Wednesday, August 29, 2007

a Christmas letter from the Maghreb

Christmas Eve 2006, 24 December

We arrived in September and wilted. I am still trying to digest the realization that was the “Fall heat”, the heavy duty stuff is yet to be seen – come June 2007 we may be requesting shipments of ice packs.

Q has made some wonderful friends here in the Villa and has had many adventures. The DOD did her a wondrous favour and sent along a few of its Finest. One of whom (Captain, Special Forces Marine Corp) recognized her core of steel and announced it to the group; the other two found her beautiful, compassionate, and a good friend. All in all an exercise in raising the self esteem of a brainy twenty-two year old who did not think she was pretty, to new (and deserved) heights.

We both made some new friends, and met some people with whom we would otherwise have never been in close proximity. On 10 December there was a mass exodus for home, which left us and Sally the Australian. We expect the next group and the return of ‘the English’ and Gorgeous Norwegian Guy on 8 January 2007.

I have made significant strides in my writing, my second purpose for coming here. I joined a “writer’s group”, submitted four stories for consideration for publication, and had a wireless conference with a NY agent in regards to the non-fiction book. I am in-process with putting together a query for New York, and in the thrall of a new novel while still working on the one I have going.

We have both, in our own ways, adjusted to life in Morocco. Q is working hard in both her classes at the school, and the private tutoring for translation of Arabic literature. She is getting that ‘thing you get’ when you see a deadline looming – all the Fulbrighters are to present a paper on their work in Rabat come March. We have both learned the Medina quite well enough to navigate our way about. We have had to make the adjustment that even though she no longer needs a “parent”, I am still her Mother, tricky business but we are navigating the waters of living together after having lived apart – and one of us in the interim grew up!

Christmas in Morocco is quiet for us. Q picked up her present in Casablanca a few days ago – A. has arrived. Susie came down from Tangiers last night and will be staying until Tuesday and Sally is here. We are all going to Palais De Fes for a big lunch tomorrow, and the children will be cooking some special goodies for a Christmas dinner. I will pay for the first and show up for the second – my contribution.

The weather since the last of October has been spectacular! Endless blue skies, cool days, and lots and lots of lush green everywhere you look.

My head has been pretty good, just popping up crap at all the wrong times; albeit I am not sure when is a good time for that much pain..

We are planning on leaving Fez in May, as the heat that arrives in June is not bearable. Most likely we shall evac out to Rabat and take over one of the apartments from a Fulbrighter who is leaving to go home – I hope, that will work out well.

AIM is iffy on my computer as the connection (which I am simply thrilled to have!) is not dependable. I have been really at the writing! I have set myself a schedule and a goal of ten pages each day. In the New Year I will strive to be better.

Oh my goodness! I can smell the homemade Raisin Hermit cookies! Bugger, no eggnog for me this year! I doubt even Q in her various languages could explain that one to them! That is a funny picture. I shall miss my Christmas cookies and eggnog, but most of all I shall miss having them with you, along with one of our late night discussions after all else are abed.

Q and A are having a great time. Q is enjoying her role as tour guide and interpreter. They are happy to see each other, and all seems well. 4 January they are leaving for Tangiers (to visit Susie who is here now), then Rabat to visit Pam, then Marrakech to visit someone else – which is great and will save them lots of cash on hotel bills. They are then going to rent a car and visit Ensoura which is wonderful as A wanted to “go to the desert”, oh yea that made me feel that my only child would be snug and safe! Thank goodness, Q decided Ensoura was a better idea.

The writing is really great, but terrifying. I mean what if it is awful? What if no one will publish it? If they publish it, what if no one buys it? It is so nebulous. If the guy from NYC agrees to represent me and sell the “Letters from Fez” non-fiction, that will really set the way. The one thing that is certain is that it is great fun, and unbelievably difficult.

I had A bring me the camera I had ordered, as the bloody shipping was over a hundred dollars!! I didn’t want to buy a new camera, but the agent said the book will need photos, and the ones from Q’s point of view – well that is just another point of view. So I will click away tomorrow and send you our Christmas photos. It is pretty cool, very tiny and chic.

I am going to end as I have not been out of my room in a couple of days! Thought I would take a walk around the Medina this afternoon, see if my new djellaba is ready at the seamstress. I have to get the other one from the cleaners – oh get this; I took two of Q’s sweaters in a couple of weeks ago, three dollars for two sweaters! Three dollars, you believe that?

