Thursday, 31 March 2011

Cliffhanger interlude

OK. I've been bad. Not bad... but away, and then ill, and also busy.

I've taken my eye off the ball, dropped the plates I was spinning and allowed my metaphors to get in a fankle. The sharp-eyed and silent ones amongst you may have even noticed that I accidentally published a post (twice) that was merely scheduled ages ago to appear about this time... then deleted it. Twice. *sigh*

Not only that, but I left you with a cliffhanger and haven't followed it up. Are your arms sore yet?

Don't worry - I won't keep you hanging on too long!

But meanwhile, with more than 1000 blog posts to read, would each of you be so kind as to put in the comments a link to the one post you've written since 10th March that you feel I really mustn't miss!

Would you do that for me?

Over the next few days 'normal' (ha!) service will be resumed.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Israel - Med, Red and Dead

I've come back from Israel with either the same cold, a new cold, or a deadly combination of the two, so I'm just doing a quick summary here with pics - more detail as it occurs to me in the days to come.

In a nutshell (or more specifically a Nissan Tiide) my sidekick and I drove 1400km - from Jaffa & Tel Aviv (above) south through the Negev Desert (via the amazing Ramon crater, left) to Eilat on the Red Sea.

I love deserts - although Israel's is not massive and there's a surprising amount of agriculture even in the remotest places.

In Eilat - which has sure grown up a lot since I was last there (sleeping on the beach in 1991 on the eve of Desert Storm) and we stayed in a hotel which was almost on the runway of the airport, but which had great views of the town and the Jordanian mountains beyond.

From there we went north again to the Dead Sea - and yes, it's smaller now and saltier than the saltiest thing you ever tasted, but no floaty pics!

We made the traditional dawn climb up to the old Hebrew stronghold of Masada - the third time I've done it but oddly I found it easier this time.

We then headed north across the Green Line and through the Judean Desert to Jerusalem. I've only ever come into Jerusalem from the west and was astonished how close the desert is to the city on the East side. No obvious signs of the 'peace wall' driving in - though it was clearly visible from various vantage points in the city.

The Old City is an extraordinary place - holy to three of the world's main religions. It is full of strange juxtapositions, mixed messages, and the costumes of the zealous: nuns, monks and priests with various habits, Hassidic Jews with their big black hats, beards and ringlets, IDF soldiers, Bedouins, burkhas, pilgrims and tourists. Some of the holy sites are quite literally on toip of each other - the Dome of Rock looms over the Wailing Wall.

And if this wasn't colourful enough, we were there for the Jewish holiday of Purim which requires fancy dress costumes - so there were bunny girls and mini supermen and diminutive jellyfish too!

Who needs drugs? Me actually. Nurse! The pills have worn off! Part two tomorrow: in which I head for Haifa, Galillee and tell you how my visits to both former kibbutzim went - and exactly how shocked two former lovers were when I turned up!

to be continued...

... meanwhile, read my Jerusalem poem on Poetry24

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Caption Competition

So anyway, like I said yesterday, I'm not around for the next few weeks.

I'm not sure if I'll have time or connection to blog from Israel, so meanwhile, here's a caption competition: the winner gets a special prize all the way from that troubled land.

Have fun!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A personal view

Did you watch 'The Promise' on Channel Four over the last few weeks?

[Pictured left: an Israeli soldier - seen by many as an object of hatred, symbolic of injustice.]

Having lived in Israel, I was interested in - and wary of - how the situation would be represented.

In the first episode they showed footage from Bergen Belsen concentration camp. I hadn't seen such graphic footage before. It was good to do that - it's important to remember where so many Israelis came from. So the first episode seemed to show the good and bad on both sides - it promised balance.

In the end I don't think it was. It may be "well-researched and based on fact", but by selecting which facts to show you are inherently manipulating your audience into a certain point of view. It was challenging - and that's good. It made me go and do more research of my own which presented me with uncomfortable information that has shifted my perceptions. Also good.

But I hate the way it portrayed all Jews as ruthless and deceitful, all Palestinians as kind and saintly; ridiculous generalisations that, although obviously simplistic to anyone with any intelligence, can't help but perpetuate the branding of entire races under a couple of handy 'goodie' and 'baddie' headings.

