Monday, 27 April 2009

End of April

We are getting used to our lovely new luxiourous carpet - Douglas now enjoys sitting on the floor with his back leaning up against the sofa, and Billy, when not sleeping on the arm chair, the rocking chair or eating, can often be spotted full stretch anywhere in the lounge, smiling.

Douglas has had a few episodes of being poorly, but its better now thank goodness.. His mum has been quite poorly in hospital.. but shes recovering as well which is good.. my Uncle has had a couple of heart attacks and had some operations to open up his arteries a bit.. and next doors little white dog has also been poorly, but hes home and much better too!!

Now we are looking forward to a few days away to celebrate our 10th FirstHandfasting Anniversary! It gets a little confusing to explain to people why we had three ceremonies in a year.. but basically..

May 1st 1999 - Handfasting Dawn, May Day (Beltaine) Glastonbury Tor, married for a year and a day.

May 7th? 8th? 1999 Registry Office in Gretna.. that one lasts for life...

June 19th 1999 Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, we wrote our own ceremony, had a beautiful colourful Handfasting Ceremony, and got married for ever and ever (and a day)

How soppy is that? :-)

Monday, 20 April 2009

New Carpet!!!

Before........... (well after old carpet removed)

During.... the carpet is doubled over.. at this stage.. they had laid the first half in the front room, and then pulled it out and fitted it to the back half of the room!

After. Billy gives his seal of approval..
Billy is enjoying his new cat mat.. he told me that he approves of his new huge cat mat (humans know these as carpets) He can be seen at various times in the day testing out various bits of the cat mat looking happy. The rest of the time hes asleep (or eating..)

Douglas gives his seal of approval too! (no.. Douglas is not the cat.. He is the OTHER furry one in the picture below!) lol

After the photo Dad visited and re fitted the doors, having taken about an inch off the bottom of all of them!! Mum spent ages in the garden sorting that out :-)

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Exciting things happening to our house

Well, last Saturday we got a new wooden front door thanks to a very kind and generous donation to the funds from Benefactors (Thanks Benefactors.. you know who you are )

Our old door was not very secure.. it was only a 3 lever lock (was shocked to find that my parents back door key opened it) the door consisted of a large frosted glass panel with a small wooden frame round - so easy for anyone to kick in and gain access. Glad to say our new door, and that of my parents now both boast 5 lever mortice locks.

This coming Saturday, we are getting a new carpet for our lounge!! We have wanted to replace the damaged, thin and scraggly carpets down at present since we moved in about 2 years ago, but other things took higher priority. The money for this comes from savings I had totally forgotten about until I had a chance conversation with my Building Soc on the phone a month or so ago.

As promised, I will take some photos when its all down :-)

Douglas update

Hes been to hospital as usual today, they have changed his antibiotics as the ones the GP gave him turned out to be powerless against the infection he has. I will add this is not the GPs fault- no one was able to tell until test results came back.

Hopefully in 3 days or so, when they start to kick in, he will at last start to feel better.

Lilly update

Lilly has decided that walking on the edge of our bed in the mornings is a good way to check that Im thoroughly awake, and persuade me to a) give her some love b) feed her. She was just having her little walk, and I commented to Douglas that mabye, just maybe in a few months time she would be confident enough to curl up on our bed as Billy does.

This photo shows what happened 2 mins afterwards! Please excuse the odd angle.. I took the photo with my mobile lying down in bed whilst worshiping the cat with my other hand.

Here are some more cute Lilly photos! I took these in March with my web cam that takes photos. Shes sooooo cute!

And finally.. one of the two rascals together. Moments after I took this, Billy was sitting on the cat mat, and Lilly came to join him, for a split second they were both looking like the best picture ever, but then Billy got the hump and shoved off :-)

I hope, having managed to capture a rare photo of them both at the same time, you will be able to see their different markings. Lilly is sitting in the window with her little black goatee beard, Billy is having a well deserved cat nap on his mat :-)

Are we doting cat parents or what????? lol

Monday, 13 April 2009


Poor Douglas didnt make it, but my mum and I had a wonderful time so :-) and :-(

D is still not very well, so off to see GP for sick note, and Hospital to find out whats going wrong on Wednesday.

