Always a little further: it may be beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow.

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Another great day in Tashkent.

The evening meal remained intact from last night’s roadside diner so after a sumptuous breakfast I set off for Chorsu Bazaar. It was far more than I expected, and there was much less. Let me explain 

In 1993 Pauline and I went through the meat market in Lahore, and it was an unforgettable experience. The stench of rotting meat was overwhelming, and the offal was thrown into an open drain in the centre of the road. It ran black with effluent and sewage. 

Since then I’ve been to markets in Vietnam and Thailand which have been so much cleaner and delightful. All Asian markets are places of fascination. Fresh vegetables, spices, fish, bread, meat and served up by a huge and rich ethnic diversity of people.

I think Chorsu is the best so far; all the sections were signposted and it was beautifully clean. 


No one paid any attention to me (except the money changers who were no problem at all) and I had some good banter with the spice sellers who were insistent on selling me dried tea, both green and black. I tried to explain that dried tea looks exactly like hashish to a British customs officer, but none of us had enough of each other’s language. I went to the end of the market and through an open curtain expecting to find a way out, but instead found a man sitting on a simple wooden bench. He motioned me to sit beside him, and I was about to speak when I realised he was praying. Instead of the formal rising and kneeling he would lean forward and sit up, as he quietly spoke the prayers. I waited for him to finish and I spoke a little Arabic to him and he laughed and we shook hands. A rare and special moment in the hubub of a marketplace.

The meat market was at the back and I braced myself for the odour, but there was none. There was a range of meat including, goat, horse and camel and it was spotlessly clean. 

I headed off into the Metro, emerging at Uzbekiston to be sent the wrong way by the duty policeman. I’m glad he did. I found the canal and the gardens and some lovely back streets where people were tending gardens. From everyone was a greeting. At the end of the road was the local ‘beach’ where several families were swimming or sunbathing. As I turned back onto the main road I found the first of many waterfalls, until I got to the Independence gardens where there was a wall of water


I got a bit artistic with the camera and as I was trying to be clever, a couple stopped and the woman walked into the water, across a causeway just below the surface.


She’d nearly reached the middle when the ever-present police started blowing their whistles. She was out of there faster than a rat up a drainpipe; she was definitely an Olympic sprinter!!

I was flagging a bit with the heat and stopped in the gardens by the statue of the Sorrowful Mother, with the eternal flame. A beautifully carved wooden avenue held endless brass pages of names. It commemorated the names of the 400,000 Uzbeks who died in the 1939-45 war. A somber moment.

I headed back to the Arch of Independence topped with the great sculptures of the storks.


For a capital city it’s a great place, yet strangely empty. I know it’s out of season, but it’s nothing like the tourist traps of European cities; and all the better for that.

Tea in the park, and the Metro home to sleep away the hottest part of today. Tomorrow? A long train journey …

We are the Pilgrims, master: we shall go always a little further.

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It started well. I arrived at Manchester in a downpour and the check-in agent took pity on an old man and gave me a better seat, and a priority check in sticker. Straight through, all the medication and sharps accepted without comment. In the queue in front of me was a Turkish family with a very mature son who had Down’s Syndrome. He was the love of his Mum’s life. His way of communicating was a strange strangled cry, that sounded Wookie-like. The family were sat in front of me on the aircraft, and I tuned out their conversations. What I hadn’t realised was that the lad was the Turkish Olympic farting champion both in volume and richness. The bovine emissions were fairly regular and the young woman next to me and I both took turns at gagging as the stench wafted over us.

It was a relief to arrive at Istanbul and I settled in for the long wait for the connecting flight. Had I realised how sloppy Turkish Airlines were, I’d have booked the one hour transfer rather than the six.

The flight came up on the boards about 22:35 (for the 23:55 departure) and I headed for the gate. After the smooth efficiency of the MAN-IST leg, the loading was an utter shambles. No information, standing in queues and then an official man shouting at everyone and pushing people. I resisted the urge to ‘push’ back. Welcome to the former USSR! At least I got a seat by an exit door. The departure time came and went and at 0115 we started to taxi out. As we got to the runway two women passengers started to batter each other and were separated by the flight crew. I was expecting a return to the terminal to have them taken off, but we continued. Arrival was due for 0600 at Tashkent and we landed at 0800. Many of the passengers burst into applause. Once the fighters had been taken off by the Police, we left and the Immigration and customs checks went without a hitch. The car that was waiting at 0615 was long gone so a young lad brought me to the digs and sold me a house brick sized pack of Uzbek Som for a tiny amount of Dollars.

