Saturday, April 29, 2006

It doesn't make sense

What is it about religion which turns otherwise human beings into beings of irrational hate and suspicion? Is it the religion which makes people this way or is it people which make religions? Religions which can be used to justify bigotry and prejudice.

And I really do not get it with the Christians? When their God-man talks about love and also talks about those being without sin being those who can cast the first stone? Why is it, that they use their cross as a badge of pride in their unnatural hatred of fellow men?

I am thinking about homosexuality. Jesus never mentioned anything bad against homosexuals. Back in Leviticus,a book of the older Jewish religion,it said that homosexuals ought to be killed and that if they are killed it is their fault for being homosexual, but this is a long long way from anything which Jesus was supposed to say or think.

Yet, we have the Church of Rome, and no doubt many strange fundamentalist sects actively encouraging people to look on homosexuality as something bad, as a sin. So much so that many parents under the influence cannot accept their sons or daughters and their chosen loved ones. How very very sad. It is this religion, a force so strong, it seems, which can come between their NATURAL love for their child and kill it.


We have a four year old visiting at the moment. He saw a photo of the two men, with their arms around each other, and another of them kissing. He pointed them out to his mother with a funny laugh on his face. His mother smiled back. No big deal. Easy for a four year old to understand, two people being affectionate to each other. Its what he knows.

Try to tell him about a god who is one and also three, a father, a son and a holy ghost, and a god-man who dies a bloody death on the cross and comes back alive again two days later and sticks around awhile before disappearing again,and I think he will have a far harder task to work this out and accept it.

In the meantime, it was Queen's Day. Cold but sunny and mostly dry. Not so orange. Saw lots of people we knew. Had a drink or two. James and I went into town for some (good) live English rock music. The road outside is a mess, but it'll be cleaned later.

Lekker belangrijk, as we say here.

Futher,it should be told that the magpies came back in the morning and raided the nest,killing the young blackbirds and destroying their nest. There is an eerie silence outside. The balcony which had ben fullof life and filled with the promise of new life to come is deserted, empty, quiet. Sad.

Friday, April 28, 2006

D H and J

D H and J, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Trip to Sardegna - Cagliari

A Happy Communism to Everyone, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Not so much time in Cagliari, as we had to get across from Carloforte and the ferry was to be leaving at 18.00.

Still, enough time to wander around the streets of the old town, overlooking the sea down to the busy harbour and sea front. Albeit after a delicious strawberry cocktail at Quasimodo's cafe, a very stylish place where a Contessa was holding court on the table next door.

This was on one of the seven hills (there are always seven) upon which Cagliari is built.. and in fact you get the best views of the hills when the ferry pulls out of the harbour and draws away into the Mediterranean.

Lunch was at one of very very many characteristic sea food restaurants on the streets set back a bit from the sea front. Long dark rooms, full of groups and families having a long Sunday lunch of anchovies, mussels, prawns, scampi, fried berad, octopus and squid and even fish. Mmmm.....

The sea front is bordered by the Via Roma, with its cool, tall baroque arcades, along which all of Cagliari life is to be found, either shopping or sitting outside one of the bars. It was here that we came across a newspaper stand, sisplaying a Berlusconi paper wishing everyone a Happy Communism, this being the reaction to the fact that Bertinotti, the leader of the Unreconstructed Communist Party had been given a position as Leader of teh House, with the idea being that an ex-Communist D'Alema might have his name put forward as the next President of Italy. B's choice appears to be old mafia-friend or old frind-of-mafia, none other than that weasel Andreotti. Shameless. I only suppose that by putting up someone with arguably as bad or worse a record as himself, B was trying to make himself look good.

There was a slight bit of time to go up to the massive citadel complex at the top of one of the hills, for a view back down over the town. Definitely a place to return to. A real city, and then with flamingo-filled nature reserves and a beautiful long beach, within a stone's throw.

It was time to say goodbye to the little people, after what was too short a visit.

The Trip to Sardena - Carloforte

Carloforte, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The last couple of days were to be spent in the asouth of the isalnd, first on the Island of San Pietro in the south west, and then the last day in Cagliari before catching the ferry back to Civitavecchia.

It was a longish drive, for what is not such a large island and we stopped off at Santo Sperate, which is something of an art town, but not in the typical Tuscan, medieval/renaissance kind of way, but a modern street art sort of way. Many are on flickr, ranging from old cultrural temes to modern political and abstract themes. Very impressive, that they could ind so many artists in such a small place.

The cat needed a shave and managed to find a barbers set in an ordinary detached house which is soon to become a mueseum. A museum of sea art. The owner, teh barber, is not just an artist of the hair, but also of sea shells and has made a large number of items out of glueing sea shells to wooden frames to create ships and houses and boats. This will happen when he retires from cutting ahir in October, he told us very proudly.

Form there it was a drive west on the 80 km/hour mx. dual carriageway, which like most roads in Sardinia is empty, past the modern mining towns of Iglesias and Carbonia. Both had been established as proper towns by Mussolini who again appeared to show that he had done more good for Italy than the modern Berlusconi.

A stop was made for lunch at San Antiocho, a strange place with a harbour and long sea front which did not have a single fish restaurant along its stretch, meaning we had to go further inland to a place, albeit with a view across the sea, but which insisted on playing the worst type of 1980's Euro soft rock. Incredible that they could put together such a bad collection of music.

The other side of the San Antiocho Island, a mere 6 kms away, in Calasetta, it appeared we had just missed the ferry boat to Carloforte so had time to kill wandering around the sea front and narrow streets, brimming with authentic looking fish and seafood restaurants, while fishermen brought in their coloured boats with fresh catches.

Carloforte, the other side was a place to fall in love with, with its colourful streets, busy sea front, full of ferries and rusting old fishing boats, flower decked balconies, bars and restaurants and lively holiday ambience.

It used to be a major tuna fishing centre, but this declined in the 1970's with the onset of industrial fishing techniques brought by the Spanish who fished out the waters in deep sea, leaving the tuna population in sharp decline.

In the past, the Punics and the Romans arrived on the island, but they didn't stay for long.with the Punics only leaving only a temple and the Romans some small settlements.

The "Tabarchini", Ligurians living on an island called Tabarka close to Tunisia, were the first inhabitants of the island of S. Pietro. They were mainly fishermen and coral gatherers, continuously subject to persecutions by pirates. For this reason they asked King Carlo Emanuele III to permit them to settle on the little island. The King accepted and the Tabarchini called their village Carloforte in honour of him. In this way, the town has a feel quite reminiscent of the towns of Liguria, under Genova, again with the brightly coloured plasterwork and intricate balconies.