Poor boy.. and yes... it was better for him to stay and rest.. we went shopping today and even being in a wheelchair round B&Q exhausted him!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good Friday

Today is Good because Douglas is slowly getting better :-)

He has gone from the "too sick to care Im ill" phase to the "I'm grumpy and annoyed Im ill and I wanna get better faster" stage.

Still very unsure whether he will make it to Cirque this afternoon.... fingers crossed everyone!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

This week

After a lovely weekend, the week turned out not to be so good.

Douglas woke up on Monday morning feeling sick, running a temperature and a pain in his lower back. This was bad news partly because he was very poorly just a month ago, and ended up in hospital with dehydration following a bad bout of D&V, and partly because its even more time off sick from his job that he enjoys. We think its a uninary infection this time... sigh...

After a trip to the GP yesterday morning, Douglas is now on a course of dispersable antibiotics. He slept most of yesterday on and off, and when I came home I found he hadnt taken any of these new tablets as he kept getting half way through the "i must take the antibiotics" thought and falling asleep. I fed him one last night, and fed him another before I went this morning, and shall phone him at lunch time to make him take another.

Poor Douglas.. life is like a yo yo at the moment.. being poorly, getting better, then being poorly again with yet another bug.. its not fair but then life isnt.

I hope he will be better by Friday as we have tickets to see a spectacular show in Sheffield Arena.. Cirque du Soleil are performing there!!!!!! (Thanks to Aunty Lizzie for the birthday money that paid for them!) If he isnt well enough, I've put my mum on Standby :-)

Update on last week or so

Last weekend I took Douglas out on the Saturday to Welbeck Abbey - well not to the Abbey but to the cafe, exhibiton (The Harley Gallery), farm shop and loverly Dukeries Garden Centre that have been built in its grounds.

We spent the morning doing a bit of housework and deciding on our new carpet, then went down to Welbeck for lunch at the Lime House Cafe. We had two lovely salads, and felt ready for a look round the mini museum, which had the earring King Charles 1st wore when he was beheadded amongst other fascinating things.

The Exhibiton featured a very flamboyant artist called Andrew Logan who loves to work with mirrors and lots of colours. I particularly liked a 6 foot tall daisy that had Brian Enos music emmanating from it!! (Brian Enos music is very soothing!)

Next, we walked round a bit of the large garden centre (we purchased quite a few things and didnt trust ourselves to look round all of it for this reason) The farm shop got a vist, and we came away with two rather nice cheeses and some bacon.

Having exhausted ourselves and our budget, we had a lovely drive back through the springing countryside and put our edible purchases in the fridge and the plantable ones in the back garden.

On Sunday we did some boring but necessary housework, and made the kitchen and downstairs loo sparkle before I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. Douglas came out, and planted some of our new plants, and the cats also joined us :-)

It was a really lovely weekend!!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Last of Sudan (fromSimon)

The last day in Khartoum was blessed with clouds and wind; the hot weather was over. No longer was I hiding in ATM booths just to use the air-con, or hiding in the Mall with the Chinese (weirdly, the Chinese neither look at or acknowledge any non-Chinese). Doing stuff no longer had to be restricted to carefully restricted hours in the early morning or late afternoon.

