Thursday, 26 February 2009


I had a day off work on Tuesday to spend the day with my neice Martha, who fell of her sledge about 2 weeks ago, and is now in a Splendiferous pink Plaster that encases all of her leg and her hip, and will do so for a total of 6 weeks.

As it was Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake day) it seemed only sensible that Martha and I make pancakes. We had chatted about it a few days before, and she had gone off into a delerious dream world imagining loads and loads of golden syrup pancakes!!

So.. we made pancake batter, did some spellings, which she really does not like (I hope she now knows how to spell "Knife" and "Evil" as the Evil Aunty Anna kept making her practice them lol) We even discussed what "Consistency" meant in relation to the batter. We added more and more flour until it reached the Consistency of cream.

After some fun it was time for a hair wash. Now, with a leg and hip in plaster, and being in a wheelchair this isnt very easy, and the young lady hates having her hair washed. Martha did her best to escape from the kitchen, but only managed to wheel herself into the hall. There are various disadvantages of trying to escape whilst in a wheelchair (thats from Marthas perspective.. from mine it was a definate advantage cause I took her back to the kitchen with minimal effort)

With aid of a washing up bowl of water, a few towels and a mug, I managed to soap up her hair without too many complaints. At one point the bowl of water, that was balancing on the handles of the wheelchair slipped, and the floor got an unexpected soaking!! I was told off for saying

"Oh Flip"

which in the world according to Miss Martha is very rude!!!!!!

I rinsed Marthas hair, brushed it, again under some protest, then mopped the floor. I'm glad its a stone floor!!

After a visit from a lady to arrange some home schooling for the time Marth is pinkly plastered, we went for a walk/roll to a local park, and discussed Cholera and Queen Victoria. There is a monument in the park to many hundreds of people who died of this horrible disease. We looked Cholera up on Wiki when we got back, and decided it was rather a nasty thing to have.

After pancakes for lunch (Martha was in golden syrup heaven) Thomas, (my little bro, her dad) Martha and I set off for the Childrens Hospital which is accessible by a bus that kneels down for wheelchairs etc.

It was such a looong wait to be seen, but after an X-ray, we could see that the poorly leg is healing well, and the Dr was very pleased with how things are going.

I had to rush off as soon as we got home which was a shame, but Douglas was not feeling the best, and appreciated being picked up from work and taken home.

It was a lovely day, and I look forward to the next one in about 2 weeks time! I wonder what we will get up to then :-)

Monday, 23 February 2009

Another great helping of Simons Adventures

Hey there,

I had decided to leave Hurghada on Valentine's Day, despite the promise of a 'big party' that night. "Because it is Valentine's Day we will have girls in Bikinis!" "..."

The bus journey was once again through the Eastern Desert, but my perusal of the dun mountains was disturbed by some klaart who decided I was to be his amusement for the journey. Taking public transport can be a great way to meet locals, and I've had some great conversations with people I've met in this way, but on other occasions you're looking for a bit of peace and quiet which you signify by putting on your walkman (for the kids, that's a clockwork ipod) and gazing wistfully out the window.

"Sit here." - next to him.
"[No, thankyou, I like here]"
"Sit. Here. Better."
"[No, thankyou.]"
"Sitheresitheresitheresithere. [This side better. There is no sun.]"
"[No, thankyou.]"

5 minutes later he moves to sit next to me. We run through the standard conversation which takes 5 to 10 minutes and exhausts my Arabic and his English. I put my walkman back on.

"[Let me listen]"

I give him my headphones. He looks like he might vomit on me.

"[This music very, very bad. Why don't you listen to Egyptian music? What's in your bag?]"
"[My books.]"
"[How many?]"
"[I don't know.]"
"[Show me them.]"

I give him the guidebook to get some peace.

"What is this?" - every Egyptian knows "What is this?" in English, which allows you to imagine how most lessons proceed
"A temple."
"What is this?"
"Another temple."
"What is this?"
"A boat."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"What is this?"
"I don't know."
"Give me book." - holding it possessively to body.
"[Why?]" - puts on hurt face.
"Because I need it and you can't read."
"Give me book."
"[No.]" - taking book back.
"Give me water." - I give him some water. "[Your hair too long. Why not have short hair like Egyptians? Your clothes bad. Why not wear galabiyya like Egyptians?]"

At this point I pass him my phrasebook to get him to shut up. In most cases Egyptians like this because they can read the Arabic. It turned out he couldn't, so kept pestering me to read out what it said, then asked me to give him this book as well. At this point I got a bit angry and berated him for a bit in English at which he looked a bit sheepish and said back "[You my friend.]"

