Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sunrise on the Omo River

Sunrise on the Omo River, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is 07.41 in the morning and the mist is still in the Omo River valley, the brown waters of the river are streaming past from the mountains of western Ethiopia down to their destination in Lake Turkana in Kenya. The sun is peeping through and throwing its light on the western bank of the river, before it burns away the clouds and sets us up for a hot, bright sunny day, during which we will climb to the top of the mountains on the eastern shore to meet the first people we will have seen for three days, apart from ourselves.

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Looking for country 100

99 countries
This blog has been viewed in 99 countries this month, according to ShinyStat, the (excellent) Italian company which keeps track of visitors to this site. One of its countries is 'Others', which has visited 22 times, these are probably the tiny states in Polynesia or somewhere. This map-making software would have us believe that these 99 countries are just 43% of all the countries in existence, which means that there must be very many of those 'little'countries around.

We seem to have a very good reach, although not so much in Africa or Central Asia. I am surprised not to have had any visitors from Ethiopia or Eritrea, especially given the fact that we have discussed Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia many times and described our journey in Eritrea. Maybe the government censors are at work, these two governments being well known for being very/extremely repressive.

So, in order for us to get the hundred up this month, we need a visitor from Ethiopia, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana as places we have been, or maybe Paraguay which I visited in 2004. Or indeed, any of the other places where we have not been like Nicaragua, Greenland, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Mongolia, Laos, Papua and New Guinea, Algeria, Tunisia or Libya or any one of the other hundred or more countries

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A bar in Shashamane

A bar in Shashamane, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Across the border to Ethiopia now to Shashamane, a town lying south of Addis Ababa, which we went through three times, twice in the rain and once to stop for refreshments.

It is in the Rift Valley Lakes region of Ethiopia on the road down south towards Awassa and thence Kenya. It is a quite unremarkable place except for one thing. In 1941, the Emperor of Ethiopia granted 500 acres of land there to the Black People of the West, and in the next thirty years about 22 families came to settle there. Most of these came from Jamaica from the Rastafarian community.

These Rastafarians see Africa as their ancestral home, rightly enough, and have centred their beliefs on Ethiopia, due to references to Ethiopia and Ethiopians in the Bible, where these are taken to mean black people. Haile Selassie crowned as Emperor in 1930, with a lineage claimed (falsely without doubt) to go back to the Queen of Sheba came to the throne as Ras Tafari, from which the organisation took its name.

From the early 1930s, Rastafari in Jamaica have developed a culture based on an Afrocentric reading of the Bible, on communal values, a strict vegetarian dietary code known as Ital, a distinctive dialect, and a ritual calendar devoted to, among other dates, the celebration of various Ethiopian holy days.

Later on Bob Marley would go to popularise Rastafarianism with his inspirational music, loved and played all over the world, even though ot start with reggae did not have any direct association with Rastafarianism.

During the early 1990's I was very keen on a band called African Head Charge, mostly because of their excellent, classic album Songs of Praise from 1989, which I have on LP, but not on CD. Looking for it in the excellent music shops of Amsterdam today, I could not lay my hands on a CD, and back here the only copies seemingly available are a very expensive Japanese edition. I am not even sure I can download the music off any site, which I suppose is the main way of getting one's hands on music nowadays.This connects with Shashamane in that their 1993 album was called In Pursuit of Shashamane Land. Also good, but not quite as good as Songs of Priase.

Shashamane as a town does not have a very good reputation in the guidebooks. As we drove through we saw plenty of posters referrring to Bob Marley and the Rastafarians, but it seems the Rastafarians tend to live outside town. We enjoyed a coffee at this bar above and had a few minutes to walk around before setting off to catch our rafts down the Omo River.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Somali houses near Borama

Somali houses near Borama, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Continuing the theme of going through the back catalogue, bringing life otld photos which never made it to flickr the first time, albeit with the help of picasa. I have opened a new set on flickr showinmg landscapes of the Horn of Africa and altogether, they are quite impressive actually, showing clearly the space, the emptiness and even the heat.

I am not sure what purists think of these cropped photos, but when one is taking photos of things in the distance, and usually these are landscapes, one will often get a lot of sky and/or foreground, which does nothing for the photo. Cropping them like this, as long as the photos are sharp enough, lts the eye focus on what is important about the photograph, namely the subject.

Amyway, here are some temporary Somali homes which one finds scattered around the countryside. Although traditionally nomads, one has the feeling that many people are living more settled existences nowadays, although one would assume that houses like these are not meant as permanent structures.

Today, I have been trying to be clever by building tools to show nice looking slide shows on a blog (not this one). I don't want to be mean exactly, but the slide show I downloaded the other day did not really give the right feel. However, my skills level with html and websites is showing up now and I cannot even open the program files I have been downloading unless they come in an .exe format, let alone upload the html code I get for the slideshow I have made.


Facing Mount Improbable

Mountains towards Sheekh, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

On my trips around webspace today I came across streamed videos of Richard Dawkins' TV programme The Root of All Evil, a viual precursor and now accompaniment to his excellent book The God Delusion.

They can be viewed here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Berbera, facing towards the sea


The last ever Grandstand

Yes, it seems that after 50 years, we have seen the end of Grandstand on BBC TV. Apparently Claire Balding introduced the last one this afternoon......

Like Top of the Pops, discussed on here earlier in the month, Grandstand is/was a remnant from one's childhood, being shown every Saturday on BBC One. Every week with the same signature tune. It would include, in the old days the best of football, rugby, cricket and racing but as the year went by the contracts for broadcasting such sports often went to commercial companies and Grandstand was left showing silly 'sports' like darts and snooker.

The best editions of Grandstand were ofetn when there was a big event such as teh Grand National, the FA Cup final or the Six Nations rugby, when they would leave the studio and spend the whole time building up the match with interviews, flashbacks and special films made for the occasion. The Grand National editions would often be the most watched TV sports events of the year and, since 1977, when Red Rum won his third Grand National there would every year be an interview with his trainer, Ginger McCain, who ended up winning the 2003 event with Amberleigh House as well!

We are told that the sport will stay, just the programmes will be given a different name. Now if they could just get round to closing off all the spy-on-the-wall documentaries, the BBC would be doing us a real favour!

It is a long time since the BBC brought coverage of Cheltenham Races, mores the pity as their camera work is far better than Channel 4's. but here is a photo of Hardy Eustance who won three times in a row at Cheltenham and I backed him each time, the first time being at 40-1! Yes, indeed, very lucky bet. He won the 2004 and 2005 Champion Hurdles but only came third last year, having not been at his best. Today he won the Irish Champion Hurdle and now he is third favourite to regain his crown at Cheltenham on March 13th. He has never really had the plaudits he has deserved but now he is getting old and will be coming back for the fifth year in a row, I think people are warming to him, such that he will be the most popular winner at Cheltenham this year if he does manage to win.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Berbera, main port of Somaliland


Friday, January 26, 2007

US bombs Somalia from the air, again...

Mountains towards Sheekh, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here are some green mountains up towards Sheekh in Somaliland. Sheekh is well known as the place where the best school in Somalialnd is, where the country's curent elite was educated. It is cooler up here and the mountains catch the rain coming in off teh coastal plain.

