Discuss longhaul
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Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

who is this
The gang
A gaggle of Ghanaians
There may or may not be a photo of my beautiful Cardiffians underneath this post. If it's there, hurrah for you all. Thanks for a great weekend in Wales. If it's not there, bummer but you are spared a bloody awful picture of me at least. Off to Chicago Tuesday to Thursday.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Well blogees(?), I am very disappointed that my last picture wouldn't upload. I hope this isn't a sign of future problems with illustrating my travels. Apart from being extremely heart-warming people, the Ghanaians turned out to be terribly photogenic so it will be a shame if you can't see this for yourselves.

It doesn't take much to tempt a return smile out of a Ghanian. I caught a taxi into Jamestown, an area of west Accra on the coast where the LPG had promised me a lighthouse from which good views could be descried. For the first time ever, this information turned out to be duff. Finally the LPG's show themselves to be fallible. The lighthouse was very run-down, seemed to have people squatting in its lower regions and had obviously not been any kind of tourist attraction for several years. It was also very short as lighthouses go, so even in its heyday I'd be surprised if the view was worth much really.

However, the streets and shanty-style dwellings of Jamestown were very interesting. Packed with people, colour and life. There were kids everywhere and grins on every face. People waved, shouted and beamed at me. What a gregarious race! I was mobbed by kids once they realised they could see instantly the pictures I was taking of them. It took some time back at the hotel to erase the grease and stickiness of many tiny African fingers from my camera, but it was worth a few moments of unease, wondering if all the tugging and screeching would result in me dropping the thing in a pile of God know's what.

Conditions were pretty basic for most of the people living in this area of Accra and it was very smelly. I think they have open sewers and no kind of rubbish collection so it is basically insanitory. The people weren't at all dirty though and everyone had spotless clothes on so I have no idea how they achieve this. I have been told that Accra has its leafy suburbs too and that houses worth £300,000 are being built these days for locals with money of which there are many. Still, the majority are poor but they are getting an education and lack of material wealth didn't seem to have affected their mood much.

I was adopted by Hasna a twenty-one year old "boy" - because he was so boyish not manly. He showed me round a sort of cultural centre where whole families lived, making traditional crafts (drums, carvings, paintings) and farming cows, chickens and goats. It was a very scruffy place just set back from the beach but Hasna was very proud of it all and amazingly produced an email address for me to send some of my pictures to. He was a drummer and ran an African drum shop with his brother and two other men. As I left he gave me a big warm hug and insisted on accompanying me to flag down a taxi so he could ensure I wasn't ripped off by the driver. How about that for a warm welcome to a new country?

I wish I had taken photos of the schoolchildren because they still wear the sorts of uniforms we might have sported in the 1930's. Pinafore dresses in brown for the girls with yellow shirts underneath and trousers or shorts for the boys. All the children were immaculate in this attire, not like British children who try anything to individualise their uniform (doing strange things to their socks and untucking shirts etc). It was sometimes hard to understand the version of English spoken on the street. People seem to lapse in and out of other languages too and it is all heavily peppered with Ghanianised words. On the flight though, the posh end of society were often very well-spoken and I even saw one man in true country gentlemen tweeds including a waistcoat. Another young man kept his tie and jacket on for the whole flight home even though we travelled through the night and nearly all the passengers disembarked looking as if they had just donned their various wardrobes and been brushed down by a valet. I suspect and hope that Ghana has a good future ahead of her.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I feel a lot more confident about travelling to Ghana since:

1. Buying the LPG to Africa in which Ghanaians are vaunted as the most chilled, polite and stylish people in Africa who will welcome you with open arms. Sounds all right doesn't it?
2. Ignoring the foolishly optimistic advice of my dear employers as regards malaria prophylaxis.