I am done nursing my sore back from the fall – I thought the box Q was looking for was atop the armoire so I stood the rickety chair at the side and looked, no joy. As I was stepping down the legs of the chair buckled. The chair went flat and skidded out toward the bed. I fell down and onto the wooden Koran holder, which was holding my DVDs and the hit busted it. The action of hitting the wooden stand snapped my head forward instead of back into the wall where it was headed. My right arm was flung out toward the wooden arm of the settee where I had set the paper box with the rest of my leggos. Thankfully, again, my arm hit the box which sent all the teeny pieces of the kit flying but prevented my arm from cracking on the wood. As the wooden stand splintered it slid forward, again pulling me away from the wall. When I came to myself and regained control I was able to pull myself from the morass without serious injury. Inshallah.

Happy Christmas to all!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Coming Over All Bill Bryson

I had a Bill Bryson moment the other day- no, I didn't suddenly start writing laugh-out-loud prose (I wish). In his best-selling, and laugh-out-loud, volume Notes From a Small Island, he describes his road trip around the British Isles; a farewell tour to the country where he had lived for years before moving back to his native USA. In and amongst, he said some rather uncomplimentary things about Bradford. Well, I've been known to express similar sentiments about my home town myself, but Mike Priestley has never wanted to interview me. He did once sell my dad a MkII Cortina, though. I'm like that with the stars, me.

Anyway, one of the very few good things he had to say about the town concerned the National Museum of Film, Television and Photography Media Museum, and particularly the Pictureville Cinema, where he saw This is Cinerama. Cinerama was an early version of IMAX, which can also be enjoyed at the Photo Museum. The film was a showcase of the opportunities provided by the new technology, but Bryson enjoyed it more for the panoramic vision of an idealised 1950s America that it offered. I read the book while I was still living and working in Russia, and determined that I would see the film myself the next time I was home. Alas, catching up with mates in Denholme resulted in a lock-in at the pub, plus more liquid refreshment once we'd staggered home. I never got up in time to recover sufficiently to face the bus ride back down into town in time, and in the seven years that have passed, I hven't tried once to go again. Although it's on my list: The film is still shown every month.

It was this image of a sepia-tinged 1950s that sprang into my mind in the unlikely surroundings of Flamingoland, which is a theme park and glorified zoo. First impressions of the place are grim: with a canny Yorkshire eye for making an extra bob or two - and note it was the best part of thirty quid for myself and a three-year-old just to get in - once you're through the turnstiles you're immediately presented with stalls selling candy floss, ice cream and rats on sticks, just to get your stomach churning nicely for the roller-coasters. You're surrounded by sugar-rushing kids, and despondent parents viewing the lengthy queues for the rides, which were all plastic and soulless. Matters are not helped by the doleful animals in their enclosures, which even in the better safari parks always seem too small, and there is something very dispiriting about watching a Siberian Tiger padding about under a Yorkshire drizzle.

And then, like a vision of the HolyGrail, tucked away like the poor cousin at the back of the park was a wonderful wooden carousel. Take a look at this motorcycle:

The attention to detail is staggering - the sprung saddles; the fuel tap (which, natch, you can't see from this side...); those gloriously valanced mudguards, and the flowing figurehead; a thing of joy, only outclassed by this fabulous conveyance:

Again, you have some great styling touches - the ridge that runs the whole length of the car to become tailfins, the four - count 'em - headlamps; from the driver's point of view you can see not only a radio, but a petrol gauge and temperature gauge. Where do you get these components from? Were/are there suppliers of parts like pretend mudguards to the fairground industry, or was it just some talented bloke scratch-building models in a shed, somewhere in Belgium (in this case)? A luxury sports-tourer, then, from the glory days of American-influenced automobiles, although the punchline is provided by the caravan that it was towing... What saddened me was the contrast between the craftsmanship that some anonymous artisan had put into this ride, and the production-line shoddiness of the more modern attractions. Is it coincidence that this was the ride that Ms Dynamite-e-e spent most time riding on? Particularly given the first photo, I'm tempted to set off musing on Pirsig's ideas on the perception of quality, but I'll leave that for another day and another post. All I will say is fair play to Flamingoland for keeping this relic going, but, er, lads? It shows up the rest of your operation.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Give me the Schottenpreis

I never thought that I would be saying this, but Germans are really funny.

In Germany, everything from mobile phones and internet services to cars, videos and even condoms are marketed as Schottenpreis to emphasise their rock-bottom cheapness.