There was a Sacra - a food festival on - so many stalls were set up promoting and selling local products including tinned tuna (obviously a few tuna have survived), jars of delicious sauces and pastes - tomatoes, artichokes, aubergine, olives and so on... we tasted the tomato paste last night! We tried some gattó, which was very sugary and far too sweet. Great photo opportunities everywhere in this colourful town.

In order to catch the setting sun over the clear blue sea, we made off towards La Punta, or Punta Putana, as I liked to call it, for views across to Sardegna and out to the wider Mediterranean, while gulls flew overhead. I was half expecting to sea dolphins or seals, but the Mediterranean often disappoints with this type of sea-life, although going back the other way, past some mud-flats there were some flamingoes to be seen.

Dinner was delicious - especially the pasta I had - spaghetti - with a sauce of tuna, lemon, sheeps cheese, parsley, garlic and black olves (all finely chopped). Well recommended, especially with a glass or two of Vermintino.

Orechiette on the balcony

Orrechiette on the balcony, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We have Diana, James and Harry visiting us. They arrived yesterday, having left home in Sheffield very very early in the morning.

We had a lazy sort of day, with Harry playing football and James finding his frineds again on msn, writing a very strange from of English as far as I could tell. He had his mp3 played plugged into the computer and was playing loud rock.

Later on, just before bed, I showed them the record collection, which neither of them knew how to 'work'. I took one, which happened to be Led Zepellin 4 and played When The Levee Breaks on the record player. A very crackly, raw sound came out of the one speaker which still works... but it sounded like REAL music... but that's maybe just because I am bcoming increasingly old fashioned.

Before that we all had a delicious pasts dinner - orechiette with a sauce of dried tomato paste, tomato pulp and tomatoes. Was delicious. The blackbirds were working full-time to feed their chicks in the nest above, bringing in worm after worm to the nest. I had to chase away two aggressive looking magpies who were poised to pounce earlier this morning, let us hope, for good.

The trip to Sardegna - Laconi

After the horses there was still a fair bit of the afternoon to come to we drove up and around to Laconi.

Laconi is set in wooded hills, under some limestone escarpments, with views all round. It is home to another Sardinian saint - this time Saint Ignazio, who lived in a local convent and performed miraculous deeds, apparently, in the 18th century. There is a charming little chapel to him, maintained by the widow in the picture above.

It is a delight to wander around Laconi, especially in springtime, with the new leaves on the trees lightened by the late afternoon sun, the old men sitting around the main square (which is circular in design). Lots of small streets to wander around. Pretty houses. The streets eventually bring you to a castle and a park, with magnificent trees and a lovely green mossy waterfall. The roots of the trees dangle down like icicles and the water spatters down, very reminiscent of the waterfalls in Qadisha Valley in Lebanon. It was late and the park was closing so we did not have time to se it, as coincidentally (perhaps?) there is also a large Cedar of Lebabon in the park.

Back down in the square, it was time for the younger people to come out and every wall and park bench was taken by locals who looked like startings gathering on telegraph wires in the early evening. Time for a campari in the bar before returning to Isili.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Trip to Sardinia - horse country

Sardinian horses, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sardinia has its New Forest equivalent - the Giara di Gesturi. Giara is the name given to a flat topped mountain, smaller than a plateau, of which there are a number in Sardinia.

Gesturi is a town at the foot of the Giara, with its own saint - Fra Nicola. Another very pretty little place and cheap too... four large rosetti (round rolls) stuffed full with sheep's cheese and ham, plus some drinks for just €5. This would be lunch... and dinner, as it eventually turned out.

The Giara has its own very special type and landscape and vegetation. Grey granite, supporting forests of shortish trees, many blown to the east by the prevailing wind, shallow lakes, full of flowering white ranunculi, heather, euphorbia, cyclamen (three types) and orchids (44 types) and all manner of grasses and mosses. Not a national park, but protected, the land supports a population of wild Sardinian horses, as well as domestic cows, pigs and, at times, sheep (of course).

The horses here seem to play a large part in local folklore and many of the murals from the nearby towns would depict horses as symbols of freedom. Wild and free, like the archetypal Sardinian. They are fairly short (what a surprise), mainly dark , with thin faces and long flowing manes. Driving around looking for them brough back memories of game parks in Africa.

We had arranged with a local chap called Gianni to go out on a ride, which we did after lunching on one of the rosetti. He had a number of mares, most of them with young foals, tethered to trees, and now saddled. They were beautiful horses to ride, being Anglo-Arabian- Sardinian crossbreds, very keen, very well trained and very sure footed over the rocky terrain. One of teh foals followed his mother as we rode the range, him full of life, bucking and kicking and running around back and forth. Gianni was a great guide and spoke very easy to understand Italian as he explained the nature, his career in horse-racing (he knows of Franki Dettori, most famous jockey in the world, son of Cagliari/Milano). Stong recommendation for Gianni.

As usual riding out dives one a great way to experience nature and we saw many birds including a number of woodpeckers and heard a cuckoo, first of the spring, and saw many different types of orchids. Riding through a white lake, full of flowering ranunculi was a highlight.

Once back at base, we found a couple of randy wild stallions hanging around the mares and one of them tried to get friendly with The Cat's horse, who gave him a well aimed kick for his efforts. In the meantime, just after dismounting, along came a magnificant looking stallion, being ridden by another good looking specimen.

We were about to witness a mating. Fred would (and did) call it rape, when I told him about it. Anyway, the stallion was introduced to the chosen mare and after about ten minutes bagn to get excited. In the meantime, the mare's back legs had been tied to stop her from kicking. Graphic shots from the mating are on flickr. There'd have been more, but my memory stick all of a sudden became full and by the time I had fixed that, the deed had been done. It was all quite quick.

The Trip to Sardinia - sheep country

Sardinia - sheep country, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I really did know so very little about Sardinia before going there, but I was sure I would find many sheep and, of course, many shepherds. Sure enough, they were there and none more characteristic than this fellow who was very keen to be photographed while milking his ewes.

Funnily enough, I had just taken a photo of a mural of a man milking his ewe in the town of Villamar and the two photos came out almost identical, as you can see above.

Although initially shy, we got to understand that the country folk quite liked to have their photograph taken, as just after this, we stoppped at the very small town of Gergei, where it has to be said, we saw the shortest people we had seen on the island. It has to be said. Sardinian people are very short. The shortest (but also longest living) of all Italians, and maybe in Europe. It is difficult to capture this in photos as everybody tends to be short so difficult to get a sense of perspective.

Gergei had the look of a close knit community, with its piazza's, church (set in a lovely rustic square surrounded by trees), chapels, murals, bars, post office and hairdresser. We were invited in for a beer at the bar where we were asked to photograph everyone there (almost), which were then to be sent to their e-mail addresses. The Cat found a relative of his there, a cousin, it seemed.