After a wash and a shave I got the Metro into Tashkent. At every turn there was someone to help. Help with tickets, telling me where to get off. It’s a very friendly place. I found Amir Temur’s (Tamerlane) statue and the first of many gardens

I sorted a local SIM card and headed home through the parks, which are beautifully kept. There was a street market mainly selling paintings and old soviet-era badges. As well as gnomes. That’s solved the present problems!

As I wandered on, there did seem to be rather a lot of police everywhere. Without realising it I’d managed to miss the cordon and was at the front of the Presidential building. A man in plain clothes called me over; he looked like a taxi driver chasing a fare. “Your papers!” He demanded. Not really being switched on, I said “are you a policeman?” “No, I’m a secret policeman”  was the reply. I just stopped myself making any stupid comments about secret policemens’ balls and explained my plan.  I was shown the way and various uniformed and non-uniformed men appeared to firmly and politely guide me on my way. It was well done and without any shouting or cross words.

It’s a nice place. The Metro is a classic of great design and lots of marble. Sadly you can’t take pictures. There is a strange system of plastic tokens. For Som 1200 (about £0.25) you go as far as you want. One station or many. That’s not bad is it?

Pissing up a wall

It’s a bloke thing. You watch males entering a testosterone-fuelled debate where the language and the body language are crucially the same: I can reach higher than you. I remember this activity from primary school; in those days the pissoirs didn’t have a roof. For those of us of a ‘certain age’ the prostate currently limits this activity severely. As does a fall in testosterone. It’s pointless. 

On Thursday I did some work for a very large uniformed public service organisation. Due to a scheduling error I ended up spending an extra hour in the canteen, and boy, was there some pissing contests going on. Both men and women. Strutting, rutting and bullshitting. At the end of it all I was so glad I’ve left the world of that nonsense. 

On Friday I was part of a selection day and watched two young women from a traditional male-dominated uniformed service and was impressed at how they managed the male applicants. Both sharp-witted and articulate they chose their moments and opportunities and demonstrated their abilities.

On Saturday I took a young woman motorcyclist on an assessment ride. We had to deal with the issues of pissing contests first, and the whole maleness issues that surround motorcycling. Once that was cleared up, the ride was based around her needs, her progress points and how she wanted move forward. It was a delightful afternoon and we both learned a lot about riding.

I’ve almost reached the former age for compulsory retirement and the corporate world seems a long way off, and I’m very glad. The whole ruttting and strutting stuff is in the past and I’m glad. Grow up boys; the only thing you have to lose is your egos and the sooner you do the better. 

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure

February 6th, 2017 marks the 65th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Poor old bugger. Sixty five years being a figurehead can’t have been that much fun. As I was in the area, I thought I’d pop-in and give her my regards, even though my views on unelected figureheads are not really in her favour. She was out, obviously not wishing to mingle with the unwashed that much, presumably chastising serfs elsewhere. And much to my relief as well, as I gave up-forelock tugging and genuflecting when I was about seven. She had however, made available a peasant’s cottage on the Estate for me to rest my weary head for the night. ‘Nearby’. Unfortunately ‘a man’ wasn’t available to carry my load to the cottage.

So I set off up the hill disregarding the stalking season warnings (I can’t see the guns being out in a howling gale) and was soon out of the forest and onto the moor with a stunning view across onto the snow-dusted peaks of Lochnagar. The gale was getting stronger as I headed on and I wondered if this was going to be the worst I would experience. Eventually I spotted a clump of trees in the distance, and in them two cottages. The second of the two was open, and had a small store of wood and a stove. There was however, no wifi, and no running water or any visible plumbing for that matter. The matter of the ensuite was resolved when a hole around the back, with a bucket of water, was discovered. Fortunately I’d bought my own stove and some delicious rations. A cup-a-soup, porridge and a packet of tortellini. And a hip flask. A very small and inadequate hip flask.

By 15:00 I was installed, just as three of Grampian’s Finest called in on their way down the hill. They reminded me of the impending blizzard and left. I set to with the saw and axe and built a pile of firewood ready for the onslaught. The waterboard people arrived a little later and once water samples had been taken from the river, they also left, reminding me of the approaching blizzard.