Even international companies have got in on the act, with Greek-based Superfast Ferries, the operators of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge service, offering Germans trips to Scotland at Schottenpreis.

The VisitScotland web page of special offers boasts: "Nach Schottland zum Schottenpreis" (Travel to Scotland for a Scotsman’s price).

The SNP Members of the Scottish Executive are getting angry "These adverts are crass, they are outdated and they are offensive to Scots and are an outdated and misleading cliché.."

What do we expect after all those years of ridiculing Germans as humourless square heads.

The image of the thrifty Scot began in the 15th century, when large numbers of Scots left for the cities of the Baltic, which at that time were mainly inhabited by Germans.

Large numbers became pedlars, selling very cheap household products, such as pots and pans. And the expression Schottenwaren (Scottish wares) emerged to describe the ultra-cheap items which they sold.

But the jokes are good.

The Germans have a great sense of humour; the problem is they reserve it for the Scots, as these examples show.

Scots traditionally marry on February 29, goes the joke, so that they only need to celebrate their anniversary once every four years.

How can you tell that the trawler coming to the harbour is from Scotland? There are no seagulls in its wake.

"I’ve received some photos from my Scottish pen pal?" "What do they look like?" "Don’t know. Have to get them developed first."

Two Scots fall down a crevasse while in the mountains. The mountain watch is alerted, and the rescue team appears. "Hello, we’re from the Red Cross," one rescuer says. The reply comes from below, "You’re getting no donations from us."

Very funny. Now where were those Kraut jokes again?

Cross Posted at Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe

From Scotland on Sunday

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Google Sky Takes Off

The latest version of Google Earth (4.2) is very cool with the addition of Google Sky. The kids and I just spent a very entertaining and time wasting hour travelling the galaxy. Fantastic free resource.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Grand!

Swansea's Grand Theatre is at the heart of the city's arts and entertainment. The largest theatre in the area, its programme is varied and crowd-pleasing; from the Christmas pantomime to the annual summer repertory season, with the Ladyboys of Bangkok, the Welsh National Opera and Jim Davidson in between, there's something for everyone. The theatre was opened in 1897 by Adelina Patti, a world-famous opera singer who had a home in the Welsh hills, and the first show to be put on was the Japanese opera, The Geisha. The first panto opened on December 20 that year and was Robinson Crusoe.
The theatre soon became a popular venue with the stars of the time including Sir Henry Irving and Ivor Novello.
During the 1960s and 70s, like regional theatres everywhere, the Grand fell on hard times. Television looked set to take over from live entertainment, the theatre fell into a state of disrepair, and there were regular threats of closure.
In the late 70s, Swansea Council purchased the theatre, but it wasn't until the 1980s that a multi-million pound refurbishment package was funded, turning the Grand, once more, into one of the most technically advanced and aesthetically pleasing theatres in the UK.
As I said, its repertoire includes all sorts: tribute bands, 60s has-beens, rude comedians, children's shows, dancers - ballet, Irish, Russian etc - and amateur musical productions, but we like the 'proper plays' best. The rep season was revived in 1997, the year of the theatre's centenary, and has been going strong since. And the summer season is the main opportunity to see drama and comedy in an old-fashioned form. This year we've seen Cash on Delivery (with Curly Watts from Corrie), The Decorator (with Dirty Den from Eastenders), and this week, we're off to see Dead Guilty (with Lorraine Chase of 'No, Luton Airport' advert fame). (I didn't say it was great drama!)
My first experience of the theatre was going to the panto as a child. My mum worked for the local bus company and a few days after Christmas, staff children would be picked up - by bus naturally - and taken to the panto, where we'd be given sweets and told to behave. I loved the panto but hated the experience of being alone amongst all these children I didn't know.
But it set me up for a lifetime of theatre-going. It amazes me how few people know at any point in time what is on at their local theatre. The theatre is jam-packed for the amateur productions and the rude comedians, the tribute bands and the panto, but anything that is billed as a play has far smaller audiences. I'm not sure why that is.
One of my favourite must-sees that comes to the Grand every now and again is the Reduced Shakespeare Company. These three young men (different each time but always three young men) do a range of productions including the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the History of the World, the Bible etc each in one evening. They're jolly jaunts and if you haven't seen them, do!

[russia] depoliticization and the scramble for comfort

[Dollar is currently worth 26.8 roubles. Pound about double that.]

The exciting thing about the fSU is watching the changes. It's like what happened in the west from the 50s on, all happening within one decade here, with Russian differences, of course.

