zeal to move ahead out of this economic crisis there is in the States.

It is sort of a feeling of being in limbo here at present. Just about to fly but certainly feel richer for having done the trip. Although I am an absolute travel novice compared to many of the pros here, I have seen and done a lot in two weeks. I feel mentally tired and ready to go home. I have some memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life and have experienced hospitality and goodwill from almost everyone. I have not seen the news or read a newspaper for two weeks and do not know anything about what´s going in the world. This seems to be an advantage to an extent in terms of not worrying unnecessarily about stuff. I have let go of some cold fear that built up in me over the winter and feel good about the spring and summer in the UK.

If I have learned anything it is that sometimes some of the winter creases only come out by a prolonged airing in some hospitable foreign place, or in Cornwall or Scotland.

Here are some other points... that stress is a reality. No one seemed to have much of good word to say about London. There are plenty of very positive well adjusted, slightly younger than me, young people in the world. Americans are travelling again, especially Californians. People are visiting the Balkans inclusing Kosovo and getting well treated. Spanish people have a lot of foreigners living in their country. The Med is a kind of cultural eco system all by itself. Many English people live happy lives here. It is possible to travel with a limited diet. The run up to going away is more stressful than going away.

The natural world is beautiful. Kites make people happy. Many Spanish people drink sensibly. Tapas is free in Granada. The most beautiful places in the world are the most sought after places in the world. The pound has lost a lot of value and it mainly affected us, not the rest of Europe. We live very privilidged lives compared to Morrocans. Some people have a lot of money. Many Spanish Catholics appear to relate to statues as spiritual dieites in and of themselves. There are a great deal of people travelling who speak good Spanish as a second or third language. There are layers of history here that can present you with a flavour of the past. Spain is much bigger than the UK. Evolutionary biology would reduce all this to something meaningless. God is bigger than we think he is.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Democracy is painful. Day 13 Al Alambra

I got up at 6.15 to try and get tickets for the Al Alambra which I though was pretty impressive. I expected to see the streets filled with punters competing for the 1000 tickets released each morning (in addition to 75% sold through the internet) for sale on the day. I ate a hasty breakfast but couldn´t get the gas to work to cook my eggs. Leaving with a hole in my breakfast I took to the cold streets.

The first person I saw passed me on the steps leading up to entrance. He was going at a real pace, overtaking on the outside and easily, and I thought "Fine, let´s stay relaxed. There´ll be enough tickets. When I got to the queueing area the line itself was growing at a rate of knots. I placed myself two bends away from the ticket issuing area, estimating about 100 people and perhaps half an hour of waiting ahead once the desks opened.

The people behind me in the queue and I quickly became acquainted, each of us sharing our best guess as to whether we´d get tickets and, if so, how long we´d have to wait. I bet "yes" and "half an "hour". The spanish guy said "yes" and "much more than an hour". The Swedish lady with a black labrador called Cherie (as in ´Cherie Blaire´, she told me) left to go and feed the dog, and whilte we were saving her place, she didn´t come back. That left us pretty short of entertainment; the dog had been a bit of a focal point.

The Lebanese couple behind me and I got talking. They both lived in Essex and were Anglicised; he was a surgeon and she taught Arabic. Our mood went through various phases of hope and despiar as we sought entry to one of the most famous monuments in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Once we turned the last bend, our spirits rose. The lady over the tannoy informed us there were about 80 tickets left for the morning and somewhere over 200 for afternoon. By the time I got to the front, that was eight tickets for morning. It struck me later how crucial it was that I hadn´t been held up by cooking those eggs. They could have made all the difference. I was served at 10am and I got a ticket for the afternoon some three hours after joining the queue. Don´t worry, I got those eggs as soon as I got back.

I came back at 2pm for my visit, praying that were wouldn´t be anymore queueing. Actually though, the jostling for the entrance was about as nasty as it got, with peoples nerves getting a bit frayed. I had a French (I think) guy pushing me from behind when he judged I´d cut him off. Once we got inside there were people everywhere and I started to think, "this better be good." I went straight down to the palace for my 2.30pm entrance and had to line up for another 20 minutes or so. I very nearly made an internal decision not to enjoy it, to get them back of course. Just managing to realise this was a bit pointless, I held my nerve.

Once inside, the palace was truly beautiful though. Some very ornate carving that must have taken years. Some patioes laid out with great balance and a very light touch. Some carved wood in the ceiling and some interesting geometrics here, and a series of ornate swirly carved columns there, and several rooms of this quality.