They say they will no longer provide us with free anti-malarials because we are at a lower risk than most travellers to Africa as we stay only in air-conditioned hotels, travel only on air-conditioned buses and are provided with free anti-mosquito spray and advised to cover up during the hours of darkness.
I say, the times of day when we arrive and leave these countries are during the hours of darkness and mozzies swarm around hotel entrances attracted by the lights and also buzz around inside the airports, air-conditioned or not. There is at least an hour during arrival and departure where we can't avoid coming into contact with potentially mosquito-ridden surroundings and until they provide me with trousers (they're on the way) how can we "cover up" wearing billowing skirts and sheer hosiery? It is foolish nonsense to say we are at a 100-1000 times lower risk than the average traveller. These figures are so ludicrously wide-ranging in scale it makes you wonder how on earth they came up with them. Malaria can kill and to promote what is already a complacent attitude to this aspect of personal securty down-route I think is very irresponsible.

So there.

I went to the doc's and at vast personal expense (£32.00) am now dosed-up with Malaprone. I am also taking extra-strength garlic pearls and cod-liver oil tablets in the hope that all this makes me thoroughly unpleasant tasting. I hope humans can't smell me.

I had a very civilised Greene King IPA this lunchtime with someone I haven't seen for, what he assures me is nine years. No-one should leave getting together with old friends this long - it is almost as irresponsible as not taking your malaria tablets. Click on the pic to see who I'm talking about.

We went to The Brocket Arms, that North Herts institution, where I was glad to see the proprietor making his usual mess of the food orders and his usual terribly posh young employee behind the bar doing his best to limit the damage caused. So glad that's not me anymore. I can honestly say that working at the dear Brocket with the charming but ineffective Mr Wingfield-Digby was one of the most stressful jobs I've ever had. Many of you reading this will have experienced the delights of the Brocket with me. My advice: stick to the beer, don't arrive hungry.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Steam Clock, Gastown, Vancouver
On the edge of Stanley Park
Stanley Park and mountains
As I hoped, Vancouver turned out to be much more interesting than Toronto. Even flying in was spectacular. It's all in the location. Think Glasgow but with higher and closer mountains and you wouldn't be far off. We swept in from the west above mountains covered in snow, dark grey shapes of off-shore islands and acres of fir-clad hillsides. Vancouver came into view, a twinkle of lights and high-rise towers. Really a perfect position for a city.

As usual my first priority was sleep but on Saturday I was up early and spent a good eight hours wandering around the city. The trusty Lonely Planet Guide (where would I be without these?) took me on a walking tour of the city centre and Gastown, the 19th Century industrial heart of things. Everything looked lovely in the early morning light. Any north-facing street you looked up framed dramatic snow-tipped mountains at its end. They give the impression of being very close to you even though there is a wide stretch of water, Burrard Inlet, separating you from them. There are also lots of cherry trees in blossom at the moment, perhaps planted by some of Vancouver's many oriental inhabitants. Certainly I kept coming across swarms of Japanese and Chinese people gathering underneath the pink, fluffy boughs cooing with pleasure and who can blame them?

My meanderings took me up to the Burrard Inlet's southern shores from which boats to Victoria depart and seaplanes take off and land all the time. Nifty things. I was quite tempted to take a scenic tour on one but will save it for another time. The presence of all this water affects the sound of the city. It's not quite an echoing, more a spreading out and hushing of noise. Anyway, the overall impression is very calming and the sight of the beautiful mountains to the north and east sends the spirits skywards. Lovely.

Gastown contained all sorts of old warehouse-type buildings from the days of logging and fur-trading. Buildings used to be heated by steam pumped underground but the only evidence of this nowadays is the presence of a steam-powered clock which chimes the Westminster Chimes on the hour with its steam whistles. Nothing like the sound of a steam whistle to put a smile on your face and I don't think you have to be John Marsh's daughter to appreciate that.

Eventually I reached my starting point again and as it turned out to be near the Vancouver Art Gallery I decided to take in another of the Lonely Planets' "highlights" and explore the art of Canada's most famous female artist, Emily Carr (1871-1930's?). Thankfully I decided to have a coffee and something to eat in the most terribly civilised cafe first. What a restful haven! Only delicious-looking food on offer, interesting classical music playing in the background, a view onto a terrace and gardens below and the clientelle all behaving with decorum and minding their own business. It was just the tonic for a mildly jetlagged mind and set me up nicely for the peculiarity of Emily Carr's view of the world.