Before this, we had stopped in Barumini, famous for one of the largest nuraghi complexes in Sardinia, having lunch in the very characteristic wild horse restaurant. Potato filled ravioli in tomato sauce was one dish. The antipasti seemed a bit disappointing, a bit Spanish with olives, dried tomatoes and artichokes in vinegar, salty cheese and so on. Not untasty, but not particularly fresh. The wine was good though. It was a big complex and the room next door, again filled with murals, was full of a party of children of about 8 or 9 yeras old and next to that an even bigger room full of old people, who had been conned into coming by the promise of a cheap-ish meal, after which they would be subjected to hard selling of what looked like badly made household goods. No doubt they'd be clever enough to hold onto their money, as I think these people are quite canny.

The night was spent further on in Isili in another almost completely empty hotel. The Cat had managed to negotiate a one euro reduction for € 18 to €17 a night each for B&B on the basis of being a local Sardinian. I think he paid for it by having a bad bed which gave him a bad back. Not a lot going on in Isili and the restaurants in both the hotels were completely empty, so foolishly took teh car out to look for soemwhere else to eat. However, despite having pretty scenery and being near the nuraghi and the wild horses, this is not real tourist country, so an hour or so later, after a longish drive around bendy roads, we were back in Isili after ten, feeling quite hungry. The shutters went down in front of our faces as we debtadec whether to try one of the hotel restaurants, so we wnadered around resigning oursleves ot getting a packet of crisps from a bar, when low and behold, a pizzeria came into sight and it was open and still serving food!

The trip to Sardegna - a day out to Bosa

Sardegna - Bosa backstreet, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The sun was shining over the bay, so after a breakfast on the verandah overlooking the quiet blue sea, we sat out on the beach chairs catching some welcome sun. Just then some clouds started building up and all of a sudden it seemed to be like an English beach holiday, warm enough only when the sun shines, which it did ever so often as a cloud moved on.

Time to get going, so we took the car down towards Alghero and along the coast to Bosa. A spectacular drive around the cliffs, with 700 metre mountains on the left and a deep blue sea far down on the right. The cliffs were cladded in yellow flowers of all different sorts, from gorse to euphorbia, to dandelions, daisies and vetch. A beautiful sight.

Arriving in the port of Bosa around lunchtime, it all looked pretty deserted, so we went inland to Bosa itself, past the Ringland circus, with its beautiful white Arab horses. A very pretty town Bosa, situated on a hill next to a river. The houses are brightly painted, all different colours, which is strange for Italy. Pinks, yellows, ochres, greens and whites dominated.

Found a place to sit in the sun and taste some Sardinian fast food before walking around town, up past the cemetery with its characteristic murals, up to the old castle, with its fabulous views over the town and back down again, through narrow cobbled streets, past narrow tall houses, a bit reminiscent of Amsterdam, down to the river, along which were moored many colourful boats, to the museum, the local wine bar, the horse and donkey butcher, the cathedral and so on. Although obviously Italian, it had a different feel to most Italian places and I would learn that many medium sized Sardinian towns do have a sense of uniqueness.

Back at the hotel, it was dinner and Champions League again, Arsenal beating Villareal 1-0, without looking as good as they had played in their previous four matches against a side who played better than their previous opponents.

Sardinian red

Sardinian red, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Men of Alghero, sitting, watching the world go by

Men of Alghero, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The trip to Sardinia - first impressions

Sardegna - la campagna 28, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just a week away, from 17th to 24th April, but seen and donwe an awful lot. I was invited by my good friend 'The Cat', who is Sardinian to join him in visiting hsi island, so I flew to Rome and caught the ferry across from Civitavecchia to Olbia, which is a port on the north-east side of the island.

From there, we drove across the northm, quite quickly through rocky countryside which reminded me a bit of Eritrea, before stopping for coffee in Sassari, the second largest town on the island. Quite plain really, as Italian cities go and it was early, so not many people on the streets.

The left-overs from the Italian elections were to be seen all over the place with election posters plasted on every available wall. Berlusconi was still not accepting the results of the elections, which he lost by about 25,000 votes, thanks to the votes from Italians living abroad, who were very much against him. I put this down to the fact that they can take an objective view of what is going on in Italy without being unduly influenced by the media which he in large part owns.

Anyway, there were posters for the Fascists next door to those for the Unreconstructed Communists, with the Greens, the Daisies, the Christians, the Radicals and even the Northern League (here in Sardegna?). Also, a party for Sardinian independence, but that does not exactly seem to be a big issue in the way it is in Basque or Ireland.

It should be said that the Sardinians are fierecly proud and independent. They wear a sardonic smile (well more a scowl) as if to ward off potential intruders. Quite a closed island, in that respect. In time, the island has been conquered by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Pisans, the Spanish and the Arabs. Howvever, unlike in Sicily they do not seem to have left their mark so much.

What you do find in Sardinia are 'nuraghi' which are stone fortifications, built by the indigenous population to protect themselves from invaders. There are many scattered around the island. Many have rounded forms, with tall-ish towers and rounded houses, built around a complicated street plan. We did not get to visit too many of these, but there is a well-signposted Tour dei Nuraghi which one can follow around the island.

Anyway, after Sassari, it was a shortish drive across to Alghero, on the west coast. A smaller town than I had imagined (it was one of the few places I had heard of before coming to Sardinia), with a lively port of fishing boats and pleasure crafts and yachts. We would visit the town late in teh afternoon and walk around the pretty narrow streets, along the ramparts and protective walls, facing out to sea. A lively place, despite there not being too many tourists, lots of people young and old, sitting around the main piazza. Apparently, it is Sardinian tradition for the men to sit and watch the girls go by... and so it proved.

We stayed across the bay at Fertilia, in a beach hotel set amongst the pines, half board. A largish hotel, off season, with very few guests - almost as many guests as staff. It felt like stepping back in time. However, unlike its English equivalent, it was full of large open spaces looking out across the blue sea to Alghero the other side of the bay. There was a large bar and the poor lady who served us a coffee was so happy to have someone to talk to, that it felt rude not to stay and linger.

We had 'our 'table in the large dining room, where unfinished bottles of water or wine from the previous meal would be left behind for the next meal. Three waitresses would attend us, one head waitress and two trainees. The meals would be local dishes, of moderate proportions, many including fish. As hotel food, it was really very good, washed down with a Vermentino di Gallura.

The first legs of the Champions League semi-finals were being played both evenings we were there and we managed to comandeer the (very) widescreen TV to watch both matches, brought to us, inevitably, by that man B. At least we had the satisfaction of seeing his own team lose, just like HE had lost the previous week!