Later, looking out at the view of Albacin and the white Sierra Nevada I was glad that I´d got through all the nonsense from earlier. I felt warm inside and the wheels of my heart turned to register the completion something I´d wanted to do for a long time. Next stop, Taj Mahal. I was told that the palace was only constructed at a very great cost, almost runing the country at the time. Concentrating all that beauty in one place was, of course, a highly undemocratic act, leveraging a great deal of resources for the appreciation of only a very few. We do it differently now, making such places open to the public for a fairly reasonable price. But, of course, everybody wants to go. This is a kind of opposite to the situation prevailing at the time of the Moorish Kings but perhaps it comes at the cost of dilluting the experience. It seems that the monument is a bit too lean to be carved up and given out to everyone.

How greatly these human economies differ from what we hear of God´s economy and Kingdom. "In my Father´s house there are many mansions", and if you would indulge me to add, "And you don´t have to queue up to get in. These little time slots are not alloted to you in order that you may briefly take in their beauty before you are cattle herded down the road. The poor are welcome and they are not difficult to clean." I love this life (sometimes) but it is interesting to hope for the reality of these things that may be made manifest in times to come, and of whose true dimensions and beauty we do perhaps glimpse from time to time among of our man-made achievements.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Day 11 and 12 On the Road to Granada

I left Tarifa yesterday morning which was sad. I could have spent another week there, weather permitting. Actually, I could have spent another week everywhere in terms of how much each place has had to offer. But in terms of stamina, I don´t think I could do it. Today I have felt exhausted after a day travelling by bus, train and on foot to get to the Hostel in Granada.

In the morning I met a guy called Chris and his wife from LA. Now Chris both physically and gesturally resembled my friend Chris who lives in the UK but is from LA and whom I had spoken to only the previous night on the electric telephone. Strange world.

The first leg of the journey took us all to Algercias by bus where we got tickets for the later train. There was time to look around so I stowed my luggage and walked around Algercias. Not a lot to report I am afraid. I may have missed the interesting bits due to the lack of time and maps etc. You can see Gibraltar clearly from the port, though, which is nice, and over the sea to the north coast of Africa. You can see why the Brits wanted to hang onto that rock that forms part of the entrance to the Med with a strategic significance second to none. Well, except the Suez canal maybe.

The train journey started with a few modest hills but gradually built into a bit of an epic with deep gorges and fast streams and included powerful views visible in strips, like a slow cinema reel, through the open slats of a long bridge. This scenery manifest naturally in Ronda where my Americans friends got off.

Later on, the land planes out a bit into a kind of valley dotted with thousands of citrus bushes. It was not like a sunny version of Rannoch Moor, with alternative vegetation. At the end of this long stretch, instead of Glencoe, you have Granada just ramped up against the side of the Seirra Nevada. White peaks crowning the ancient seat of Moorish power still telling its story through architecture.

I had a bit of a scare when I realised I´d been given two addresses for the hostel but my useful contact in the UK sorted that one out for me, texting me the directions. But not before I´d been through about five stages of panic. I was running out of time to get to the meeting so I took a taxi to the hostel. I might have been overcharged by the cab driver getting to the hostel but only by about a Euro if anything.

I took a half hour walk to the meeting where met a couple of guys who were pretty settled in the area and both spoke excellent Spanish. We went out for Tapas afterwards which is, apparently, free in Granada. They brought up a place of three burger type things with chips and all for the price of the drinks. On the way back I cleverly got a bus going the right way but which, uncleverly, was on a detour due to the Semana Santa processions and which ended up taking me I don´t know where. That was another 40 minutes walk and I was wrecked when I got back.

Today, I have been pretty tired but have managed to get to the Cathedral and had a look around the Albacin, which is the old Moorish quarter with narrow streets. There are some nice view points at the top of the hill from which to look down on the Al Alambra and the mountains beyond, crowned white with a layer of April snow, and down onto the large plain in which the city is built.

I have the feeling that I am not quite doing this town justice due to fatigue but I have seen some quite unique sights. Tomorow the challenge is to get up early enough for tickets to the Al Alambra which are all sold out on the internet.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Day Ten - On the Road Around Andalucia

I heard that Tarifa has the highest suicicide rate in Europe - because of the strong wind apparently. It is hard to believe that the wind cancels out all the sunshine and relaxation but I guess it´s different if you live here all the time. I found it quite charming to see all the sails of the kite surfers in the sky. As a child I didn´t have a great deal of success with kites, except in landing them.

