Monday, June 30, 2008

Well done, Spain

Spain was the only country which we did not have correct as quarter-finalists and, almost inevtiably, they won Euro 2008.Well done to them as they deserved it by playing the better football and winning all their matches (even if it did go to penalties against Italy). Was not so impressed with them last night against the German team, but they managed to beat them 1-0 when Turkey managed to lose 2-3. I still think Turkey would have made for better opponents last night but that was not to be.

The question now is whether the 2010 Wold Cup will be able to be held in South Africa after all. I hear that they have great problems there with building the stadiums on time and I imagine that there is tremendous political pressure to keep them there but if there is a real problem, it will have to come out soon before people can start making travel plans...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Three years blog

Himba children with donkey, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, it was three years ago today that we opened our blog. We were trying out a few ways to kep in touch with everone while we were travelling through Midele East and Africa, and blogspot was the one we stuck with. A week later, we had found Flickr and were uploading the first photos on there.

We have now had over 120,000 visits to the blog and probably over 200,000 page views, whilst on flickr we are nearly up to a million photostream visits and 4 million clicks in total (photostream, photos and sets), which is quite phenomal.

It has been quite a joy to be able to share ones thoughts, experiences and photos with such a wide audience. Being very lucky to travel and travelling, as we do to some of the less visited places, it is great to be able to portray positive images of far-off place, where the mass media carries mainly negative ones.

This was one of my most favourite scenes during our trip. It was the end of our first day in Kaokoland and we were in Himba country. There were four children with a donkey who were walking home. The light was perfect and I managed to take some wonderful photos, one of which is one of my favourites of all my photos, the first to get to a thousand views and for a long time, number one on explore (on flickr) and the most interesting photo (on flickr).

This is another photo from the series which I uploaded this morning.

Thank you everyone for having come here and I hope you have enjoyed what you have seen and read.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

TURKIYE, well done and thank you!

To lose an important match with honour is what we have been used to for many years with England (at least until they decided to appoint foreign coaches) and now we have to see the same thing happen to Turkey, as they lost 3-2 to Germany despite dominating the game. How the Germans did it is a mystery to most of us, but they managed to do ‘a Turkey’ on Turkey by scoring a goal in the last minute and therefore found their way into the final (again!!!).

I don’t think England have been missed at all from a footballing point of view and both Croatia and Russia who were in the same qualifying group have impressed with their football, the latter beating the former favourites, Holland.

Holland have a knack of losing important matches in the same way that Germany has the habit of winning them. Again, it is not clear why the Dutch did so badly against Russia. Was it because they lost their rhythm having had most of the team changed for the match against Romania or was it the effect of the ‘death’ of Bouhlarouz’s ‘child’? Or were they just beaten by a technically better and better coached team in Russia? Dagblad de Pers contained an article in their all football edition, where the journalist pointed out many of the shortcomings of the Dutch team as well as pointing out just how lucky Holland were to have won by such wide margins against the ageing but glamourous teams of Italy and France. It sounded negative and seemed to be very picky, but was in the end a lot more accurate that articles explaining how baby power had helped the Dutch team (photos of Dutch players bringing their babies and toddlers onto the pitch after the match against France.

In the meantime, Turkey became the people’s favourite and, as often happens, just when the attention reached maximum pitch… they lost… but lost in glory. In Amsterdam and in Berlin, the after-match parties were joyful occasions, with Turks and locals joined in celebrating the near miraculous wins of the Turkish team. In Turkey, however, people were killed in the celebrations, too many shotguns being fired into the night sky and various other dark reasons… Best not to get too carried away.

In the meantime, the Turkish political situation seems to be getting worse and worse, the new government unable to do very much and the winning party (with 47% of the popular vote) in danger of being outlawed by the High Court. A transvestite singer is being pursued through the courts for being unpatriotic by saying that (s)/he would not want his/her son or daughter to serve in the army (apparently). Further, a local court has decided to ban the country’s foremost gay and lesbian organization – Lambdainstanbul, for being against Turkish family values. Inflation rises and the currency is vastly overvalued. Rocky times ahead. And with Sarkozy at the head of Europe for the coming six months, the Turks cannot look to the EU for support.