Emily was a bit if a nutter who went to live amongst the local "Indian Tribes" (now referred to in Vancouver as First Nation's People - an unweildy title if ever I heard one and nonsensical aswell). She then became fond of trees in a deranged sort of a way and painted hundreds and hundreds of pines in an increasingly modernist style until her demise. She obviously had talent as I saw from her minute sketch books which had charming pen and ink studies of wooden houses set in woodland clearings, smoke rising from the chimneys etc. Pity she didn't stick to these if you ask me. The work she is renowned for these days was wasted on me. Just too many weirdly shaped pines Emily you crazed old woman.

Luckily there was also an exhibition of Canada's war artists' work from the First and Second World Wars. I would have gone to see this anyway, but it was particularly appropriate on the anniversary of the Iraq war I suppose. To supplement the work on view there was a video to watch, explaining what needed to be explained. They had also filmed one of the artisits (now very old) being shown the watercolours he had produced on board a naval vessel fifty years previously. You could see in his face that being confronted with his own images again after all this time just wrenched him back to that time and place. The years between just fell away.

One of the paintings had soldiers marching past with faces fixed on the horizon. It was only after you'd been studying it for a few minutes that you noticed that some of the faces were more staring and fixed-looking than the others and then you saw that these man were already dead. I thought this was very affecting as this is what death is like. One minute a person is alive and then in an instant they are dead, but the dead seem to march alongside the living for a time afterwards. It wasn't a particularly nice painting but the artist had certainly hit upon something profound.

My next goal was Stanley park which sits on an island of its own just to the west of the main city and joined to it and the land to the north by bridges. By this time the day had really got going and Vancouverites were out in droves. Around the park runs a trackway and upon it pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers compete for supremacy. I hate rollerbladers. What a stupid, posing watse of time. And they are mostly adults who should know better! I hate them nearly as much as joggers. (But actually I don't like rambers very much either, especially when they start going on about their right to roam. But this is yesterday's issue and if I don't curtail this rant Paul will be calling me a fascist again).

Anyway, Stanley Park is a handy bit of greenery alongside the city. There are lovely views, toweringly tall trees, totem poles and no dog shit. My only complaint is that it is all a bit managed: visitor centres, car parks, one-way paths and everyone behaving themselves nicely, a bit like in California. I'm sorry, but although I know they don't like to be compared with their cousins down south, I do think the Canadians are more American than European. When we boarded our bus at the airport to be taken to the crew hotel, the driver climbed on board, turned to us all, introduced himself as Andy and yelled "Welcome-to-Vancouver-every-body!!!!" Bearing in mind that for us it was 3am, we had just endured a nine hour flight and that cabin crew are notoriously cynical and nasty, the poor man was lucky that the response was restrained merely to muted sniggers and a few polite mutters from myself and the pilots. We are a horrid race.

One last subject to write about and it's on Canadian beggars again. Everyone calls them panhandlers here and I got my first one of the day at about 8am outside the art gallery. The wierd thing is that he tried to spin me this yarn which I first heard almost exactly a year ago in Copenhagen, although the first time it was spun to me I gave it credence for longer before waking away. It's the one about wives disappearing with your passport and money by mistake and the neccessity of obtaining a couple of pounds (substitute dollars or kroner) with which to contact your embassy. It was more convincing in Copenhagen as the man who tried it on with me was Australian, well-dressed and convincing up to a point. The specimen I got in Vancouver shook like an addict from the start and had a Canadian accent (to my ears at least) so the very mention of wives and passports failed to ring true. What struck me was the oddness of hearing the same cock and bull story on different sides of the world, a year apart. I know it is a year because it was the day Stuart's leg got blown off by the landmine and I was in a peculiar state or I would have grasped sooner that I was being taken for a ride. Anyway neither of these men succeeded with me as the first time I had no local currency anyway and the second time I got crosser more quickly about being lied to. I'd rather beggars stuck to simple begging as it is insulting that you are thought stupid enough to believe their stories. But how do these scams travel across continents anyway? Are they transported by peripatetic beggars? The very idea is intriguing.