One of the best bits of travel advice I've had is always to remember that when someone accosts you and bores you terribly, they're doing it because they are boring, and not because they're Egyptian (or whatever). O've had far worse people annoying me in England. However, I think the form that people's boringness takes is to some extent culturally determined. So, in England, you tend to get tales of the Territorial Army, and other interminable anecdotes and jokes which one look at your face should let your interlocuter know that you really aren't appreciating. In Egypt it tends to be asking you for stuff.

Partly this is no doubt because they're poor, or lonely (in the case of the many girls who get asked if they will be their girlfriend), but it also makes sense of what a Bedouin guy in Sinai had said when I asked why they didn't like the Egyptians, "They are like someone who asks to have a drink at your well one day, and the next day all his friends and relatives are lining up for a drink too."

Certainly there's a taking attitude in Luxor, where almost everyone seems to be out for a bit of Bakhsheesh. I suppose it's inevitable when you have so many rich tourists living alongside a relatively poor population. Having said that I've met some very nice people - ine guy saw me looking lost on the first night whilst I was looking for an ATM and went well out of his way to guide me to one. I bumped into him later and he beckoned me over. I was thinking that now payment was going to be visited upon me, but he only wanted me to help him write an English text to his 'girlfriend' in the UK.

The other aspect that Egyptian bores seem to share nationally is an absolute belief that there is one right way for anything. It's not that they're conservative as we know it - religion pervades their life but they have no idealisation of the past. However, they are convinced that the general way things are is just how things should be, a sort of anti-individualism, in that they can't understand why you'd be different. This seems to explain the general incomprehension that reigns if you don't want to do the accepted tourist thing, or take public transport or a taxi instead of walk. Egyptians have an amzing sense of social cohesion, a strong sense of community, but the pay-off for this seems to be that they submit rather willingly to social convention.

Still, Luxor is great. Once you get past the idea that everyone's trying to take as much money from you as they can, there's some amazing things to see and do. The temple of Medinat Habu is one of the most beautiful temples I've visited, and really peaceful as well. Wandering amongst the still painted pillars and reliefs (admittedly mostly of mutilated corpses and violent encounters) it's often just you and a snoozing attendent. It was certainly preferrable to the temple of Karnak, which, although huge, is a mess of artistic styles and pretty proto-fascist. This temple eventually became so powerful it overthrew the Pharoahs and reigned in their place, until some Libyans prodded them slightly and the state collapsed. Striding through it's gigantic melange, past ram headed sphinxes and towering obelisks, its easy to imagine the empty religious fanatacism that was their downfall. There's no passion or feeling in their art, unlike the earlier ages, it's all bombastic.

I've been to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, but it's mostly repetitive images of the gods all giving their homey a hug and welcoming him to take his place in the immortals. One tomb which stood out was that of Thutmosis III, 'Egypt's Napoleon', who for some reason got his decked out in Hieroglyphy stick-men. It reminded me of either a 30s New Yorker cartoon or a 50s movie title sequence, but 3,000 years old and totally awesome. Other scenes that stand out were a visibly excited mummy enjoying himself over some gods (their reaction not decipherable from my totally basic understanding of Hieroglyphics) and a giant ram headed eagle spreading its wings to emerge from the underworld. If there were any tourgroups you could generally just hold your breathe and vlose your eyes and when you opened them they would be gone - they were on a strict march in march out mission.

I much preferred the tombs of the Nobles and Artisans which, whilst smaller, had a lot more variety and could be enjoyed alone. Here the nobles wanted to be reminded of their parties and how well they'd done in life, and lower class people could be portrayed more realistically, so there's a riot of dancers, musicians, farmers, fishermen and viniers. It was also possible to wander off up a hill and gaze down over the startling temple of Hatshepsut, which is startling in its modernity, nestled at the bottom of limestone cliffs, and looking to all the world like a frank Lloyd Wright.

But one of the nicest things was renting a bike and cycling amongst it all, through sugar cane fields and past weather beaten colossi, waving at people but moving on before they can utter "Come look in my Papyrus shop!" On other occasions I've been taking a back route through fields and been offered a lift on a donkey cart out of the goodness of peoples hearts. Trumbling along through the gorgeous green fields is magical - occasionally getting stuck in a donkey jam and having to get down off the cart to snap some sugar canes and wait. Munching on sugar canes is like sucking sugar out of a chewy straw; I made the mistake of sayiong it was delicious and they ended up feeding me loads of it, which made me want to gip. Too much of a (kind of) good thing, though the Egyptians wolf down whole canes of the stuff, and it's almost the only rhing they drink at the juice shops. Still, away from the tourists all the farmers are friendly as anything and remind you why being in Egypt is great.