After lunch we drove around the coast to the west to Capo Caccia, at the foot of which are an impressive set of caves - il Grotto di Nettuno. Hard to get a sense of perspective with the photos, but the clifss were really very high. The weather was a bit mixed and it was windy, but it made for a great walk down, passing all sorts of cliff-face flowers along the way, while the odd herring gull glided by, squawking away.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sardegna - lots of photos on flickr

Just to say there are a load of photos of Sardegna on flickr. I have put them into sets based on themes rather than places and time, for a change. Not sure if it really works. I still have the photos of places/towns and people - mostly very small people - as in fact Sardegna seems to be the Land of the Lilliputians - to put on.

Hope to write about the trip later this vening and/or tomorrow. Will be watching the Villareal vs Arsenal match tonight.

It was quite warm again today, cooled down a lot by the afternoon, so no dinner on the balcony but we'll be eating the asparagus and carciofi I brought back with me yesterday.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sardo sheep

Sardo sheep, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Amongst all the other great things in Sardegna, there are, of course, many many shep. These ones were about to get milked, up on the way between B and Gergei.

Back home again

Lemon tree in Lucca, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, back home again, after a great week in Sardegna, about which, more later.

It seems like I have arrived back to summer, having left winter behind a week ago. The trees are starting to turn green and it was warm! Warm enough to sit outside on the balcony for dinner, with a bottle of delicious Cabernet Sauvignon from Banfi, Montalcino, delicious Italian bread, lamb and asparagus.

The good news is that we are sharing the balcony with a family of blackbirds. They have laid eggs in the nest they built last year amongst the honeysuckle and in the last week the eggs have hatched so both the mummy and the daddy blackbirds are hard at work feeding the hungry mouths.

Unfortunately the crying children from across teh way are still as much cry-babies as last year and without any form of parental control, they are continuiing to exercise their lungs by whining and crying all day in the garden. Oh well, can't have everything.

This is a photo from a flower/plant market in the main square/circle in Lucca, taken this day last year.

Many photos from Sardegna to follow.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Fiona, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Back in the old routine 1978

Back in the old routine, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The L from the letter below could have been one of the girls in this photo, but I cannot be sure anymore. That letter was either from 1979 or 1978, so maybe this cutting was from a year earlier.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Christian Cultures Photoblog

Vamos, originally uploaded by ClintMalpaso.

Being Easter Sunday, a day of note for Christians, I decided I would start up a new photoblog showing a selection of photos which have been contributed to the Christian Cultures Group, which I administer on flickr.

It is a non-religious group dedicated to showing to manifestations of Christianity in cultures throughout the world.

Happy Easter!

Lupins - close-up, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is Springtime, the time of re-birth in the nature and also for all the Godmen, such as Jesus/Joshua, Dionysus, Mithras, Osiris and Adonis. All of them died at Easter-time and came back to earth three days later, in their resurrection/rebirth. So, whichever Easter you are celebrating with painted eggs or chocolate bunnies or even being hung up on a cross, we wish you all the best!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Britain's No. 1 Guy

Britain's No. 1 Guy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A letter from J.G. from Spring 1979

Dear Charles,

I am writing on behalf of L. S. who asked me to give you this patch. I hope that you can remember her, she was at the dancing classes we went to earlier in the holidays. She told me how much she enjoyed dancing with you and hoped that it might be possibl to see you again in the not-to-distant future. If you are interested her address is: *****, Beaconsfield. I am afraid that I go back to school next week but I'm sure that L. would be absolutely delighted to hear from you soon.

I DID remember L and I DID take her out to the cinema in High Wycombe, going by train. But that would be the only time I ever saw L. again. I am not sure how I got out of it, but she might have noticed that I was not entirely interested in dating her. I would have been far too busy anyway, studying for my 'A' levels, doing the paper round and betting on the horses.

And anyway there were to be other girls.....

Friday, April 14, 2006

From a letter dated 29 December 1960

0.50 Somali shilling stamp, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

From a letter dated 29 December 1960, from my Mum to her parents-in-law:

Our party seemed to be a success, at least it was for us as J. being banker at roulette ended up by being 100/- better off. It is wonderful having a party out here as one goes to bed leaving an awful mess to find it all cleared up in the morning.

Queen in 1978

Queen in 1978, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a ticket to the first (of two) Queen concerts which I attended. This one was in May 1978 at Empire Pool, Wembley (has it changed its name by any chance?)

This really was a pop experince of a lifetime, with Freddie Mercury on dazzling form, singing songs from News of the World, including a very fast version of We Will Rock You! Something to remember! The tickets were for restricted view, which actually meant we were very close to the stage, albeit at the side. Much better than sititng in front but at the back.

The ticket cost two pounds fifty. They could now easily be fifty pounds an increase of 20 times.

My Uncle Eddie's house in Hillingdon was sold at around the same time - for 16,500 pounds, and could now probably be sold for 300,000 pounds, again 20 times as much.

If we look however at a pineapple. A fresh one would in those days have cost about one pound each. How much are they now? Yes, the same, one pound, or even one euro. Why is this? It is because pienapples come from the third world and we have just got them to produce more and more and yet we pay them increasingly less in real terms, 20 times less in the case of pineapples! Shocking really. Really shocking.

Tabasco Club 1986

Tabasco Club, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This club is to be found under the San Cecilia church, just off the main square in Florence. We went there in 1986 and have vivid memories of dancing to It's A Sin, by the Pet Shop Boys. It seemed very appropriate.

A postcard from 1980

I am going through boxes and boxes of old letters, post cards and memorabilia at the moment and just found this written on the back of a post card from Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand from April 1980, written by myself, not eaxctly sure to whom.

Well, it has happened - a fate almost as bad as *****. I am on a 3 day tour of the jungle and the hill tribes with only 3 very dull pig-ignorant, peasant-like French people and a Thai guide, who provides immensely better conversation than 'les autres'. I am afraid that dull is the only word fit for all teh French people here. In fact, this is the only place that I have really come across many French tourists ever and to some extent they have ruined the fine time I have been having. There is also an Aussie who we have coem across frequently on this tour who believes that because the aborigines came over to Australia 30,000 years ago and killed the natives*, they are just as much immigrant as white Australians. He also reackons that 2 years ago about 200 blacks hid under a bridge in Portobello Road, London and then beat up and stripped hundreds of Londoners and says he saw it himself! The hill tribe people here are also the most unfriendly non-French people I have ever met. The Thai guide, Boon, is the only civilised and sensible person around and he very rightly sees France as being directly reseponsible, along with the Americans for the problems in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The French do not agree.