It is a bad time change between Vancouver and London - eight hours. By the time I got home yesterday afternoon it was well over 24 hours since I had seen any sleep. Still, at home now until Thursday and I hope to see/hear from some of you before I set off again, next time to Accra, Ghana.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Walking Sisters
Church Tea Ladies
Mechanical Hero
Wallisfluffies
Bob's blog can be found at http://bobertblog.blogspot.com/ Check it out!!!
An action packed few days off saw me down to Bristol to collect Jo for a night of luxury at a B & B in Newlands, Forest of Dean, followed by a walk the next day to shift the hangovers acquired at The Ostrich the night before.

Spring has sprung and we did a special daffodil walk which had its high point at the village of Dymock scene of a pre-war poet extravaganza. Robert Frost, Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke and a few others I can't remember were all in evidence here in the early years of the twentieth century, poeting away like mad. These days they have tea in the church during Lent to raise money for a new carpet and one of the tea ladies could remember having another tea many years ago with Robert Frost himself. Tea was so good and it was all so wonderfully English after all my travels of late, I took a photo of the stalwart cake-bakers which I hope readers will take the time to admire. Once this generation are gone we'll never get them back.

Last night I spent on The Bee with Jo and Martin and today I tried to go to Hereford to visit Jenny and Bob. The car would NOT start despite recently having been bribed through its MOT to the tune of £500. Martin got to work and was truly heroic. It was like watching a surgeon. Three and a half hours later the carburettor had been removed, flushed out with compressed oxygen and replaced in a fine state and finally the car leapt into action. I am exceedingly grateful and Mart is a truly excellent mechanic. Any one else got a crappy old car needs fixing? You'll find him on the dockside in central Bristol.....all right Mart?

I made it to Hereford in the end and well worth the effort it was too. Jenny and Bob were in fine fettle and I spawned my first new blogger in Bob who is going to begin sharing his experiences in the virtual medium too. I'll post his blog address soon. Please also take the time to look at the picture of Bob and Jenny because it really is a nice one! Thank you to Jenny's Mum and Dad for putting up with my bad language for four hours this evening and providing me with delicious fish and chips.

Tomorrow (or rather today) off to Vancouver. Back Sunday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

As you'll see below there is one picture of a mutant squirrel (see the Toronto entry) and two above from New York which relate to today's entry.

Got back from The Big Apple this morning after a fairly trying couple of flights. I found this particular batch of colleagues somewhat tiresome I have to admit. I think I have done enough long haul flying now to be able to conclude with some justification that on the whole, long haul crew are lazier and more spoilt than their short haul colleagues. I got sick of being the only one to answer a call bell. There can't be a crewman/woman in the world who doesn't secretly wish that these useful (for passengers) devices had never been thought up. At 4am it is difficult to be civil to someone who rings the bell, dragging you away from your exhausted stupor on your own uncomfortable crew seat to find that all they want is to hand you an empty plastic cup or something. Hard to bite back the words "Why on earth didn't you just shove this in the seat pocket/ chuck it on the floor/ throw it backwards over your head to row 52? I don't care, but why summon me 30 rows if you're having anything less than a full blown heart attack at this time of night?"

I also had a fat wheezy old git who announced on the final approach into Heathrow at 6am that he had to "Have a shit. I can't hold it in." Frankly this is too much detail from any member of the public over the age of seven. Very coarse I thought and if I could get away with it I would happily leave such people to slide around in their own diahorrea as the wheels touch down at LHR regardless of the minor injuries they might be risking. I returned to my own seat after reinstalling the gentleman in question back in his own seat (post-movement) and was informed by my more senior colleague that "Americans can't control their bowels. You'll learn that if you stay on longhaul. They're missing a sphincter."

