Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ottoman Houses

Ottoman Houses, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is great to be back in Aleppo again. We had our doubts about whether to make the trip up here, when we could only have two half days and a whole one. We knew we really liked the city but precisely why we could not remember. So today's walk around town has been one of surprises and re-discovery as gradually all the memories start re-awakening. Looking forward to a busy day tomorrow seeing as much as we can.

At least we are staying in a half-decenmt hotel, unlike last time where we spent the first night in an expensive over-priced one and then moved to a grotty back[packer hotel before being m,oved on from there to the dirty and cheap Syria Hotel (not recommended). Abdullah from Aleppo found our place for us, a reasonably priced backpacker sort of place near the clocktower.

Earlier in the day, we were treated to more bedouin hospitality, on our way from Hama to Apamea and then up to Aleppo, being driven by our great friend Abdul, to whom we ahd to say goodbye earlier in the afternoon. We hiope to see him again, inshallah.

Otherwise, we have worked out that we are paying vetry little for tghis holiday in a country where you can but a packet of 20 cigarettes for the price of one cigarette in England. We are paying just about the double of what each of us pays to travel to workl everyday for all accommodation, food, planty of beers and drives around with privatre chauffeurs and all entrance money.... amazing... still just about 30 euros a day... and having an amazing experience as well...

And it is still cool, especially at nights, where we have to walk around in wollen jumpres, although warm enough (hot) in the sun during the day.

And then there was the story of Ali..

camel man, Palmyra, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well.... he said he was Ali, but he might be Mohammed instead... anyway, we thought we might see him again in Palmyra to give him the photos we had taken the last time.

We first found a gyuide who said he was Ali's neighbour and that he had been at the site the day before but not today. he then offered to guide us around and we told him we had had a tour three years ago and that we didn't need another on ethank you, to which he explained that there had been many archaeological discoveries in the past thre eyears.... yeah right...

Later on we ran into a group of xcamel riders who recognised Ali, told us his name was Mohammed and that he was no longer working as he had broken in leg in a motorbike accident... and then that his white camel had died.... how sad. Ali./Mohammed, we hope you get better soon.

Mohammed with his wonderful fruit juices, the best in the world

We were very glad to see Mohammed again at his fruit stall, after three years. Unfortunately, I can't say he recognised us but was happy with the photographs of him friom last time which we had brought with us.

Very sadly, one of the chaps in the background of one of the photos had since died in a car crash in Saudi Arabia, may he be resting in peace.

By the way, this wonderful litre of fresh fruit juice still costs just 50 Syrian Pounds, about 50p! And really, we have travelled far anmd wide and never come acrioss such delicious fruit juice... and certainly not so cheap or served by such a charming person as Mohammed...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Message to Hillary and all those stupid Americans

You think it is clever to promise to obliterate a country if it does something you don't want? A country moreover with a culture far stronger and richer than in your own country.

And you stupid Americans decide you prefer Hillary as a potential war criminal as a President than either of the other two, by haning her the primary last week (some P state or other).

Well, please pause to think who are the real dangers to world peace.

And, by the way, why get Israel to do your dirty work by blowing a part of Syria up last year? What did they get in return? A promise that the US will allow the continued and expansion of settlements in occupied territories for another few years, while you manipulate the media with the myth of a peace process?

On the Road with Abdul

Charles and Fred in the bedouin tent Our dear friend Abdul, who gave us a coyuple of unforgettable days the last time we were in Syria, did it again. Today, we made the return journey to Palmyra, the Roman city in the desert, passing some beautiful countryside along the way, stopping off at the bedouin market in Salamiye and at many places along the way to take photos of and talk to the bedouins. We finished off with a trip to one oif my favourite places, the Qalaat Al Shmamis, the ruined castle on top of a hill, which looks like Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. Fred was not relishing the climb up, so whe was very happy to be invited by a couple of bedouins whose sheep were grazing at the foot of the hill, to visit their tent for a spot of tea! I swear that one of the bedouins was the same chap I saw here three years ago and I even recognised his white donkey.