One morning I was up before sunset, ferried avross the Nile under cover of darkness, and brought to a field before the Ramasseum. Before us great silk balloons were billowing upwards, jets of flame straining them skyward. It was a great feeling to lift off from the ground, to feel so still and quiet in the dawn air, to see the world yawning hundreds of metres below us. Birds scattered over fields beneath us, the sun splashed rosey hues over temples and mountains, and all was quiet except for a gaggle of excitable Japanese beside me and the occasional roar of the flame. It really gets pretty hot, especially when the pilot desides to slam us on the elevator and roar us up a thousand feet. It was all rather wonderful.

Admittedly another great thing has been getting to hang out with some Westerners. The hostels dirt cheap yet pretty cool, with a lovely roof terrace where they give you free sunset tea, so it attracts all the travellers who are passing through. It's just been nice hanging out with some cool people and having a laugh and a few beers, etc - something that Sudan is unlikely to give much opportunity for.

I've ran the full gamut from grizzled French & Quebecois travellers who were a right laugh, through drunken American students studying Arabic in Cairo and taking some time off, to 2 British Gap Year girls. I never realised how hard it was to have conversations with people who haven't done anything and have no opinions yet, though I am now remarkably well informed about split ends and the best ways of dealing with them, as well as the miracle that is epilation. Actually, that's way too cruel, they were really nice and funny, though the site of a 30-odd year old Canadian fella trying desperately to crack onto them rather turned my stomach.

Other delights I've been revelling in include a great cafe which serves up pots of Earl Grey and giant scones, and a place that does the nicest chicken & tahini I've ever had. Indeed, on about half the days I've been here I've taken a break from anything touristy and just read and relaxed, recgarging the batteries. One thing I haven't been enjoying is the strange omni-presence of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' in Luxor, it drifts across it like a poisonous smog. The Quebecois were very apologetic.

But it's time to move on. I think my time in Egypt is running to a close. I'm hopefully going to Aswan tomorrow, where I s h o u l d be able to pick up my Sudanese visa. I'm going to try and get on a Felucca to sail back down the Nile for a bit, before catching the weekly ferry to Sudan, hopefully on March 9th. I'll be sure to send another e-mail before I head off.

Increase the peace, keep smiling,

Our weekend

We had a busy Saturday.. we had an appointment at 10am at a well respected Tattoo Parlour!!

After about a year and a half of thinking about it, I decided to have a Tattoo. Its a Triskeli.. a three sided spiral which is very special to me. Yes it hurt a bit, but nothing I couldnt cope with, and now its just a little sore like a grazed knee (no.. its on my arm!)

Douglas also got one done.. he got a Tarot Card of the Hanged Man... now.. this is not as gruesome as it sounds! Its a man in a jerkin and trousers hanging upside down by one leg, hands folded behind his back, one eye winking whilst he thinks. Odin (the God who aparantley only had one eye) spent many weeks like this in deep thought, until he was granted the runes of wisdom.

We spent the rest of the day feeling a little sore, but pleased with our new body art!

On Sunday we got on with some badly needed spring cleaning and sorting out prior to some decoration work.

Last winter (2007/8) our lounge got very badly damaged by a poorly fitted gas fire. We had lots of soot go into the room, and lots of moisture as well, which damaged parts of our plasterwork and left the walls mouldy in places.

Having got the gas fire fixed, and monitored conditions carefully this winter, we know that all is ok now, so our lovely painter Jules has been spending the day repairing the blown plaster and putting a "size" on the walls to stop any damp coming in from outside. He has re painted the ceiling and even hoovered up after himeself!!!!!!! He truly is a star :-)

I think he will do the walls tomorrow once hes got the paint, and I must ask him not to close the lounge door when he finishes.. the poor moggies were both cross legged when we came in - even to the point of being more interested in doing their business outside than eating!

Oh also on Sunday evening we went out with my parents to see Coppeilia which was lovely. We sat quite a long way back, but still had a good view!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Totally not dead (message from Simon)

Following the news of a bomb blast in Cairo this evening, Simon has sent this message to his loyal friends, family and fans.

Totally not dead.

Hey there,

Takes more than a bomb to stop me! Apparently it was pretty miniscule anyway, and 721 km away.

Can't wait to get to the safety & security of the Sudan.

Talk to you all soon,



We are very glad hes totally not dead. We had an interesting weekend.. will blog it all tomorrow, work willing.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Warning! Very long post (c/o Simon)

Hey there,

I was ill for 5 days - this is the longest I have ever been ill and made me really quite cross. But I'm better now so I should attempt to rustle up some sort of e-mail updatey type thing. Unfortunately Hurghada may be the sex tourism capital of Egypt but it sure ain't speedy when it comes to internet connections - it's kind of like typing in gravy - so soz for continuing delays, etc, etc. I like to think that my continuing slackness is softening you up for my sojourn in Sudan; everything I do is out of love for you - you personally!