In the meantime we here that the US has bombed Somalia again, using areial bombardment in order to kill at Al-Qaeda operative, according to them. Never mind that last week they did the same and bombed a wedding and killed lots of innocent people and livestock without hiting their target. As long as Iraq goes on and people are looking at what the US will do in Iran, I suppose they think that anything they do in Somalia will go unnoticed.

In the meantime, my hopes for reconciliation are being questioned by hearing the so-called President of Somalia saying that he does not want to talk to ex-UIC leaders, as if HE really has any right to say anything, given that he has never been elected and was chosen as President outside of the country and only managed to move into the capital with help from Ethiopian and US forces.

With regards to the struggle between State and Religion in the UK, it seems as if the State is going to have its way and will not be allowing churches the right to discriminate against gay people, no matter what their teaching says. Tony Blair, who is Prime Minister only in name it seems ( he did not come to Parliament to debate the war in Iraq earlier in the week) lost out to his Cabinet colleagues.

It was extraordinary to hear Sir Thomas More being quoted on TV last night as he claimed that he owed his allegiance to God, above the King (Henry VIII) and accordingly lost his life. It was being intimated that it does not matter what Parliament legislates, the Catholic Church is answerable to God. Interesting. Anyway, I am quite convinced they only used the adoption issue as a means of getting a foot in the door of exemptions and had the Government caved in on this issue, the floodgates would soon be opebn to all the other religions to claim their exemptions. Well done Cabinet for holding firm!


Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Shadow of the Sun

Berbera coastal plain, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.


Ryszard Kapuscinski dies

Southern Eritrea

"Poland's most celebrated journalist and non-fiction writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski, has died in Warsaw, aged 74, after a heart operation. He made his name in Africa in the 1960s, where he was the Polish Press Agency's only correspondent. He wrote widely on wars and dictators, chronicling the last days of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie and the Shah of Iran. " - BBC news

He wrote the very excellent book, The Shadow of the Sun, My African Life, in which he recorded his experiences over 40 years a a reporter in Africa. His stories covered independence for Ghana, superstition in Uganda, a coup in Zanzibar, the genocide in Rwanda and starvation in Ethiopia, amongst others. Not always the most positive news to come out of Africa but he tells his stories with so much sympathy and attention to detail.

However, it is his stories of everyday life which are most enchanting auch as short stories about a camel herder in Somaliland, a day in a village in Senegal, life in 'his' alleyway in Lagos and what goes on underneath a tree.

One observation of his which sticks in my mind, and unfortunately I cannot find it in the book now, regards the introduction of plastic containers which he says is the one thing which more than anything has changed the lives of so many people in Africa. No longer do the women and children have to transport water in heavy vessels, mainly on their heads, but now they can strap water cannisters to a donkey and let them do the work. And this is very much what we saw when we were in Africa ourselves, donkeys everywhere strapped with yellow plastic cannisters bringing water from the well to the village (and often wood from the forests to the village).

He also talked about the phenomenon of seeing people by the side of the road, going somewhere, quite probably miles and miles away from anywhere, and with no hope of getting a lift and carrying very few provisions. Where are they going and where are they from, he asks? Indeed, it was a question, we too asked many times as we travelled the highways and byways of Africa.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone thinking of travelling in Africa, as it will heighten your experience of what you see around you.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Onto the Last Battle

Hanoi - Christian church, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The last battle between the forces of modernity, morality and mutual respect against the dark forces of superstition, hate and bigotry.

It is up to the UK Government to decide and a decision will have to come soon. It is in respect of the Equality Bill which is due to pass into law for England and Scotland in April. The Bill quite simply makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services. I wrote about this in the blog of 10th January.

The point is that public morality has moved on and just as it used to support slavery or race discrimination or sex and changed its mind, the same is happening with sexual orientation, whereby the majority of people do not think it is right to discriminate on the basis of whether or not they may be gay, straight or lesbian.

The problem we are facing now is that the Catholic Church, now vociferously supported by the Anglican Church in the UK, are claiming the right to continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and are presuring the Government to be exempted from the new law. Basing their morality on the discredited readings and interpretations of their sacred books, written for the best part over 2,00 years ago, they have been unable to keep up with the general development of morality within society. It is the same with rights for women, where especially the Catholic Church continues to discriminate shamelessly, mainly only within their internal organisation.

What they seem to be wanting to do here is not just discriminate internally, but also discriminate within the public domain, a public domain guided by democratic values, where questions of morality are viewed very differently. The Government wants to outlaw discrimination within the public domain

So we have a clash of values and it is going to be very interesting to see how it goes this time.

Lined up with the Catholics, we have the minister in charge of the Bill, Ruth Kelly who is a hard-line Catholic herself, allied with the Catholic-sympathiser Tony Blair (his wife is Catholic and his children went to a catholic school). Against, I think we have the rest of the Cabinet, a Labour cabinet, which if it stands for anything should stand for equality.

The Catholics had their way last year when they managed to stop new legislation which would affect the way they run their schools. I don't think the Governement will want to be seen to be changing their mind again. We will be back to the 1970's when the question was often asked 'Who Runs Britain?' - the Government or the unions - to be replaced by The Government or the Catholic Church.

I am confident that the Government will win this one and that Britain will take a major step along the road towards modernity. It will be hard for the Catholic Church to win many more battles after this.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Somaliland - Kulmiye colours

Kulmiye colours, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

These are the colours of the Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development) Party, one of three politcial parties in Somaliland. It is a fairly new party and its leader Mr Silanyo almost won the Presidential election in 2003 and the party came a close second in the Parliamentary elections in 2005.

Time for a quick update on the issue of the three journalists who were arrested in Somaliland earlier in the month. It seems as if they are still under custody and that all sorts of nonsense is going on in connection with their trial. They are being accused under an old 1952 law, from Somalia (which is the default law, I understand, in the absence of specific post-1991 Somaliland law). However, it seems as if there is a complete press law which was passed by the authorities in Somaliland and by the President himself, which is a lot more lenient than the old law and is the law which should be applied in this case. In other words, a lot of shenanigans going on.

There is a very good letter, written by the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, to the President.

In the meantime, there is also news of a military stand-off on Somaliland soil between Somaliland troops and those of Puntland, a neighbouring area of Somalia, which wants autonomy withing a federal Somalia. Apparently there was skirmishing there about three years ago. It could just be that there might be oil under the ground in this part of eastern Somaliland.

In fact, there seem to be all sorts of conspiracy theories doing the rounds about the US's interest in Somalia, with respect to large US corporations having secured oil exploration rights from the old pre-1991 government of Somalia.


Mum on beach, in Berbera, Somaliland

Mum on beach, in Berbra, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Not so long ago, Mum!

Happy birthday. Lots of love from Fred and Charles

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Monday, January 22, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

Global in Hargeisa, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I have just finished reading the book 'The Writing on the Wall - China and the West in the 21st century' by Will Hutton. I picked this up at Bahrain airport on the way back from Bangkok, even though it has only just now come out in the UK. The cover is red and looks like it is a book about China, but it is more about the state of the world economy today with an emphasis on looking at the effects of globalisation.