Luckily the time off the plane as usual made up for the purgatory on the plane. (Which isn't always awful but things seem worse when you've missed two night's sleep in a six day period). New York struck me afresh with all its splendours. Next time I'll try and take some pics that capture the magnificant skyline of Manhattan and the sheer scale of the skyscrapers but my goal yesterday was Greenwich Village.

A reunion was in store for me at the hotel in NY. One of the people I orginally trained with back in 1998, Sinead, was also on a trip and we hadn't seen each other for three years as she had gone down to Gatwick to fly from there as her base and I had stayed at Heathrow. We had a good gossip and agreed to go to GV the next day for lunch together. I prefer to do things on my own usually, but with those who I was forced to share a gruelling five-week fully-lipsticked hard-corporate-sell with, I'll make an exception and Sinead is a friendly chatterbox and doesn't mind my cynicism about the whole airline lifestyle. It was nice to have someone to share the day with too as Greenwich was very appealing. I really like the architecture down there which draws heavily from the Dutch I thought. It was Sunday morning, a little chilly but sunny and we watched "the village" begin to wake up and open up its doors and personality. People shuffled out of their apartments wearing long heavy coats all bundled round with scarves and wooley hats pulled low down round their necks. It wasn't really cold enough to warrant such measures but I think it's a sort of Greenwich Village look. Lots of people had dogs on leads in one hand and a takeaway cup of coffee clutched in the other. There was a definite sense of getting up late and insulating yourself from too much daylight too soon. Some of the first places to open up shop were the numerous flower shops, most with colourful displays of spring blooms spilling onto the pavements - a nice touch.

Sinead and I did a circular walking tour from the guidebook which eventually took us through Stonewall Place, the scene of the riots back in the sixties after the police raided the gay club and were heavy handed to say the least in their effort to crack down on the gay community. I'm glad to say we're now living in more tolerant times and there are now four statues marking the spot, two men, two women, hence the picture of me below.

As before in New York I was inspired by the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the way people will just strike up conversation with you. I bought a small bottle of wine in a liquor store and was way-layed for ten further minutes while the proprietor insisted I sampled various American reds in a very patriotic manner. They were jolly nice too. Yep, New York really is a distinctive and unique city - one of the world's greats.

Monday, March 15, 2004

I don't think she fancies me
Sinead and myself plus an irritating waiter
Mutant Squirrel

Friday, March 12, 2004

All that extra radiation exposure we get at high altitudes must be to blame for the "blonde" moment suffered by me on Tuesday night when it took Stu to disabuse me of the notion I was setting out for Washington by pointing out that the baggage tag on my suitcase said YYZ which he informed me means Toronto. It was too late for me to rush out and buy a guidebook to Canada so with only Wasington facts at my fingertips, I found myself plonked down in a state of ignorance amidst this latest metropolis.

Thank goodness for the moving map on the little screens you get on the back of the seat on front of you. At least I knew where I was in the geographical sense by the time we arrived. Toronto hunkers on the north-west shore of Lake Ontario and at about the same latitude as northern Italy which surprised me as in my imagination Canada is a "northern" country like Scotland or Norway.

Nor was it ice-bound and inhospitable at this time of year. London is colder at the moment and in Toronto a lovely pale yellow light threw itself across the streets and skyscrapers whilst the air was fresh and clean-feeling like in Scandinavia. I arrived mid-afternoon and began accumulating surprising facts even without a guidebook. Incredibly there are only about 30 million people living in Canada which leaves the vast majority of it empty of humans. Lovely. If you can get your head around this one, eight percent of people live in six-one-hundred-thousandths of the land. Even in Toronto there is an actual and unconscious awareness of space. The streets are wide, the traffic not bad by European standards, all the noise seems strangely muted or like a low-level rumbling and people don't look stressed or rushed.

Once again, my hotel was in the financial quarter, so more blooming skyscrapers which, impressive though they are and photogenic too, I have concluded are not for me. They shut people out those cold, towering edifices. There is nothing inviting or human about a skyscraper. Toronto has various districts and huge suburbs aswell as its fair share of the concrete forests but it doesn't seem to have a focal point to draw everything together. I think it may be this that makes it seem lacking in atmosphere.