People have been asking, "What do you actually DO in Sudan?", and whilst I hope I've made clear that there are a number of amazing sights and attractions in Sudan I feel I've not made it fully clear the character that such visitations take. Say you decide to visit the National Museum of Sudan, which is excellent and contains a few fully relocated temples which otherwise would be at the bottom of Lake Nasser, as well as a number of incredible Nubian Christian frescos from the middle ages. You make your plan, and pick a route - hopefully one with plenty of shade.
Every 100 metres down this route, you will be beckoned over to have a chat (this is discounting the numerous "Salam!"s and "Tamaam?"s you'll get in passing). If you're good, you can get this down to just a:
"Kayf? Tamaam?"
"Tamaam! Tamaam?"
"Koola tamaam."
But it can go on to include names, which country you're from, what do you think of Sudan/Ocampo, the offer of drinks, banannas, or if you're really unlucky, a visit to their home. Once this has been successfully navigated, you can move on another hundred metres to the next encounter. By the time you get to where you're going it's either closed or it's too hot, so you have to work out another route to take to get there the next day - if you went the same way then you'd have lots of friends, so the time taken would be doubled!
In case you think the Tamaaming is a traveller shortcut, the locals can engage in a bout for a good few minutes, slapping each others chests heartily whilst doing so. I sometimes wonder if the reason they're so happy is that they must spend a good part of every day telling each other how wonderfully everythnig is going. I should say that not everyone is wonderful here - I realise I may have painted it as some kind of pre-fall utopia - there are at least 4 people I've not particularly liked in the country. But the wonderful look on someones face when they realise they've met a real life Khawaja and can finally welcome him to their country is really quite beautiful.
In the Mall I also had the misfortune to purchase the Khartoum Monitor, the English newspaper out here. I used to have problems with Al Ahram in Egypt, for its "It's the Jews what done it!" attitude and casual racism (they weren't surprised to learn that Barack Obama was a good dancer, given he's black, and this Elvis like review of softcore pop-rapper Akon almost makes him sound quite interesting:, but the Khartoum Monitor is something else. At least Al Ahram was a proper paper - this was a badly tied together mess of actually quite stridently independent views (ICC, maybe not a bad thing), weird, incoherent Jesus rants like the type coming from a tramp sitting on his once proud billboard nursing the bottle that has lead him astray, and celebrity gossip sourced from the Daily Mail. Really. Apparently Madonna is turning into Kate Winslet in an effort to keep up with her young lover, and Keira Knightly DOES look good without make-up. Way to go Keira.
It was time to move on from Khartoum. I headed up to Shendi, the old capital when Sudan was still built on slavery. There's nothing left from those times, when apparently the richer you were the poorer you looked in order to avoid jealousy or theft. In that case, whoever built the Lokanda I leave my bags at must have been a millionare - it is literaly the scummiest, dirtiest hovel I've ever seen. The owners aren't there, but I'm eager to move on to check out the Pyramids and I'm told to leave my stuff and check in later.
The Pyramids just up the road are astonishing. You walk across the desert to a field of them, though these are pretty small, towards the horizon where a hill looks like the jawbone of some deceased titan, the broken pyramids lined along it like so many crushed teeth. They glow in the setting sun, though haze makes the light weird and there's a sandstorm brewing. As I stagger towards them through the wind, I meet the only touts in Sudan. The pick of them is a tiny, black Jim Henson puppet on camel back, who utters in a Yoda-like squeak "Hmmm, youwannacamelriiiiide?" before following it up with a Barry White-esque rumble "Mmmmm - ohkaay."
Luckily none of the touts (and there were only 7 in total) are allowed into the actual site, so I could explore it by myself. Most of the Pyramids here have had their tops lopped off by a 19th century treasure hunter, but they're still majestic as the desert slowly reclaims them. I climbed one for my 'Flaubert' moment, but it's a lot smaller than the great one so wasn't similarly overcome.
I hitched back to Shendi with a long distance lorry driver, which feels like another tick on those life-experiences chart. Unfortunately, upon reaching Shendi, the Lokanda owners told me that it was full. But where were all the people? They would no doubt show up later. Given it was now after 9 o'clock, I asked if there was any other Lokanda in Shendi - "No, but there is a hotel across town..." After a trek I found that this hotel was charging $60 a night, which made it one of the most expensive in Sudan for not very much improvement. After informing them I wouldn't be staying there, the receptionist said with a smug grin "But there's nowhere else you can stay in Shendi...", which smells like a bit of a stitch up to me. Luckily I'd seen a street of bed shops on my travels through town, and availing myself of some of their outdoor stock in an out of sight situation, settled down for the night. Lifts with lorry drivers and sleeping rough - hobo values coming to the fore.