Amazing! And to think that the main things I can remember from this trip was the great friendship I made with Boon, with whom I corresponded for a number of years, paddling up the river in a dug-out canoe and getting very excited when the Iranians kidnappd a number of Americans and shot down some of their helicopters (I think?).

But funnily enough, 26 years later..... I can still say that I have hardly ever come across French tourists, despite all the travelling I have done. And, I suppose... the ones I have seen have been odd. Hmmmmmm.....

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Diana & Charles, late 1962

Diana & Charles, late 1962, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just a quick note to say that this afternoon, I received from my father 57 letters written by my Mum to her parents-in-law (my Dad's parents) from Hargeisa and other places in East Africa. They cover the period from October 1960 to October 1962.

This picture would have been taken on our arrival in England for the first time during the late autumn of 1962, which turned out to be a very very cold winter indeed - just enough to toughen we Africans up!

I'll be writing a whole load more about these letters in the days/weeks to come no doubt. Just to say here that my Mum wrote that I would be having to get used to shoes, having not worn them in Hargeisa.

Also, if I may, my Mum also mentions me picking up dirt and dead flies and putting them into my mouth, which may explain why I appear to have such a strong stomach!

Bar-tailed godwit, in Waterland

I was interviewed for a local paper yesterday about what I will be doing if and when the weather gets better.

Cycling to Waterland was my reply, as there we can find the migrating waders in the meadows, including Europe's largest population of bar-tailed godwits.

It is easy to get there, a cycle underneath the railway, through the Flevopark and over a couple of (long) bridges and one is in the middle of the countryside. Meadows full of flowers, incests, dragon-flies and snails, occupied by bar-tailed godwits, redshanks and lapwings, amongst the sheep and the cattle, divided by ditches full of swans and ducks.

Only two months to go

Revenge, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And this time.... it will be Holland's chance to take revenge on Argentina (for the World Cup final in 1978 in Buenos Aires).

England's revenge, you should know, had nothing to do with the Malvinas/Falklands conflict, but to do with the 3-2 they beat us with in France in 1998, the time David Beckham was sent off, after Michael Owen had scored that incredible goal for England.

I am not exactly sure why the Dutch so badly want revenge, but it might be because they are bad losers (but nothing like the Italians - the English generally being good losers, having so much experience - of losing!). Fred tells me that it was thought that Argentina had somehow cheaed to get into final by paying a massive bribe to the Peruvian team. Then there was a very bad atmosphere in the stadium which contributed to Holland losing their second World Cup final in four years, just when they seemed to be the best team in the world, with the brilliant Johann Cruyff playing so well. Four years later it would be the best Italian team ever, playing exciting football, for once, getting better and better and winning on their home soil.

The World Cup takes place in the summer. It still feels like winter here.

Farewell, Doortje

DSC00023, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Today is a momentous day in our street, because our neighbour Dor van Zoest, is moving houe, for the first time in her life. She was born in her house in 1916 and she recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Her father was the first person to live in the house when it was built in 1905 and the family have stayed there now for 100 years.

Althought Doortje is fit and well for her ae, she has decided that it is time to move on, into an old people's home, where she can live relatively independently, but also have all her meals served to her. It is a decision which she herself has made and she did not wait for any of her three children to amke the suggestion, which is a fine thing. She had a very hard time of things when we were away on our travels and became quite depressed, but she is better now. She even oredred her grape-vine to be ut down in that difficult period.

She has a great knowldge of the many things which have happened in this street over the years adn particularly focuses on time in the Second World War. Her father was a German, a shoemaker, so he was not so popular in those war years. She told us that the people living in our house were known to be collaborators. She also tells stories of people being hidden away from the Germans, in her own house, and certain people being strung up and hung. During the hunger winter, she and her sister travelled around Holland on a bicycle, sleeping rough. Fred knows a lot more about these stories and maybe he will write a blog as well.

She was married for 33 years until her husband died and she has now outlived him by 35 years, which seemed quite sad to me when she told me of this.

We wish her all the best. It will be strange to walk past her house and not wave to hr while she sist in her front room, reading a book, entertaining visitors or having a cup of tea. She will miss the restoration of the fountain just outside her house, but time moves on and she is happy with what she is doing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

1979 - a watershed

Troy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A watershed in my horse-racing interest. It started off as any other year, but by the time it came to the Grand National, which we watched at home, I was taking it a lot more seriously, having 'picked' Lucius the previous year.

I have no idea which horse I picked for the race, but it could easily have been Coolishall, a handsome dark horse (I liked dark horses in those days) who had been placed 4th the year before. Having won the sweepstake the year before, I decided, at the age of 17 that it as time for real betting, so I went into the local betting shop, in the arcade in Beaconsfield, for the first time. I can still remember the smell of the place. Being on a weekly salary of three pounds 20 pence for the paper round which I had been doing for the past five years, I did not have too much money to spend. I might have done a 50 p each way bet on Coolishall, before going home to watch the race on TV.

As it turned out, a Scottish horse called Rubstic won from Zongalero (great name!) and Rough and Tumble (also a good name), with The Pilgarlic 4th. I had lost. Inevitable, really, but still disappointing.

Anyway, it was the Wednesday after the big Saturday and the BBC were showing races from Ascot, all named after birds such as Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Kestrel and so on. I sat there with the paper and picked out winner after winner. This all looked very easy, picking a winner in these smaller races.

So the next day, it was time to recoup the losses from the Grand National. They were racing at Taunton where there were seven races on the card. I made my pick for each of the seven races and cycled down ot the betting shop.

Being totally inexperienced, I did not bet very cleverly, combining my seven horses in various combinations or trebles and quadruples and a 10 p accumulator on all seven horses. (To do it properly one should go for a complete combination bet, combining each horse with each other in a series of doubles, trebels and so on up to a seven-horse accumulator).

Anyway, back home, I listened to the results come in on the half hour on my transistor radio, which I also took with me into the woods where I was taking our Mitzi for a walk.

Amazingly, each of my picks came in to win their race. The first, second, third and fourth... by now I was in the woods and beginning to work out how much I might win if they all came in. It would have been over 1,200 pounds and I began to get very excited. This was about 7 years worth of paper rounds, of getting up early every morning and delievering 40 or so papers to the neighbours in Netherwood Road and Howe Drive.

And then, of course, disasetr struck... the 5th horse (Parleur D'Or) had only come in second BUT there WAS a stewards enquiry (objection). I ran home and hopped onto the bike again to find out the result. I walked into that betting shop so full of expectation, but this was dashed when I saw that the result was left to stand.. Mellie had won, by half a length.

Inevitably, the other two horses I had chosen won their respective races. Unfortunately, of all the combination bets I had made, most of them had included Parleur D'Or, so my winnings were very modest.