This morning I met a guy from the fellowship who had taken the trouble to drive to meet me as we had missed each other on the previousWednesday. It turns out we had quite a lot in common, including both being musicians, although he a far more experienced and recorded one than I, both having had a similar religious background, both having lived for quite a long time in the depths of south London and both being English language teachers. This is something of a conincidence, no? We chatted for a couple of hours and raised a house of very reasonable ideas that you could live if you put them into practice. He, let´s call him Ruperto, seemed very much the kind of man who does put them into practice too. He is a bit older than me and, in so being, indicated some kind of direction in which I might seek to travel; all those similarities describing the potential for grace and maturity I might aim for as I travel on.

In the afternoon I flew some more mental kites and kept a few in the air for quite a long time - much longer than I would have been able to a few years ago. Time passed pleasantly on the beach, ducking the wind in the hollow of the dunes, and being washed in waves by a hestitating but warm sun. Here, some old frozen pieces of the English winter got noticed in their little hidey holes and were compelled to make for the door, they being no match for the light.
He, Ruperto, put me in touch with a lady who was driving to an English meeting someway passed Gibraltar. She, let´s call her Angelica, agreed to pick me up from Tarifa and took me through the stunning hills and coast of Andalucia, through some of the white towns and villages to the meeting. She told me that Gibraltar has something of a twin on the other side of the straight - another huge great rock on the Morrocan coast - and that these two together formed what was known as the pillars of Herculas. They are both located at what is effectively the gateway to the Meditteranean. Apparently, Tarifa gets its name from the port at which you had to dock to pay your ´tarif´to enter safely past the pillars into the Med proper. It is quite a sight to see them there and makes you realise how long there has been a civilisation around the Med. Angelica was a bit of an angel, it´s true, offering true hospitality and the hand of the fellowship to a perfect stranger; and we parted friends.

Just enough time then to sit and watch the birds fly as the sun goes down back in Tarifa before moving on Grenada tomorrow. I´ll be sorry to leave though. The wind is strong round here - strong enough and warm enough, and with grit from the Sahara, to blow the cobwebs of the English winter clean away. I´d like to pack the birds and take them with me. Hey, why don´t we have flat roofs in the UK?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Day Eight and Nine Gibraltar / Tarifa

Well I have been to Gibraltar, something I´d always wanted to do. It is quite a trip from Tarifa and although it doesn´t look like a long way on Google Earth, when you add in a few totally unexplained pauses for fifteen minutes or so along the way, it takes quite a long time to get there by bus. One problem I did not have though was locating Gibraltar itself once I´d got off the bus at La Linea: if only everything was as easy to find as a 500m rock island towering above everything else in its proximity. From there you walk across the border effectively from Spain into the UK which is a trip. Within the space of twenty metres or so, all the road signs change and you get street names like ´Winston Churchill Avenue´. There are plenty of symbols of royalty around as well as red post and telephone boxes; the later now just for show though sadly.

It was another case of small distance geographically, big difference culturaly and, as something of a surprise, meteologically. It is just that the weather had been fantastic right up until the time I crossed the border when, suddenly, on the British side, it clouded over and got a bit blowy. Driving is more aggressive on the Gib side too and the attitude of the people is somehow more reserved.

One surpise which greeted me early on was there are a people there - the Gibraltans - who are basically ethnically Spanish and who speak Spanish but who are fairly robustly happy with their British nationality. They can at, a moment´s notice, stop sounding Andalucian and provide you with the English of a fluent native speaker from the London area. I spend quite a lot of time listening to people´s English and thought the first person I met must have spent quite a long time in the UK. Later though, as the amount of Gibraltans who did this to me piled up I realised that it just seems to be the dialect they have acquired in the territory. The other thing is, they seem to have slightly different features from the mainland Spanish: eyes a little closer together and smaller; intense.

Of course there are plenty of ex-pat Brits there too and no doubt they are considered within the range of the territory´s typical constituent population but in one sense they appear not to be the ethnic Gibraltans. These must be those who since 1704 have mainly chosen to maintain their language, customs and appearance alongside the British political and cultural presence. Something of this presence, though, has been absorbed by the native people who now seem something of a genitically modified people people posessing DNA from both sides.