By 16:30 not only was I bored but bloody frozen. The stone cottage was working as an effective fridge, so I lit the fire, and collected enough water for the night. By 17:30 I was even more bored so the Tortellini were cooked and eaten. After doing the dishes, drinking sundry rounds of tea, I started on very wee drams. I had retreated to bed by 18:20, leaving the fire stoked up and a candle lit. I decided it would be unwise to change into pyjamas mainly as I hadn’t brought any. At 19:10 I got up to adjust the dampers on the fire which whistled like banshees in the strengthening gale. At 19:30 I had to wedge the front door shut to stop the rattling. Once I got used to the moans and rattles of the old house I dropped off, waking at 23:05 to find that both the candle and the fire had gone out. The wind was still howling but only a little snow was falling. This did not fare well for the morning. I woke another three times in the night, the last time at 05:10 to the deafening silence that usually means a blanket of snow has settled. At 07:15 I woke again and decided that enough was enough, and started breakfast. Instant porridge from a discount store is nothing like the branded version, so I poured in the last of the Dalwhinnie in an attempt to cheer it up. It didn’t and I then discovered the full extent of the disaster unfolding. There was no salt.

Gelder Shiel

Gelder Shiel

After cleaning the stove and sweeping out the room, I stepped out into a world of white, but only about 2cms deep. And the joy of that whiteness led to the discovery of a record of visitors in the night. Here, a deer; there a fox – and another; and a mountain hare; and isn’t that a stoat’s tracks? The views were perfect, but obscured by the approaching blizzard; Lochnagar was white, the red granite stones alongside the track showing in relief as they were coated with snow on the windward side.

I reluctantly left, looking back and taking photographs of the moor, the trees and the hills. Two grouse startled me, and in turn spooked a pair of red deer who went trotting across the moor with heads held high. I was too transfixed to get a quick photograph. At the high point of the track I was in near white-out conditions, but as I dropped in altitude the snow eased off until back by the castle it was merely light rain.

I stopped to tug my forelock at the security camera as I passed, and headed for the van. It hadn’t been that big an epic, and the rat hadn’t really been fed, but it was my first highland bothy for 11 years. Two day’s walking, a big(ish) load and the realisation that I can get on with being a mountaineer again. A small beginning, but an important one.

The Ben Alder Babes

So when your best mate says “fancy a threesome on Ben Alder?” you get excited. Really Excited. Then you find out it’s him, his missus and you.

“And by the way, you’ll need your own tent … ”

LostAnd at this point you don’t realise there’s a catch. It is (of course) that you’re the navigator. So we meet at Dalwhinnie, and with loads reminiscent of a Falklands’ marine assault, you prepare for a yomp. It’s a big yomp, too. With a 45kg pack you wonder why you are doing this, given that there’s a perfectly good bothy close by. However, he’s a politician. Using the time-honoured phrases “trust me” and “I love you”, you duly turn up with too much kit and a spirit of The Great Outdoors and An Adventure, and set off. After about three hours (broken only by passing BT Engineers repairing a Saudi Prince’s fibre optic broadband) you get to the end of the track. Then you realise that there is still another hour to go.

wtf_004The views are stunning as you crest the ridge at the back of the VERY expensive house. You fail to realise that it won’t look like this tomorrow. You scrutinise the lines and decide on the ‘safest’ route.

The morning dawns and of course you can’t see a bloody thing. It’s a whiteout from start to finish, and there’s always an edge nearby. Somewhere. About there. Where? Oh F***!

wtf_003If in doubt always send the lardy lad off on the end of the rope. Rope???? Oh, I thought you had it? Ah well …

wtf_002With the aid of the GPS and a bit of ‘aiming off’ we got there. Then there was only the issue of getting off, which was almost as bad as the getting there. It was a long journey, but enlivened by falling into snowdrifts, bogs, swamps and other delightfully Scottish Things. Eventually we arrived back at the tents and submerged into an ecstasy of tea, more tea, hot meals and of course a Wee Dram. Bolstered by a surfeit of Dalwhinnie (which we recycled during the night) we slept long and deep until the time to clear the tent, pack and depart came.

wtf_001Of course, the weather on departure day was bright, fresh and crisp. It always is.

Oh and by the way – best avoid Dalwhinnie 10 year old Fine Malt. There’s probably more than a little Welsh Pish in it …

Wait! Wait a minute … What did Renton say?   “But what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid. At least, we’re not that fucking stupid.” 

Really? Bollocks!

It’s been too long …

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Winter has always been Scotland; the pursuit of the Quality Winter Mountain Days (QWMD) for the log-books, the Friday night dash up the M6 and the bleary return on the Sunday boosted by copious volumes of Red Bull. Then there was the Munro bagging thing, provoked by my mate who now seems to be off bagging continents and countries by airline, and collecting garden gnomes. When you go soft, you go soft … Occasionally there have been stays in hotels – although I doubt the owners of a hotel in Callander would want us back after the epic drying of soaking clothing after one assault on Ben Vorlich that was more like swimming. But I digress.