Abdul Kader is a wonderful man, a kind gentle man with a great sense of humour and a very positive attitude to life. We were very lucky to get him again for today and also for tomorrow for our roundabout trip up to Aleppo. He is still driving the same yellow Kia, although the plastic has now come off the seats and he still likes listening to his pop music, inging a long at times. And he is a great help to us in learning some more basic Arabic words. He also knows all the best places to stop for the photos, although I seem to be the only one who wants to stop and see and photograph all the herds of sheep and their shepherds!

Again, not so much time today but happy to have uploaded a few photos.. and there are many more to come... today's were some of the best!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back in Hama

Two rifles, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

They are really a lot friendlier than they might seem from this photo, the Syrians. We have been honoured to have received a generous dose of their hospitality the past two days since we last posted a blog.

Again it is late and there is not so much tme before this place closes, so I will keep it brief. It is funny to be at the same internet cafe here in Hama as we were three years ago, staying at theame wonderful budget hotel - The Riad Hotel, Hama - being welcomed by theame Abdullah and having our room cleaned by the same chap (can't quite remember his name though).

We were brought up today from Damascus by Nasr, who was the driver we found two days ago on the street, who had offered to take us south to Bosra Sham. We had such a great day with him that we asked him to bring us to Hama, stopping at Maaloula and Homs on the way up, with an unscheduled stop in Qara to see a 10th century church with some frecoes. They were supposedly of Saint Sergius, of Sergius and Bacchus fame, but it turned out to be St George, rather disappointingly. Never mind, at least we got to see them and we had already stopped off at the Convent of St Sergius and St Bacchus in Ma'aloula on the way up. St Sergius and St Bacchus were two (very) good friends in the Roman Army, whoi somehow met nasty deaths because for being gay, no sorry, for being Christian... They are very popular here in Syria.

Anyway, later in the day, after wandering around Homs for a couple of hours we made it back to Hama, of the watermill - noria - fame, to find out that today was the start of the 11th Spring Festival of Hama, coinciding with the local Easter Monday. There was a wonderful pageant, which provided excellent photo opportunities - I could nto believe my luck. I will be adding the photos in due course... These two looked like a couple of Kurdish freedom fighters.

Yesterday started with a massive thunderstorm and a downpour, which eventually cleared to give us much coller temperatures, at least ten degrees cooler, such that it feels quite cool out off teh sun, especially in the evenings. Nasr was to take us south to Bosra Sham, an old Roman site near to the border with Jordan, famous for having the larest and best preserved Roman theatre in the world. It was magnificent.

Later, we would be taken to a number of towns and vilages with a high Druze population. They are very interesting people, originating from the Sh-ite, Ismaili side of Islam but without the five pillars and no prohibition against alcohol. The men have shaved heads under a white sarf and long bushy moustaches, which are often quite fair in colour. Very striking. The women also dress in black with white scarves. Nasr tunred out to be a Druze himself, which explained his love of whisky and he took us to see his brother in Seidnayeh, along with his brother's family. Apparently there are very many Druze who live in Venezuela, including over a thousand of Nasr's family and sure enough we met a party of them, speaking Spanish to us at our next stop...

Tomorrow, we are meeting Abdul, our driver from three years ago and he will take us again to Palmyra, in the desert and, hopefully, to the nearby bedouin market.

We are really having a very great time and according to our latets calculations, we have only spent 30 euros a day each since we arrived...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Did you hear? Jesus has died...

Street kids, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we are back in Syria, having arrived early yesterday morning on a BMI flight through London, which is giving us a bit of jet-lag. That and the heat. It is about 36 during the day and a little humid, making it feel warmer than it did when we were hear in late July in 2005.

We managed to direct the taxi driver from the airport to our hotel, the Grand Syria, but it was full, so we were sent across the road to the Republique Grand, or something like that. A smallish room, facing the busy street, no air-co, just a fan and no sheets (Fred knew he should have brought our light Egyptian sheets with us). Still, it is less than ten pounds a night, it is central, away from the backpackers and has hot and cold water and a fridge. Unlike Vietnam, no internet connection, so quite a trek to find a place.