The rock itself is quite interesting although some of it sort of fenced off by the M.O.D. It is tempting to imagine some sort of neo-Manhattan project being hatched somewhere in the middle of rock - a belated attempt to propel Britain back to its true status as the world power. There are plenty of birds flying around at the top indicating all the best views to the sightseers, pointing wing tips down to Algercias and La Linea on one side and back up the South-Eastern side of the Peninsula on the other. Old gun placements, pill-boxes and back garden style bomb-proof shelters abound. The monkeys don´t seem quite so involved, sadly, preferring their own counsul to interracting the humans.

Once I´d been to the gardens for a rest and a meal (tuna, red quinoa and salad) I headed up to hospital hill to meet the friends of Bill W, then it was back to the border for a last chance bus ride back to Tarifa. As much as I do like to plan these days, it was good fun not knowing whether there would be a bus or not. Lively; jaunty.

Back here in Tariffa things are pretty relaxed. It is good friday and I have been on the beach wondering what to do with my life. The sun struggled to appear earlier as the kite surfers got their sails into the wind. Gradually as the clouds disolved, the warm currents of the sun gave a little thermal boost to my thoughts and sense of well-being.
I get the impression, perhaps not entirely from own best thinking, that to serve - before I return to my home planet). The problem is, I don´t really want to do it, until I am doing that is. It´s a bit like doing homework in that respect. It is interesting to note here that, in terms of observing one´s nature, there is no end to the demands I will place on life to provide me a Faustian never-ending increase in the level of stimulation and reward I recieve. There is a part of me that wants it all for me and doesn´t want to share any of it with you. This is the part of the self that can get you isolated with a mind like hell, raging with a case a with case of perpetual war - if it is not treated. Apparently, it gets treated with service. On good Friday then, the thought struck me that if I think I am going to do any better than the concept and the practice of service I should remember that service is even fundamental to the nature of the One who died on this day. And if it was good enough for him, it´s good enough for me.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Day Seven - A Day in Tangier

Well last night was pretty awesome, watching Arsenal get an away goal in the Bear House - a pub you suspect might have been better named ´The Beer House´ but there you go - with the brass bands of the Semana Santa festival playing outside. What a great goal from Adebayor to give Arsenal a well deserved advantage for the second leg.

I was so inspired I changed my plans for the day and went over to Morrocco. I´d had this crossing in my mind´s eye for some time so it would never match exactly and although I had a good time it might be worth mentioning a few of the differences between the apprehension and the reality. For one thing the boat was closed and didn´t really allow you to go on deck. Much of the first part of the crossing was spent standing in the queue to have your passport stamped. This took some time and when I got to the front of the queue the guy crossed out my surname, Drummond, from the top line of the imigration card and wrote ´Drummond´in its place. Perplexed but free I watch the coastline develop into the continent of Africa.

Getting out of the port was tricky with numerous check poimts and passport related activities. On the outsdide there was quite a lot of opportunistic tourist hunting going on. I was civil to the first guy who collared me and ended up having to be quite rude to the guy after that. I told him I didn´t want a guide. I learned the word for ´no´in Morrocan (la) and repeated it several times. He said he like the sound of ´no´ and that no didn´t mean no in Africa. He got some of my emotion in the end and left it at that.

Walking through the old town was sort of a hustle competition with plenty of people aiming to engage the intrepid tourist in all sorts of haggles and offers. I was offered drugs as well which I politlely refused. I bought a Morrocan football shirt which I hope is an orignal. I went up the hill and found an old English church, St Andrew´s, where a caretaker called Mustapha showed me around. He´s been there 45 years he told me. The church has the Lord´s prayer written in Arabic and an Islamic design to the altar which is quite striking. A nice way of acknowlidging the local life. It also features verses from the Koran on the back wall which don´t seem quite right to me but I guess that´s up to them.

I strolled around the old palace, the Kasbah, hoping for a place to wash my hands but instead was presented with an interesting and at times beautiful run down old castle. Plenty of swirly Arabic styles patterns on the floors and in the ceilings and a description of the many layers of history in the area around Tangier, including a Roman period. Hummed the old clash tune to myself as I walked round of course, wondering if this was the Kasbah they were planning to rock. The other song I had in my head all day was Jackson Browne´s song where he sings ´You say Morroco and that da da da dine, I haven´t seen Morrocco for a long long time,´and I quote.

This was good value: getting a bottle of mineral water from a very local looking cafe, with the guy having to run across the square to get it as he had run out. That cost about 60p but I wanted to give him extra for all the effort.

