The Irresponsible Traveller

travel and tourism worldwide

Archive for December 2012

Smells like festive spirit…

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A recession-busting festive message from the man in red

A recession-busting festive message from the man in red

To be clear from the outset, I don’t like Christmas.  Even if a vestigial spiritual aspect remained I’d be unmoved.  In common with Norwich I have no religion, not even Jedi.  However, I’ll agree that when mornings are dark and days short we all need to be cheered up and if rituals involving eating and drinking, socialising, singing, quaffing pretend blood and melting wax effigies do the trick that’s just dandy – it’s a mostly a free country.

That said, the proliferation of Christmas presents should be banned, or at least controlled in the same way as nuclear weapons.  It’s true there are some inherent flaws in this policy.  Americans and Russians would still have shed-loads of presents, the Chinese too – even though they don’t believe in Santa.  Indians would claim they invented presents, Pakistanis would sell some of theirs to the North Koreans, Israelis would just get angry and say nothing, and the Brits and French would go off in a huff, each with one small present from last year, wondering why nobody loved them anymore.

Always look on the bright side of life...

Always look on the bright side of life…

Anyhow, to this end I suggested to my wife that we simplify our lives, and those of others, by limiting Christmas giving to a pot of marmalade and a fake tattoo – I’m still working on the marmalade.  As ever, the guilt-driven ritual of tat for tat exchange that fuels Britain’s annual festival of shopping obscures the origins of this ages-old midwinter rite.  The significance of Santa’s crucifixion is lost for many in an atmosphere heavy with forced conviviality preceding the consumerist storm.

In fluorescent-decked halls across the land superstore muzak is cranked up to 11 in readiness for the December trolley dash… And they’re off… credit cards at the ready, easy payment facilities available (subject to status, terms and conditions apply) and Wanka.com for the rest.  To the victors… the feral sweetness of ‘celebrity’ perfume, shiny smartphone conduits for incontinent electronic dribbles, and for those fashionably smug, flat Chinese computers made from ground up babies’ bones…

Merry Christmas one and all.

In this week’s news from the net…

Christmas is a time for sharing… Shoplifting on the increase reports the BBC  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20765838

Kurdish/Rebel clashes add yet another facet to Syria’s war http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/12565/kurdish-rebel-clashes-raise-specter-of-interethnic-war-in-syria

Iraqi President in a coma after stroke http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20766435

First round of Egyptian referendum sees 57% approve new constitution  http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/18/uk-egypt-politics-idUKBRE8BH0LU20121218

‘Plague ship’ docks in Southampton – lovely aggregator of woe from the Yorkshire Post – http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/at-a-glance/main-section/passengers-tell-of-virus-hell-as-plague-ship-cruise-ends-1-5228405

Look, I stand by what I said about religion, but here’s Rev Stanley’s take on life’s legacy… http://ramblingrector.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/how-do-you-want-to-be-remembered/

Gerard Depardieu shrugs, quits France, and sends his passport to Prime Minster Ayrault  – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9750510/France-warms-to-Gerard-Depardieu-the-heroic-exile.html

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Written by Nick Redmayne

December 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Tunisia – Desert Dreams

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Caravan Club of Tunisia

Caravanning

‘After the revolution we thought all the young people will have jobs.  But it’s just the same.’ exhaled Walid.  We walked on through the dunes, Walid  barefoot, wearily leading the camels, our happy band of trekkers following.  100km across a sandy finger of the Sahara’s Grand Erg Oriental lay our destination, the fort and oasis of Ksar Ghilaine – a popular tourist route for dilettante desert explorers.

Campfire Philosophy

What has this Democracy done for us?

Tunisia’s 2011 ‘Jasmine Revolution’, the first popular uprising of the ‘Arab Spring’, saw a coalition led by the previously banned Ennahda (Renaissance Party) take power.  However, for many educated young Tunisians the new Islamic government has yet to deliver.  ‘What is happening in Tunis now, it’s just the Islamic who find jobs, mostly in the government,’ continued Walid.  As in other Arab countries the secular youth, those best educated, most connected and a primary catalyst for change appear to feel sidelined.  ‘My mother, my father, they pray.  Not me.  I do believe, but it’s in the background,’ Walid sucked in air through his teeth, looking at me questioningly. ‘OK, so not fight, not kill but people should be able to do what they want, that’s freedom,’ he concluded.

Tunisia’s economy is not all dates, pottery and tourism.  Petroleum, hi-tech computer components, parts for Airbus aircraft and vehicle manufacturing, all contribute to a varied GDP.  However, in a global downturn jobs are hard to find.  ‘I graduated in IT four years ago,’ says Walid in disbelief.  ‘Mostly I’m worried that if I keep doing this,’ tossing a look over his shoulder at the camels, ‘I’ll forget my job.  Things will have moved on.’