Yesterday was Friday and a holiday and the streets were disappointingly empty, just as they were bustling today. We spent both days wandering around the streets, souks, mosques and alleyways, stopping every now and then for a refreshing drink (the best are the fresh fruit juices, or later in the day, a nice cold beer).

Nothing too much has changed, although the place is getting a bit smarter, at least in the Old City and this is the height of the (western) tourist season, so a few groups of French, Italians and Spanish to be seen, as well as reli-freaks.

Our restaurant has changed however and the old git has been sacked to be replaced by a younger charming Christian man. He was very serious when we came back for dinner, having reserved a table earlier in the day as he asked us we had heard the news that Jesus had died... Jesus, really? When? ... well, it turned out that for the Syrian Orthodox people it was Good Friday yesterday, which means that tomorrow is Easter!

Anyway, can't stay here too long as running out of my alloted time and Fred will be waiting for me back at the hotel. Tomorrow, we go to Bosra. At least, Inshallah, as our taxi driver kept telling us. Indeed, God willing... Bosra was the main tourist destination which we missed out on last time, an old Roman city built in black volcanic rock. We are making a day trip of it before moving up to Homs and Hama. This is the plan...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Horizontals - lilac, blue, orange and green

This is what really took me out of the house yesterday...

And all of a sudden, it was summer...

All of a sudden, summer broke out. There was an easterly wind, so I took the bike out and cycled west towards Haarlem and then onwards to Zandvoort-aan-Zee, where I spent an hour or so on the beach before heading south to Langeveldseslag for an ice cream. Then back inland to cycle past the tulip fields, to take some nice photos of the daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. The it was cheating on the way back, where I took the train to be back in Amsterdam in time for our first dinner outside on the balcony this year. And the good weather looks to be here to stay for a few days. Wonderful!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Geinloop 2008

Geinloop 2008 5885, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I found this photo on PBase (Gerrit Jan van Kampen). The photo was taken near the start and I seem to be concentrating quite seriously.

It's tulip time again...

Pink and purple, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, it is the middle of April and the tulips are out, whole fields of them in the west, towards Leiden, near where Fred works. You can see the splashes of colour from the plane as you come in to Schiphol. I am seeing if I can persuade Fred to come along and cycle around there, albeit, taking the train either there or back, depending on the wind direction... but I think he would rather just go for a walk in Amsterdam this afternoon.

It looks to be a nice sunny day outside and, despite the fact that it has felt mostly quite cold recently, it has been reasonably sunny and dry.

Yesterday, I went for my second run - the Geinloop, along the River Gein, in the countryside south-east of Amsterdam. I had run it a few years ago and decided to give it another try after my 7.5 km last weekend, this time increasing the distance to 10 km. It was a cold and windy day and I already felt tired in my legs before even cycling against the wind to get to the start on time to register. And, feeling something in my right leg , it would have been very easy to have stayed at home... but I did not want to give into that.

Whereas last weekend I was just happy to be out running again and finishing in one piece, this week, I had further to go and wanted to run a better time than the week before. In this way, I was less relaxed than the previous week, with the result that I probably started a bit too quickly and paid the price during the rest of the run. Somehow, the kilometers went by very slowly, as I kept on at one pace, feeling it all in my legs. We ran to a turning point at 5 kms, where I coukd see I was running a reasonable time and then we had to run back, against the wind. By now the field was quite stretched and there were not too many people just ahead of me, it always being an incentive to overtake someone ahead of you. Anyway, in the struggle to remain relaxed (which is always better) and not to go any slowly, I managed to keep up a reasonable pace up tio the end, not feeling too bad in the closing stages.

I came back with a time of 47 minutes and 35 seconds, which was about a minute faster than the pace I had run the previous week. So progress. Always a great feeling to finish, a sort of high and a sense of relief combined with a sense of achievement. It was only two months ago that I started running again after three years of not running - and I remember cycling along the same route those weekends we had that lovely weather back in February. If I had thought I would be running 10 kms in 47 minutes within two months back then, I would have been very satisfied.