Isn't most of the trouble in this world caused by extremism and the political agendas of those who purport to be leaders of the people? Don't ordinary people on any side in any war just want to live their lives, raise families in safety and have their needs met? And aren't they pressurised, lied to, misled, manipulated and abused by their own leaders as much as their enemies?

I'm going back to Israel tomorrow to visit people I know - good people, not monsters.

Back to the Israeli soldier.

This isn't a random picture plucked from Google. I took it. I know this man.

He trained as a teacher, a botanist. His hobbies are basket-weaving and folk-dancing. As a young man he fought in the Sinai in tanks - he did his National Service just like my dad did his, because it was what you had to do. Afterwards if there as a loud noise in the school, he would instinctively dive under the desk for cover. His pupils thought it was funny. For the next 20 years had to serve a month in the army every year - hating it, hating having kids his son's age throwing rocks at him, but doing it because maybe it would mean better safety for his own four children. His family had come from Poland before the war. They knew about not feeling safe.

I don't know why I'm saying all this. It's the sweeping generalisations that get to me. The Israelis aren't evil. This was one of the kindest, most gentle men I have ever known. I loved him.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Token Woman

Apparently it's the centenary of International Women's Day today.

Throughout history there have been - and continue to be - many inspiring women. Another year I'll write a big thing about them...

...but I don't have the energy just now, so for today I'm just going to share this poem with you.

I wrote if for cheap laughs. Sorry girls.

Token Woman

I’m the token woman,
let me get it off my chest:
I’m the token woman –
they want someone with breasts.

They sneer at my feelings,
but I feel it isn’t fair -
I hate this damn glass ceiling
‘cause it messes up my hair!

Am I the token woman?
Have I nothing on my mind?
When I take shorthand you want
to take me from behind?

I’m the token woman.
Yes, it’s elementary:
my straight A's don’t mean a thing -
they want a double D.

I want to be the Chief Exec -
I’d do it with no trouble.
But they want someone with testicles,
someone with facial stubble.

And I’m the token woman,
I’m just a token chick.
And I'll never get squat because
I haven’t got a dick.

I’m the token woman -
it's in your policy
and it makes me really angry
but you say that’s PMT!

But I’m a token woman
with upheaval on my mind
and I’m taking out this message
to the whole of womankind!

So beware the token woman
with her painted nails and smiles.
She's got her eye on business -
where there's a will, there's wiles.

And this unbroken woman
will rise too far to stop...
but you may find that you like it
when she's the one on top.

© Clare Kirwan

Ever reached that glass ceiling? I wasn't ever ambitious enough to aim for it, but I feel for those who do. Get your mug here

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Pale Blue Dot

I'm not well, you know. Are you missing me? *coughs violently*

But I'm well enough to have watched Brian Cox for the first time. I only watched because I'd seen a clip of him at the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia. Amazing place - I will get round to putting something together that another time.

But meanwhile, back at Brian...

STOP PRESS: Brilliant spoof of Brian Cox at Ellie Garrett's blog

What's all the fuss about? He doesn't 'do anything' for me with his girly face, his perpetually exposed teeth and his pseudo-scientific/pseudo-poetic ramblings which seem more an excuse to go and look 'pretty' in exotic locations than to impart information in a clear and succinct manner.

But on the plus side, watching The Wonders of the Universe did remind me to show you this, in case you haven't seen it before. It makes you think.

I'm going back to my sick bed now.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Lost at sea - My Fiji Hell

Did I ever tell you about the time I was stranded in the Pacific in an open boat?

Two years ago this week, me and my trusty travelling companion - the Doctor (no, not that one!) - set sail on the Big Yellow Boat to the Yasawa Islands, a string of volcanic islands west of Fiji for 2 weeks of tropical bliss between Australia and New Zealand*

... well, I say 'planned'...

The islands are gorgeous - white, sandy beaches, delightfully friendly islanders, fabulous sunsets. But, despite - or perhaps because of - following the backpacker trail it was more expensive than anywhere else we'd stayed on our trip, the food was dire, oh yeah and we could have died out there!

After a brief stay at Sunset Beach, Waya (too much wildlife in our room) we settled in a wonderful des res at White Sandy Beach, Naviti (top pic). Rations were included but meagre - e.g. a plate of potato salad for lunch! - but it was a beautiful place. We swam out to coral reefs, lazed in hammocks, and watched the world go by: twice a day the Big Yellow Boat sailed from Fiji's main island to the furthest Yasawa and back, disgorging and picking up bronzed backpackers - always serenaded by the locals. Most only stayed a day in each place. It was unheard of to stay 10 days on one island like we did!