Obviously a wealthy city and in a country with more than enough natural resources to go round I was surprised by the number of homeless people sleeping rough. I encountered a queue of them waiting to be fed by the law-society and many of the downtown streets had a tramp in-situ or a bundle of belongings waiting for their owner to reappear. Evidence of the fact that the poor will always be with us and that some people just can't integrate into the rest of society no matter what I suppose.

It feels a safe place to walk around though. An odd thing is that quite a few times I found that someone walking along the same pavement as me had matched their footsteps to my own and was almost but not quite, too close for comfort. You know how embarrassing it can be if you end up too much in synch with a stranger in close proximity in an otherwise empty place. (Worst of all on a country footpath). Well, it kept happening and it only seemed to bother me. Maybe it WAS me! Perhaps I'm about to go down with some kind of schitzophrenic-like illness? Certainly those who tailed me or walked just a foot or two in front of me didn't seem to be bothered about it but surely the Canadian's sense of personal space ought to be greater than our own if anything as they live in a less crowded place? Or are they lonely at heart and craving intimacy and this makes them gravitiate towards others in a silent and unacknowledged way? I confess I am at a loss to understand the essential Canadian. I know they don't like being mistaken for Americans but they sound the same to me. I suppose they are more reticent and less neurotic. One of my old friends Lynne is a Torontarian but exiled herself years ago and seems unlikely to return. If you're reading this Lynne, your thoughts on Toronto and the state of the Canadian soul would be most welcome.

I did the tourist highlight and went up the CN tower which is the tallest building in the world at over 1800 feet and going up the side of that in a high speed lift with glass doors really does make you intake a sharp breath! Well worth the dollars for the thrill and the impression of what it must be like to be a ladybird perched on the swaying stem of a tall flower. You wouldn't want to be up there in a thunderstorm though as it is struck by lightning an average of 75 times a year.

I also walked around the semi-campus of Toronto's university. There are some quite attractive older buildings but the place seemed lacking in buzz. Also, wherever there is a green space, the mutant squirrels show themselves. These are large, black, red-eyed freaks of nature. If you attract the attention of one it comes speeding over like a salivating rat and looks as if it doesn't intend stopping. When wildlife becomes this tame, something is wrong. These creatures are menacing and evidently long-lived as I saw a few obvious octogenarians of the squirrel world going grey and mangy roungd the neck. A partially-articulate teenager informed that they do in fact attack people if sufficiently goaded. Great. The squirrels had more tenacity and purpose than anyone else I encountered in Toronto. It will be interesting to see how Vancouver, which is coming-up soon, compares.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Miami Beach Art Deco 1.jpgMiami Beach Art Deco 2.jpgMiami Beach Art Deco 3.jpg

Saturday, March 06, 2004

It's surprising how quickly you get used to things. I'm already pretty blase about finding myself in The States and the latest jaunt to Miami didn't fill me with the excitement of LA, let alone NY (which really is a unique city and so far streets-ahead of any other US destination I've seen).

Flying in, there were below me the usual miles upon miles of streets laid out in a strict grid-pattern, many of them seemed to be waterfront developments, the water piped in and contained in new lakes to make the res. that bit more des. It is boring though all that uniformity of blocks and thoroughfares and I hate the system of finding your way round by having to take map references along the lines of 10786 SW 40th Street. Where are the landmarks and the nuances of place in this? It is all too mathematical and soulless for me - not to mention taxing to a jet-lagged brain.

Miami is a very built-up place. It may be situated on a peninsula (Florida) of wonderful natural location, but beyond the beaches themselves it is just concreted over. The city of Miami is on the mainland and then there are various islands (keys) just off the coast, reached by road bridges in a few minutes and these are the places where people congregate to see and be seen, to sunbathe and show-off their tans. But again, the islands are covered in buildings. Every last scrap of space has been appropriated for the use of man (and woman) at the expense of whatever natural swamp or forest would orginally have graced the spot. It feels crowded with bricks and mortar and the ever-swaying beachside palms just don't make adequate recompense.