Dunes

Dune Roaming

A common escape path favoured by disillusioned young people the world over is to marry a foreigner.  However, for Walid this is a step too far.  ‘You know there are more than one million Tunisians in France.  It’s difficult to go legally.  Maybe marry a French woman, but I have 25-years and only the older ones are interested…  I have a friend who has done this.  When he visits with his wife I say to him in Arabic, “Why are you with this woman?” He says he loves her.  Come on…  It’s not for me.  Maybe later.  Who knows?’

Almost exactly 70 years ago Winston Churchill described the first Allied victory in North Africa as ‘not the end… not even the beginning of the end but… perhaps the end of the beginning.’  Maybe in time history will look upon Tunisia’s revolution and those others in the Arab world in a similar light.

This week’s eye-catching links, in no particular order:-

  • If you’re intrigued by a desert experience, Exodus’s Sahara Desert Trek is to be recommended.  You’ll need to be reasonably fit, not too attached to such tissued fripperies as soft beds and personal hygiene, and not allergic to sand or camels.  A penchant for couscous, though not essential, is an advantage.  Here’s the link – http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tmu/overview
  • Railsavers (http://www.railsavers.com) is offering motorail services from Den Bosch, close to the Dutch/Belgium border, to Koper, Slovenia (not far from Trieste, in Italy) next summer.  If you can be flexible on dates there are some real bargains on this new route, as well as on existing services to Alessandria and Livorno in Italy.
  • I left Haiti 6th December 2009 having researched a magazine and newspaper travel commission.  The 12th January earthquake tossed those stories onto a spike, whilst in Haiti any aspirations for a tourism renaissance were lost amongst the dust and rubble.  Three years on Paul Clammer’s new guidebook provides an up-to-date vision of a Haiti, a destination that whilst challenging, is again one of the Caribbean’s most rewarding for adventurous travellers.  Here are some extracts from Haiti http://www.bradtguides.com/extracts-haiti.html

Written by Nick Redmayne

December 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm

From each according to his need, to each according to his ability…

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Ecky Thump

Ecky Thump..!

I was invited to dinner the other day by some folks not long moved up from Buckinghamshire.  It’s happened before.  A neatly turned out Sasha or Duncan meets my wife alone, presumably decides she sounds quite jodhpurs, ponies and private schools and is charmed by a false sense of shared values.  Sight unseen they extend a bony finger of social largesse to include me, which is where things start to unravel.

Even as we crossed their threshold, bottle of Sainsbury’s Cava and Costco mints in hand, I detected disappointment that my vowels fell into the NQWWW category – Not Quite What We Want.  I’m hardened to this.  My own speech has never fitted in, from Secondary Modern in the North West which I endured whilst being ‘rite posh’, to nine years in London as a token ‘northern git’.

Hanging up coats, we took seats in the lounge.  It transpired the Sashcans still had their house in High Wycombe, hinting to me at expatriate impermanence, as though they’d be ready on the tarmac with bags packed ready to board the last flight out when the inevitable UN evacuation was ordered.

Whatever happened to the Tooting Popular Front?

Power to the people…

Over an array of nibbles we discussed public transport in Northumberland, or rather the lack of it.  I cited recent homework asking my daughter to describe a journey to St James’ Park by bus and train.  Being ‘in travel’ I’d decided to assist, discovering that the twenty mile odyssey took 15 and a half hours, comprising a three and a half mile walk to the bus stop and in a cruel twist an occasional obligatory overnight next to the Metro at Callerton Parkway’s Premier Inn.  I mentioned little old ladies, isolated and lonely, too doddery to drive even if they could afford to, marooned in villages where they’d lived for decades.  Perhaps rashly I made the case for public transport providing a service rather than earning a profit, a suggestion obviously akin to wearing a flat cap, eating a chip butty and lighting up a ‘tab’ whilst clog dancing The Internationale.   ‘Why should we pay for your transport?’, came the astonished response from Duncan’s visiting sister.  The pros and cons could have been argued but the  subtext was plain – Why should we who are comfortably enclosed in the fat of the Home Counties care a jot for anyone else, particularly those for whom bath, path and laugh are a bridge too far?

I felt suddenly tired.  My glass was refilled but even meltingly-ripe Camembert and five types of cream cracker couldn’t resuscitate the evening.  Time to head home, after all, the whippet would need a walk before bed.

This week’s links…

Kelvin McKenzie’s piece in The Telegraph in which he bemoans subsidising folk from the rest of the country… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9717537/Kelvin-MacKenzie-overtaxed-South-needs-its-own-party.html#

It occurs to me that you have to be of a certain age to appreciate this Goodies clip – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJxGi8bizEg

A fascinating TED talk by Susan Cain that seems to suggest that sales, PR and mob-think may have gone too far… http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

Tony Hawks on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue attempts to keep up with Psy’s Gangnam Style – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p011txtf

Carole Cadwalladr suggests a new name for the world’s least favourite airline in this Guardian piece – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/02/ryanair-needs-a-new-rude-name

Written by Nick Redmayne

December 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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