And then we have the EU, with its democratic deficit and its inability to convince the people of Europe that it is an influence for good. Every referendum which is held becomes an opportunity for people to successfully attack the EU and obtain a no vote. It seems that it is easier to gather support against the EU than for the EU. The arguments for tend to be longer and more difficult to explain. Arguments against are often very emotive, picking on small issues (real or make-believe) and are perfect for soundbites. In Holland, we had an almighty alliance of vested interests ranged against the EU treaty/constitution, anything from animal liberationists, gay rights activists, ultra-religious people, socialists, patriots and so on. A similar thing happened in Ireland. Yet, in a world increasingly dominated by multi-nationals, military powers such as the US and China and economic powers such as Russia, India and Brazil, do we not need to work together to preserve the freedoms and welfare of the people of Europe and is not the EU, the way we can best achieve that? And then with Turkey included as well…. Thank you, Mr Sarkozy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

We love Turkey

We love Turkey.

This was the first time out with my camera since the incident last weekend and I was feeling anything but confident as I set off on my bike for Mercatorplein, the other side of the city in Old West. This is where the Turkish people meet after their side has managed to pull off another amazing last minute victory - yesterday with the last kick of the ball, just a few seconds after having gone 1-0 down.

The atmosphere at Mercatorplein was amazing. Thousands of people with the red and white Turkish flags, many with red and white faces, cars hooting their horms, fireworks and flares being let off, people singing and dancing and generally being very happy.

I had nothing to worry about with my camera and many people, like this chap above wanted to pose for the photo, I even got kissed a few times by various people. There was no hont of aggression, no security guards, the police were being patient as the roads were blocked up with carloads of happy peoplewaving flags and so on.

It has been a great joy to watch Turkey this Euro 2008 and see them come back from 1-0 down against Switzerland, 2-0 against Czech Republic and now 1-0 down against Croatia. Incredible... they have made the semi-finals and been in the lead for just nine minutes in their matches. Good luck to Turkey in the semi-final against Germany!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charles, Mum, Fred and Richard

It is time for them to go already and it seems like yesterday that they arrived, Mum and Richard leave for Crewkerne this afternoon, taking their Flybe flight from Amsterdam to Exeter at 17.20. We have had a very nice time together and have been remarkably lucky with the weather, only today is it grey and a bit damp (good for the garden) and we have had lots of sunshine, albeit with cloudy periods in between.

Unfortunately, Richard had to deal with being there at the incident on Sunday, this coming after being around when Oona died in Cornwall when spending a few days with Fiona. At least this was a lot less traumatic.

It was my birthday yesterday and, as usual, I gave a party at home, taking the day off work to prepare. I prefer to celebrate my birthday on the actual day rather than waiting for the nearest weekend, even if it means I spend the day buying in food and drink and making pizzas and clearing things up, usually with a spot of Royal Ascot on the TV in the afternoon.

Yesterday was no different, except I had two pairs of wiling hands from Richard and Mum, who were a great help, especially in getting the bottles and stuff from the shops. It is never easy to guess whether guests are going to drink red or white wine, beer or prosecco (which is a firm favourite nowadays). Because of the football and it being summer, we are quite used to drinking beer, so we had three crates, just in case, and I managed to lay my hands on six bottles of prosecco at Gall en Gall for the reduced price of € 5 a bottle, although I had heard, wrongly as it turned out, that it was cheaper at Albert Hein. Further, we made four pizzas, some kofte, aioli sauce, guacamole and fruit salad, as well as having nuts, taco chips, cheeses and soft Turkish bread… more than enough, it turned out, to feed the twenty or so guests who turned up. Always nice after a party to have snacks left over, to eat the next day…

Anyway, the doors were open at 7 and sure enough Annemiek arrived soon afterwards. It was nice enough out on the balcony at the back, with a temperature of about twenty degrees. Couldn’t be bothered to have a party in the garden as there is too much carrying of things up and down the stairs at the back and somehow, the older one gets the longer it takes to get certain things done, and anyway, the balcony is big enough to be enjoyed.

