Poll 2: Are you a connoisseur of the surreal vacation?

Founder-members of the blogging crew in this spot are almost unusual enough to be called eccentric. They include Hazlitt – a painter and sculptor — who has been reading a biography of his namesake, William Hazlitt, the extraordinary essayist, by Catherine Macdonald Maclean. Yesterday he sent our last thread — on pianos and violins — spinning in a delightfully unexpected direction when he quoted her mention of her subject seeing village bells as ‘the poor man’s only music’. This drew from Alarming, another stalwart blogger — who happens to be an installation artist — a confession of jumping out of a large clock in place of a cuckoo, on the hour, dressed in a fibreglass knight’s costume. (And no, this is not the sort of site where people ask what he was wearing under that.)

From there, we somehow ambled onto the subject of church bells. . . which reminded me of a holiday in the south of France; also, that I’m supposed to be running a second test of blogger polling software. Folding these thoughts together gave me a new voting theme, chosen – like the first – to tell us just a tiny bit more about who comes here. Absolutely anybody reading this – you don’t need to be a registered acciaccature blogger – is invited to cast a vote in the poll that follows this post, a record of that holiday written a few years ago. . . With luck the choices you make will help to answer this question: just how batty are we, as a group?

Woken at 4 a.m. by wooden shutters clattering in caterwauling winds like pot-lids on a full, manic boil, I seemed to be listening to theme music for the perfect, perverse holiday. I mean, a winter holiday in a summer place – in this instance, in the Languedoc. Early December floods in southeastern France had shut down autoroutes, enforced the evacuation of 15,000 inhabitants, and made me compete for a hotel room with travelling salesmen who also had to spend an unplanned night in Béziers, an unassuming wine country town about ten kilometres from the Mediterranean.

I cannot say that the mini-crisis was a surprise, exactly. As a specialist in off-season vacations for twenty years, I know that they come with risks of misadventure and physical discomfort.

That storm blew in at the end of a week in which all hope of sampling the gastronomic delights of the Midi had disappeared with my friend and travelling companion’s diabolical attack of food poisoning mere hours after we got in from Paris. The house that we’d been lent in the tiny, quasi-medieval village of Poilhes, a 30-minute drive from Béziers, was so frigid that living with its bare stone floors and sumptuous expanses of marble was like a premature entombment. What the nearby beaches are like I cannot say: my London cold bloomed menacingly on days when a trip to the water’s edge was possible.

I suspect that people who relish off-season travel were the sort of tedious child less interested in how the survivor in Three Little Pigs tricked the wolf than what it felt like to be in the house made of straw, or of sticks, when the huffing and puffing got underway. As adults, we would add to the old saying about a change being as good as a rest that a change replete with the enticingly inconvenient is even better.

Wilfred Thesiger, the legendary explorer – who only died in this century — was lucky. He only travelled, by choice, to places uncontaminated by tourism, cars or concrete. Off-season travel has a delicious whiff of his encounters with the unforeseeable because guidebooks are written for fair-weather journeys.

No travel guide could have prepared me for the spectacle of miles of rolling vineyards in autumnal red abruptly saturated in a blue glow when lightning slashed at the horizon and obliterated the yellow lights of Béziers’s huge, fortress-like St. Nazaire cathedral-on-a-hill, the highest point on the landscape. Watching from a window of a snug hotel would not have been the same thing at all. I would certainly have awarded the scene the kind of shallow marvelling I might some celluloid construction of George Lucas’ special effects department. But out in the storm’s path — unforgettably, my friend and I saw each mesmerising flash driving at a hesitant crawl, the merest acceleration churning up roaring water spouts to our right and left.

Nor would a guidebook have led me to expect that in going anywhere that night, we would be ignoring the warnings of Poilhes’s town crier, an old man who – between thunderclaps – broadcast into the howling darkness on a megaphone about the perilous state of the roads. He spoke in the broad local dialect, genially, at the ambling pace of someone taking a nip or three of pastis as he scratched himself and waited for his turn at boules.

Who knew that a French village with telephones and television would still have a town crier? – or certainly a person acting in that capacity.

There’s no getting away from it all for the truly perverse winter vacationer – who will tend to be someone who actually enjoys work in our age of ‘always on, 24/7’ accessibility. Down time is treated as sacrosanct in summer. Summer offices are resigned to getting by with skeleton staffs and rarely make demands on colleagues on holiday. But in winter – when most of the world is working – vacationers who don’t respond to summons from the workplace can find themselves left out of decisions that matter to them.