Our hotel was in Downtown Miami which is the commercial district and therefore the part of town with the inevitable skyscrapers, freeways hurtling by and in Miami's case, a railway suspended above the streets and snaking between buildings conducting electric railcars over the heads of predominately car-bound residents of the city. This railway gave Downtown the look of a 1960's science-fiction novel cover. To me it was the 60's idea of what a futuristic city might look like come to life in the present, particularly after dark when the lights (which America seems determined to leave switched on in their office blocks all night long), shine out in row upon row, block upon block. Incidently, hardly anyone seemed to use the elevated electric railway. It hummed past outside my hotel room window and I hardly ever saw a soul in the carriages.

I only had 24 hours to play with so after a delicious American hotel breakfast - my first authentic hashbrowns - I decided to catch a bus across the bay to Miami Beach - the island comprising the Deco District, various rich-person's haunts and the houses of such eminences as Versace. (I've come a long way since my greenhorn days when I was a new little air sterwardess when I had never heard of Versace and pronounced him Ver-zass. Well, that's what happens when you grow up in a village and have parents who buy you sensible shoes and take you to National Trust properties at weekends).

The bus dropped me off and I walked a couple of blocks beachwards until I was standing on Ocean Drive -surely that of various pop song's lyrics? Hotel after Hotel stretches away south and north along the sea front - all of an era and many of attractive Art Deco design. A lot of al-fresco dining was going on and the beach itself was packed with beautiful people all hastening on their skin-cancer nicely. It was a scorching sun and I didn't see a lot of sun-cream being applied. Needless to say I was among the most transluscent of the bodies on the beach but knowing my limitations I didn't brave the exposure of a bikini. I had a paddle and would have loved a swim, but what do you do with a rucksac containing credit cards and a digital camera when you're alone on a crowded beach? This is a problem for the lone traveller and I admit I was a bit lonely. You need friends on a beach of the Miami sort where there isn't much to distact you apart from perfect bodies - no rock pools, not much wildlife and just endless sand with no cliff scenery or piers - nowt.

I sat down and tried to read Libra by Don Delillo all about the Kennedy assasination but couldn't concentrate. Some disgruntled seagulls were my near neighbours, looking unhappy hemmed in by all the baking bodies and arrogant lifeguards. The poor things had been reduced to occupying the least desirable bit of sand going - all churned up by feet and tire treads so that humans would no longer put up with such a bumpy seat. They looked depressed. So after a wander up and down Ocean Drive again I cut my losses and tracked down a return bus Downtown. So what did I enjoy most about Miami? Answer: my breakfast. The verdict? Long way to go for a decent fry-up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Off to Miami until Saturday morning. Does anyone want to come and see the Tbilisi Marionette Theatre perform one of two plays at The Barbican with me? There was a good write-up in The Independent today or you can look at their website barbican.org.uk/bite/ The plays are performed in Georgian with an pre-recorded translation over the top or subtitles depending on which play you see. They include Georgian folk music. I can do 9 March for The Battle of Stalingrad or 16/18 March for Autumn of my Springtime. If anyone fancies this, book the required number of tickets and leave a message on this blog to say you've done so or I may get several tickets bought for me. (Or not...I know it's a bit obscure).

Monday, March 01, 2004

Just spent the weekend in Lagos, Nigeria and boy am I glad to be back in
Merrie England. It is considered too dangerous for us to venture outside the
precincts of The Sheraton Hotel whether by taxi, on foot, in fact any way
short of developing wings of your own and flying out a safe distance above
the ground. Just about anything nasty you can imagine befalling you happens
with frightening regularity in Lagos. Muggings, car-jackings, rape, armed
hold-ups, street-violence - you name it, it's all there. Things are so bad
that the crew bus has been known to be stoned in transit from the airport to
the hotel in the past. Thankfully there was none of this on Saturday
evening, but we were still escorted by one police vehicle and one pick-up
truck containing many men with rifles at the ready. Another newcomer to
Longhaul and myself sat at the back of the bus and made faces of mock-horror
at each other. This never happened when we were venturing to such delighful
cities as Stockholm or Rome.