Take housing. The long, ten story housing block here is a different thing to the poor areas of London - security doors, domophone, heating in the stairwells, two lifts, double glazing, two foot thick concrete walls [I just measured them now].

Inside each flat it's what you want to make it. Mine has lacquered parquet floor giving a golden hue in the morning sun and then the modula furniture is entirely what one wishes. Furniture shops abound and we just priced a new kitchen - 8000 roubles [or $320] for the cupboards and shelves.

This is more the local variety of girl where I live - better in the flesh than in photos

My flat is regarded as a "one room" although it is a half "L" shape, twenty feet long and twelve feet wide.

It has the bed/cupboards at one end, the living area at the other near the balcony and half way, on the convex side is the computer station and behind me the door through to the short corridor.

To the left is the kitchen, regarded as large by Russian standards and then the bathroom and separate toilet coming off the corridor to the right. The kitchen is a living area over here, with padded seats in an "L" and a large, all-purpose table.

The price hikes are the downside and an indictment of the bankers and it's this which really started my train of thought I've inflicted on you in many posts. In 1996, this flat was worth about $8000 and by year 2000 - about $12000.

Then, from 2001 through to 2007, the prices went through the roof and you couldn't get this place now for under $80000 if you were lucky because it's well positioned.

In that time, my official salary at the university [barely covering the service costs of the flat and nothing else] went from $70 for the month to about $180 now.

Small shopping for basic necessities - fruit, meat, milk, bread, costs about $30 a pop, lasting about three days - so about $300 a month. The general wisdom here in this city is that one cannot survive below an income of about 12000 roubles or about $450 a month.

So there's a severe shortfall in income and rocketing inflation. What to do?

You have to make it up somehow and this turns every Russian into a "businessman", let us say. By definition, the cash must come in. Must. No one in his right mind uses the state medical services so that's a cost on top of it all.

This is the sort of young lady I'll be forced to work with again from September.

Into this scenario comes credit. Now bear in mind that the post-Soviet Russian is essentially a child, with a handout mentality, a pay later mindset and so credit sits very nicely in that mindset. Sign up for anything, on any terms and say all the right things with a winning smile.

It's credit which has forced the steep hikes and put three times the number of cars on the road in three years, to say nothing of the pollution levels in the atmosphere - almost everyone, including me, has some sort of bronchial problem.

On the other hand and a testament to the genuine popularity of Putin, we're sticking it to the west and refuse to be dictated to by their cabals - we have our own here.

Thus there is still quite a deal of freedom left, that precious commodity, not through any altruism on the part of the government but because they haven't got round to restricting it yet. People are too busy making ends meet to get political.

Don't be fooled by the vocal spokespeople much touted in the west - the average person is far more involved in making money and as change is impossible to effect anyway, a certain depoliticization is in place.

Like you, the scramble is for a better lifestyle [they utilize the English word and call it kom'fort] and any political move which supports that ideal gets huge support over here.

Not unlike you over there.

Below is the Old Russia - the place I lived 10 years ago, when this was taken. Today foreign cars abound.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ian's Holiday Video

Can you see him 47th row from the front, to the right, with the pink hat?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Iain Dale's Diary: Government to Monitor Blogs

Iain Dale's Diary: Government to Monitor Blogs

Iain Dale is covering a plan by the UK Government to formally monitor blogs as part of their strategy of responding to issues covered in blogs. Many are concerned that it is a waste of money and the first step to control and regulation. Look out Big Chip Dale?

My question is how do I get one of those jobs?


Welshcakes from Sicily here, with a post that has nothing to do with Sicily whatsoever:

I used to be able to recite Elvis Presley’s army number. I don’t know what good I thought this feat would do me, but my Dad thought I might have made a passable spy because I could commit this kind of information to memory. [To this day, I don’t have to write telephone numbers down.] Knowing and regurgitating useless facts about our pop idols was just something we did in those days of the Romeo and Bliss girls' comics.

Elvis Presley entered my life after Tommy Steele and by this time we had 45 rpm records that you could stack on the spindle of your record player. I would watch entranced as the stylus arm automatically made its way across, used its side to knock a record onto the turntable then lowered itself onto the edge of the record to play it. Our record players didn’t need to be wound up any more [yes, I remember the gramophone!] and they were portable – not in the sense that an MP3 player is today, of course – but portable enough to put them on the floor in our bedrooms and stretch out beside them listening to and dreaming about Elvis or whoever else was in the “top ten”. It's hard to explain to younger generations the freedom we felt that this gave us: it made the music "ours", you see; we could listen to it in private or just with our friends; we didn't have to share it with our parents [who knew nothing about anything, did they?]