It is a very very interesting read, giving a very different take on globalsiation and how it benefits us in the West far more than other countries, giving us access to cheap goods and services as well as access to cheap credit to finance the spending spree in countries such as the US and the UK, which seems to be the driver of economic growth.

He takes a very good look at the reality of the Chinese economic miracle, which he sees as being plagued by corruption and being not a lot more than a question of Western companies taking advantage of tax breaks and cheap labour to have their goods manufactured and assembled, there being no Chinese mutli-national of any note to have arisen. The Communist Party has been very astute to take advantage of globally free markets and the very high savings patterns of the rural poor to create the phenomenal economic growth which China has seen. It is this economic growth which gives the Communist Party its current justification for existing, he claims.

He also claims that the current situation of high annual economic growth cannot be maintained indefinitely, partly because of the law of large numbers and partly because the laws of economics will ensure that the Chinese economy will overheat, leading to inflation, affecting the savings of the rural poor and so on.... leading to eventual collapse of the Communist party and the policies it purues. (The argument is long and complicated and I have not explained it very well, I am sorry to say).

Anyway, the main point of his argument is that the West should help China transition out of its current economic state to one which is sustainable, whereby consumption and savings are at more normal levels. For this to happen, he argues, China will have to embrace the Enlightenment values of pluaralism, such as the rule of law, multi-party system, freedom of the press and so on.... and the end of the Communist Party.

This will not be easy and while the change is made there are plenty of flashpoints with the West. He says we should keep our cool and play a long game of helping China make its neceessary transition.

The other side of the Chinese economic miracle is the trade surplus China has with the US, the funds from which are being invested in US bonds, keeping interest low in the US, fuelling the consumer spending boom, which is a major driver of world economic growth and in turn a major contributor to the trade surplus which China has.

The point now is that any shock to the system which causes a slowdown in the rate of growth of the Chinese economy will have a major knock-on effect on the US and world economy, sending the dollar down and pushing interest rates up, leading to a world depression.

This is a little bit of what he writes, but his other major theme is how the soft infrastructure of capitalism, the Enlightenment values of democracy, rule of law, free press, civil society, public realm, accountabilty and so on are infinitely important to economic development, a major reason why so many developing countries have problems in developing. He looks at the relative lack of these Enlightenment values affects the UK economy (our revolution having taken place before the onset of the Enlightenment) and how Enlightenment values in the US are being destroyed by the neo-con consensus in the US, which, in the long term will damage that country's own econmic interests.

Lastly, projecting Enlightenment values onto international governance, we find them distinctly lacking with the WTO and IMF being more rich man's clubs than genuinely reflecting the pluralist interests of all the countries in the world. Also, he makes the obvious point that the US's unilateralim undermines respect for international law such that when we might need to call on it, in the case of a breach by, say, China, we might not find it strong enough to protect us.

The book is a (relatively) easy and very interesting read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

E-petition to recognise Somaliland as a sovereign state

Hargeisa, Rep. of Somaliland, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you may, if you will, petition the Prime Minister to recognise Somaliland as a sovereign state.

The link is as follows:


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Salt caravan, Lac Assal, Djibouti


Friday, January 19, 2007

Some You Tube treats

As much for me as for anything else, I'd like to reference a few videos I have found on YouTube, being special to me in one way or the other as follows:

IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME - Yvonne Fair/Vicar of Dibley

This was a song sung by Yvonne Fair which was in the top ten in early 1976. A beautiful song from the heart by a woman standing up in church telling the world that it should have been her at the altar with the bridegroom. Somehow, this song never seems to be played on the radio, but the song has stuck with me all of the last 30 years, so it was really wonderful to see the song be used in footage of what turned out to be the most watched TV programme of Christmas 2006, namely, The Vicar of Dibley, broadcast on Christmas Day. Here is the clip, including just one-and-a-half minutes of the song. Still, much much better than nothing.

C MOON - Paul McCartney and Wings

Going back further into the 1970's to late 1972 for this song by Wings, which was Paul McCartney's group after he left The Beatles. I imagine that this would have been one of their first singles, another simple hummable tune, great for an eleven year old, but still sounding good now. Again, it is a song which never gets played on oldies shows on the radio, so a wonderful thing to find it on YouTube, in exactly the same version that I remember seeing on Top of the Pops 35 years ago.


This is not so much for the song, but for Marc Almond, me being and having been a great fan of his since I first heard Tainted Love at the swimming pool at St Georges School, on the Via Cassia just outside Rome, in August 1981. There is alot more to wriet about Marc, but for now, I just want to mention that he had a very bad motorcycle crash about two years ago; he was very lucky to survive and he is taking things easily nowadays. Here is he is with an uptempo number from the Jools Holland Hootenanny Show, broadcast at New Year. The one piece of Top of the Pops footage of him I would really like to see again would be Soul Inside from late 1983, although I think I must have it on a video somewhere, thanks to my friend Dave. Thanks Dave!

GENTE DI MARE - Umberto Tozzi and RAF

The Italian entry to the 1987 Eurovision Song Contest. A beautiful song, sung by Umberto Tozzi and RAF, which came second to (yet another) Johnny Logan song. I much preferred this song (of course) and I think the Italians were more than a little disapointed as it was shortly after this that they stopped competing. Fred and I spent our summer holidays of 1987 in Italy, so we had plenty of time to hear this song as a pop song, not just on Eurovision night.

While I am at it (Eurovision - my goodness, what have I started here?) a quick mention for Katarina Hasprova with her 1998 Slovakian entry MODLITBA, another beautiful, timeless song sung by a beautiful woman.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A rare old storm

Blijburg - sandstorm two
I wanted to write a blog about the storm which is raging outside but I do not have any storm photos on flickr so I will combine this post with some references to YouTube, where I have found some excellent videos.

The storm we have is said to be the worst we have had for very many years in Holland and the National Crisis Centre has actually called on people NOT to go outside, if they can possibly help it. The wind is so strong that it is blowing things off rooves and houses, making it easy to be hit on the head. The rain is causing a lot of flooding too.

Having spent the afternoon at home yesterday because of the rain, I was determined not to stay inside all day so I deceided I would brave the winds, not actually having seen the forecast about the very bad storm. It was all quite an experience, even though I managed to avoid the worst of the winds by cycling down narrow streets offering protection. In the meantime, the wind was whipping up froth on the canals, blowing up spray onto the streets. A large old tree fell down, crushing two cars underneath, while the taxi driver who stopped to take a pic with his mobile phone said another had fallen on the Nieuwmarkt and had squahed a Porsche (he said with a smile of satisfaction). Just before, I had seen my ex-colleague and liquidator, Peter Verloop, cycling along the canal, seemingly without a care in the world. Hat's off to Peter, as it was a rare storm!