The hotel did nothing to inspire further confidence either. Very dingy,
smelly and in dire need of refurbishment - the bare minimum was provided in
the rooms - not even a hairdryer! No remote control for the telly, notices
up everywhere warning you not to steal the bedsheets (which you wouldn't
have wanted anyway as they were thin and synthetic-feeling). The bedroom
door had a long missive attached warning about locking your room at all
times, checking the spyhole if anyone tried to gain entry etc and on every
floor there was a guard on duty on the corridor at all times. It is well
known that in the small hotel disco, prostitutes tout for trade and are
given the same rooms that the airline uses to do their business. Not a happy
thought.

Outside the window I could see a collection of concrete garages, some kind
of sewerage system, many security personel patrolling the perimeter fences
and the odd mosquito attempting to find a way in through the glass.
(Malarial mozzies are rife here so no opening the window even though the
damp smell in the room was repulsive). To cap it all, it was dark when we
arrived and the electricity kept cutting out plunging me into total
blackness for minutes at a time every half hour or so. Apparently this
always happens there, but the first time it did I was caught standing half
out the bathroom with no clothes on and I was convinced it was a plot by
corrupt security men to let themselves into my room while I was thus
disabled by not being able to see a thing and attack me. I was getting quite
paranoid by this time, but it wasn't surprising.

The wiring of lights, TV, and air-conditioning in the room was frightening
in itself - I took a photo so you can see for yourselves and if you wanted
to use a hairdryer you had to hold the plug into the socket with your foot
whilst drying or it just cut out.

I didn't dare order any food as you can't drink the water,even to brush your
teeth, so anything that came with salad or mayonaise, rice or re-heated
sauce I was too scared to contemplate eating. I have survived on peculiar
items unearthed from the bottom of my suitcase, the oddest being a tin of
Ambrosia Creamed Rice which only a desperate person would resort to.

Next day it was too hot for me to stand being outside for more than an hour,
so I had a wander round the grounds (surely too grandiose a term?). I
encoutered several very large black and red iguanas which made me jump but
luckily they are very interested in keeping their distance from you too.
Armed guards stood beside the deserted tennis courts and on one side of the
hotel was a jungley field, a swamp on the other and roads round the rest. I
discovered after we'd left on Sunday night that the swamp is infested with
black mambas - highly poisonous snakes which can move across the ground
faster than a race horse and which do on occasion grace the hotel grounds
with their presence. Another sort of green snake, also poisonous lives in
and dangles from trees in the area, so whilst I was sauntering among the
pines there could have been whole regiments of those watching me and
considering a possible strike from above too.

All in all, trapped in this hell-hole for 24 hours, I and everyone else on
the crew was very glad to leave last night. It used to be a four-day trip!
Thank God no longer. I'm sure Nigeria has much to offer, but in 2004 it is
just too lawless and tropical a place to tempt me to further exploration. I
hope it is a long time before I go back. But other destinations in Africa
are supposed to be not much better. We also to Abuja (Nigeria again),
Linlongwe (Malawi?), Accra (Ghana), Dar er Salaam (Tanzania) and
Johannesburg (South Africa). At all these places we are supposed to stay
inside the hotel complexes. Awful. The only people who do venture out are
those who can look inconspicuous ie black colleagues of mine, although one,
Paul, did walk down the road in Lagos and was stared at in a semi-hostile
way as he does have different features being from Jamaica rather than
Nigeria.

The only good thing about this trip was that I did not get bitten by a
mozzie and it was a beautiful sunrise when we got back to the UK this
morning. There was nothing nice to take pictures of in Lagos, but I'll post
one of the frosty Hertfordshire morning which greeted me as I parked my car
on arriving home again. Two days in Nigeria makes me feel very fond of home.
Frightening electrics
Beautiful morning

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