I was looking at my Munro records and was alarmed that the last entry was 12 May 2007, for Beinn Alligan. That’s nearly ten years. 2007 is memorable for completing the GR20, and the subsequent onset of arthritis in my toes. For several years, walking was a challenge let alone going uphill. 2007 also marked a return to motorcycles.

blog_munro_smalljpgOver the last two years, I’ve been working away at the feet and getting up to four hours of walking a day. That’s one day at a time. Two consecutive days hasn’t been possible, until last week when I managed two four-hour days. There was some excitement, as well as stiffness. That’s stiff knees, nothing else!

It just so happened that three day’s work in Aberdeen has arrived, and it’s a long way to drive without going a bit further west. A plan has evolved for a two day wander taking in the best things of a Scottish winter mountain trip; A bothy, a hill, and the resumption of a way of life.

Choose life …

Which reminds me. Trainspotting 2. What an awesome film. A few nods to the original, and a great pointer to the future. And there’s a link to Munro Bagging – not just Renton’s oratory on Corrour Station “We’re ruled by effete arseholes” which has a poignancy given who has just been elected POTUS – and the reason we do it. It’s easy to resort to the classical responses from Mallory, and the “all of life to me” stuff from Winthrop-Young.

I’ll let Renton have the last word (he was talking about munro bagging of course):

People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored. But what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid. At least, we’re not that fucking stupid. Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it.

Renton? I bet he rides a GS!

Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft und Bollocks

It’s getting on for thirty years since I gave up the day job to get a Degree to start me in a new life. I applied for a Degree in Sociology full of intent to be a social worker, but after a short placement realised that social workers ranked alongside my estimation of Westminster politicians and red-top journalists. That’s the only thing that hasn’t changed since 1988.

During the first year of the sociology course we studied Marx, Weber and Durkheim. At that point my black hole was acute and an in-depth investigation of suicide wasn’t on my wish list. The biggest challenge was the thorough, critical analysis of the Masters including the magic words “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.” In her reasoned and calculative rationality my lecturer enthralled (bored) us to infinite depths about the purpose of these words, but failed to ensure that we understood the meaning of either. All the standard texts did very similar and in my crisis-ridden world I never went beyond sociology to a German dictionary. And so (in a pre-Google world) I blundered on, lost to the coarser meaning of either word.

It was by chance that a BBC Radio 4 programme recently mentioned one of those obscure words and of course I googled it. Society and Community. I didn’t need Tönnies’ finer analysis in 1988; I needed to understand what the words meant.

Which brings me to the point of this. Bollocks, and the incomprehensible need for apparently educated people to spout utter drivel in order to create meaning. Or try to show the rest of us how clever they are. Take this for example (and I can’t find the worst examples I’ve stumbled across):

In this powerful post-impressionist work, typical of Cézanne’s mature style, the struggle to realise pure sensation, untainted by conventional ways of seeing, is expressed in the vibrant tension between naturalistic forms, such as the trees to the right and left of the canvas, and areas of pure abstraction. Commenting on Cézanne’s achievement, the artist’s friend and fellow Aix painter, Joseph Ravaisou, argued that ‘these abstractions are inherent in the nature of the objects depicted’ and that ‘between abstraction and realism there is only an apparent contradiction’. There is, then, in Kantian terms, no distinction between the sensible – what can be seen – and the supersensible – what can be assumed.

You can see that Marx, Engels, Kant et.al had little impression on me. That’s from a man with a 2:2, which means I nearly completely missed the point … However. I’d like to refer back to one of my favourite quotes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

I’d spent the morning at the Tate Modern, and enjoyed the oil-fuel aroma of the new extension and some fairly meaningless things, including four security lights triggered by movement that purported to be art. Come to my house when the cats are on patrol and you can have that interpretive experience for free. Anyway this was all presented with a load of bollocks that tried to move the ordinary to the artistic through the intervention of some highfalutin text. As you can tell, I dismissed this with a single word.

That evening, it was a great privilege to watch Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, with Owen Teale and Damien Molony, perform Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land’ at the Wyndham’s. I love Pinter; he is a brilliant observer of both gemeinschaft and geschellschaft, and frankly cuts through the crap with both a beauty and vitality that seems lost to the critics. But I didn’t say that; David Jones said it better “The trap with Harold’s work, for performers and audiences, is to approach it too earnestly or portentously”.

The play was brilliant; all four actors are at the top of their game, and in the Q&A session at the end, the presenter made the mistake of looking too deeply (and I paraphrase):

“Some have described ‘No Man’s Land’ as the anteroom to death”.

Sharp as ever, McKellan retorted, “Be careful not to overthink this; there was free food and drink. Maybe that was why Spooner was there.”