In the Languedoc I conscientiously read and wrote email memos in internet cafés in hotel lobbies, video arcades and narrow cobblestone alleys. The job of drafting a work-related budget in semi-darkness in the gaming annexe of a computer shop beside Béziers’ flower market had, for a sound track, pow! eeeee-yow! zzzz-zap! – manufactured by teenage boys clustered around neighbouring computer screens, fighting monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh!, a Japanese import.

That night I lay awake mentally editing the budget and puzzling over why the inhabitants of Poilhes put up with church bells that sounded every hour – and not once but twice, all through the night. Might the sleep deprivation be deliberate, a variant of medieval rites of mortification of the flesh? Or were the chimes designed to penetrate the ears of roly-poly pensioners – the dominant demographic segment – even after they had taken out their hearing-aids? On sunny mornings, the old ones snoozed on benches along the Canal du Midi, the feat of 17th-century engineering that bisects the village. But why should they need to know that it was 1 a.m., then 2 a.m., 3 a.m., . . .?

On a perverse vacation, unsolved mysteries and exotic images and sounds are superimposed on prosaic workday thoughts – in juxtapositions that can be as improbable as a surrealist painter’s. Going home, there’s nothing like the wrench of a paradise lost that returning from an unreal, sybaritic week on a beach inflicts, never mind that mild boredom is often par for that course. Nothing is lost, coming or going. Your reality has merely been skewed a little – for fun.


Filed under Polling booth

81 responses to “Poll 2: Are you a connoisseur of the surreal vacation?

  1. wordnerd7

    I meant to add at the end of the piece — and before the poll, which I hope everyone will vote in — that comments on this post will also be terribly welcome. . . Adding a poll doesn’t really make it any different from any other post. ; )

    With the people we have, we’d hardly get a ‘boring list thread’ if I asked about comparable experiences. . . any takers????? . . . Straightforward expressions of horror/disapproval, etc., etc., would also be perfectly okay. ;(

  2. ISA

    Twice a night. That’s a bit much. But I empathise with the Baron, or was it alarming. The sound of a pewter spoon hitting a bucket.

  3. BaronCharlus

    I love the town crier, Wordn. Good to know such things still exist. Lovely piece of writing.

    On the evidence you give, I think all my holidays have been ‘surreal’.

  4. 3p4

    On sunny mornings, the old ones snoozed on benches along the Canal du Midi”””””””

    they’re tired,,

    cos they bin woke up all night by them damm bells,,

    i have never been “on vacation” since i left my parents home in my teens,,
    although i did go to israel for a ‘working vacation’ on a kibbutz,,
    interesting jaunt when done in the Golan in 73,,the weather was great,,the food was great,,the people were great and towards the end of my stay(8 months) the artillery shells were loud, frequent and close,,

    instead of the church bells going off all night i was awoken by the cows in the minefields,,

    the day after returning to london the IRA tried to blow me up,,

  5. I’m not sure a work experience counts but as I rarely go on holiday I hope it suffices.

    We went to the Arkhangel street theatre festival in 92 up in the land of the midnight sun. A 10 day festival of which 3 days are spent working and the others are spent being taken on excursions.

    The most memorable was a trip to the Solovetski isles on the White Sea. The crossing was as rough as hell – one of the groups was from North India and the members had never seen the sea before. They were up all night/day staring out the window at the mountain range of violent waves. We watched the sun dip below the horizon for a few minutes then pop up again.

    The islands were Gulag islands – a monastery had been taken over and used as a concentration camp by the Soviets then converted back when Gorbachev was in power. The islands had a series of fresh water lakes running from North to South. The monks connected them all with channels.

    So after landing our group of 50 was split in 2. One lot were told to walk while we were all given oars and boats and had to row the length of all the lakes – 5 miles in all. A bit of a task if you’re not a regular rower. The water was fresh enough to drink – the birds rarely saw humans so swam up very close. Fir trees came right down to the banks – it was like a scene from Last of the Mohicans.

    Once we’d finished rowing we had to walk back- those who’d walked there took over the boats and rowed back. 5 miles of fir trees and ferns. But from time to time there were bursts of colourful flowers – many of the prisoners were botanists who grew whatever they could get their hands on in the woods away from the guard’s eyes.

    We visited the monastery which was now a memorial to all the prisoners who had died on the island. Row upon row upon row of small photographs each individually lit by a small light. It was like a Boltanski installation but with a big emotional charge.

    Apart from performing to Russian audiences who had never seen the likes we visited a theme park of wooden churches all specially moved there and reconstructed. We worked in a closed town ( even for Russians who needed passports to get in and out ) where nuclear subs were made and where every detail spoke of its history. All the kid’s drawings on the wall of a school were of houses with curly lines of smoke and less predictably with subs lurking at the bottom of their garden ponds.