It was striking though how different the people were though. Considering the stretch of water is only a few miles wide the gulf in development and culture is immense. I wonder if there is anywhere in the world that presents such a divide for such a small geographical distance. I am not including the English-Welsh border or anywhere like that either. I strongly got the feeling that it was tough to make a living in Morrocco and in fact one person told me that as a fact. I felt grateful to be part of Europe and could understand clearly why people want to live here legally or otherwise.

Returning to Tarifa was great with a slight sense of sadness that things are so relatively familiar compared with camels on the beach and Kaftans, tall Minarets and fake DVD; pointed slippers and hookahs to blow (which I didn´t); the vastness of the continent beyond and the constant sense of gravity with being a rich foreigner; a target, an opportunity and a mystery.

The sand in my shoes don´t come from Europe.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Days five and six - Puerto de Santa Maria and Tarifa

I just moved down the coast to Tarifa which was an interesting bus trip passing some quite stark hills. Finding the bust stop was the main issue of the day really. It was like the bus didn´t exist for a while. The shelters had long lists of services except the one I wanted and the locals had varied opinions on where the best place to wait was. In the end we narrowed it down and got it right - a kind of group wisdom prevailed where a sign may have sufficed. To be honest though that is the kind of thing I like about travelling, in hindsight, although at the time it is a pain in the neck.

Had a chilled out day yesterday going over to Cadiz just for the boat trip and letting the mind float away with the seabirds. Actually there are lots of birds but if only I could name them, which sadly I can´t. After the boat trip I went out to the dunes and had a relaxing afternoon drifting among the pines. These pines though are not like English ones - their needles are concentrating towards the top of the tree whose branches cluster together in more of a bunch than our angular Christmas tree models.

In the evening I went out to find a meeting that almost didn´t exist either. Well, its location wasn´t on the internet (this is not yet an a priori condition of actual material existence). The taxi driver looked a bit dazed but light bulbs lit and he drove me out to a church with no markings at all on the outside - it looked a bit like a World War II garden bunker, only bigger. Inside were four friends of Bill W including an old guy called Alvaro (ironically sharing the name of my good friend now stranded in England). This meeting was a chaotic affair largely consisting of their asking me questions in Spanish which through force of will and paraphrase I was able to comprehend parts from time to time. It w asn´t a scintilating demonstration of language ability but it was quite a display of good will on their part. After the meeting Alvaro took me for a coffee and told me how much he had suffered in his life. A quite sad moment from a nearly broken man.

Later I took a cup of tea out to see the Santa Semana float for Monday and this time the Nazarenos were dressed in black and looking quite menacing I must say. Some of the ladies crossed themselves when the float carrying Mary passed by. Again, I wasn´t sure if they felt the figure itself had some kind of power or significance other than as a material representation. If I had to guess I´d say it looked like they believed it to be more than a statue.

Well, I am in Tarifa now, in a house in the old town with a lovely roof terrace, a thin TV (what do you call them?) and lots of space and clean air. Other than myself the house is currently empty but other could arrive. But for the time being it my personal palace. I feel quite guilty about this but I slowly accepting thes situation. This is clearly a good problem to have. Hey, guess what? I can see Morrocco from the roof! That´s not something you can say everyday.

This is the base for the next few days from where to get to Morrocco for the day, visit Gibraltar and and generally explore the are

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Day Four - Cadiz

That´s a lot to take in in one day. I took a lovely trip across to Cadiz from El Puerto de Santa Maria in an old boat called El Vapor. I saw some sea birds that I will attempt to name at some later date but some of whom I may have once known the names of. Cadiz is an interesting place, reminding me of Valleta in Malta to a degree. It was interesting to walk around and take in the mix of old architecture. I am not sure what I was expecting, except that I was told to expect that public holidays would throw a spanner in the plans which they did today - the cathedral being closed due to the Semana Santa festival. I did get to see the art gallery though and the castle. I had a few flashes of imagnitive apprehension of the gravity a past now largely lost but somehow giving very brief glimpses of itself when you are not looking.
The Hostel here is really friendly which really improves the quality of the stay.