On about the 3rd day, the Doctor had an allergic reaction to jellyfish stings. With hands swollen to the size of two balloons and the Doctor not being that kind of doctor, we asked for help to find a real doctor. The resort manager said there was one in the next village and if we paid, the boy would take us in the boat. We knew of a village in walking distance and assumed it was that one... wrong! It was on the other side of the (largely uninhabited) island. If we had known we would have (a) taken more water (b) worn hats or other sun protection (c) absolutely refused to get in the boy's boat because it had been conking out all week.

I'd only gone along because the Doctor said it would 'be fun' - do I never learn?

So as we were chugging past the most desolate stretch of coast, the engine sputtered and died. Also the radio wasn't working. The boy twiddled with his engine, twiddled with his radio. The sun blazed down. The water was gone. The shore was too far to swim to, steeply forested and with no sign of life. The Doctor started a sort of mantra: 'This is not good, I'm not happy at all' (which turned out later to have been a ploy to encourage the boy to appreciate our predicament and find a solution, but which had the effect of stressing me out completely - and me still recovering from my little breakdown-ette.)

A Swedish girl who had joined us on the trip (because she wanted medical attention for her constipation) was now completely cured - she was shitting herself.

But when the boy got the engine going again for a minute and set off recklessly, colliding with a floating log and flooding the engine, it was me that started screaming. It started as a little 'Eek!' at the log collision but then I found I couldn't stop. It's quite funny now. But not then.

So -did I survive? Find out in next week's...

...of course I survived! I'm here aren't I? *pinches self* Ow!

Some locals in kayaks tried to tow us to shore (picture) but couldn't do it. But after many gruelling hours a proper boat passed and plucked us to safety. We left the boy with his boat.

Oh, and there was no doctor. But the trainee nurse - following instructions given over a crackly radio - burst each of the Doctor's blisters one by one with a used needle.

But nobody died. And we stayed several more days, and we were serenaded off the island and back onto the Big Yellow Boat. And our adventures continued...

If you liked this post, you might enjoy My Scotland Hell or Write around the world ... actually, I'm going to have a special page with the travelly ones on... watch the space above...

* And before any eagle-eyed geographers kick off about Fiji not being really between Australia and New Zealand at all - it was a quirk of ticketing that meant doing it in that order - we couldn't fly on our ticket from Fiji to Chile... but I'm getting ahead of myself here

The last post

I meant to say, the last post I did wasn't here.

It was a poem:

'Suppose they held a war and no-one came?'

over at Poetry24.

Poetry24 is two weeks old today.

(Hah! - And they said it would never last!)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A host of golden.... AAAARGH!

I love the way the bulbs start popping up this time of year

But like anything else, one man's meat is another man's poison (except in France where one man's fish is another man's poisson). While everyone else is enjoying the spring flowers, an old colleague of mine would be running, screaming out of the office.

She had a daffodil phobia.

No, really.

There are plenty of unusual phobias around. Even amongst people I know are: a young lady with a horror of buttons, a chap with an aversion to wire coat hangers, and someone who breaks out in a rash if they hear the song Greensleeves.

Even the otherwise sane (ahem!) and lovely Ellie Garrett reckons she has a phobia of The Wizard of Oz. 'Even typing the name was hard,' she said, in this post.

There are all sorts of lists on the web, of course, now I've started looking, but some seem a bit... well, 'madey-up' eg Arachibutyrophobia - or fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth. A (slightly) more credible list on Wikipedia includes the fear of: dancing, mirrors, bad breath or the classic Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – fear of the number 666. And here's one for the 21st Century: nomophobia - fear of being out of mobile phone contact. There are some fine examples - and great pictures - on this LIFE site.

I have more of a fear of being in mobile phone contact.

But apart from that I can honestly say I suffer from no real phobias - well, not that I know of.

What about you? What makes your flesh crawl and your heart race? Do you wake up every morning with a horror of the floor? Do you run a mile when faced with a Cadbury's Cream Egg? Do you have an irrational hatred of broken biros... erm, scrap that. You wouldn't be here, would you? Tell all!

If you have been affected by issues in this post, just pull yourself together will you!

(or you could get medical advice here.)