Richard was quite surprised to be congratulated by the people who turned up, before realizing that they were congratulating him on the occasion of his brother’s birthday, this being an endearing Dutch tradition… although by now he was quite used to the triple Dutch kiss…

As usual the party was a mix of old faithful friends with a few new faces and, this time, with Mum and Richard there as well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the part went on quite late, even getting a bit noisier the later it got, with some music (I was allowed three Eurovision songs) and as people moved onto the balcony, now prettily lit with candles…. No complaints from neighbours (yet…) Well those children make a noise all day when the sun shines, so may the grown-ups be allowed their parties once in a while?

On Saturday, we had another party, this time as guests at Fred’s sister’s 40th wedding anniversary, the party being held in Havelte, above Meppel, up towards the border with Friesland. There was earlier a visit to the folkloric museum in Staphorst, which we decided to miss, Fred going, but me taking Mum and Richard to the touristic village of Giethoorn where you can take electric powered boats out on the canals and lakes, going between the pretty thatched houses and their immaculate lawns and out through the reedbeds to a wider lake, about one meter thirty deep. The party was held in a café, themed on Havana, where we were treated to some excellent locally grown food, whilst it was an opportunity for my Mum to meet Fred’s brothers and sisters again. Richard was very funny at the end, giving everyone the traditional three Dutch kisses on his way out…

I had managed to borrow Eric’s car to drive up to Staphorst and this was, in fact, the first time I had driven a car in Holland for four years (since the Metron company car went back in August 2004. I was quite surprised about the numbers of roundabouts which had sprung up since last time. Plus I had to watch my alcohol intake, which is also something I am not exactly used to…

Monday, June 16, 2008

With blood on my face at the police station...

At the police station, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The story:

The scene was the Roots Festival in the Oosterpark, quite near my house, an annual event where music from around the world is played and performed on various stages in the park, as the opening to a week long Roots Festival in Amsterdam. Always something to look forward to, especially as I like music from around the world and because of the nice relaxed multicultural atmosphere. The sun was shining, my mother and brother were with me and it was a good day.

My Mum was feeling a little tired so we took her to the bicycles so she could cycle home and as we walked back into the park, I saw a couple of security guards. I had seen a few before and I was intrigued by who they were given that they were wearing grey polo shorts with a large logo of what looked like an American Eagle, with the motto in an American-type font saying ' TO SERVE AND PROTECT SECURITY - We Serve for your Protection' Interesting, I thought, the outsourcing and privatisation of police duties and this time to what looked like an American company with American shareholders profiting from what the police no longer feel able to do. Interesting also, because last week at The Derby, the police were mostly gone, to be replaced by privatised security guards.

Anyway, as we walked into the park, I paused momentarily to take a photo of what seemed to be a nice looking security guard, from the back showing his logo. At that very moment, the other security guard looked round and must have seen me take a photo as he came up to me and asked if I had taken a photo. ' Yes I have', I said, and 'I will take another one', which I duly did.

This provoked him to grab my arms and hold on to my camera, as he told me that I was not allowed to take a photo of him or his colleague and that he was going to call the police. I didn't bother to argue with him but I was pretty sure I have the right to take a photograph of anyone in a public area in Holland, but this was a big man, twice as strong as me and I saw no point in making him angry or feel stupid.

So we waited there for the police to turn up and he started getting increasingly impatient, which got me more impatient and at some and decided to struggle to get out of his grip. Which I did, albeit ending up in a prickly bush, where all of a sudden I was surrounded by or four other big men in grey polo shirts. They grabbed me and pulled me out of teh bushes and then held me, from where I struggled again and managed to get away, back again into that stupid hedge. I tried to run this time, but I was caught again and this time they started getting more violent, twisting my arm behind my back and forcing it upwards, one of them called out to his colleagues not to hit me. Instead, having gained an audience for themselves they tried to drag me out of the park, with me kicking and wriggling and trying to get away.

It was here that the police finally appeared as all of a sudden I was being told to lie down on the pavement and to be peaceful. I turned my back to see the white shirt of a policeman, but I could not lie down peacefully as I was being held by various other people (I could not see them as they were all behind me). Then the policeman got angry and started shouting and then pushed me down, while someone was still holding onto my arm, giving me excruciating pain, so I screamed and screamed and screamed. Then along came the handcuffs, which they applied in the wrong way, so that they bit into my left wrist, which got me screaming again, partly out of pain, partly for effect.