After the true gem of Dakhla I moved onto Al-Kharga oasis, the last in the chain of oases. The Egyptian government has attempted to create a new town here rather in the manner of the soviets; all wide, empty, leafy streets and large official buildings fronted by large flags and
statues. In an effort to add to the vaguely oppressive atmosphere all people were banned from the streets when I arrived, except for the most clearly obvious 'undercover' cop I'd ever seen. Dressed in a smart cardigan, way too tight trousers, and weird platform shoes that actually enforced a goosestep, he surreptitiously followed me around the empty streets. The first hotel I went into doubled their prices when he sidled in after me, and I caused all kinds of issues
when I decided to stay at the government guest house.

I had to sit still whilst various police and army personal milled around and phone calls were made. I got to see the room but was locked out. The pompous, fat receptionist made me take a photo of him. When he saw how pompous and fat he looked, he made me take another photo of him, holding a clay ashtray. Perhaps he thought it made him look humble but it rather
resembled those pictures people take of Nigerian scammers standing on one leg with a fish on their head, especially as he wore his turban in a rather unconventional style.

This entertainment over we settled in to wait. I was asked what my plans were going to be, when I would leave, and everyone expressed amazement that I was planning to walk the 2 - 3 kilometres to the attractions outside of town. Dakhla was not a walky place. In fact, Egypt's not a walky place. Egyptians are constantly surprised when I say I want to walk - only the poorest person wouldn't take public transport which is cheap and plentiful, and in a country which gets
over 40 degrees in the summer that's understandable. They sometimes get really upset if I won't get in, even offering the trip for free.

They also think that people don't like being alone. The Egyptians legendery friendliness can also be a bit of a drawback as getting a book read can actually be a rather arduous task - people will see you alone and come for a chat to be welcoming. And once they've started talking to you, you're their friend, so they'll want to talk for hours, and come and visit you at your hotel, and just generally play a part in making you love Egypt. Which is great. Most of the time.
But given the Egyptian idea of hell is walking on your own, which is kind of my idea of heaven, there's bound to be misunderstandings. The question I'm most often asked is "Where are you going?" The second most common, after I say I'm just walking around having a look, is
"But where are you going?"

Anyway, at this point (or the point before the digression), pompous guy's screamingly camp friend turned up. There seems to be a culture hear rather like 70s Britain where gays are okay as long as they are hilariously gay (bearing in mind that only the passive partner is
officially gay here). This was the second guy I'd met who would dance around and shout "I'm free!" in Arabic and have everyone rolling in the aisles. His act continued till eventually we got a final call saying I could stay, but the price had once again doubled. At this point I'd spent 4 hours trying to get accommodation and I rather embarrassingly lost it, storming out trailed by soldiers and people who definitely weren't cops. Luckily there was a rather lovely sunset going on so I calmed down and checked into a lovely, friendly hotel.

The next morning there was a bang on the door at 7:30:

"Where you go today? When you go? When you go to Luxor?"

Unfortunately I got pissed off for the second time in 24 hours, though the worst thing I could say in Arabic was "[Not, Not, NOT GOOD!]" and eventually slammed the door in the cops face and went back to bed. Sara had taught me something to do with people's sisters and their
sexual proclivities but I think I was lucky I couldn't remember it. When I went downstairs I found that I could get rid of the cops by telling them where I was going - as long as I had a definite plan (or pretended I did) it was fine. Given that there were cops every 50 metres along the road I don't think I was in much danger. I would literally pass them every couple of minutes, and they'd all wave and we'd exchange "salaams!"

There was a great museum in town, and a cool, practically complete temple just outside it (which was closed), but I did also go and visit a Christian necropolis from Byzantine times with some fascinating art, and stumble across the desert to an old monastery amidst dunes and
blighted trees. Later I sat on the old ruins of another temple and watched another
spectacular sunset (Dakhla seemed particularly blessed with them for some reason), and all the time I made sure I told the Police where I was to be heading next.

This ploy was something I carried over to Minya, the next city I visited. It was mainly Coptic Christian (girls with hair again!) and had just been opened up to tourists properly - I signed a peice of paper saying I didn't require a Police escort and whenever Policemen who just happened to be hanging around hotels asked me where I was going I'd just say "Tea" and they were pretty happy.

The Copts are pretty interesting. A lot of the men have a cross tattooed between finger & thumb on their right hand, and it seems obligatory for them to have crosses festooned over their houses. One had a three story beach towel of George killing the dragon up the
whole side of their house. Their churches are normally quite spectacular from the outside but rather gauche inside.