  6. Hazlitt

    Dark,beautiful and definitely Alice/surreal.
    “Stop playing with those nuclear submarines Ivan,it’s time for tea.”
    I think you would enjoy reading Colin Thubron’s In Siberia.

  7. wordnerd7

    A quick peep at the blog, my first for nine hours . . . @ISA, I’m guessing from your poems and micro-memoirs about snakes and boat trips to islands in tropical storms, etc., . . . that you wouldn’t know where to begin with an answer. . . @BaronC has confirmed that we have more than our fair share of people with memories like this in our space (thanks for that kind assessment, @BC). . . I’m seconding @Hazlitt’s post about @Alarming’s beyond-surreal recollection, as I reel (o knight, I do hope you’re keeping a diary) . . . and somewhere else, . . . months ago . . . I saw a post by one of us about waking in the middle of the night in an English inn/pub and finding a _rat_ sitting on the end of his bed, studying him companionably.

  8. Captain Ned

    Great post, alarming, especially the detail about the botanically-inclined prisoners.

    For money reasons, I haven’t left Britain in nearly a decade. The last time I went abroad was when I was 15; I went to Israel as part of a weird European youth theatre trip – not quite a holiday, but the closest thing I’ve had to one since the age of 12. I was part of a group of young actors from all across the continent (plus, in the manner of Eurovision, Israel itself) who’d signed up for a two-week course in the old village of Ein Karem, just outside Jerusalem. Not all nations were represented. I was of the Welsh contingent, but there was no English party, and neither was there a Scottish one (but there was a group from Ireland). There were no Spaniards, no Italians, no French, no Dutch, Swedes, Greeks or Portuguese – but Belgians, Finns, Danes, Lithuanians, Russians, Latvians, Germans and Hungarians aplenty. English, as you would expect, was the language that everyone spoke.

    In between classes, we would go on excursions to the expected tourist sites – to Jerusalem itself; to Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, and so on. Everywhere we went, we were escorted by an orange-haired, leather-faced woman of about 55 who never spoke; forever engaged in the chewing of gum, she would only interrupt this activity to flash a brief, stern smile which would serve as her stock response to all our questions. We soon learned not to bother her. Her purpose was to act as our guard, and to this end she had slung about her shoulders a large gun, which had the effect of feeling me less, rather than more, secure. The only time she ever displayed any readiness to use it was when a small group of boys started throwing harmless little pebbles at us as we queued outside a cave in the city; up she marched, snarling, kicking the dust about, waving her weapon; in an instant, the kids had scampered off, laughing. She smiled back in reassurance that all was well, and I was not alone in being glad when she didn’t follow us into the cave.

    The classes we took were of varying interest and usefulness. The best were given by a charismatic Muscovite who in the evenings would wander around the camp looking to cadge alcohol from the many illicit parties; naturally vodka was his preferred tipple, particularly when accompanied by puffs of strawberry-flavoured tobacco from a hookah. At the end of the night he would mutter/slur/shout/sing/howl a few words of Russian, then crawl back to his room, always to appear the next morning none the worse for wear. He made us all write letters to ourselves, which he collected and posted back to us three years later; I found writing mine excruciatingly embarrassing to write, still more so to read.

    At the end of the fortnight, we gave a performance to an assembled crowd of worthies in the magnificent surroundings of King David’s Tower, which then appeared particularly striking for being littered with the strange, endearingly kitschy glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly: most of them big, gaudy masses of brightly-coloured tendril-like forms that were not without a kind of ludicrous beauty. Our show was generally wordless, a sequence of hastily-concocted mimes signifying very little, but which was received with suitably rapturous applause. Ehud Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, gave an introductory speech bristling with platitudes: peace, international co-operation, the liberating power of hope, the brighter future in the hands of the young. Some of these young hands he shook – I can’t remember whether mine was one of them – and then he returned to his fellow dignitaries, in whose company we watched him laugh, sip champagne and pat shoulders with exaggerated bonhomie. He seemed a likeable fellow.

    But the theatrical spectacle which really sticks in the memory was a performance we attended given by a group of young, mentally-disabled actors. It was in Hebrew, and there were no surtitles or anything like that; I had no idea what was going on. What I remember in particular was a girl who seemed to have the main part, and who after every speech would turn to the audience, grin, bow, lap up the applause, and burst into infectious laughter that would spread among her co-players. The cheers at the end were loud indeed, for I suppose many, if not most, of those attending were related in some way to cast members. It was a most bewildering and intoxicating evening.