Elvis, of course, outlasted them all: Every time I received a record token as a present or saved up 7/6d [pre-decimal British currency] I was off down to the record shop in Stapleton Road and time and time again I came back with an Elvis recording because they always made it to number one in those days.

And in some ways, I think Elvis was my generation's first anti-hero [although the world had been assured by no less a personnage than Ed Sullivan that Elvis was a "fine, home-lovin' boy"]: he wasn’t baby-faced like Cliff Richard , ill-looking like Billy Fury or seemingly undernourished, as Adam Faith appeared in those days [though the latter became a thoroughly fanciable actor in a later incarnation]. The older “square” generation [though not my parents] were scandalised by Elvis’s pelvis twisting and you only had to look at those shadows under his eyes to swoon! [My Dad roared with laughter at Elvis’s pelvis antics in the film Love Me Tender, which was supposed to be set in the nineteenth century!] We needed anti-heroes, perhaps, because we had been brought up on so many tales of the unmatchable heroes of WW2.

I saw all the Elvis films and couldn’t have told you even five minutes after they finished what had happened in any of them, for I spent their running time snogging in the back row with my boyfriend Clive. All these films were fairly plotless vehicles for Elvis’s voice, anyway. Blue Hawaii was the first Elvis LP my Dad bought me and I still have it, along with the 45s.

How I cried over that version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, absurd though the spoken part is: “Someone said ‘the world’s a stage’”; would it have sounded much less romantic to have said ‘Shakespeare’? Or was that too "square"? And that diction! “I wonder if… you’re lonesome tonight…” I played it over and over again after the break-up of my two-year romance with Clive and even now, when I hear it, I think of a “bright summer’s day when he kissed me and called me sweetheart” .

Then suddenly along came a group called The Beatles and the sound was unlike anything any of us had ever heard before . They looked different too – those strange suits and all that fuss over what were quite innocent haircuts. We transferred our loyalties to the sound of Liverpool and the Elvis releases stopped becoming automatic number ones. I’m ashamed to say that some of us forgot him, for a while. But he was still there, in the background and, older, fatter and often drugged up, he started to stage come-back concerts. I didn’t go for the religious songs he recorded in those later years but I loved the newer versions of the ballads – and strangely enough, my generation discovered, so did most of our mothers! I am listening to the “Love Songs” CD now, as I write.

My favourite Elvis songs? Always on my Mind – the line about “little things I should have said and done” always makes me cry and I think of my Mum; Anything that’s Part of You because I’m such a sentimental hoarder! And Return to Sender because it still makes me want to get up and jive!

When, thirty years ago today, I heard that Elvis had died I couldn’t believe it. It seemed that part of the “punctuation” of my youth had gone and of course it was so sad: all that money; a still fine voice; women who adored him all over the world; yet the king of rock ‘n’ roll had been so unhappy, walled up in Graceland finding solace in goodness knows what. So much has been written about that final decline that I am not going to go into it here, except to say that the death of his twin at birth may have had much more effect on him than we realise and certainly affected his relationship with his mother, whose death I don’t believe he recovered from.

I miss Elvis, who most inconsiderately did not show up in a Carson City supermarket during my one visit to the USA . I imagine him as a stunningly handsome older man, portly perhaps, but with a shock of white hair and still those haunting eyes, wowing the ladies as ever. But it was not to be. Perhaps he would never have been content. Who knows? And like another icon who died twenty years later during August, I don’t think Elvis ever knew how much he was loved.

No reason left for me to live
What can I take, what can I give?
When I’d give all of someone new
For anything that’s part of you

Monday, August 13, 2007


Lady Macleod here from North Africa. Here are a couple of vignettes from life in Fez, Morocco.

I was getting nothing done in my room, I think I have the "I finished four stories and sent them in to the contest and I am having a bit of a let down, and empty emotionally" thing, like you do. So I decided to eat cereal.

I walked into the dining room and 'cute girl from downstairs just moved in haven't met her yet' was at the table. Tilley, who is so sweet we may box her and sell her in the confections aisle, was rummaging in the cupboard. Kristof was just inside the doorway to the kitchen, leaning on the frame eating cereal.

As I opened the refrigerator I heard Tilley's voice but not what she was saying. Kristof said, "Lady Mac," and motioned with his head that Tilley was speaking to me.