This Semana Santa thing though is really something else. Those guys with the pointy hats are really terrifying. We just came back from Plaza de Espangne where we saw a cart carrying an image of Christ being beaten on it. Apparently it weighs about 600kg and takes about twenty people to carry it. This was not the time for jokes about wanting to buy a hat, with devout older ladies taking the proceeding very seriously. I could not ascertain entirely well, but I gathered from what people were saying that the figures on the carts are thought to be more than simply reminder of the invisible omnipresent Christ but that they are possess a kind of entity status similar to that of a Hindu type of deity. I think this may vary from person to person, but I got the impression that prayers and promises were offered to the figures. If this is correct, Martin Luther would not, I should imagine, be entirely in favour......
The strange thing was the whole thing had the feeling a 1977 street party. The people seemed really together and at ease with one another which was great to be a part of. My guide was a friendly Spanish guy called Daniel, not known to have been to any Royal street parties but something of a veteran of the whole procession thing. The other thing it was similar to is the New Orleans brass band funeral. The band here had that kind of sway and were dressed in black too.
More later I expect... the Semana Santa goes in til next Sunday.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

El Puerto De Santa Maria Day Three

I have been travelling mainly today getting the train down from Seville to El Puerto De Santa Maria. This seems like a nice town that gets a lot of sun. I managed to negotiate down the price of the room a little bit which is good since my poor old friend remains in England waiting for his passport to leave someone´s in-tray at the home office.

I was a bit whacked out when I arrived so I haven´t seen much of the town yet. I have noted though a couple of excellent superarkets and the prices are much cheaper here. The atmosphere is the hostal is friendly and people seem pretty excited about the upcoming Semana Santa.

Walking back between the hostel where I´d left my camera to the place where I was staying (oops) I happened upon some kind of premliminary hat wearing on the part of the festival participants. I had seen the Semana Santa costumes on the web but I must say it is certainly quite startling to see it in real life. They are apparently not too different from ones worn by the Inquisition.

Not being a Catholic I find some the imagery and poise a bit strange. Contemporary Anglo-Evangelicalism (or something like that) is sort of like ´God loves me even if I am wearing my worst T shirt´so the idea of wearing particular clothing to express particular leanings of the soul is a bit alien to me. It may be going too far, though, as I am tempted to do to imagine that all it does is get in the way of a simple and connection with God. I guess I don´t know everything, as much as I would like to think I do.
It certainly is good to see the Grand Narrative of Easter out there and writ large. It remains even when others fade away. For my own part, I am struggling to see my own life in terms of a grand narrative - one which is and will be characterised by a persistent ability to overcome obstacles in all areas. For example, I have gone through some quite unpleasant periods of treatment for fatigue which have not resulted as I would have wished. I am still not able to move forward the narrative of more hours, more money, better standard of living etc., as mental fatigue persists even where physical benefits have arcued. I cannot present the face to the world that I would like to present. It appears to demand materially from me more than I am able to offer.
Come to think of it, though, the narrative of Easter is not on the face of it a huge success story. Well, it is in the end but not before a crisis that may have appeared quite final. I guess the words of Paul remain true today that for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. There is a pitfall here too, though, and that is the temptation to hide in religion and negate the many aspects of life there remain to be experienced and participated in. So my formula for the day, if I can put it like this is: don´t panic, something good/bad is happening.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Food Hike Day Two Seville

Well, I must say it can be difficult managing more than one obsession, but I´ll try. As if there wasn´t enough to worry about regarding money, there´s also food to get ones mental teeth into. I suppose a day that inlcudes seeing one of the world´s most spectacular Cathedrals need not be dominated by food in principle. Add to that the opportunity to view some of the maps made by 16th Century Spanish explorerers in the Archive of the Indias and that amounts to surely at least a temporary distraction from the process of buying, preparing and eating food. I have to say I found the documents quite breathtaking, things like the first map of Mexico and pen and ink outlines of Florida and Cuba. Wow! I think I have my dad to blame, genetically, for an interest in archives. I haven´t even mentioned the spectacular Alcazar, the little brother to Granada´s Alahambra but certainly quite spectacular. Amazing- a civilisation that makes swirly bits on building in a style so different to ours it can take your breath away.

It is great to be here and I am starting to feel a bit of good old ´straight buzz´. It is just that I seem to be spending half the time in food related activities. This food plan I am is quite limited including further restrictions due to the presence of a couple of gut nasties that you don´t want to know about. That´s part of the reason why I walked across the city with no fewer than two backpacks stuffed with food. It might have been my imagination but I am sure my heavy laden appearance - imagine a backpack with three Ewoks hanging off my back and further bag with two Ewoks in the front - caused some mirth and casual comment from people in Cafes. (They didn´t know this was against my principles).

I got this food at a dawn raid on a local supermarket that did sell food but only at prices that stang. It did strike me though that this period of a weakened pound might be good not only for our exports but to feed the domestic market with home grown products. That´s my policy and I am sticking to it. It could be the beginning of an argyument for protectionism.