I had the wind to help me cycle the 10 kms back home, where I had a toasted sandwich and had a nice hot bath, followed by a late afternoon sleep... a just reward. Eric came round for dinner - he had cycled 55 kms in 85 minutes earlier in the day and had also had a bath and snooze. Fred cooked us a lovely dinner (as usual) a Sexy Salad from Jamie and a nice aubergine/potato/tomato dish from Rick Stein. Accompanied by our Argentinian wine - Griffigna - 3.89 euros a bottle from the Vomar.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Congratulations, Take The Stand

Congratulations, Take The Stand, on winning your 11th race - The Munkey Espresso Hunters Chase at Cheltenham (your favourite course), at the ripe old age of 12. I am sorry I had forgotten that you were running tody, otherwise I would have bet on you, as I have so many times in the past. You made a mistake and still won... well done!

This is what The Racing Post said about the race:

This hunter chase is normally one of the best races of its kind, and this did not look to be a bad edition with a former winner of the Foxhunter and the second from this year's running both in the field.
However, in a race that had only five finishers, it was the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup second TAKE THE STAND who emerged triumphant after getting the better of Merchants Friend in a rousing battle through the closing stages.
Take The Stand had won his first chase for four years at Newbury last month, but that came on soft ground, which has never suited the 12-year-old, who was even better on the quicker conditions he faced here. He has been, and remains, a grand servant to the sport.

Later, in Reports, this was written:
Take The Stand, runner up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2005, has found a new lease of life at the age of 12 and followed up his recent Newbury success to secure the hunter chase under amateur Donel Devereux.

Winning trainer Peter Bowen said: “He has obviously been a grand old servant to the yard as he has won loads of races for us besides being second in the Gold Cup.”

Star performance
Take The Stand, second in the Gold Cup four years ago, showed them the way home in the hunter chase.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My colleagues and me on Brighton pier

I have just been in Brighton for the past three days attending a European Controllers Meeting with my company. I had a lot of work to prepare the meeting, the contents and the slides during the previous two weeks. It was finally good to get it done and I think most people were very happy with the meeting. I was happy in the amount of feedback we had from my colleagues and also with the variety of the things we did. I like to think I was fairly imaginative about the agenda.

We had colleagues from France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Spain and UK and US. A pity Greece and Italy and South Africa could turn up...

The weather in Brighton was excellent with the sun shining the whole time, it feeling quite warm even yesterday. It made the town quite attractive. We stayed at the very excellent Royal York Hotel, near the main pier. It had been re-furbished and only open for less than two months. Beautiful it was and excellent food and helpful young staff. Massive beds and lovely wall paper.

Unfortunately, I have come back with a terrible cough, which I hope I can shake off soon. Maybe a few days off the alcohol might change things.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Running again

I have been out running again since the nice weather we had in February, having had a break for over three years. I think the last run I did was the Amsterdam (Half) Marathon in 2004, or it may have been the Zevenheuvelenloop a few weeks later in Nijmegen. Anyway, I stopped and never really got going again, having had problems with my knees, then my back and then my self-confidence...

As I meant to say, when I wrote this post, I ran in a local run, the Nescio Loop, organised by my old club AV '23, the run going from the athletics club to the Amsterdam-Rijn Canal, where we go over an 800 meter long 20 meter high bridge - The Nescio Bridge, a bridge moreover which is only for pedestrians and cyclists and which links Diemen and East Amsterdam to the new suburbs of Ijburg, built on the new islands in the Ijsselmeer.

I have been running for about two months, first by myself and then with a club - this time the DGLA, which trains at the AV ' 23 track near me on a Wednesday and at the Olympic Stadium on a Friday. It is a very friendly club and the trainers, Ciska on a Wednesday and Leo on a Friday are both very good, which is important. Just like at AV '23 we do some jogging to warm up, then a number of body exercises and then running exercises before starting on some interval training over a distance of between 5 and 6 kms. At AV '23, they almost always came out at 5.2 kms.