On the whole they seemed very friendly and happy, though one Doctor launched into a massive tirade of how much he hated Egypt, Egyptians, Muslims - pretty much everything. "I hate this fucking dirty country, everyone will slit your throat and steal your money. Why would you come here instead of Europe? Everyone here is so unfriendly." Whilst he was saying this I was being helped by someone to find a truck to take me to the tombs - everyone I met in Upper Egypt was ridiculously friendly and went totally out of their way to help me, and I very rarely got asked for Bakhsheesh. It does seem to be a theme though that any rich Egyptians I meet berate and hate their country whilst those lower down have a fierce pride bordering on blindness.

Indeed, when I've talked to Egyptians about politics (always prefacing it with a joke about throwing my shoes at George Bush which splits their sides) people have told me how much they love the current government, even though it's thoroughly corrupt and is about to try
and pass the same law which brought about the Oligarchy in Russia and is universally derided as one of the worst laws ever, & which only benefits elites. They also tell me how much they admire both ex-president Sadat & Nasser, which is a bit like saying that you thought both Thatcher & Scargill were tippety top, as they followed diametrically opposed policies. I compare it to the political awareness and hunger for debate that I found in Pakistan and find it a bit wanting. But then, I think they're also desperate to give a good impression of their country.

The main reason to visit Minya is to visit the Pharonic Middle Kingdom tombs of Beni Hasan. Travelling through sugar cane fields in tuk-tuk and the crowded backs of pick-ups, crossing the Nile by a fat-man's ferry, wandering through fields alone up rocky valley sides, to the greatest Middle Kingdom site where tourists barely venture. Once the tombs are unlocked by a
somnambulent ghaffir resplendent in blue turban and gallibellia, I gaze on the fresh paintings of wrestling and hunting from 3 millenia ago. One wall is an astounding picture of a man hunting birds through swamps and reeds; I know his whole life story but finally was able to absorb wide-eyed his memorial to himself - the wonder of life he sought to continue for eternity. The colours are bright and the lines clear. It's astonishing.

The next day I went to see the remains of Tell El-Amarna, the city founded by Akhenaten, the first guy to think monotheism might be a good idea. He founded a new city to get away from the old religion and start worshipping one fella only, but looking at the blasted plain
scarred with old canals and roads you can tell it didn't work out too well. Only the tombs remain,
again fabulously decorated, but you can tell where the King should be as he's been carefully chiselled out of all the friezes, leaving only his outline. And what an outline! Along with coming up with the idea of 'just one god', he also started an artistic revolution where instead of the perfect platonic ideals of most Egyptian art everyone had distended heads with bizarre features and slumping pot-bellies.

I then returned to Cairo. It was great to be back in this vital, churning city. It was less great to be hit with some kind of bug and have to convaless under my mosquito net; it did make me feel rather colonial though. Sadly it ate up half my time there, though I did manage to go and see Aida before hand - my new favourite opera albiet with very meagre competition, even after another run in with a Tie Fascist who Did Not like the cut of my jib - but I was already feeling
pretty ropey when I went to see the Luxor Breakbeat explosion. I thought this sounded pretty exciting, till I found they were fronted by a man who looked like an Egyptian gene splice of Bill Bailey & Jean Reno. The fact that he played piano exactly like Bailey's bad Belgian jazzman almost made me wonder if it was a disguise and some kind of meta-joke, but the skull-crushing tedium of a man playing the worst sort of jazz with occasional embellishments from accordian and long, long bass solos did not raise a wry grin, except on the exceedingly satisfied bassist's face. At one stage Belgian Jazz Daddy brought on a man with a box to introduce his 'new direction', which was some electronic music on its own for 5 minutes until his off-key 'jazz'
chords took over and the rest of the band played what seemed like exactly the same kind of music as before. I was not ecstatic.

Still, after the illness was passed I tried to cram in everything I'd been missing. There's just so much to see and do in this wonderful city. I went to the city of the dead, which is notable for, aside from it's superlative mosques, the fact that people actually live amongst the tombs. It's not as bad as it sounds, the tombs were designed to make quite nice houses so that the dead would be
remembered, and it's a fairly decent neighbourhood. People come and picnic here. They also go and pray in the Qaitbey Mosque, which is my second favourite in the world. It's a lot smaller than my favourite one, petite even, and has a exquisitely carved dome, reputedly never
bettered (though I thought the one nearby was pretty tidy as well). Inside it's a beautiful music box, perfectly balanced, different stripes of stone playing off against the circular arches and
arabesqued windows. It was also home to several extremely vocal birds, which made it an even nicer place to come and chill in. After that I went to the only park in Cairo, which is as relaxing as you would imagine a small but perfectly formed park in the middle of a city of 20 million people who all really want to go to a park would be. Nice views over Islamic Cairo though, and in the middle you couldn't hear any car horns - perhaps drowned out by the bustle.