At some stage the heavens opened, there were flashes of lightning, cracks of thunder, sheets of water coming down, branches and twigs fell, awnings flapped, the aeroplanes, which unbelievably still flying powered through the wind, in between the very fast moving low cloud. The road home was hazardous, as first of all I had to cycle through the rain and now there were large puddles on the cycle paths and a whole load more debris lying around. Many many motorbikes has been blown over, fortunately not onto the cars parked next door as far as I could see. I was soaked to the skin, at least to the extent I was not covered by my excellent rain jacket (Murphy and Nye, still looking as good as new two years on), notably my private parts which all of a sudden felt very cold. Anyway, the good thing about cycling home in the rain is that you can take your wet clothes off and have a nice warm shower, which is what I did. Only after did I go upstairs and switch on the TV to see what they were saying about this storm. It'd've been a pity to have taken their advice and not to have experienced the storm, so often they seem to happen at night and this time we had ringside seats!

Anyway, despite teh fact that we can now see last autumn's crysanthemums flowering almost next door to this spring's daffodils, we have finally been promised something like winter for next week, with maybe even some snow, if we are lucky!

The YouTube references can wait for another day.

Well, well, well, with eleven people dying in the UK as a result of the storm today (three in Holland as well), and such storms being a predicted efect of climate change in north-western Europe, one would have thought that the topic of climate change would be discussed on Question Time this evening. But, no, even in a week when there was nothing much special reported about Iraq and the Home Office, those two subjects came up AGAIN for discusison with the panellists making exactly the same remarks as all panellists make every week, when these subjects come up. Boring!

A last thought though and that is that Fred managed to get home safely, despite all the trains in Holland being cancelled because of the storm, because one of his colleagues, Thea, who actually lives in the opposite direction gave him a lift in her car all the way home! How wonderful. Poor Eric, though was stuck on the Belgian/Dutch border and was last heard of trying to find a bed for the night in Antwerp.

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From a young Mum to a young Granny and Aunty Frances

Granny and Aunty Frances, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This photo was taken probably in around 1920, just after the First World War, in which my Granny's brother Jack died on the Western Front, at the age of 19, shortly after bing sent there by the generals. This was something which affected the whole family for the rest of their lives, none more so, it seems, than their father, Grandpa Stewart, who was, apparently, a broken man after hearing the news of his only son.

Here are the two sisters, Frances Louisa and Irene Eunice (my Granny) in a lovely shot which I have tried my best to repair. Aunty Frances (on the left) apparently was very popular with the boys/young men and it was she who lived in Bournemouth and with whom we used to stay during the summer in the late 1960's.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From Angel Fingers to Angel Face

Mum in evening dress, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Been stuck inside most of the afternoon because of the rain (and this morning I spent most of the time in bed!). Decided it was time to scan a restore some of the photos Mum passed on to me for that very purpose. Here is a lovely one of my Mum from somewhere in the early 1950's, I imagine, looking very glamourous in her evening(?) dress.

The actual photo is only about three inches across but has more contrast than I could re-create on this digital image.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wizzard - Angel Fingers

Here is a film from Top of the Pops, showing Wizzard performing their number one hit, Angel Fingers. This went to number one, shortly after we got back from Switzerland, in September 1973. I have spent years trying to watch this film (and also the footage they made for TotPs for the week they were at number one), so I am very very happy to have found this on YouTube.

Angel Fingers was about the first single I bought, from Gerrards Cross, having (probably) missed the train back from school to Beaconsfield. I read today that Angel Fingers was a very expensive song to record as the band was very big and the Phil Spector 'Wall of Sound' sound took a long time to create, a bit like the middle operatic segment of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

Although I had been a fan of the Beatles and Sandie Shaw and others in the 1960's, I think Wizzard were the first pop band I got into as a young teenager. They had their first hit, Ball Park Incident, just after we arrived back in England from Australia, followed up by See My Baby Jive at number one for four weeks in May 1973 and then this. They are mostly now known for their classic Christmas song 'I Wish It Could Be Xmas Everyday', which is played every year in England at least. It was Wizzard's bad luck to be competing that year, that classic year of 1973, with Slade's Merry Xmas Everbody, which hogged the number one spot for five weeks.

Looking at this video, and also the other Wizzard videos one realises how life was much more fun in those days for the youth., when you compare this to what they have nowadays, such as sexy Shakira, scarey Darkness, boyband Westlife and miserable-as-hell Snow Patrol or whatever. Still, I suppose Gnarls Barkley were a bit fun last year (says old man Roffey, sounding like his father).

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Top ten hits of 1973

Top Hits of 1973
1 Dawn - Tie A Yellow Ribbon
2 Simon Park Orchestra - Eye Level
3 Peters & Lee - Welcome Home
4 The Sweet - Blockbuster
5 Slade - Cum On Feel The Noize
6 Gary Glitter - I Love You Love Me Love
7 Wizzard - See My Baby Jive
8 Gary Glitter - I'm The Leader Of The Gang
9 Donny Osmond -The Twelfth of Never
10 David Cassidy - Daydreamer / Puppy Song

1973 WAS the heyday of glam, as well as Christmas records (see blog above). Here we see the top ten hits of the year being dominated by songs by Slade, The Sweet, Wizzard and Gary Glitter, whilst a little further down we would see T Rex, Mud, Kenny, Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro. Slade and Sweet were liked more by the hard guys at school, which is funny really when you see just how camp The Sweet were in their Top of the Pops performances. I talk about my favourite, Wizzard in the post above.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Climbing Alvier in Switzerland, August 1973

Here we are back in 1973, with Uncle John (RIP) and cousin Malcolm, climbing to the top of 7,000 foot high Mount Alvier in the eastern part of Switzerland, looking across to Liechtenstein.

This was our first sunmmer holiday since we came back from Australia in 1972 and we joined our Uncle John and Aunty Jane and family for three weeks in Switzerland, driving down in our brand new orange Volvo estate. I can remember taking the ferry across, and wondering at the hovercraft we saw, a boat floating over theater at high speed, a recent British invention. We spent a night in Bruges and after driving down through Luxembourg, the only time I have ever been there, we spent the next night in Freiburg near the Black Forest, which we crossed the next day before arriving at our destination. Nowadays a family would do all this in one day, but then there were notso many motorways in Europe, apart from in Germany, where we were told that Hitler caused them to be built. 1973, at just 28 years after the war is nearer to Hitler than it is to the present day, 34 years later.

We had visions of cucko clocks, Swiss cheese and yodelling and we were not to be disappointed, the old Swiss towns with their wooden houses and geraniums and shops full of, what we probably thought were wonderful souvenirs, cuckoo clocks being conveniently too expensive.

The house we stayed at was a wooden farm house, with duvets (the first ones we had ever seen), half way up a mountain overlooking a valley towards Vaduz and its castle in Liechtenstein, surrounded by meadows full of cows. I can remember my uncle and aunty being there, cousin Malcolm and Andrew as well, but I cannot recall Pamela being there too well. We used to see Malcolm and Pamela a lot during the summers before we went to Australia when we went to stay with our Aunty Frances in Bournemouth. Malcolm being a year or so older than me was my pal and he used to get me inot all sorts of trouble, but he was good fun to be with.