"What's that then?" I asked.

"Do you know whose nuts are roasting in the oven?" she asked in her upper crust British accent. I swear to you, straight face, as sincere as if she had been asking after my health.

I stood, looked at her sweet face, then turned to Kristof. I put my hand against his cheek in a gesture of affection and said, "Kristof, darlin', should she not be making this inquiry of you?"

As his face turned an impressive shade of scarlet and he choked a little on his cereal, Tilley realized what she had said.

"Tilley I have no idea whose nuts are in the oven," I said with great conviction, "but no matter what you have heard from those Marines, I didn't do it." I turned and marched with great dignity back to my apartment with the sound of joyful laughter following me.

Shortly after this incident Q returned from class. She walked in the door with that look of someone who has just had the creme from the cat's dish (if you are not British, that is "smug").
"Whatever have you been up to?" I ask. Being her mother, I know that look when I see it.

"W-e-el-l, I felt a bit bitchy during class so I wrote dirty sentences. I made myself write them in grammatically correct Arabic, so it came out: "Fatima would you like to penetrate my dog?", and "Dear Karim would you like to surrender to me?"

"The funny part," she said, "was that my Moroccan teacher just assumed no one would be proficient enough to make up the sentences on purpose; so he thought I had made a mistake. It was great."

Parental advice from Fez: rear your children so that when they are grown they will amuse you.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Don't Mess with Buffaloes

Ian is challenging his friends to spit out the Capital of Botswana on the My Questions Application on Facebook. The answer is here. I had no idea, but I do remember that it was called Bechuanaland (or something like that) from my stamp collecting days. I wonder why he would need that information. Is this a trip plan or idle questioning?

Anyway I liked this video, which has been viewed over eleven million times. I imagine this is the kind of stuff you could see in Botswana if you ever got to visit.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weekly World News to Publish on Pluto

The Weekly World News is to close as a paper tabloid in America and to reopen on Pluto. The paper where almost everything is not true has decided to maintain a web presence only. This news will be a devastating blow to bored shoppers in American Supermarkets, where the paper was a welcome diversion to long queues.

Current stories include a plan by a radical left wing group to rename pawns in Chess. Important stuff and at least you can be sure that it is probably not true unlike other forms of media.

They had an interview with one of the managing editors on the radio this morning and he said that for almost all stories, there was at least some truth in an aspect of the story. Excellent philosophy of journalism. It makes us bloggers look downright trustworthy and we know that we are entertaining. Not sure how to access us in the supermarket checkout however.

Cross posted on Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Random thoughts from North Africa

Snickers is a food group. Yes I do indeed consider Snickers a food group in the two to three days that follow a migraine. I have been diligent all my life about eating healthy and exercising. It has paid off with general good health, a kick ass attitude, and the continuing flirtations of handsome men, however I have a deal with my best friend Cathy who is also diligent about diet and exercise: when we are ninety we are going to eat (without restraint) croissants, cheeses, chocolate, and drink champagne, all from a comfy divan. There will be no activity that involves sweat, unless it is sex with an unfamiliar man.

Fear is a scary thing isn't it. I am convinced fear is at the base of all evil acts - fear of failure, fear of not being loved, of being left alone, of being less, of embarrassment, of loss of power, and on and on. It is the root of what stops you from doing anything. That fear of failure is a big one isn't it? It can keep you from even starting something.

The children of Morocco are so beautiful. Moroccans are a handsome people, and they appear to adore their children. Except the street children, of those they are as judgmental as the puritans of the West saying that the children are on the streets because they want to be there. The youngsters that play on our street light it up with their smiles and laughter. I love the sound of them in the street below when I am working in my room. I think we have just about convinced them this is not a candy store. Pam when she was here bribed both the children and apparently the housekeeper with candy. It has taken some time to stop the constant knocking and questions of "Bon Bon?" at the door.

The sky here is endless, and a shade of blue you can see right through. There is a weirdly shaped tree just to front of our terrace. The trunk begins like a normal tree then there is the usual spread of branches and some sort of fern like leaf cover, then - a stick straight up for about six feet. There is an entire village of birds that call it home and fly in and out of there daily to nest and feed. It is so strange looking, like some modern art sculpture.

The only reasons curbs exist on the streets and sidewalks of Morocco is so the cars have something to hook onto when they park on the sidewalks!

Better than Dunkin Doughnuts, better than Krispy Kreme are the Moroccan sfing. They are beyond delicious, always hot, always fresh, and cost one dirham apiece. Morocco also has the best French fries in the world without doubt!