I also went to Coptic Cairo, which is the old part of the city that has been there since Roman times. I went on a Sunday when all the Copts in the city turn up and hang out and flirt. To be honest that was probably the best bit, seeing how these modern Copts took their heritage very lightly, though they would kiss all the relics. There was a cool museum as well - the Copts were turning out clothes with Matisse prints on them over a thousand years ago.

Other highlights were a trip to the other, older Pyramids at Saqara. Apparently these are the oldest stone bricked memorials in the world, or summat, and they were pretty impressive, especially under a baleful sun shining through wan clouds. The whole thing took on quite a
post-apocalyptic look, especially with all the dogs wandering across the desert. Again, there were amazing tombs (Old Kingdom this time), which had lots of great images of hippos, fish, and lots of day to day scenes. I'm not sure Tez would have approved though as they quite often put the hands on the wrong way round. Its kind of difficult to find different words to describe all the different tombs you see, and seeing as I'm in Luxor now I've got to save some for the next e-mail, so I'll keep schtum on this other than to say Saqara was actually a real highlight. They're still digging up things here (including another pyramid they found whilst I've been in Egypt - obviously bit smaller than the great one) and I could come again should I have the fortune to return to the country.

Admittedly though one of my favourite things was going to an Electro night at the French Cultural Centre. It was just really different, as in it was like a really good night back home, but with more pretty French girls dancing and lots of ridiculously smily Arab men bouncing
around like they'd achieved oneness with Allah. They'd brought some French guy over to DJ and do a live set because "yoo are not knoweeng zees music in zees city." There was a slight air of the absurd as there were also some French families there and some of the little girls did over-excited-wedding-dancing in the smoke machine. It was just good, and a bit of home out here, which is nice.

I was also thinking of going to the cinema, but they were still showing the same Arabic movies that were playing when I first arrived. And Saw V. Fair enough I guess. On the flipside though, the one souvenir I had thought I'd let myself buy is a t-shirt with some Arabic on it. I can now officially state that there is not one single garment of clothing in Egypt with Arabic writing on it (though I didn't check the washing instructions), it's mostly brands in English or big statements like LA MOTHERFUCKER. There was one I dearly wanted to buy for Matt but I'm afraid you'll have to make do with a photo of it once I get to Ethiopia. I can't imagine anyone ever buying it so
if you're ever in Cairo I can point out the shop.

I also spent lots of time in the wonderful coffeshop of dreams again, though due to my throat sheesha was out, and caught a few more concerts. There's some surprisingly good museums - it turns out the Egyptians aren't shit at modern art - and a good museum of impressionist and post-impressionist peices. All in all though, by the end, I'd started to feel like I needed to either move on or actually have a life there. There was a few people I knew, and quite a few others who would recognise me, but I think after you spend a month somewhere you need to properly plug into the city, get a home/job/social scene/project or whatever, or it starts feeling a bit
weird. Cairo's a great city; I could imagine living there, perhaps October - April or summat to avoid the summer, and maybe when they've finally finished the 3rd metro line, which actually connects up the places you'd want to go. But it was definitely time for me to move on, though I would be sad to think that I'd never see Cairo again.

I decided to break up the trip to Luxor at Hurghada, halfway down on the coast, partly because I doubt there'll be many seaside resorts in Sudan or Ethiopia, and partly because I felt like doing some diving again. The journey down through the eastern desert at sunset, listening to a remixed requiem as we drove past the birthplace of monasticism and a giant windfarm, was pretty awesome.

Hurghada, though, is a burp of a city. It's not awful, with a lovely setting tossed between sandy hills around a few bays, each overlooking a handful of islands, but the hotels and apartments have been belched out haphazardly. All the beach space has been bought up by downmarket
package holiday hotels, and out of town the all inclusive resort strip stretches for miles. Some of these hotels, modelled on Islamic architecture, can be quite striking. One was modelled on an ocean liner and was called the Titanic hotel (I was thinking of setting up a rival Piper Alpha hotel next door). Wherever you are, and I was in the very cheapest hotel, as soon as you step out the door you're onto scrotty, litterswept streets lined with building sites. Luckily, they're all being constructed on Egyptian time, so you're never disturbed by much noise of working.