We spent a lot of the holiday, going out for drives and walks and picnics, also visiting teh very large outdoor pool in Vaduz and it felt like a real treat to go to a foreign country to go swimming. We tried and we tasted lots of stinky cheese and were delighted to drink milk directly from the cow without it having been homogenised and pasteurised (I think this is illegal nowadays).

At the house, we would spend most of the time playing cards and we were at the time addicted to Canasta. My card playing addiction would last through school, where I spent most of my spare time in the sixth form playing whist and poker, util at university card playng was not something one did any more. It was great to come ot Holland and stay with Fred and his living group and spend evenings playing Klaverjassen and, again, it is disappointing that this is not such a popular game in Amsterdam, where they even have different rules. Still, I still see myself as an old man one day, playing cards all day, preferably in a Turkish/Arabic cafe than in an old people's home, but this is for the future.

Highlight for all of us in Switzerland is the day we conquered Mount Alvier, which at 7,000 feet was the highest mountain in the area. This is a picture taken on the way up (or down). Thius was about the same height as Mount Kosciusko in Australia and it has always been the measure I have used to determine whether I am high or not, where for example one could put into perspective the altitude of both Sana'a and Asmara at about the same height.

Aunty Jane had family down in the valley, I think they actually owned the house we were staying in and I remember being told that they were very rich, millioaires maybe. Well, we went over there for dinner one evening and I can remeber how excited we were to visit their toilets. So rich were they that they had warm water spout up from the pot to wash one's bottom. We were in awe!

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Sunday afternoon walk around Amsterdam

Over Het IJ
After a delicious dinner the previous night (only the carrots didn't work out too well as they stayed hard), it was a late-ish start to the day. A beautiful sunny day, thanks to a rare ridge of high pressure coming our way. We decided to take advantage of it by going for a walk around town, a typical, Fred, Charles and Henk activity.

Our walk took us up Linnaeusstraat, past Oosterpark, behing Artis, along the Calendar Panden, past Kadijk, up to Het IJ, in front of Centraal Station, behind again to Westerdok and Reaal Island, back along Brouwersgracht, Spuistraat, across to the Red Light District to Nieuewmarkt and straight back through Plantagebuurt. Excellent, sun shining all day, just a coolish wind, although a lot less brisk than the previous few days.

P.S. I will keep this slideshow on here, as it sort of illustrates the walk we made yesterday, but I find it altogether too busy. Great software, again, but I don't think I will be in a hurry to use it too often. Removed 19 January 2007.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saturday evening at home in January

Bahir Dar shepherds - eightBahir Dar shepherds, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Not so much to write about today and not so much time as Eric is coming round for dinner. A Jamie dinner, Fred cooking roast lamb wih aubergine and me making 'dinner-ladies' carrots - sliced carrots laid down with garlic, orange peel, parsley, olive oil, cooked in orange juice, white wine and vegetable stock (from a cube - so handy always!)

For desserts we would have been eating apple crumble were it not for the fact that they were selling three pineapples for a euro (I managed to bargain for a fourth one as it happened) outside the Turkish grocery store on the Pretoriusstraat. Jamie tells us we can eat this with castor sugar and mint, so we will try this as well.

All washed down with some lovely (and cheap) Argento wine from Gall and Gall. I am bringing a box of six home whenever I can, as there is a 3 for 2 promotion this month and we want to take advantage, the question being whether or not one drinks more when one knows that the fridge downstairs is full of bottles of cooled Chardonnay.

In the meantime, listening to extended CD singles from East 17 and 2wo Third3 from the mid-nineties, having discovered 4thChild, the previous singer of 2wo Third3 on MySpace, through a link from Marc Almond. May I recommend a link to Marc's site as he has placed an excellent song there called Weakness for Roses, sung to the accompaniment of Martin Watkins' piano, a song written by Baby Dee. Just how wonderful is the internet?

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Stuck in the desert

Assab-Obock - ten, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is odd just how vivid are the memories of the trip Fred and I made in Middle East and Africa; one can remember almost every day. It has been good to go through the photos of the two days we spent on the road in southern Eritrea on our way from Asmara to Assab, on the coast, to Obock in Djibouti on the Bay of Tadjoura.

One of the strangest thimgs was being held up twice by flooded rivers in the middle of the desert. This is a photo of the second time, where the waters were not only deep but very fast flowing, our driver only making the crossing after he had seen another vehicle making the crossing from the other side. The water had been released from dams in the highlands of Ethiopia, where there had been a lot of rain. We waited here for a good two hours, so little traffic there was, little did we know how painfully slow our progress would be for the rest of the day. Still, we were rewarded with some beautiful barren landscapes and vistas, as well as an unexpected night in Obock with the goats we had picked up along the way!

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The US aerial bombardments in Somalia (predictably) miss their targets

Assab-Obock - fourteen, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is a photo of a typical Somali house, albeit taken in the Danakil area of southern Eritrea on that memorable day on the slowest Toyota Land Cruiser in Africa in our effort to get from Asab to Djibouti in one day.

It is an excuse just to mention that it has been admitted that none of the three al-Qaeda people were killed in the aerial bombing raids in southern Somalia. What is interesting to not is what has been said on a BBC Have Your Say forum, asking the question about whether the fighting will stop in Somalia. At first, there were many US apologists saying that the US has to fight al-Qaeda and kill al-Qaeda suspects wherever it may be found and that anyone who does not agree is weak, anti-American blah blah. Well, since it became news that none of the three suspects were killed and that only Somali herdsmen (and women and children) and their livestock were killed by the bombs, these people have becoem very quiet on the forum.

What it tells me is that the US still does not understand that aerial bombardments are not the way to win battles or wars or to always have your way. Sometimes it may work, but mostly (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq now Somalia) it does not and it is certainly not the way to bring peace.

Peace in Somalia will come about, if it does, through national reconciliation, hopefully building an indigenous Somali-flavoured democracy on the Somaliland lines. The sooner foreign troops leave, the sooner the Somalis realise that peace is in their hands and it is up to them to embarce it. Leave the Ethiopians in place supporting any one side and you immediately have an outside enemy against which the other side can rally itself against.

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Like Top of the Pops (RIP)

Assab-Obock - thirty-eight, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thursday evenings used to mean Top of the Pops, which during the 1960's and 1970's and a good part of the 1980's was one's only way to see one's favourite groups and singers on the TV. However, there were 30 songs in the Top 30 and later 40 songs in the Top 40, so in a period of 30 or 35 minutes, not all of them could be seen. This would mean that there were good weeks and bad weeks, based on how many of one's favourite songs were shown.

It is now a similar situation with Question Time, the hour long show where a panel of five politicians and journalists or public figures are asked questions by an audience chosen from the general public. The panel do not know the questions in advance but the BBC does. Just like with Top of the Pops all those years ago, a selection of topic items have to be chosen in advance for discusison by the panel, And like with Top of the Pops there are good weeks and bad weeks, depending on whether topics in which one is interested are discussed or not, and then the way the discussion of such topics actually pans out.