So, having had this training for the past 3-4 weeks, I felt like doing a proper run and this was a very appropriate start...a nd it all went very well. I started off fairly slowly and then found an old running mate, who I always used to 'beat' and ran along with him for a while, until we were at the top of the bridge on the way back, where I thought I could start running a bit faster... and so I did... keeping going, overtaking the people in front and doing a sprint at the end to come back in a time of 36 minutes 42 seconds, about which I was very pleased. More pleased however, that it all went well, without any pain or injuries. And they were offering 10 minute sport massages at the end for just 5 euros, so I had someone massage my shins which had me walking away as fresh as could be... now onto the next run...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Oops! They did it again!

Oops! They did it again!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just finished my monthly stint in Grenoble and am on the train back to Paris. Not got much further to go and at 20.20 it is still light outside, whereas the last time I took the train, in early February it was dark when I left Grenoble at 18.05.

This month, the forsythia had died and the blossom was out. However, it was even colder and greyer and wetter than last month, so I can say that the best weather I have had so far was indeed in February (much like in Holland). The summer birds had arrived and I was accompanied just outside the office by a pair of black redstarts, which are a perverse sort of bird which seems to like building sites and industrial estates. They are not as pretty as the normal redstarts, which are more often to be found in woods and are therefore less likely to be seen, at least by office workers such as myself.

I would like to say that I was thrilled to see my first swallows darting around just above the mighty River Rhone, but it was such a miserable day, they just looked out of place. It is much better to see your first swallows when going for a walk on a bright warmish spring day and see them coming in low over a field of wheat, or something like that…

It was disappointing but fairly inevitable that I did not manage to quite finish my work, as in the last hour or two I had problems with my connections. This was after I managed to have a row with the external auditor and even walked away from him in disgust within just a few minutes of meeting him for the first time. He had called me away from my work to show me how the accounts were in such a mess and how badly our accountant(s) had done their work. Well, what he showed me is that he had re-performed their work and had found a small difference on one particular account and told me that all the accounts were like this. I said I was not concerned with small differences and I did not need him to re-do work which had already been done. His job was to se if the accounts gave a true and fair view and only be interested in material differences.

He told me that (all) the accounts were false, at which point, albeit it might have been a language problem on his side, I just walked out…. which was quite a Frenchie thing to do, not what you’d expect from an Englishman. I know he is trying to create as much work for himself so he can charge the company as much as he can and was therefore keen to find as many ‘mistakes’ as possible. Whereas I want to keep the costs down and want him to do his work like every other professional auditor.

I was later told that ‘this is the Frnech way’, to re-do and correct every little error – but I have been around long enough to know that this is nonsense and that French auditors can quite eqsily do their work the same way as auditors in other countries… However, not sure how I left it, apart from the fact that I have made yet another enemy – and just when I thought I was getting on so much better with the French. Oh well.

Anyway, I have another night at my favourite haunt at the Palace Hotel in Rue Bouchardon and then I catch the early train back to the Netherlands where we are promised two mild and sunny days. Seems odd to be going north to pick up the better weather. Time to put an order in for that garden furniture we had been looking at.

P.S. In Paris, I looked round for a place to eat which was showing the Liverpool-Arsenal match, but ended up in a bar having a beer or two, watching the very exciting end to the match. Very disappointing for Arsenal, but what a team that Liverpool is when it comes to the Champions League! Well done and I hope you go all the way this time.


McKelvey RIP, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Anshan (9.2f) - Chatty Actress (Le Bavard (FR )(16.4f))
Trained by Peter Bowen in Wales
Owned by N. Elliott
Bred in Wales

Won three hurdle races out of eight
Won three steeplechases out of fifteen

Second in the 2007 Grand National when injuring himself on the run-in.

He came back in 2008 season with two runs in long distance hurdle races.
He was behind in the 2008 Grand National when unseating his jockey. He later crashed into a running rail and had to be put down. Tragic.