When I arrived at the hostal it had a sign on the bedside table about not eating and not drinking that with the best will in the world I will not be able to comply with - weighing and measuring dried quinoa in a bench down by the river the only viable alternative.

Later, I met some of the friends of Bill W in a home for retired nuns. One of whom was quite strident in directing me down the corridor to the location of the meeting. I found the room and met the guys. Everyone seemed to be called Antonio. Strangely, the secretary misheard my name also as Antonio and I was temporarily able to join the party - until I corrected him that is. I may have imagined it but I think he looked a bit disappointed. The leader, Antonio, gave me some literature in Spanish for practice which I have taken to heart in preparation for a potential inaugarul share in Spanish. Who knows? It might even make more sense than my Italian share (I hope so).

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Seville is in the money

I am just going to thack this onto the paper and edit it later. I landed OK in Seville, well, with a little help from the pilot. I found the airport a little lacking in facilities though. I had hoped for an ATM that had some money in it or a bureau de change. Neither seemed much in evidence but a line of travel weary but philosophical Spaniards not quite moaning about the inconvenience made it almost worthwhile. I managed to change some money at the Iberian airways desk and lost about 50p in the process due to a spontaneous 1 for 1 excahnge rate. This loss was offset rather well though by the lady manning the the information desk. When I asked her for change she gave me 2E30 which was the exact change for the bus and wouldn´t hear of me breaking my note. I told her she should be promoted. It got still more interesting money wise when I arrived at the hostel and they had charged me for two nights including the one I had cancelled. They refunded this including a seemingly random extra Euro that had ventured onto the bill from nowhere.

I think I am obsessesed with money. It is not that I love it, it´s just that it seems to get involved in all aspects of life. There you go, the only escape is service, voluntary work and true compassion.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Money and other illusions

Hello my lovely people.

I doubt I shall be able to say anything new about money since better people than me have been thinking about, reasoning with it and earn more of it than me for since yonks ago. However, it still does seem to need a mention with all the G20 business and the protests going in London. People are obviously very upset -- putting bricks through the windows of banks and stuff like that. It is hard to see from this vantage point how far these protests are based on ideology and how much on character defects like blame and envy.

I know there is a recession going on but I get the distinct impression that there are several million people complaining of the present difficult circumstance whose situation has not worsened at all. There is an influence on the national mood that is in addition to the net material changes in circumstances. It seems a bit like the nation catching a virus. This virus though only infects thinking and mood and makes you feel that things are worse than they really are. This doesn't refer to people who really have lost jobs and homes etc like some of my favourite colleagues at work who, for the record, have not complained at all to my knowledge.

It would be a bit hard to get worked up about the stupidity of global gambling on assets that don't quite really exist if it didn't really affect a lot of people somewhere. If it were not for that, it would seem like the biggest joke of all time. I am in danger of indulging in the latest national pastime -- kick a banker. I doubt they are particularly worse than anybody else. Lots of people gamble for a living. It would seem to be an advantage though at least to gamble on a real horse rather than a notional one.

Today I bought a cash passport and loaded it with some Euros. Although the home office still have my friend's passport, I'll travelling tomorrow and I needed a bit of back up. Or, more to the point, I felt like I did. They are like debit cards but without the bank account and with a £1.50 charge every time you withdraw money from the ATM. Not bad for a little peace of mind I suppose but certainly, in a small way, an example of an industry that employs quite a lot of peopel and makes quite a lot of money for just moving numbers around from one computer system to another.

I am not an economist but in my head it strikes me that this type of industry must be underpinned by a far greater proportion of economic activity that is genuinely based on a mutually favourable excahnge of things that have been developed out of material natural resources. I suppose I see things like agriculture and manufacturing as giving our economy gravity. In some way I see a move towards an economy dominated by service industries as being Lando's Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back -- a thing that doesn't look like it should be standing up by itself but somehow it does. I know the argument about the more developed economies supplying skilled services etc that newer econmies don't do it is just that -- aren't we pegged to the greater currency of what natural resources we have and how we make them into things we can exchange really?

I read in Nial Ferguson's book The Ascent of Money that if I lend you the bank £100 and they keep £10 on deposit and lend the other £90 out to the next borrower, effectively they have created some wealth; an additional £90. If the second lender then deposits that money in a different bank, who, in turn, lends £80 of that to another lender there are now held as deposits £270 from an original £100. The problem is that the additional £170 is only really a notional reality. It only exists in thin air. Thin air might look thin but it can really come back to haunt you like the hounds at head of this credit crunch. That's not bad for an illusion.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Our passports of yesterday

Well, I am about to go off travelling into Spain which is good. Some years since the Spainish world cup (1982?) I still remember the little orange with the smily face which was sort of the mascott of the tournament. This little fella is still famous, as my Spainish students informed me last year, going by the name of Narahito apparently.