Lots of commotion going on, with my brother being held by the security guards, or by now being let free, although he was not being allowed to get anywhere near me, not even to give me a tissue to clear up all the blood which was apparently dripping from my face. An ambulance man turned up and asked if I was OK and whether I would like him to clear me up. I was not OK and I did not want him to clear up the blood on my face What the hell was he doing there anyway, with two colleagues at his side as well.

So eventually, without anyone from the police having tried to find out from me what had happened I was asked to go to the police station where I was interviewed and asked for my side of the story.... which is what you have above.

I was told that I DID have the right to take photographs of anyone I like and that the security guard had no business to hold on to me.

I could accept, in some way, the bad treatment I received from the security guards, as that is what you expect from those sort of people but I do have a residual amount of respect for the police. So, I was interested to know why I was treated so badly by the police. I asked the interviewing policeman if the police who had been sent to the scene had known beforehand what I was supposed to have done - that I had taken a photo, rather than attacked a woman or stole someone's purse or wallet and I was told that they did not know. They had heard from passers-by that there was a ' fight' and they had seen me struggling and acting in a heated and violent way, so their priority was to ' calm me down' and put me out of action.

Well, I am quite amazed and disappointed about this... and when I went back to the station later, encouraged by Fred and my mother to make a statement, I was told that two of the police at the scene had made signed statements saying that I ha acted in a violent way towards, them, kicking them and so on.... which was a complete lie. They had come up from behind me and forced me to the ground, whilst I was being held by security guards or whoever they were. Once on the ground there was nothing I could do but scream. So they lied as well... and what can you do?

I was also told that the original security guard had sustained physical injuries - a broken fingernail or a scratch on his hand. Big deal. All I did was try to get away from him. And there i not too much point on making a complaint against him regarding violence as it was not so much him as his colleagues who had applied the most amount of violence.

The interviewing police officer told me that he had given this security man a good telling-off and that a very critical report would be sent to the man's personnel dossier, serving as a strong official warning, such that if he does a similar thing again he could lose his licence and job.

Anyway, these things happen sometimes. I was told off by the policeman for provoking the stand off by taking a second photo and for trying to escape, and he is a bit right, but still.

On the way out of the park after we were let free, we passed the area again and saw the original security guard, the good looking one. He had remained quiet and unemotional the whole time, not wanting to get involved in any of the nonsense being created by his colleague and the other thugs. I told him that I had no bad intentions with taking his photo and he said it was OK. We chatted and it turned out that he comes from Kayseri, in Turkey, so I told him that we had been there and wished him good luck for the match later in the evening. It wasn't looking good when Turkey were 2-0 with twenty minutes to go, but sure enough they came good and won 2-3, rounding off an excellent week for football results.

Thanks, Richard, Mum and Fred for your support, as well as all my flickr friends. It has been quite therapeutic to have been able to share this with you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A perfect day

We meet again..., originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Anyway, after a tortuous journey to Charing Cross, there was a short wait for fast train to Tattenham Corner and not just any train brand new stock. I think we stopped at Purley after East Croydon and then it was full speed ahead to The Derby. No shunting around the railway cuttings past woody Surrey villages in 1960’s carriages, which had become part of the charm of going tio The Derby, this was excellent though and whatsmo re we even arrived before the first race. Not much time to put money on Conduit the widely tipped and highly fancied favourite who came from last to first up the straight to win and take out lots of money from the bookmakers’ satchels (one assumes).

Despite the warnings of the BBC, it was a warm day, a bit cloudy at times, but warm and dry without a cooling wind. It is a great experience to be on the Downs, which are public commons. Nobody there to take money off you and not a lot they can do about telling you what to do. You can take your shirt off, bring in as much booze as you like, or buy it in one of the bars, and drink it to your heart’s content, you can wander down to the start and watch them come back at the finish, you can set up an impromptu concert or attend a planned one, go to the fairground and have your fortune read by a gypsy. You can even go shopping at one of the market stalls. Lots of security guards around with their fluorescent jackets, but not a lot they can do to control the public on their commons. Such a relief from the over controlled business of everyday life.