Rest in peace.

Comply Or Die's National


Yesterday was Grand National Day and therefore one of the most important and eagerly anticipated days of the year. I have not really been on form racing-wise this year so approached the race with very little confidence. I left a list of five horses at my Dad’s place in the morning before going including: Slim Pickings, King Johns Castle, D’Argent, Comply or Die and, under a line, McKelvey. These horses came 4th, 2nd, pulled up (after being near the lead most of the way round), 1st and then unseated rider (dead). I put money on four of them, unfortunately not on the winner, Comply or Die. However, with Fred and Mum also being on Snowy Morning, we had between us the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, which is pretty good going out of 40 horses. One worse than last year when I had 2nd and 3rd. It was very sad to hear on the radio, after the race, that McKelvey had to be put down after inhjuring himself on the track. Very sad, and it is a very sad season for his trainer Peter Bowen.

Anyway, the Grand National experience was very enjoyable in the main, also for Fred. There were just as many tarty English girls wandering around in thin dresses and skirts, with open shoulders and plunging necklines, revealing ample breasts. The fact that there was a stiff could wind was not going to stop these lasses from showing off as much flesh as they could and from having a good time (this being equated with drinking a lot). Lots of photo fodder although it was quite difficult to get a good pic as there were so many people there it was difficult to get a clear shot.

The paddock had moved since I was last there, three ears ago and, of course, it is a lot worse than the previous paddock, as this is the way of modern developments. New paddocks have to be built nearer the grandstands, and have to be set as far away from any trees as possible. The ability to take nice photos of the hosres walking around has also to be frustrated. And, of course, the racing press and the BBC have to praise the race courses for their wonderful developments. Compare any new paddock in England to the paddock at Longchamp and you will know what I mean.

We managed to find the pre-parade ring just in time for the Grand National and managed to see Comply or Die being brought in. He did not look very impressive and we did not like his name too much. This is why, despite him having a very good form chance and having the right trainer, I decided not to put any money on him, when it actually came down to the betting. If we had known that there had been a massive public gamble on the horse, we might have put some money on, but we did not. King Johns Castle and McKelvey on the other had did both look very well.

Anyway, the race was a great thrill to follow as none of our horses were heard to fall, only McKelvey was left a bit behind. After a stiff and dark hail shower, the race before, the sun was now shining, always a nice sight, accentuating the colours of the jockeys’ silks.

Snow in April


Stuck at Liverpool airport – the John Lennon airport – and I am sure he is so very happy to have an airport named after him, where fascistic security guards bark at you for using your mobile phone, where others remove all of Fred’s toiletries from his bag. My flight to Paris has been cancelled, but fortunately I also had a prior flight arranged back to Amsterdam, so I am taking this one… when it arrives, or rather when it leaves as we have just been informed that we will be having an hour’s delay… the joys of flying. It is all due to the fact that a bit of snow fell in the London area and the fact, more importantly, that the authorities and companies responsible for ensuring that we get from A to B were woefully unprepared.

Goodness knows how I am going to get to Grenoble tomorrow, before more than half the day has gone and this week was going to be particularly busy at work. Oh well…. Maybe I will work overtime tomorrow.

Anyway, it was quite fun earlier on, in the snow in Buxton in the Pennines, where we had met up with Diana, James and Harry. Nice big flakes and yet wet enough not to settle on the roads, therefore not creating any hazards, as they love to warn us about on the BBC weather forecasts. We had been staying at Dad’s in The Wirral and had the chance to meet Diana and the boys for a short afternoon before going back to Liverpool and so we chose Buxton, Pennine spa town as the place to meet. Very nice and not so snobby as Harrogate on the other side of the Pennines, we spent most of the time in and around the park, outside the Victorian Conservatory and Opera House, mostly in the sunshine.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On the tracks

On the tracks, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are off to England tomorrow, flying to Liverpool with Easyjet where we pick up a car and drive to my father's place on the Wirral. Tomorrow evenig we will go out for dinner to celebrate his birthday from last Monday.