It had been a thrill and from now on I was hooked. I'd spend afternoons when I should have been revising for my 'A' levels down at the betting shop trying to repeat or better my performance of that day at Taunton, without any luck. Indeed, I have never been able to pick out six winners in one day since, let alone six on the same card! However, when earning so little, losing it did not hurt and when one did win the occasional 10 pounds, it seemed quite a lot. A gambler always looks at what he might win. People who do not gamble tend to think more about what they might lose.

Anyway, so began a life-long (so far) passion for horse-racing... as I began to find the gambling far less interesting than the horses and the racing calendar.

I would skip off Games on the first Wednesday in June of that year and watch the Derby, which was to give me my first favourite horse superstar: Troy.

He won the 200th Derby by an amzing 7 lengths and then went on to win the best races in England of that summer. That Deby would be one of the best Derbys ever run, as almost every horse in the race would win races afterwards such as Ela-Mana-Mou, Northern Baby, Dickens Hill, Tap On Wood, Milford, Cetinkaya, Lyphard's Wish and so on.

The story would continue...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Mernaghs

Well, I was writing about the Mernagh side of the family, in connection with the Grand National.

I have been in correspondence recently with Sue D. from a place called Garibaldi in Oregon. She has been researching the family tree for many years and has sent me some correspondence she has had with the Mernagh family still in Wexford, Ireland.

Funnily enough, the one person she, and her contacts in Ireland did not know much about was my great grandfather Patrick Mernagh wwho had come over to England to work as a plumber. So now I can help her fill in this side of the family, with the help of my father.

She invited me to join the Mernagh family site on Here we can find photos, birthdays, profile and recipes! I thought I would send in my Granny's recipe for Ginger Log as follows:

A packet of ginger nuts
A jar of stemmed ginger in syrup
Single cream
Double cream

Soak the ginger nuts in a mixture of single cream and ginger syrup for a few hours, or overnight.

Whip the double cream with remainder of ginger syrup and then add the stem ginger pieces, once stiff.

Make a log of the ginger biscuits, spreading a bit of the hardened cream in between each or every other one. Then cover the log in the remainder of the cream. Put in fridge until serving!

Number Of Servings:6-8

Preparation Time:a few hours of soaking first, then very quick

Further, I can read that

"James Mernagh is listed in the tithe applotement records in the townsland of Mohurry, in the Kiltealy area for 1825-1825. (Cf. "Kiltealy Memorials to the Dead"). The area of this farm was usually referred to as Duffry Hall. My uncle Pat Mernagh told me that James was evicted from this farm, and that he subsequently lived for a period, how long Pat does not know in a house built of clay at Dononore. (Bree area): a Ned Doyle became the tenant on this farm at Mohurry, following James' eviction). When James left Mohurry I do not know. A grandson of this James Mernagh, also James used to visit my grandfather at Coolamurry and also visit Mrs. Conran at Rathnure. This latter James was a sergeant in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (D.M.P.) He took early retirement from the police force in 1923. The policeman's parents were James Mernagh and Julia Gill, who lived at Abbey Street, Wexford town.

The grandfather (who was evicted) and the James who married Gill were my ancestors. The James who was a policeman was the brother of my great grandfather Patrick.

Looks like a visit to Wexford later in the year might be on the cards!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Grand Nationals at Uncle Eddie's and Aunty Maud's

Mum!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Mum asked me last night if I hadn't first got involved in the Grand National down at our 'Aunty' Diana's, the time I won some money in the family jackpot. This was 1978, when I was lucky enough to be asssigned Lucius, trained by Gordon Richards, who duly won, giving me something like 7 pounds winnings (I think we each put on 50 pence).

Well, this was the first time I really 'picked' a winner and was very happy with myself. But between Crisp/Red Rum in 1973 and Lucius in 1978, we spent every Grand National at out Uncle Eddie's and Aunty Maud's at their house in Hillingdon, not so far from Heathrow airport.

I think it must have been Uncle Eddie's birthday, being the reason we were always there on the first Saturday of April. I was lucky in this respect that it was always Spring holidays from school,as I always used to have to go to school on Saturdays in those days, playing games (rugby, hockey and cricket), usually in the inter-house competitions on a Saturday afternoon.

Anyway, Uncle Eddie was the eldest brother of my Granny Roffey and, in fact was eight years older, so in the mid 1970's he would have been in his late 70's. He was a tall man. Aunty Maud was his wife, also about the same sort of age. They both did seem to be old people, living in a 1930's type house, which seemed old to us, and I remember it being dark inside, with a piano, which Aunty Maud used to play, the only person I knew who was the least bit musical (except, of course my brother and sisetr, who used to play the recorder, annoyingly enough!).

Aunty Maud used to cook steak and kidney pie for us. I never liked steak and kidney pie, so never really looked forward to eating there and I would spend my time wondering how I would ever get to eat all that kidney. I think I did, as I didn't like to be rude, but it was a struggle. At the same time, my Granny Roffey would cook us fish fingers and mashed potatoes, carrots and peas, or roast chicken, when we went round, or Granny Mac would prepare a delicious scrambled egg on toast, washed down with homemade tangy lemon squash. I preferred to eat at theirs!

So, we would be there in early spring and sometimes it would be nice enough to sit outside in the back garden, where we would make our plans for the race before going in to watch. Red Rum would win in 1974, come second to L'Escargot in 1975, again second to Rag Trade in 11976 before sealing his place in turf history and the public's consciousness by WINNING the race for the third time in 1977, whilst horses like Spanish Steps and The Pilgarlic would often come 3rd or 4th.

We would have tea in the garden and then it would be time to go back to Beaconsfield, which was about 20 miles west, down the A 40.

We did not go back in 1978, because Uncle Eddie died on 14th December 1977, at the age of 80, shortly after his wife Aunty Maud. I remember inheriting a dark purple Austin Maxi, as I would pass my driving test in October 1978, three months after turning 17. I would take it down to university each term and leave it in the parking space the whole term. It didn't get looked after very well unfortunately and sort of broke down in around 1984, whereupon I left it on the side of the road until a policeman turned up at the door, a day or two later, asking me to remove it. It got moved to the local car park until it was eventually sold. I liked that car but was too young and too poor to look after it properly.

How I came to win a bundle of money shortly after the 1979 Grand National will be the story for another blog!

What next?

Trippa, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, it looks like the Italian people were up to the task persented to them and it looks like Ciao Berlusca. Great news!

Let's see what the Centre-Left coalition can do.

I am not so confident that things will get too much better in Italy for a while. For one thing, I just don't think that their indigenous economic system is capable of doing well in liberalised global economic markets. And I also wonder whether the coalition can work together to make real progress on whatever progremme they set out to achieve.