It was also here that I made the rather unsavoury discovery that Hurghada is the Egyptian sex tourism capital. This being an Islamic country, it's all 40s and 50s women coming to find some Egyptian cock. I'd seen a bit in Sinai, but never been sure, but here in Hurghada the bars in the Egyptian part of town I was staying in was packed with them. I've got to say that I was less disgusted by the whole thing than I thought I might be. I have no idea about any financial
transactions taking place, but both parties seemed pretty happy about the relationship. I did hear a few sob stories from Egyptians telling me about their 'girlfriend' in England who they hadn't heard anything from in 2 years; would I just help them write a valentines message?,
so maybe it's more exploitative than I think. Maybe it's just part of the same bullshit attitude that makes tabloids go phwoar! whenever a female teacher sleeps with one of her male pupils, but bays for blood should the opposite occur. Having never seen any 'traditional' sex
tourism I couldn't be sure.

At one point though I got a bit manic (/pissed) whilst in a bar for some live music. The band were a fairly awful latin cover band (damn that Ricky Martin) with skinny european girls sucking in their cheeks and trying the best to cover their germanic accents. Suddenly a local
belly dancer jumped up and started gyrating and there was a swarm of men, both local and foreign, crowding round, leaving all the women at their tables alone. I got a bit confused and believed I was watching the end of civilisation or the last days of Rome, just more tawdry and

However, the next day I went out on a boat and had 3 dives. There were loads of rays, a sea snake and the infamous fish which I have been assured was not as big as any type of Fiat car (sorry), but was still, in all probability, over 2 metres long. It was certainly the
biggest Napoleon our divemaster had seen, and it was genuinely, hugely, massively big. The only problem was a russian guy I was diving with. The first time I saw him snap off a big bit of coral I
thought he was just having problems with his buouyancy and had stuck his hand out randomly, but on the next dive I saw him pause, reach out and purposively break off about 20-30 years worth of growth, then drop it. I literally screamed out under water, which didn't achieve much,
and considered berating him back on the boat but the only Russian I can remember is "Please, Good, Thankyou," which I thought would insufficiently get my feelings across. I'd heard that Russians treated the sea with contempt, and it's tempting to come up with some idea of Russians feeling at war with nature because of the climate of their homeland, but really I just think he was a massive twat. Dick. Still, it was great to be back in the water and it was a lot more natural this time.

Ir was also great to climb one of the sandy bluffs and stare down over the mess beneath at sunset, with the sounds of all the call to prayers ringing around you. I had some nice fish. I chilled out. I met some nice Egyptians.

That night, at a bar, the live music was an old European guy perhaps not blessed with the best singing tone, with a drum he occasionally beat roughly in time with the backing track. He did medleys of Abba, a whole load of real shit, but for some reason I was ecstatically happy. At one point, a couple jumped up unbidden and started jiving to "Thankyou for the Music" The sins of the previous night were washed away. People are great, yadah yadah.

Anyway, I need to get this finally sent. I've almost caught up, and the above's a hell of a lot for you to get through as it is. Do please send me your stories or lack thereof. You can imagine how
upset I am to be missing the financial story of our lifetimes so let me know what it actually feels like. Does it feel like the start of a great depression, or does it just feel cold? Has there been a
noticible increase in tumbleweed? Are the cranes still building away over Sheffield or has someone realised that they might not be able to fill all the new shops, leaving the moor as one big crater? These are the kind of things I need to know. And also, like, if you've spent all weekend spanking nozz and cooking roast dinners. TELL ME.

Some may also have detected a hint of my 3 month crisis in the above. There were times I was getting a bit sick of things, but I've met some great people in Luxor, I'm really excited about the Sudan, and I think I'm through it now.

Love and wonderfulness, you know you matter,


Sunday, 15 February 2009


Martha, I'm glad to say is out of hospital (came out on Tuesday) and is keeping busy at home. She has been given lots of work by her teacher, and is having some lessons with a local friend who is home educated.

Douglas had a glucose tolerance test to find out if he really is diabetic (I doubt it, so does he). He had to drink a bottle of lucozade and have regular blood sugar levels taken. Glad it wasnt me. He has now come up with an impressive bruise on his arm where they took the blood :-) (Poor senstive Douggie!!)

I had my first meeting with our new team leader.. she is keen to help me develop and is doing all she can to help me with my goal of becoming a coach for the department. The job, amongst many other tasks, means listening into advisors calls and helping them improve their customer service skills, being "Support" for advisors who get stuck whilst on calls, and various other projects and support things. My first step on this route is "arriving" next week.. we have some new members of our team starting, fresh out of training, and I will be "buddying" one of them. This is like a low level support job :-)

Douglas had his yearly review meeting with work.. got some purple marks which mean super fantastic well done, a lot of generally "you are doing well" marks but two red ones (bad marks) one being his sickness record, which he can't help, and the other being the servcie level (how quickly his department answered calls through the year) which wasnt hit. so.. all in all hes doing really well!!