I would say that it was a good deal less busy than last year when it was a few degrees hotter, sunnier and when Frankie was due to win his first Derby on the favourite Authorized – which he duly did. But still, plenty enough people to create an atmosphere, especially near the betting rings and bars and next to the racetrack. There were a few people I remembered photographing last year, which was quite amazing and they were photographed aagain.

I had put my money on over the internet at Fiona’s shop, getting the odds of 66-1 about outsiders Washinton Irving and Alessandro Volta as well at 12-1 about Doctor Freemantle, odds which were much better than those being offered on course, so I was relaxed about that, just venturing five pounds on Lady Gloria to win her race at 12-1, which she duly did, earning me enough to pay my way for the day…

As is tradition, I walked down to the start and took photos of the horses whilst they walked around, many of them sweating up and somehow less impressive than they used to be in the days of the old paddock. I realized that I had forgotten my pocket radio, which I always bring to Cheltenham, so could not catch any of the commentary so I did not have much idea of what happened in the race, as I ran from the start across the downs to the finish, to see the horses coming back to the stands to be unsaddled. I was a bit disappointed to hear that it was New Approach who won the race and he turned out to be the least popular winner of the race I have ever known.

This had all to do with the trainer than anything the horse had ever done, which was to become the Champion two-year-old of last season, then come second in the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas over the shorter trip of a mile. No the trainer had first insulted the race by saying it was no longer important for a potential stallion to have won The Derby and said he would go for the Irish Derby instead, thereby declaring that his horse would not run. When the horse was left in the race two weeks earlier (and money had to be paid for him to be left on the list of entries) the trainer said that this was a big mistake and that he had no intention of running the horse in The Derby. And then it was the Monday before the race that this silly trainer ‘changed his mind’ and said that he would be running his horse in The Derby after all. Run he did and the rest is history albeit there were boos from the crowd when the trainers’ name was called… Oh well, at least it was a good horse who won the race and I suppose we hope that he continues to thrive and win a few more top class races, unlike most of the recent Derby winners like Authorized and Sir Percy.

My horses came 4th, 5th and 6th, which wasn’t bad but didn’t win me any money –but hadn’t lost me much either, such were the generous odds.

I had a date down in Haslemere with my cousin Jim, where I was due to meet up with Fiona and Thomas and spend the night, so after a couple more races I took the bus back down to Epsom from where a rain soon appeared to take me to Guildford, where a train was waiting to take me to Haslemere. Amazing. Had a bit of trouble finding the house, but found it in the end and there we had a wonderful evening, with some other cousins coming around, going for a swim, having a delicious barbecue and catching up on the gossip. What a perfect day it had been.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Stupid man

Well, that was a great weekend, despite starting off with all those delays getting to London and having brought the wet weather with me from France. Woke up on Saturday to bright blue skies and it stayed warm all weekend, setting it up perfectly for The Derby and a visit to my cousin’s place down in Surrey afterwards.

Saturday mornings at Fiona’s in Notting Hill inevitably means a coffee or two at Lisboa or Oporto, one of the two Portuguese cafes on the Golborn Road, this time Oporto, sitting out in the sun on plastic packing cases. Too many Portuguese flying their flags and dressed in their national football shirts, as they were playing on the opening night of the European Championships, unlike England who did not qualify despite having had many chances to do so. How different it all would have been had England actually qualified, with St Georges flags everywhere, but this was not to be, and maybe it is for the best, as it would have only delayed the disappointment of not winning.

A silly Frenchman, Michel Platini, who heads up the UEFA accused Manchester United and Chelsea, the two clubs which played in the Champions League of being cheats, borrowing unsustainable amounts of money in order to buy players and support their owners’ businesses. He also rightly said that England would not be missed, after all, they had not qualified in a fair competition for places. Having lived through the 1970’s and 1980’s I know very well what it is like for England not to qualify and it is odd to think that any realistic person would think it strange that they did not. Although the Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal laissez-faire system, which has allowed the English clubs to be sold to the highest foreign bidders might achieve results in the shorter term, once the economy slows down and the banks and lenders start calling in their debts, it could spell disaster, as events in the US are currently pointing to with the credit crunch…

Anyway, Fiona knows quite a few people up at Oporto, and so I ended up chatting with a Kosovarian who was a bit surprised to hear that we were going to his country on holiday but encouraged us and confirmed that Prizren is a very nice place to visit. He also recommended Tirana in Albania as well as the Montenegran Coast.