A few days ago three of the boys from the street knocked on the door, grins ear to ear. In Darigia: "We are collecting money for a football."
Me: "You pirates! You have a football. You are outside my door kicking it every day!"

The grins get wider.

They had put a blue velvet drape with some sort of crest on it over the empty box. That sort of initiative deserves a reward. We dug into our change and gave them money. I hang my head as it is my firm policy NOT to give the children candy or money, but if you had seen them you would have given them money too!


Lady Macleod

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ian's Career Change Holiday

I have learned the real reason for Ian's Blogger Break. He will definitely come back a new man.

Showing soon in Morley, a one many show, produced, presented and performed by himself.

Cue Music, Lights, Action.

Blog be broken...

testing, testing...

Nope, the template refuses to turn on the poster name, or anything else other than labels, comments & links. All guest posters please identify yourselves in the entry until further notice (or people won't know who you are).


Update: Now fixed, although I can't order them as I'd like. I had to import my Morleygate Template and then tweak it back to look shades-ish.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

From Russia with Love

From James Higham. I was asked to post something about Russia from a personal perspective and thought this was a fair starter. Firstly, I’m not in Russia proper – I’m in one of the republics although I do cross over quite often. Secondly, though my financial position doesn’t match it, my social state, in Twelfth Night terms, is ‘well’.

Therefore I don’t yet live down in the sewer but am conveyed from door to door. I shop locally, walk about and chat with folk, hitch rides occasionally just to tune my ear to latest developments and so on. But what is it really, really like, living here? This is my take.

The photos were taken in about 1998, before recent rebuilding. Now there are IMAX cinema, velodromes, huge new estates of low-rise houses in all sorts of odd architectural shapes and the area you see in the photos is now regarded as getting on a bit in years. The sweeping new, kilometre long suspension bridge runs from the end of our Prospekt and the traffic is now of London proportions. There is money in this city, make no mistake but it’s not evenly distributed.

Many older people buy cracked eggs because they’re cheaper and vendors never turn away poor people but try to accommodate them – you see it all the time. The other day, an old lady was fumbling around for five kopek to complete a purchase of a little chocolate bar worth seven roubles [about 25 US cents]. I told the shopgirl to give her three bars and it wasn’t taken as largesse in any way by the girl – everyone pitches in for the old people.

The pension system is an absolute national disgrace and gets me hot under the collar.

No one pitches in for a drunk. If you’ve given up the will to live and let’s be fair – many have, particularly in the shadow of all the new infrastructural construction – then you’re on your own. People sidestep you in the streets, even if you’ve fallen over – actually because you’ve fallen over - and these people are forever wandering onto busy roads and getting run down. I see it as a merciful release but their families might differ on that.

The temptation’s there, all right, to turn to alcohol.

It’s in the culture, with a plethora of self-justifying, amusing, lexical excuses, a bit of excess is almost expected over here and a man who won’t let himself go at least a little is regarded with suspicion. I’m such a man but I compensate for that in other ways.

The layout of Russia is hard for westerners who have never been here to conceptualize. There’s Moscow in the far west and that’s another story in itself. They say here ‘malyenkaya strana’, meaning little country and that’s what Moscow is. To come to Moscow and say you’ve seen Russia is to come to London and say you’ve seen Scotland. The regions both share Moscow’s organization and infrastructure e.g. housing and roads but that’s where the differences begin.

Geographically, the countryside predominates, as in Britain - a series of hamlets, all vaguely linked but surrounded by leagues of grassland, forest, waterways and all very pretty in a different way to, say, the US. The long, straight, white barked beriozi [silver birch trees] stand a little like the trees in Fontainebleu, for those who’ve been there, perhaps around Barbizon. It’s distinctively, continental European.

Then comes the outskirts to the city and the checkpoints and five or so main arteries run inwards towards the centre. Even within the city proper there are parks and gardens everywhere, most of the paths are unmade and it’s not possible to get home on foot without dirtying one’s shoes. There is dirt and dust in a 50s sort of way.

The centre follows the pattern of cities worldwide – inner-city slum clearance, fabulous new shopping complexes and DIY barns on the outskirts for the new yuppies to visit, harshly contrasting with the greenery surrounding it and the middling circle of slightly older suburbs, virtually untouched and now losing their 1950s sheen.

My city has just over a million people and it’s getting crowded, especially on the roads, where the introduction of western credit is now destroying people’s lives and flooding the roads with incapable drivers, along with other things more dire.