And that’s the point; all of this stuff puts food and drink on the table either as a direct contribution to a pay packet, or as food for the soul. That’s my functionalist take on art: I need it, and I’ll take from it what I want, at my level, and at that point in my interpretation. I can do without the mumbo-jumbo attached by an ‘expert’ who is interpreting what they think some long-lost artist was aiming at. And frankly?  Never mind the bollocks. 

 

275,000,000 + 7 = ??

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And the answer? You’ll have to read the blog for that one!!

jebelsharm06Jebel Shams and the region around it was laid down during the mid- Permian era (about 275 million years ago), and there are the remains of the Tethy’s Sea Exotic at Jabal Kawr on the road up. As you walk into the Grand Canyon, you see the whole of the Jurassic and the whole Cretaceous sequence of rocks (72 – 200 million years). It’s a bit awesome when you realise how long its been there.
cwmclyd_29112016Just seven days later and I was flogging my weary bones into Cwm Clyd on Y Garn complete with full winter kit looking for some snow and ice. I realised that the geological epochs were as similar here, although maybe not as spectacularly defined as Jebel Shams. 542 million years ago, the development of North Wales (and the Cambrian Period which took its name from the Welsh region, Cambria) was beginning and the final creation of the Snowdonia landmass we now see was probably completed about 2.6 million years ago as the glaciers began their work of exquisitely sculpting the landscape.

So the answer to the question 275,000,000 + 7 = ??

542,000,000 of course.

Yes I know that’s tenuous. But that’s what a blog is. Much ado about nothing

I’ve arrived, but I haven’t left

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So I’m back home again. Still in that strange world of a disrupted time frame as the body clock tries to reset to 4 hours backwards. So to make sense of it all, here’s the journal which is starting to answer some questions.

The last week in Oman was really strange, and I can’t yet make sense of what happened. Apart from the eternal friendliness of everyone, the hospitality, the welcome and offers of coffee and dates, there was nothing uneventful. Apart from the tailgating at 130 Kph, and the eternal friendliness of everyone, the hospitality, the welcome and offers of coffee and dates. And yet everything was eventful; the meals, the side trips organised, the overnight stays arranged. As we say in Manchester, the ‘glad-handing’ was outstanding. But it wasn’t my usual journey and I’m still struggling with the experience. It was all a bit overwhelming, in terms of intensity and what happened. It wasn’t my normal ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’. Maybe the rat wasn’t being fed. Oman is certainly safe, but there was a lack of wilderness during the journeys I took. I only managed a two day solo drive from Muscat to Sur, and then across country to Bidyah, Al Qabil, Lizq, and to Nizwa. Oman is certainly rocky, and there’s not much topsoil covering the hard bones of the place. It’s not a place to go off-piste as the consequences are likely to be terminal. Overall, it’s a bit Swiss. Controlled, structured, organised and planned. From someone with an internal cuckoo clock, that’s not really a criticism.

Picking up the hire car from the hotel was a bit of a challenge. As I wanted it for Friday (Friday being prayers and the start of the weekend) I couldn’t have it until 5pm Thursday. Ali Shamsi (my driver) decided to take me out for a meal at 3.30 and we didn’t finish up and get to the hotel until 5.50pm. To his credit the car hire man was still there. I got the keys and checked that he would be there to collect the car the next Thursday. Wednesday and Thursday were national holidays. “Oh Yes,” he said. “We’re here from 8.30am.”

And so the plan began …

Continue reading

Really?

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Today was a “you couldn’t make it up” day. I booked the hotel in Sur, Oman from the picture rather than the map. It’s easy to drive to, but a bit far out of town. More of that later. I arrived at 13:30 after the GPS on the phone set me on a variety of diversions. Mind, a repeater sign pointing to the desired exit on the roundabouts would help. Check-in was slick, and I can see the sea from the room over the top of the air-con units. Off I went wandering and within two minutes on the beach I’d found some treasure.

Only little bits, but a reminder of a far-off place. So I wandered down through various back streets and into the fishermans’ area where an old boy was sat with his goats on the water’s edge. As they do, the goats were variously eating cardboard and plastic as well as the roof.

Just after I took the photo I stepped aside for a big 4×4 which pulled in front of a posh house. The driver was a policeman, and I instinctively  panicked reaching for my passport. “Please come for tea”, he offered and ushered me in the the guest room of the house where I was joined by his children, his brother’s children, his wife and sister-in-law. Seven kids in all aged 7-15 all with a variety of English. Two teas later and I excused myself and left them to go back to the beach. For ten minutes all I could do was to wonder exactly what had happened. Of course, it was the hospitality of strangers.