Then it was off to Fiona’s shop, which has a nice lot of new stock in, as well as some old stuff. Still no sign above the shop, just on the attractive sun shield above the window. Fiona had to go off to buy a cheap table and chairs at the local DIY centre, only 40 pounds for a metal round table and folding chairs, so she can sit outside during the day. Excellent value and no doubt made in China. I was left to man the till, without knowing how to do itt, not necessarily expecting any customers but of course within five minutes we had a lady with two two year olds looking for a birthday present and, sure enough, she found a couple of things and, inevitably she wanted to pay with a credit card. Ooops! How does this work? Well, after ringing up the wrong amounts a couple of times, I finally arrived at the right total and then started pressing buttons and putting the credit card into one of the machines which seemed to take them. Please wait said the machine, so we waited… but nothing happened…. So we do it again and still nothing happens, so I decide to ring Fiona but we need the line for the credit card machine to make contact with the bank for authorization. She gives me a couple of unclear tips and we try again and it still doesn’t work. So eventually the woman decides to leave the two expensive things to pay for them later and buy the smaller things with cash. As they are leaving the shop and are outside I hear one of the little boys say to his mother ‘Stupid man’…

Saturday, June 07, 2008


On the second part of the journey now, the early morning train from Paris (06.38) to Grenoble (09.33). The countryside is now clad in green, the leaves covering all the trees and the grasses tall and in flower, just a few red poppies to add a bit of colour. Certainly, it looks a lot more attractive than it did in the winter. However, the weather is again bad, dark and cloudy, cool and moist, meaning that the best weather I have had down here was that time in February. Coming off the train in Paris last night was a disappointment as it was about ten degrees cooler than Rotterdam, there was a wind and it was spitting with rain. To add to that, the one hotel after the other was full, so I ended up staying in a rather expensive ( €80 a night) two star hotel which failed to provide any towels, up by Gare de lÉst. I met my friend near his house in Arts et Metiers and he took me to a local Vietnamese restaurant for a delicious dinner, just before it closed.

So… now on the way out of Grenoble, waiting in an airport hangar somewhere away from the main Lyon airport terminals. We have been herded like animals through x-ray machines, passport conyrol, ticket control to be left standing (or sitting for the lucky few) waiting for a plane to arrive to take us to London Stansted. WE are already at least a half hour late and have been waiting here for forty minutes and no-one has made any announcement about the plane being delayed, let alone made apologies for it. If anyone concerned is reading this.. think twice before booking an Easyjet flight out of Lyon, it is a terrible experience. In fact, most French airports seem to be particularly terrible (Charles de Gaulle is my least favourite in the world), only the small airport outside Grenoble was half decent and that seems only to open for business in the winter for the ski-ing.

So what did I eat in Grenoble?

Wednesday lunch we went to the hypermarket and I had some sort of salad with couscous. In the evening I went back to the small restaurant run by the old woman where a gain I ate exactly the same food and again was all alone. Salade Grenoblois (with lettuce, sliced new potatoes, walnuts, tomatoes and a delicious vinaigrette, followed by old tough chicken pieces cooked in a sauce of crayfish, served with potatoes dauphinoise, with a large amount of delicious cheese on top (I preferred this to the chicken) and then some ice cream dessert flavoured with the local green chartreuse liquer. Yesterday lunchtime, to the tennis club where we had another salad – this time a berger salad with spek and goat’s cheese, along with the lettuce, tomatoes, walnuts and vinaigrette followed by chocolate mousse. Then last night, a dauphinoise salad a bit like the berger salad, with two large pieces of goat’s cheese on toast, followed by a plate of ‘dry’ cheeses. Delicious. So at least the food was not bad. Just the weather, which started off badly and just got worse… cooler and windier and wetter – it was typical English summer holiday conditions on the way to Lyon airport, with drizzle falling from low hanging clouds. So, it remains just in February when I managed to experience good weather down in Grenoble. Strange.