The people really are children. A twenty year old girl is not grown up, despite appearances. She may look like a sophisticated femme-fatale, done up in full war-paint of the ersatz YSL variety and she certainly doesn’t blot her copybook in the various nightclubs springing up all over town but it’s an illusion. At home she has a family and grandparents and she’ll often leave the middle of the dance floor and put in call home on her mobile, just to say she’s OK.

And she is OK. The level of violence is so much lower than in western cities, depending, of course, to which club you go. Drugs, narcotics – these are the major worry of parents, not whether their darling will actually make it home in one piece.

It’s the students themselves who most decry the drug scene. Time and again they’ll bring it into the discussion and behind the tough exterior can be seen a core of ‘niceness’, a good-heartedness and it’s not a sham. Trouble is, as just mentioned, they are children, easily led down some new rapacious path and they never do things by halves.

Fashion is one aspect. This year all the girls are in maroon leather jackets. Last year it was all browns. The year before – cowboy style. Forever shopping, whatever floods the market becomes the new fashion. ‘We’re all individuals,’ they cry and it would be a good setting for Life of Brian. The guys and there are guys, if you look hard enough, they’re in their regulation black leather jackets, jumpers, jeans, black, patent leather shoes and cheeky smiles.

No doubt the Russian guy can be a charmer. That’s how he gets what he wants in the society, why the girls have no defences and why he has so little respect for womanhood. It’s all too easy. I thank them because the majority of the females are p-ed off extraordinarily by this arrogance and there’s more than a niche for a ‘gentleman’ who takes them out and holds doors open for them.

My two or three guy friends are big, lanky, happy-go-lucky, good looking, semi-dissolute bears who’d do anything for a mate. One of the girls yesterday told me she loved the new stubble on my chin – actually, I just hadn’t shaved but it seems just the ticket over here. Things are a little looser than in Britain, say.

So, they are some random thoughts by the Higham. Dosvidanye, shslivo.

Crossposted at Tiberius Gracchus.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


"Shades" often posts about music and I have nothing like his knowledge of bands or stage experience. I am, as this post shows, of an earlier era but he asked me to guest-blog and this is my first idea for subject matter that is vaguely in keeping with his own:

One dull, grey day in the late 1950s I was sitting in the living room behind our shop in Stapleton Road, Bristol and I was sulking over something. Probably I had had an argument with Auntie Mabel [Dad’s aunt who lived with us]; she was always telling me to be quiet while she had her nap and I just wouldn’t!

It was about 6pm on a Saturday and Dad came in. He was trying to cheer me up [he was always on my side] and it wasn’t working: “Come and see what’s in the shop”. “Don’t wanna come in the shop!” “Come for a walk with daddy.” “Don’t wanna come for a walk!” “Let’s play with your dolls”. “Don’t wanna play!” Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to establish peace, he said, “Well, let’s watch teley then”. “Don’t wanna watch teley!” “Yes, you do; Tommy Steele will be on in a moment.” [You guessed it]: “Don’t wanna watch Tommy Steele!” [though I had no idea who he was.]

But Dad had had enough and he switched the TV on anyway: It was the first time I watched Six-Five Special , presented by Pete Murray and Josephine Douglas and something about the music and the banter got me interested. Then all of a sudden, this young man with a shock of blond hair and a guitar bounded onto the stage and I was really excited! He exuded energy and, I suppose, an innocent kind of sex-appeal. I had got over my mood all right - I was hooked on Tommy and rock ‘n’ roll!

At around the same time, the streets started to look brighter; girls a few years older than me began to wear pretty, very full skirts, people were talking about “teenagers” and a new colour, called “shocking pink” was everywhere. I loved it!

The living room was redecorated in a style that was called “contemporary”: I remember we had plain, light wallpaper on three walls and the other had paper with a bamboo pattern. This was thought to be very daring. Pictures and knick-knacks were banished [I think Dad’s generation had at last started to rebel against the clutter and heavy furniture left over from their own parents' era]; the dark banisters [which we would now die for!] were boarded over and all the woodwork was painted white.

The drab old draper’s shop down the road closed and reopened as a department store in the centre of Bristol; a jeweller’s where you could buy cheap costume jewellery opened a few doors down, and then two record shops appeared in Stapleton Road.

The sixties had not yet arrived, but the war was finally over!

You know, I blame all my troubles with men on Tommy Steele!
I should say it's Welshcakes posting as I can't get the "posted by" thing on at the end.