At least Italy will not be governed by a clown and whatever progress they make on the economic front, I hope they finish off the work they were doing last time in power about avoiding conflicts of interest... ie. making sure Berlucsa or any descendents cannot run Italy and the media ever again.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Ballycassidy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I found this photo on the BBC website... an amazing photo of Ballycassidy coming to grief at Valentine's.
The good news is that both horse and jockey (Leighton Aspell) got up quite OK.

And the winner is....

Numbersixvalverde, ridden by 20 year old Slippers Madden, who gave him a great ride.

Well done, Fiona, for picking him. He is a lovely horse and was deserving winner.

I had a great thrill for about 7 minutes while Ballycassidy (100-1) was in the lead, jumping for fun until he made a mistake at the 25th of the 30 fences, and fell, while leading them all a merry dance. Still, a fantastic run for this horse, who is today, a household name.

Of the other horses I backed, Juveigneur fell at the first!, Baron Windrush at the 5th and Jack High at the Chair (that dreaded Chair again). Bad luck, Mum and Nick, although he did not look like winning.

Was glad Clan Royal, who despite being owned, trained and ridden by Irishmen, is actually trained in England, came third, otherwise it would have been an Irish 1-2-3. Was telling everyone on the BBC message boards that an Irish 1-2-3 was on the cards but did not put any money on (at 25-1). Always the worst thing to see... a bet which you thought of making but for some reason did not, eventually come through.

Think I might go on a cycling holiday to Ireland in May, to attend some country meetings there and meet my ancestors!

Grand National picks

Amberleigh House, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, it is reckoning time... I have to come clean about my Grand National picks. Not very inspired, I am afraid, but at least I stand to win a little if any of them come in the first five.

Jack High (25-1) - looks like his Irish trainer has got him well prepared for the race. He can stay the distance, but might be a little on the small side.

Ballycassidy (100-1) - an old favourite of mine. He will not like the softer ground and although he might start off the race well, he will probably not last the distance. Had to back him as I always do and couldn't miss him if he did decide to win. His trainer has been coming back to form this week.

Baron Windrush (80-1) - there was a tip for this on BBC message boards, Mum told me his owner was interviewed on TV this morning and he was very hopeful. He has good form but did not run well last time. Trainer is badly out of form though.

Juveigneur (33-1) - ran a great race last time at Cheltenham, trainer capable of winning this, had a winner over the fences yesterday. But, this one has fallen twice over these fences when he has tried them before.

So, it is unlikely that I will win any money at all, but at least if any of them do well, it might be financially rewarding.

I think actually that an Irish horse will win. Probably Hedgehunter (again), if not then Numbersixvalverde or Garvivvonian. I don't like teh look of the favourite Clan Royal,a s I do not think he will stay.

Had a dream though that Cornish Rebel would win, but I think he has too much weight.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Grand Nationals past

My first memory of the Grand National was of 1973, which turned out to be one of the greatest Nationals of all time, and recently voted the second best National Hunt race of all time in the UK. A good start to my Grand National experience, although it is at least as famous for the horse who lost as for the horse who won, who later himself became a legend in his own lifetime, the mighty Red Rum.

I was at my Grandparents in Guildford, Granny and Grandpa Mac, staying with them for what must have been the start of my Spring holidays from school. It was a cool grey day and I spent the whole morning going through the paper, not sure which one it was, but it was a broadsheet. Could have been the Daily (Hate) Mail, or the Telegraph. I had never heard of the race before, but I had caught onto the fact that it was a major event and having become interested in horses and, ot some extent, horse racing during our two years (1970-72) in Australia, I took great interest in trying to work out which of the 40 or so horses might win.

In that morning, at teh age of 12 I must have mastered the art of reading form and understanding the layout of the racing pages. I eventually chose Crisp. He was an Australian horse (which could be why I chose him, although I was not so happy with my time in Australia). He had good form in what appeared to have been good races and was also top weight and one of the favourites.

I was highly excited by the time the race started later in the afternoon and was absolutely thrilled to see Crisp go straight into the lead and jump the massive fences with incredible ease. Not only did he build up a lead but the lead got bigger and bigger as the race went on, and he seemd to be almost a fence ahead of teh nearest horse. Incredible to see this horse, any horse dominate a race like this.

So easy it looked, and still so easy as he jumped over the last fence but then.....

.... Crisp finally got tired. After over more than four miles, his stamina ran out and his stride shortened. He could hardly put on efoot in front of teh other whilst out of the pack came another horse. Red Rum. And in the final 50 yards, Red Rum finally got up to beat the mighty Crisp. Incredible.

I can't exactly remember what my grandparents thought of my newly acquired taste for horse racing, but I can't remember any dire warnings about gambling!

1973 is the year that Crisp was beaten in the Grand National.

Four years later, in 1977, his conqueror would become a legend, to win the race for the third time. No horse since has ever won it more than once. Maybe Hedgehunter tomorrow; we will see.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take The Stand

Take The Stand: This is not the way to win your race. You were in the lead from the second last fence and you had the race at your mercy... and then you went and did this. We still love you.

And a BIG word of thanks to Tony Dobbin for staying on board.

He was 7-1, so I backed him to win. I lost my money, but had great value for my bet as it really looked like he would at long last win a major race. Oh well, it'll be the Scottish National next, I imagine. And how about Clestial Gold for next year's Gold Cup?

Message 1 - posted by pentire**, 1 Hour Ago
I just love this horse!

He hasn't won since a couple of summers ago, but he has been consistently one of the best chasers around, first lumping huge weights around and then running well in the top conditionas chases.

He has such a high cruising speed, but his jumping is very odd. He just seems to get over most fences, from one side to the next without much obvious effort.

Who knows if he'd have held on today, as Celestial Gold really did look to be cantering. Still, he was there in the lead, beating off all the talking horses and did us fans proud. A race to savour.
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Message 2 - posted by Binge**, 1 Hour Ago
Agree Pentire. I actually thought his time had come as he had plenty left for a fight when Celestial Gold came upsides. However you knew that the blunder was only a fence away. Brilliant jockeyship from Tony Dobbin to stay on him.
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Message 3 - posted by supertom124**, 1 Hour Ago
Didnt think he would have held on anyway from Celestial Gold but he ran a corker!

And a word for Tony Dobbin....brilliant job staying on and then getting him going again to the finish!!

Well done Dobbsy!!

The Grand National Meeting

The Chair, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Another highlight of the year starts today. The Grand National Meeting at Aintree, culminating in the big race itself on Saturday afternoon, which will be the most watched sporting event of the year in the UK.