And now, I am on the Stansted Express, a cool 17 pounds to get to ‘Central’ London (i.e. Liverpool St Station) about an hour after I would have expected due to our unannounced delay – which turned out not to be so bad… it just felt worse because they couldn’t be bothered to make any announcements. As for the price, they had the cheek to ask a full € 20, just a pound less for the bus which took us from Grenoble station to Lyon airport, despite the fact that there is a TGV line between the two. But having waited 20 minutes in vain to buy a ticket for the train this morning, it became clear why people take the bus, a ticket for which I managed to buy within a minute.

At least I used the time fruitfully by managing to tie up the differences in the accounts, with which I had been struggling so badly in the office during the morning. Sometimes it is better to get some fresh air and take a break, as quite often a solution will present itself all of a sudden.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Introducing the allotment

Charles with the family, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The entries to this blog seem to be drying up. I have been keeping it going for almost three years now, the first two when I did not have a job and this last year since I have had a job. Not that the demands of the job are so extreme, but there just does seem to be less time (and less energy) to devote to interesting topics of the day and the blog has become more of a personal diary, albeit illustrated with photos from my Flickr site.

Anyway, I am not exactly planning to give up on the blog but I am beginning to feel more relaxed about not submitting entries on a daily basis and I still hope to make it a little interesting for others to read.

Again, I find myself traveling and having the time and inclination to write as I travel down to Paris on the first stage of the journey down to Grenoble. I missed out last month and didn’t have much time in April, so having now three days down there should help me sort a few things out. Maybe even time to wander around the shops. I am not expecting particularly good weather either as there seems to be a lot of rain about, the best weather in Europe being found in the north at the moment. It was 28 yesterday in Amsterdam, a beautiful hot summer’s day, cooler and more humid today after a rainburst last night. In England all it has done is rain and Mum’s Crewkerne was mentioned all over the news due to a flash flood a week ago. Fortunately, it didn’t affect Mum or her allotment too much. Meanwhile our allotment is looking a lot happier after we finally had some heavy rain late on Saturday night (after I had gone to bed and fallen asleep…)

I don’t think I ever formally announced the allotment n this blog, but it is something which I have had since about the time we went to Syria. I had helped a friend, Bas, once on his allotment, which he was sharing with a couple, someway back in February, when the sun was shining. I expressed an interest in joining in and sure enough this couple suddenly stopped coming to the allotment and it turns out they are making plans to move to Scotland, which gave me the perfect chance to join in. We have 200 square meters in an area about a ten minute cycle ride from home, under a canal and next to some sports fields. The soil is clay and dries very easily and becomes impossibly hard.

The first task was to finish the weeding and get rid of so much grass that at least 85% of the garden had been turned over. My friend has a bit of a bad back so it is mostly Fred and I who have done this, with Bas being more for the planting of seeds, hanging of nets and gentle weeding. We have potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, maize, beans, onions, garlic, strawberries, raspberries, red currants, a few fruit trees, radishes, carrots, spinach, artichokes and various cabbage sorts. There is a hut and a terrace and it is all becoming a lot more interesting now the seeds are germinating and the plants are poking their heads above the soil. Enemies are the pigeons, slugs and hares which also live in the gardens and we can expect produce to mysteriously disappear once it becomes ripe… thieving humans apparently.

I hope to find a way to take some interesting photos of either the allotment or the produce or both in the weeks and months to come.

In the meantime, the photos of our recent trip to Syria are getting very positive reactions, which I am happy about as I do particularly want to portray a very positive image of that country, going against the grain of the general media reporting about Syria. I do notice that more and more my photography is concentrating on photos of attractive looking (mainly young) men, either posing or caught candidly by my lens. I do take other photos but these are the ones which get the best reception and it is normal, I suppose, to chase the positive comments.

With respect to our forthcoming holiday in the Balkans, I have seen plenty of photos of Kosova and Macedonia but they are almost all of the mosques, churches, woods, lakes and mountains in those countries and very little of the people, unless they are folkloric (older people in traditional clothes). It will be interesting to see if I can come up with anything different.

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