Well, it is like there has been the same number one for the past four years, worse that Wet Wet Wet with Love Is All Around or Bryan Adams with the US-UK War in Iraq being discussed EVERY week. A close number two for the last few months has been the problems of the Home Office, where barely a week goes by without some story of mis-management. And then there is the recurring theme of inappropriate behaviour by a politican or some other public figure (last night an ex-Minister for Education sending her son - albeit one with special needs - to a private school);.

In the meantime, we had the US dropping bombs on Somalia and the EU publishing plans ot reduce consumption of non-renewable energy in Europe by 20% in the next twelve years. All we get is a five minute discussion at the end of Tony Blair's confession that he would not like to give up flying off on foreign holidays. Yet the panel (whichever one it is, and yesterday's was good) always say that climate change is the biggest threat to our security. It is something to say, but discussions of such issues rarely get an airing on the mainstream media.... still.....

Top of the Pops is no more, I believe, having moved to Fridays and then changing its strict format (only risers and no songs two weeks in a row, except the number one song). There is a show going through the BBC vaults showing songs from the past, but just like the original, it is a frustrating process as very rarely do they show songs one actually liked as a child or teenager, being chosen in the main by middle-aged executives, based more on how things look in hindsight than they did at the time.

Whatever they do with Question Time, they should NOT move it away from Thursday evenings.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Five boys of Asmara

Asmara - five, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here are five young Eritreans, photographed near the railway station one evening in Asmara. They look very happy, but one has to be concerned about their future underneath one of East Africa's bad dictators, Mr Afwerki, cousin of sworn enemy Mr Meles of Ethiopia.

The situation in Eritrea was bad enough 16 months ago when we were there, and I imagine that they have only got worse. Anyway, I found a whole load of photos from Eritrea, which due to the slow speeds of internet obviously never made it onto flickr or the blog, so I spent this afternoon editing them and uploading them, record of how it was when we were there.

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More good news about Somaliland!

Yes, indeed, this time for Somaliland as I read on the Somaliland Times site* that Saudi Arabia has lifted its embargo on the import of livestock from Somaliland.

This means that Somali pastoralists will be able to achieve better prices for their goats, sheep and camels(?) and also that Somaliland can further develop the facilities at the port of Berbera from where the livestock can be shipped up the coast of the Red Sea. (This apparently has caused a spat between Djibouti and Somaliland, whereby our dear friend the Consular-General of Somaliland in Djibouti has been kicked out, as Djibouti likes to take the credit for brokering teh deal with the Saudis but has itself very little livestock to export as a result of continued drought there - oh well, Somaliland deserves a break!)

Excellent news!

* - good also to see that this sister paper of Haatuf is still publishing, although there was no news (as of Saturday) about whether the three have been released or charged.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, dear brother

Bangkok nightlife - Richard, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Dear Richard, Best wishes for a HAPPY BIRTHDAY. We hope all is well with you. Thanks again for the great time we had recently, missing you. Much love, Fred and Charles


Good news!

Bangkok - young love, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The dark forces of outdated hate-inducing religion received a big setback when an attempt by an Irish peer to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland failed last night. The House of Lords voted three-to-one against the motion put forward by Lord Morrow despite a protest of a thousand religious bigots, of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish persuasion, outside the Houses of Parliament.

The SOR simply makes it illegal to discriminate against gay people in the provision of goods and services (such as a hotel room or the hire of a village hall for a party). Apparently, the bigots felt that their religious beliefs should take precedence over a law requiring all people to be treated the same. In other words they wanted to retain the right to discriminate in modern day Britain, claiming that their right to hold and act upon their hateful beliefs should take precedence. The campaign they waged was described as a highly inflammatory and well-funded campaign to oppose these much-needed protections reached depths of unpleasantness which we haven’t seen for some years, by Ben Summerskill of Stonewall.

In the debate, Lord Chris Smith, the first openly gay MP and a former cabinet minister, told his fellow peers that, "It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass. And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity" (also Islam and Judaism).

Well, the Lords knew what to do and they gave these forces of darkness short shrift, giving a gay-related measure its biggest ever majority in either House.

It is now expected that Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly (albeit a member of Opus Dei) will announce the detail of similar robust protections for the rest of Great Britain very swiftly, there being clear evidence that they will not meet parliamentary opposition.

In the meantime, not such good news from the Netherlands where a Christian school in Amsterdam has said it will not recruit openly gay teachers as they regard being gay as a sin. Also, in another article, we read that three Christian schools in the area of Ede have refused to admit three Burmese children ot their schools. It turns out that the Christian schools in that area are cherry picking white (ie native Dutch) people, leaving the state schools to educate more-than-their-fair-share of non-native Dutch people. Of course, it goes without saying that the Christian schools obtain the vast majority of funding from the State, from taxpayers like myself.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Aerial bombardment of Somalia by US

Somaliland freedom monument

Here we have an aerial relic of the 1980's namely a Somali MiG fighter shot down over Hargeisa, now being the centrepiece of the Victory Monument in downtown Hargeisa.

Today we have heard about aerial bombardment by the US on suspected Al-Qaeda operatives in the far south of Somalia. Rest assured, they were not using aircraft like this. Oh no, the aircraft used were AC-130's, heavily armed gunship that has detection equipment and can work under the cover of darkness and which have very little chance of being shot down by conventional arms.

I find the business very disturbing. For a start, the whole Al-Qaeda organisation seems to be at least a figment of its own and US propaganda than a real organisation, serving a purpose for both. But what is exactly membership of such an organisation? Do they carry cards ith a membership number? Or is it any Muslim group with terrorist purposes?

Secondly, as I have said before I think aerial bombing is a very cowardly way of going to war.

Thirdly, given that so many so-called Al-Qaeda operatives have been recruited and trained in Europe, de sthe US resrve the right to go bombing, say, university campuses in the UK if they have 'intelligence' of plotting of dastardly deeds there (because it certainly happens)?

Fourthly, Somalia now has an historical opportunity to make peace with itself, with the attention of the whole world, including even the new head of the UN (whose first task may be to sack the UN representative to Somalia (and Somaliland) a rather nasty piece of work named Mr Fall). The US, having encouraged the illegal Ethiopian invasion, has a large part to play in the reconciliation process, in which case the unilateral bombing of Somali sovereign territory is hardly the best place to start, esepcially when considering where they last left off.

Lastly, we have yet another example of the US bombing an Islamic country in a so-called war against terror but which can easily be seen, by those who want to, as a war on Islam.

Please let us have more emphasis on national reconciliation and less warmongering. Because before you know it, the much predicted counter-insurgency will become a reality, giving Somalis another ten or more year of violence and uncertainty.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Why the US should recognise Somaliland's independence

I came across an interesting article on the web, through searching on the blogger bar above. Again it refers to Somaliland, discussing why the US should recognise Somaliland. My response was as follows (not published as I was not able to log on to that site):

"Thank you Professor Schraeder for this excellent article. Time has moved on a bit with regards to the situation in the south, with reports this morning that the US has launched an air strike, following the sweeping away of the UIC by joint TFG and Ethiopian troops.

The US is taking an active role now in the affairs of Somalia and the timing would seem to be perfect to push for recognition of Somaliland, either through the AU or unilaterally (hopefully with support of the EU, or EU minus Italy). Taking Somaliland out of the Somalia equation, not only rewards Somaliland for its efforts, but simplfies the task of the Somalis in the south.