We have just had our bedroom door painted, and the upstiars landing ceiling done, and it all looks much nicer and whiter :-) Next week is the turn of the lounge.

The winter before this one, we had very bad condensation as a result of a poorly installed and ventillated gas fire. We have since had that problem sorted out, and the walls have remained dry and mould free since then. This means its safe to have the blown plaster and damaged lining paper removed, repaired and re painted.

We are hoping our house will look fresh and bright before our Best Man (wow ten years since we got married) and his Wife visit. We have not seen Stu or Janet for ages, and it will be a treat having them to stay!

If any friends or family who read this also want to come see our new paint work, wait till the beginning of March and come see!!!

Plans for the future

Well, when the painting is done, we want to replace our front door. We want a nice wooden door in Edwardian/late Victorian style. Douglas thinks a stable type door might be nice - one that we can just keep the top half open but the bottom half closed, so we can get fresh air through, but the cats can't use it as an exit and entrance.

When we have a new door, we want to replace the horrible flooring in our lounge area. We are thinking wooden laminate flooring, and a colourful rug. We would also replace the hall and stair carpet!

Plans for the far distant future..

We would love to create a conservatory in a strange spare oblong space next to our kitchen. We could have a lovely patio door into it from the lounge and use it as our green house!!

Oh... then... a jacuzzi would be nice.. mabye gold plate our car.. put diamonds on the soles of my shoes to stop them wearing out.. ;-) ... all we have to do is kill of a rich relative or win the lottery. Both are highly unlikey since we love our relatives (and we dont really have any mega rich ones..l) and we dont play the lottery very often.

The reality is that we are content being a family of two humans, two puddies and just enough lovely relatives :-)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow and consequences

Last week was a hard one for various reasons.

We dont usually have much snow round here, but last week we were given serveral doses of it, making travel into work "interesting" and for some people who live in more rural areas, impossible.

When the snow first falls, and you see it out of your house windows, it looks so pretty, a perfect white blanket covering the greys greens and muddy bits of winter, but then its time to step out into that wonderland, and try and get on with your daily routines.

I still remember deep snow in Leicester as a kid, making huge snowballs in the garden that got so heavy we could barely roll them. We loved the snow, and had such fun in it!

My little brothers kids, quite naturally were so excited to see a decent covering of snow. Martha and Leo are 9, and Carlo only 4, so this fall of snow was the biggest and "best" they had ever seen. Quite naturally, the kids were all terribly excited by it, and were desparate to go toboganning. Sadly, disaster struck, and Martha came off her sled, breaking her leg quite badly.

As the poor darling has broken the same leg before, this time she has had to have an operation to sort things out. Shes had some special bits of metal put in to help it mend back together. Martha now faces many weeks of being immobile in a big plaster cast whilst the bone slowly knits back together.

I will do all I can to help my dear brother and his wife KT look after Martha during her convalescence. Will talk to them and also to my work and see what can be done.

We had already booked in with Thos and Kt to have all 3 kids this weekend, so we decided to continue with that plan of action. We picked the boys up after we had finished work on Friday, and had them overnight.

this morning Douglas, Leo, Carlo and I went - by tram - as the roads are still quite icy - to see a new 3D movie called BOLT about a dog who thinks hes a super hero. I think it was Carlos first 3D film! We all enjoyed it very much, and reccomend it to Children from the age of 5 - 85!!

We trammed home, walked up our steep hill and had pizza for lunch. Carlo was being grumpy so I sent him off to his bedroom to play with his toys for a while. This had the desired effect and he went to sleep for a bit ;-) Leo and I watched Grand Designs, and Douglas read one of his new books.

At about 4pm, I herded the boys into the car whilst Douglas called the cats from their hiding places, gave them the all clear to come down, and put their food out for them. I was very grateful to him for making sure both Billy and Lilly were happily noshing.

When we were all packed and settled into the car, we set off for the local swimming pool. I think we spent just over One and a half hours there. All that time Carlo played in a pirate ship type thing that has a small waterslide on it. He is now very confident in the water, and had a smashing time!! Leo played with him for a while, but then went off and had fun with Douglas in the pool and the big flume.

The pool has a "body drier" which the boys love.. Imagine a cubicle with hot air being pumped out, and infra red lights shining on you. Its a great way to warm and dry skinny bodies that would otherwise cool down very fast in the drying process.

After a quick tea, we packed the boys and their things into bags/car and drove them round to my parents who are looking after them for the night and some of Sunday.

Carlo fell asleep in the car, and then very quickly fell asleep again on being put to bed at the parents house.. I'm sure by now Leo will also be out like a light :-)

We had a wonderful day.. and now we are exhausted too!!!