We have got a few last minute complications with the trip. My travel partner is waiting for his passport to be returned from the home office, we hope with all the requisite stamps and stuff. It looks to be going right down to the wire in terms of whether it arrives in time for us to depart at the same time.
Significant though this may be in the stress-before-leaving stakes it only registers somewhere mid-table in terms of the all time classics (of all time). I like the incident that befall myself and Lewis last time I went to Spain - we arrived at the airport on Wednesday only to discover that the flight was on the Thursday. Oops! It is funny how things can get stuck in the head and no matter what is shed by the cold light day of day onto the black of the paper before you, it remains unchallenged. If this can happen with flight dates it must go even further in terms of assumptions abouts peoples motivations, intentions and behaviour.

Another one was the time I was leaving a semester of work in Macedonia, with a family member I'll try to keep anonymous although he looks like me and is fairly near my age. We got the border between Macedonia and Greece only to find that the bank he changed his money at in Tetovo - some two hundred miles north of our present position - had failed to encouage an effective passport recovery routine with the customer in the final stages of the transaction. Nothing for it but one of us to North and the other to go South. I did feel pretty lousy about that one I must say.

Another one of geographical similarity and documentary proximty was during mine and my colleagues great escape from the chaos of Macedonia during the commencement of the bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia. Mary's passport had run out some months prior to the Macedonain stoning of the British Consulate and not been renewed. She had to the run the gauntlet of helicopters and chaos of the time to go back into Skopje and meet the foreign office guy in a location some-wise removed the consulate in order to hand over travel documents to get her into Greece.

When she returned to the town down south where we were staying we made paln to get across the border back into EU. Cabs arrived and we loaded our stuff into them. I was in one cab with Mary and Jo and Catherine and Aisling were in the cab in front. When we got to the border crossing with Greece the cab in front went through the official document check and so on and so on and was about to pull away when Mary recalled that her travel documents were in the boot of the car in front. We somehow managed to communicate this and interrupt the car's progression into Europe just long enough to get the boot open and retrieve the documents.

So today we await news of whether the comtemporary of these other auspicious documents is likely to arrive before Thursday. Something of a rigid planner these days (I had to do something with all that energy after I gave up smoking) I now have two rather different plans in the mind in terms of how the trip will pan out. I guess the trips I like the most though don't have every detail hammered out in advance so this could be a good thing.

I'll let you know..... I just gotta get there and bring back some memorabilia from the Spain 82 World Cup.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Weather Rant

Yes it's true that everything comes a standstill in the UK during extreme weather. We hardly mobilize at all during the occurrence of snow and apparently other countries laugh at us. It has been calculated the if half the money we'd lost from the economy had been spent on standby services over the last few eighteen years, we'd be slightly better financially, as a nation, now, in the aftermath of the snow.

Yes it's true that's the kind of arcane calculation that dominated much of the broadcasting over the recent period. It is indicative of the fact that our national consciousness or media or both is dominated by thinking in terms of money. It is said that we are largely de-politicized in the UK but I haven't found this to be the case. I would be hard pushed to find someone who did not have an opinion on public policy. Especially when it comes to the actions or inactions of the local authority.

I must admit, as a council employee who didn't do anything during the bad weather I feel I could have been better employed. Although usually employed in the realm of teaching adults ESOL and literacy, if I had been asked to volunteer to get on a buggy (my imagination fails me... a what... a kind of snow plough troop carrier, open to the elements) to go out and clear pavements. I'd have done it; we'll maybe for a few hours. The thing is, nobody else did it. I am in my thirties. I like walking and I wear walking boots. I slid around and walked cautiously. I reckon it was even harder on the physically infirm, the disabled and the elderly.
One thing that was nice about the weather was that people started thawing out and becoming a little bit more human - even in Croydon. It was like, well, I can't charge down this road at the moment because there's ice on it. On a public level, we could do other than acknowledge our weakness, or perhaps powerlessness over the weather. Something of the insidious self-importance and self-will fell away from us.
It was great to see the roads getting usable again and I felt grateful to the trailblazers who had dug their cars out early and got out on the roads who help to wear down the snow to the level where they were truly drivable again.