Not only this, but at a time of what one hopes will be national reconciliation within Somalia, the example of Somaliland can be used as an illustration of how a democratic and pluralist nation can be formed in the context of Somali traditions.

One other practical way the US could help Somaliland would be to put pressure on its arch-ally, Saudi Arabia to lift the ban on import of livestock from Somaliland, the ban being politically motivated, not backed by any scientific or medical evidence that there is anything wrong with Somaliland's livestock. This would help kick-start Somaliland's improverished economy.

In addition, maybe a strong word in the Somaliland Government's ear that arresting and imprisoning journalists is not good democracy."

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Go back to the deserts whence you came

As Ethiopian troops fired into crowds of protestors in Mogadishu, it seems that the violence is escalating again. It is also reported that the number two of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wants to get in on the act by calling on Muslims to fight the 'crusaders' and respond to his call for a jihad. He called on Islamists to use suicide attacks, mines and ambushes against the government and the Ethiopian forces.

Thank you, but a jihad is the last thing which Somalia with already so much recenty history of war and strife needs. The country needs to reconcile and build a peaceful, pluralistic society, just has been achieved in Somaliland. This will not happen through the meddling of religious nutcases or terrorists like Al-Qaeda. The Somalis know this adn it is to be hoped that they have the courage to engage each other in nation building.

So humble, as I am, I call for those Al-Qaeda troublemakers to go back into the desert and leave countries like Somalia alone. It looks like there is plenty of space for them there. Just go and shut up.

Further., there seems to be no news of the journalists in Hargeisa, except that they have apparently been badly treated in prison by the police.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Having fun with picasa

Petra - Aiman with steed, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

During the recent trip to South East Asia I started experimenting with picasa, a photo editing programme which can quickly be downloaded from the web for free. It can do wonderful things like straighten a photo, make it sharper, lighter, darker and so on, in addition to cropping. It is very fast and very efficient, much better than my expensive Adobe Photoshop Elements programme which I have installed on teh computer here at home.

Now back here, I have picasa installed and have been spending odd bits of time going though old photos on flickr and on my hard disk which needed some treatment, improving them. The result is that, given that I am not taking any photos at the moment, it being to dark and grey most of the time, and wanting a break, that I will be putting some of them onto flickr. It is great to be reminded of the times in the deserts of Wadi Rum, the clear waters of the red Sea at Aqaba, teh blistering heat of Urfa in Turkey and so on.

Today we go up north to celebrate Mienie's (Fred's second eldest sister) 50th birthday, back tomorrow to take in The Return of the King, before Fred goes back to school on Monday. Meanwhile, after last night's Sandra-loos Eebie's we are going to give up on that bit of nonsense.

Further, out in the garden, the buds are shooting and I fear I am just in time in puning the grapevine as there is a danger with the temperatures at the unseasonal high of about 12 degrees every day, that teh sap might soon start rising.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Charles at Hargeisa Club, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

In the meantime, I am alarmed to read an article, published by Journalists Sans Frontieres, whereby it appears that a broadcaster in Baidoa, Somalia has been arrested and, more alarmingly, three journalists in Hargeisa working for the Haatuf newspaper, including the owner Yusuf Abdi Gabobe. Somaliland is supposed to earn respect from the world as a haven of peace, democracy and the rule of law. This sort of nonsense cannot be excused.

I am not exactly sure if this is the man, but his name is Baashe Abdi Gabobe, so a very close fit and he mentioned that he was owner/editor of Haatuf. He was kind enough to show us around Hargeisa when we were there, including the Hargeisa Club, where my parents used to spend so much of their time when they were living there.

The link I have on this blog is to Somaliland Times, an English language sister newspaper of Haatuf. The paper is often critical of certain actions of certain ministers and rightly so, if the stories are to be believed. It would be such a tragedy if Somaliland were to follow the road of so many African countries towards oppression, secrecy and dictatorship.

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Water wheel

Water wheel, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A rustic scene from Northern Vietnam, which could just as easily be in Hobbiton. We are in the middle of watching the Lord of the Rings series of films, extended editions on DVD, as a new year's treat, bringing back memories of the Christmases of 2001, 2002 and 2003 when the films originally came out. Last night we watched The Two Towers and I almost managed to stay awake for the whole duration adn I am sure I saw bits which I had never seen before. We would be watching The Return of the King this evening but we are running out of time, with the Clubavond at 10 and Eastbenders at 9.

We are not exactly avid fans of Eebies, reckoning there is more to life than spending two hours a week following the forced stories of life on the square, but again, this is our Christmas treat. We would have already given up were it not that Sandra, from the film Beautiful Thing has appeared as the long lost mother of a couple of youngsters in the series. She arrived at the square dressed in red and laddered black fishnet stockings, dyed hair, made-up and smoking a fag. This is what we like and when I look back all of my favourite characters in the series have been these scarlet women, notably Cindy Beale, but also Pat Butcher and Sharon, although I would like to mention her husband Dennis here. Unfortunately he was stabbed while we were in South Africa, providing the drama for last Christmas.

Otherwise, the rain has kept away, giving me the chance to tidy up the front and back gardens, prune the grape vines, sweep up the leaves and the red papers from the fireworks and so on. It is only a tiny garden and sometimes one feels it would be nicer to have a bigger one in order to have more to do outside.

Also, received my first rejection to a job application, something which I suppose I will have to get used to, although I am happy to at least get some reaction, as most recruiters seem not to possess the courtesy to even acknowledge receipt of one's application.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What IS going on?

Schoolchildren, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The question is whether or not the residents of Mogadishu were cheering or not when the Prime Minister of the TNG rode into town with his Ethiopian sponsors or not.

War is always a time of much propaganda and there seems to be very much of it about when receiving news from Somalia these days.

One usually like to turn to the BBC in times like this but it has to be said that they have been very sympathetic to the cause of the UIC (Union of Islamic Courts) these past few months with many articles talking about how law and order and peace was brought to Mogadishu since they took control. Their first reaction was to talk about panic and rioting and looting going on when the UIC retreated, whilst other news agencies mentioned crowds cheering the Government forces.

My guess is that it was a bit of both, probably many happy to see the back of the extremists who had taken the re-introduction of Sharia Law too seriously whilst many others had no confidence in the TNG, being a gathering of ex-warlords chosen mainly outside the country with the support of Somalia's enemies, notably Ethiopia whose troops were used to push back into the capital.

Then the other main question is the extent to which the UIC really did represent a terrorist threat to the region and the world as a whole. The US certainly thought so and it was certainly in Ethiopia's interests to paint them as so. Although the UIC top did include a few who had been associated with terrorism before, notably Mr Aweys, there was also a large faction of moderates, allies to Mr Ahmed. As far as I could tell from following the reports over the past few months neither side was particularly in the ascendence.