Naturally the next day I was up early and on my way to Atbara. Upon first arriving I thought it was dump, but after a quick nap & shower I had a wander around and got into the spirit of things. The suq was vibrant (though when I pulled out my camera someone stuck their head out of a car and said "No photos here!"). You can wander around the railway works and workers will wave at you as they drive their engines past - photos are allowed here, surprisingly. Across the tracks, you're suddenly in suburban England (though a lot sunnier), or perhaps an Indian cantonnement, with lots of bungalows on shady terraces, and an odd Umbrian church which seemed a little out of place. There were also lots of little branch lines petering about; it seems that some of the railway workers take their work home with them.
I only spent a day there, before heading over to Port Sudan. The journey over is incredible, as half way through you start reaching the Red Sea Hills. The reason I haven't been talking about the scenery much is that it's almost always flat, a vast nothingness where every half an hour or so you pass a geological feature, or perhaps just a few big rocks. Sometimes there's some scrubby Acacia trees, almost enough to call a wood, sometimes there's just a big lot of empty. But along the length of the Red Sea coast there are scores of hills, some even rising to quite a prodigious height, and all of them providing a dramatic backdrop compared to the rest of Sudan.
Thes black crags with dusty valleys lined with occasional green shrubs are the perfect breeding grounds for herds of camel and even more prolific dust-devils. I once saw 17 at a time, which seems unusual, though some were forming or dissapating. Amongst this demon wracked landscape live the Beja tribesmen, proud but scarred by modernity. In the desert their tents rise as tan whale-backs, but the closer you get to towns the more they begin to break-apart, covered in plastic scabs, till finally you're left with a shabby little shanty outside Port Sudan. Still, they make an impressive sight strolling through the colonial streets in their waistcoats and afros, carrying their swords.
Port Sudan itself is full of wide, sleepy streets lined with arches. It's also totally surrounded by docks, which may be why even the whiff of getting a camera out will cause people to pull over, screeching on their horns and tell you to not take photos. Still, it was a lovely place to hang out, and when the weekend ended the streets suddenly filled with people. I had awoken to a strange noise; I realised it was the bustle of the crowd. It turns out that during the week it's as lively as anything.
The main reason to visit is to see Suakin, the old slave trading and Hajj port just down the coast. It's on a small island, reached by a causeway, and all its buildings are in a state of rue collapse despite only being abandonned 100 years ago. It now seems to mainly be the residence of various ravens and hawks, but you can still climb the minaret for great views and stumble over the decaying coral architecture. It seemed vaguely poetic to me that a town built on the bodies of so many slaves and literally from the remains of so much coral is itself now dying.
It also had the best fish restaurant ever just outside it. For weeks I've had to choose between eating the excellent ful/bean mush and something expensive and rubbish otherwise. But here I was served the days catch fried up with a spicy sauce and a wonderful satay salad. It was like suddenly been taken to South East Asia and my taste buds wept with joy. Plus the owner will feed goats from his mouth for your amusement, letting them clamber up onto his shoulders. Re. Sult.
But I've now come to Kassala, to practically the end of my Sudanese soujourn, passing some Beja in the midst of a jumping competition on the way. Here the flat plain is penetrated by some dramatic fingers of granite thrusting up to awesome heights. For some reason it's lush on this side of them, despite being miles from the Nile and having a local river which has completely dried up. It's a great town with bussling suqs full of fruit, and colourful inhabitants, mostly Beja or Rashaida (whose women are some of the few to wear the veil in Sudan, but are extravegantly attired and very pale skinned - well, hispanic coloured).
I've spent a few days here wandering around, climbing quite far up the mountains (though they tend to get quite sheer near the top) and just enjoying looking at them poking up in the distance. It's nice to sit on the roof at sunset and watch the colours change on their freckled sides. I've been happy in Sudan, many, many times. I hope that Ethiopia can live up to this. I know it will be a lot harder work.
A lot of the Sudanese I've met have asked me to let you know that they're not bad people, that they just want to develop their country and not be villified. I should say that apart from occasional power cuts and lack of postal service they don't seem dramatically poorer than other nations. Every house I've been to has seemed fairly nice, though this may be because only people who live in good conditions invite me, but most people seem to have enough to eat - I did see someone in Shendi grab someone's leftovers of a plate though. There are beggars here, but no more than in any other 3rd world country.
It seems the main problem is that the Sudan has learnt too well from us, and is engaged in maintaining the colonial empire it was left. North Sudan is a great place with lovely people, but really, no viable industry or resources. South Sudan has plenty of oil, and the North needs it to keep development on track. Unfortunately this means violence continues to erupt. But to the Northerners, this seems ambiguous and not necessarily Bashirs fault, and Bashir doesn't seem to be corrupt, or not visibly so, which is a big thing in Africa. Even Egypt is riddled with corruption. It certainly seems like the ICC case has cemented his popularity, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't win the presedential elections this year.
I've heard that the internet is fairly awful in Ethiopia, so you may not hear that much from me in the next couple of months. Thankyou for wading through these massive braindumps. Keep in touch. Always good to hear from you,