There are 40 horses going to post and at least 30 of them have a reasonable to good chance of winning. In the old days of newspapres and no internet on ewould have maybe 2-3 days to know who was running and make your pic. Now, in the days of internet, the entries can be seen weeks ahead and the chat rooms and message boards are full of people discussing each horses chance.

This makes it more difficult to make a choice ebcause one is more aware of the possibilities a horse might have of reaching the first 4, if everything goes his way, the ground suits and no accidents happen. In the old days it was much easier to dismiss any poarticular horse.

It is the longest race in the calendar, being four-and-a-half miles, over some of the biggest fences, so form shown in other races does not always play out in the great race itself.

Last season I went for the first time and paid the earth to get in (as tickets had been sold out weeks before). It was bitterly cold, with a strong wind and it rained a lot as well! I was backing Take The Stand who had finished second in the Cheltenhm Gold Cup and had a nice weight, as well as having a fantastic motor. If only he would jump the fences. he is not actually teh best jumper (far from it, actually). Well, they had jumped half the course by the time they came round to the biggest fence on the course, The Chair, in front of the grandstand. My horse was running well, had a great position and had not made any mistakes. He was alreday second favourite with the bookies who were taking bets in-running, according to the big screen ahead of us. I looked down to take this picture and then back up at the screen. Take The Stand's name had been removed... how could that be? well, he had fallen and i had actually captured his fall on this photo. Although I had no right to expect the horse to win, I felt so deflated and lost my interest in the rest of the race, despite having a bit of money on the previous year's fairytale winner, Amberleigh House, who did carry on but finished well behind.

Take The Stand runs today in a race (The Betfair Bowl) for the best horses in training, a mini re-run of the Gold Cup. He receives weight from the horses he beat (when finishing 5th) and he will like the drying groud, so unless he makes a bad mistake maybe today will be his day - for the 100,000 pound winning prize.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Democracy - and what we do with it

Ali - Young bedouin, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This young man, Ali, lives in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, where the King rules, albeit well. He does not have democracy and who knows if he ever will.

The Thai people have democracy, and they have very successfully rid themselves of aPrime Minister they did not want - Mr Thaksin - any more. He is knows as Asia's Berlusconi as he is a populist and owns a good part of the media. Well done to the Thais for doing this.

In South America, they used to have fascistic military dictatorships, supported by the US, and before that western imperialism. They now have democracy and almot every where they are ridding themselves of the old elites as left-of-center governemnts are voted in in Brazil Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela and so on. They vote in Peru this weekend and it looks again that they might vote in a left-winger. One thing that all these countries seem to understand, especially after the financial rape of Argentina by the IMF four eyars ago, is that they do not need to follow the imperialistic neo-liberal dictates of the US. They realise that economic liberalisation means they get poorer while teh rich get richer. They are choosing their own way forwar, right on Uncle Sam's doorstep. Great news.

And closer to home we have the Italian Silvio Berlusconi submitting himself to the democratic will of the people. This is a man who is known to have links to the criminal world, who has spent the bets part fo the last five years getting Parliament to change laws so that he, himself, cannot be indicted, who supported the US in their invasion of Iraq, against the peple's will and a man of such low level that he called anyone who thinks to vote left a 'coglioni'(or arse hole). This is when he is not comparing himself to Napoleon or Jesus and at the same time forbidding anyone to compare him to Mussolini. At least Mussoilini did some good for the country, even though he picked wars in Africa and sided with Germany. It is INCREDIBLE that this man MIGHT even win the election this weekend.

Seems like the Thais and the South Americans know a lot better how to use democracy than some people a lot closer to home.

I wonder what Ali would make of it all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pink tulips

Pink tulips, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Not quite tulip time here. The daffodils are starting to come out and the crocuses have just bloomed. We think Spring is late this year, but only because it has been so early these past few years.

In the 1970's, living in Beaconsfield (Bucks), having long school holidays in Spring, I can remember many days spend inside watching it rain. One year, my Mum decided to give me golf lessons. I spent the whole week practicing my drive, in an effort to actually hit the ball half-way through my swing. I think I improved during the week, but my most enduring memory of that week was the continual blast of cold wind, bearing sleet and snow coming in from Seer Green in the north.

The best place to see tulips in Holland is in and around the Keukenhof, just the other side of the airport from Amsterdam, on the way to Fred's school. He sees them from the train on the way to school and says they are still under plastic. The bulbs in the gardens are grown in greenhouses and are set out as they start to flower in order to create a spectacle to last the 6-8 weeks the gardens are open. Well worth coming to Holland (if you are in the area anyway) just to visit.

Outside, are the bulb fields with their strips of bright reds, pinks, yellows, blues and oranges, where the heads are cut off soon after flowering in order to promote the growth and reproduction of the bulb.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Watergraafsmeer - its where we live

Watergraafsmeer - its where I live, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fanning out from Central Station, there are a number of tram routes which can take one away from the busy centre to the local neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. One of the most rewarding routes is taken by tram line 9 (which departs in front of Central Station on the left-hand side, looking towards the city).

After making its way down the Damrak, past the Munt Tower, through Rembrandt Square and the other side of the Opera House and Waterloo Market, the tram enters the Plantage neighbourhood. Already a lot greener than the centre, this is an area built up in the early 1700's as the city started to expand beyond its long established walls. There are parks, the zoo (Artis), museums such as the Holocaust Mueseum, the Resistance Museum and the Trade Union Museum, old synagogues, some well preserved warehouses, converted to apartments, the Entrepotdok as well as Amsterdam's Botanical Gardens (Hortus Botanicus).

The end of this area is marked by the imposing Muiderpoort from 1771, which houses a Tax Museum before reaching the Tropenmuseum with its fascinating collection of arts and crafts from the ex-Dutch colonies of Indonesia, activity areas for children and spaces for cultural shows. The Museum backs onto the Oosterpark, with its lake full of ducks and swans, always eager to be fed by young children.

On the other side of the park, one enters the Indische Buurt, an ethnically diverse neighbourhood with many Turks and Moroccans, the colourful shopping street of Javastraat a lively daily market in the Dapperstraat.

And so tram 9 goes on, passing ever newer developments as Amsterdam spreads out reaching Diemen as its final destination. On the way, it will pass through the district of Watergraafsmeer, an area which used to be under a lake which was drained about 400 years ago. The highlights include the country estate house of Frankendael, set in recently rennovated 18th century gardens, which backs onto a park and the Linnaeushof, a beautiful quiet square dominated by the large Catholic church built in the early 20th century Amsterdam style (more of which can be seen in the Rivierenbuurt on the route of tram line 4).

Chin up!

Chin up!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A couple of proud Bodi men from the Omo River trip.

Still working on the photos from the trip and occasionally coming across gems like these two.

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