Saturday sees us at the Grand National and Sunday we should be meeting Diana and the boys in the Pennines, which may be white because of some forecast snow.

It was cold and windy and wet when I went to the Grand National three years ago, but that was after a warm and sunny Cheltenham. It really does seem ages since we had any decent weather, months really.

Nothing much more on the tips front, just that the Irish could be in the winning mood again and King John's Castle (what a terrible name for a horse) has run some good races, although we wouldn't know if he stayed the distance.

I found some nice photographs from our 42 hour journey on the Tazara Express to put onto Flickr. Won't be on for a few days, I think.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Havin' a laugh...

Havin' a laugh, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

There was a very nice April Fool’s joke in my daily free paper, Dagblad de Pers, yesterday. The front page showed some handsome, half naked young men in a mine. The article which followed explained how Dutch women were moving to southern Poland in search of a simple life with a handsome and simple Polish miner, creating a little community with coffee mornings and tea afternoons, while their husbands spend their time underground. It took Fred quite a while to get it.

A pity that the election results in Zimbabwe are turning into a not-at-very-funny joke, with that reptile Robert Mugabe trying to cling onto power despite only getting about 30% of the vote (and that is an optimistic guest). No doubt, the man who has almost single-handedly brought his country onto its knees, will not feel at al bad about staying on, even if this risks Kenya-type violence and near-civil war. Oh what a great day for Zimbabwe it will be when he finally goes.

In the meantime, the Geert Wilders story found a nice twist when the Minister of Justice told Parliament that Geert Wilders had told him that he was planning to tear some pages out of the Koran (which he wants to be banned) and then burn them. Such images, of course, are a lot stronger than what he put in his film and it DOES explain why the Dutch government was so scared about the film and was taking such diplomatic steps beforehand to minimize the amount of trouble the film would cause. Of course, Wilders wants to blame the government for blowing the situation out of proportion, so that it is the Prime Minister who is seen to be the bad boy and not himself. He is now calling the Justice Minister a liar but I know which person I would most likely believe… and it isn’t that straw-haired madman from the south…

Further, we can report that we went the school play at Fred’s school yesterday evening. The play was called Pika Don, which is the name given by the Japanese to the atom bombs which the Americans dropped on Hiroshima and Yokohama. The play was set against the background of the bomb and was written by one of Fred’s closest colleagues. A few of her plays had been preformed by local and then other theatre groups but this was the first one to be performed by school and it was the first time the play ahs been performed. The music teacher wrote the music to accompany the songs and the drama teacher abridged the play for performance at a school.

It was really really good. Real drama, an interesting historical perspective (the playwright is a history teacher, after all) and the songs, singing and music were excellent. Well done to all concerned. Let’s hope it isn’t the last play to be put on at the school, although I can imagine that a rest for a year or two might not be a bad idea.

It’s a running evening this evening and the weather looks to be a lot friendlier than on Friday and with the clocks having been put back, it will stay light most of the time. Not exactly spring-time, but the next couple of days are promising.

Friday sees us going back to England, this time to see my Dad, who was 76 on Monday and also to see the Grand National, this for the second time. It is a very odd field, with not all that many National-type horses and all of them in the handicap. I had had my eye on a hosre called Knight Legend, but resisted the temptation to place a bet, which is good, because he is not running – so I am already in profit! I was very keen on McKelvey this time last year and he ended up coming second, having injured himself on the run-in. He has run twice recently, but neither was particularly good. Also, his price is drifting suggesting that there is not so much confidence behind him. I will have a sympathy bet, but I am not hopeful. Forgive a horse one bad run and pick the jockey of the moment and you have Sam Thomas on Mr Pointment. He won very easily at Aintree earlier in the season, but ran very badly last time out. He has a high weight, but if he is back to where he was before, he should have a good chance. Otherwise, the third from last season, on whom I was also betting, Slim Pickings, has ruin reasonably well without winning. However, he is 10-1 instead of the 33-1 I got last year.

But don’t listen to me… I still haven’t won anything since last June…

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