Somalis (and I am amazed that all of a sudden the world media wants to call them Somalians, no doubt under the influence of the all-knowing Americans) are in general moderate Muslims with a strong non-Islamic traditions such as music and poetry. They are not naturally the extreme Arabist Wahhabi type Muslims, albeit a few of them, such as Mr Aweys have been infected by bthat poison. My guess is that given the chance and time, the moderate Muslim faction would have prevailed as the people would get sick and tired of the extreme wahhabi ways. However, it seems that they have not been given the chance. Instead the country has been taken over by puppets of foreign powers, some of which such as the USA have a distinctly anti-Islamic agenda and I can think of no better way to recruit extremists to the Wahhabi/jihadist cause than such a humiliation.

Going back to propoganda, none is more blatant than the labelling of the UIC as Islamic/jihadist terrorists, posing an imminent threat to neighbours and the rest of the world. It is interesting to see how if these people were such a threat how quickly they could be beaten. I have no idea myself about how militant the UIC really has been, although it was a bit silly of thenm to call on a jihad against Ethiopia nad all of Somalia's foes. I would not have taken this too seriously as they clearly had no capacity to carry out such a war and it sounded more like a rally to the cause than a serious threat. Still, given the world situatiuon, dominated by the US' war on terror, it was a very silly thing to say.

Lastly, the propoganda woulkd have had us believe that there were thousands of Ethiopian troops in Somalia with the TNG and likewise thousands of foreign, including Eritrean troops helping the UIC. Well, subsequent evenst have shown that there WERE thousands of Ethiopian troops whilst I have NOT read any reports of Eritreans or sundry Jihadists having been killed or captured by the Ethiopians/TNG. Again, my guess is that the story of Eritreans being in Somalia helping the UIC was a story put around by the Ethiopian Government in order to get popular support for their involvement, the rivalry with Eritrea being one thing sure to unite most Ethiopians together.

So there we have it, a web of confusion, lies and propaganda and it is all happening now. I have asked Fred if he might use this as a project for school, being more relevant than looking at World War One propaganda, which is what they normally do.

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Back on the qat

Qat men relaxing, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Qat was banned by the Islamic Courts, but now the foreign sponsored Transitional Federal Government have taken over the country, backed by their Ethiopian friends, the use of qat is now allowed. Can't be them trying for a little bit of popularity at the cost of the nation's long term health and stability, can it?

Qat is said not to be addictive, which is all very well but when grown men spend every afternoon of the week with their mates chewing the qat, spending all the family's money on their fix, when they get irritated and angry when they miss their fix, when the plastic bags in which it is sold are left to litter the countryside and when all the qat has to be imported, does it matter that it is not addictive?

Here is a den of qat chewers in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, where it has never been banned.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ludlow oak

Ludlow oak, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A midwinter afternoon in the Marches area, the clouds breaking up enough to allow some sunshine through, an oak tree having lost its leaves, marking out the boundary of the grounds of Ludlow castle. We passed through here a week ago, choosing the A roads up north rather than the M5 and M6. We arrived later than planned but were rewarded with some lovely landscapes, such as this.

We did not stay in Ludlow too long, Fred not feeling so well and us being a bit on the late side to visit my Dad, but from what we saw we really liked the place, from the butcher's with the pheasants hanging up outside, to the wonderful local cheese shop, the castle and grounds and the quaint looking pubs. I had only known Ludlow from there being a racecourse there but it seemd to be a real working town, full of country folk, surprisingly prosperous and not too twee, not as if it had been taken over by tourists and casual visitors.

We managed to pick up a couple of copies of the new magazine Tate in Shropshire, which has been produced by my cousin Bruce, who is based further north near Shrewsbury. The magazine is a celebration of local food, whether it be sold at farmers'markets, delicatessans, pubs or restaurants. It looks great and I wish Bruce and Caroline much luck with their future issues.


21st century wars of religion

Red is the colour!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we have some more 'Ethiopians', namely ethnic Somalis who live in Ethiopia on account of the way the British gave the Ogaden away to the Ethiopian emperor at the start of the 20th century.

Our local rag, Het Parool, had an interesting article about the Ethiopian aggression in Somalia talking about the Ethiopian government being dominated by the mainly Christian highlanders who oppress the 'conservative' Muslims of eastern Ethiopia (the Ogaden). Interesting that the journalist felt the need to use the word conservative to describe the Muslims, when the very same label could be attached to the highland Christians, hardly the most progressive people in the world.*

As it happens, the Ethiopian governemnt is not so much dominated by the highland Christians but a small clique from Tigray, the home of the warrior Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who seems to be as much hated by the non-Tigrayan Christians as anyone lese in Ethiopia. He is just a warlord wearing the cloak of democracy (through organising patently unfair elections, killing dissidents and imprisoning most of the opposition of dubious charges of treason). But he is a very clever man and knows very well how to keep the Americans on his side, painting himself as a Christian bulwark in a land surrounded by militant and undemocratic, if not terrorist, Muslims.

For this, he is given assitance to further oppress his own people as well as encouragement to settle old scores in Somalia. What is easier nowadays to accuse someone or some organisation of having links with al-Qaeda? And if one offers to stand up and fight, well bingo!, help yourself to all the arms, intelligence and 'military 'training' you want. You become defender of western values, an ally in the American war on terror and, if you are lucky, you can even get the United Nations on your side. In this instance, the UN security council seemed not to bat an eye-lid when passing a resolution to stop the embargo on arms to Somalia and to approve of the stationing of foreign 'peace-keeping' troops in Somalia.

Tomorrow, I will have a look at how the entry of the Ethiopian army and its puppet Somali government has been reported in the various media.

* - Just thought I ought to mention that our other paper, the more intellectual NRC Handelsblad did actually describe the Muslims of Ethiopia as mainly liberal. Class just shows through. Cancel that parool subscription!

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Into the new year

Here we were a week ago, watching the Crewkerne Boxing Day pram race, sponsored by Oscars Wine Bar, following on from the start of the hunt.

In the meantime, it is a new year, already into its second day. Fred is getting better and I have been tweaking around with the layout of the blog and also preparing my CV, because it seems that my new year's resolution is to find a job. Fred's is to go on a diet, because of a deal he did with his pupils whereby if they could collect 1,000 euros for charity (edukans), he offered ot go on a diet. He has set himself the eminently reasonable task of losing only 5 kilos, although those kilos have to remain lost by the start of the summer! My plan is then to go without beer or wine in the evenings during the week, which should make a bit of difference. Then he can also give up eating licorice and fishermens friends on the way to work.

My search for work, which just started this afternoon - such was the bad weather that even a job search was better than going out into the wind, rain and mist - has led me more to temporary jobs rather than a permanent one and I have started to have the idea that I might try to take a master's degree in something like environmental science or international/sustainable development when the new academic year begins in September. The typical thing to do is to take an MBA, but having had 20 years of experience in finance and business administration, I'd like to broaden my knowledge base on the technical side. I remember environmental economics being my favourite course at university over 25 years ago when this sort of stuff was not trendy but I suppose it is still not too late to jump on the bandwagon. Fred has been heard muttering, but if I can get onto a course, my incentive to get a job to pay for it will be all the greater.


Monday, January 01, 2007

A new start for 2007

Starting off 2007 with a new look to the blog. The same contents, just some different colours.

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