    The Welsh were the last to leave, our plane departing a day later than everyone else’s. We thought we’d have the camp to ourselves, and so stocked up on as much booze as we could afford and proceeded to get shit faced. It was probably the first time I got really, really drunk. At around midnight, we started to hear chanting, and after investigating, we found to our discomfiture that we were not alone. In the main courtyard, a group of youths dressed in blue and white uniforms stood in neat, Scout-like rows before a burning… well, I don’t know what it was, exactly. Some sort of effigy, we thought. We decided that they must be members of a sinister hard-right Zionist youth organization, and slinked off somewhat disconcerted. Our fears may have had more foundation in Finnish vodka than in reality, but my relief on boarding the plane home was real enough. Nonetheless, I was entranced by much of what I’d seen – Jerusalem especially – and resolved that I would go back at the first opportunity. A few weeks later, the odious Sharon made his visit to the Temple Mount, and the Palestinian resistance was reignited.

  9. wordnerd7

    @CaptainNed, yes @Alarming’s post is indeed amazing, but yours is easily its equal. About this . . .

    === But the theatrical spectacle which really sticks in the memory was a performance we attended given by a group of young, mentally-disabled actors. It was in Hebrew, and there were no surtitles or anything like that; I had no idea what was going on. What I remember in particular was a girl who seemed to have the main part, and who after every speech would turn to the audience, grin, bow, lap up the applause, and burst into infectious laughter that would spread among her co-players. The cheers at the end were loud indeed, for I suppose many, if not most, of those attending were related in some way to cast members. ===

    . . . phew!

    . . . You’ve already been here in spirit — since I saw what you said about the site elsewhere, but how nice to be able to say THANK YOU and welcome — ‘in person’ . . . @obooki already knows that I have a soft spot for Wales and the Welsh — one day, I’ll explain. Don’t imagine a holiday there as the reason, but think instead of steel labour unions in Port Talbot and Llanelly. Really. : )

  10. elcal

    love the post wordy, reminds me of my surreal honeymoon.

    after a brief stop in London, we were off to Italy via Gatwick. well, for whatever reason we were detained by our appetites at M&S, and could not choose suitable take-away meals for the life of us. damn your selection M&S! needless to say, we missed our flight. so began the surreality, on a slightly absurd note, something we could chuckle about later. when we luckily caught the last flight of the night into Rome, we soon realized that the horrorific side of “surreal” was about to begin.

    Let me just say that Fiumicino is perhaps one of the worst places ever to have to travel through. It was also not the place our initial reservations for that night were at (far from it, like 5hrs south of it far). fortunately (said with tongue in cheek), hilton has some sort of hotel “on” the premises of the airport (20 minutes away). the only way to get there is by airport shuttle. mind, it is past 1am and as Europe goes, especially southern, I’m thinking all hope of a 24hr shuttle service is swiftly running towards La Mare. in order to hail the shuttle, one must go outside to the second curb (beyond the real curb) and press a button on a small red voice-box, which apparently signals the happily slumbering shuttle driver to head over to red box platform #23. well, the voice on the box said something vaguely unhelpful and uninformative in mechanically-garbled Italian. we decided to try another box at another platform a hundred feet down the way. Same message, same mechanical dialect. Worried about the reliability of the red boxes, we continued walking down the airport road from Terminal C to Terminal A, hoping to catch the shuttle by flagging him down. It’s 4am by now. And thank god, we caught the shuttle, got a decent rest at the Hilton before heading back to the airport. Oh, right, I forgot to mention that my wife’s luggage was lost on the way over…and that was day 1.

    Rome was indeed on the itinerary, but as the point of departure back to Boston (via Canada, where our dutiful Immigration officers threatened to destroy our dangerous olive oil). I won’t bore you with the entire surreal itinerary, but a brief highlight reel would include, among other things, a tornado sighting or two.

  11. wordnerd7

    @elcal, . . . though it’s only with spicy rooibos tea at this hour, I’m drinking to your and Mrs elcal‘s health .. . Congratulations! You once mentioned having a fiancée, and I decided the other day that I shouldn’t ask when the happy day was going to be. 😉 I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my wondering . . .

    Excellent to know that you’ve already survived a trial like that together . . . You’ve shown really good judgement, btw, in your order of presentation. Tornadoes, …well, … everyone knows that they wreak havoc, but I won’t easily forget such shocking proof of M@S’s dereliction and incompetence . . . It’s obvious that they should be stripped of their concession at Gatwick immediately! . . . I hope you’ve gathered that on this blog, we’d now say that you had a bit of a @BaronCharlus problem, there . . . ahem (pending approval of the nomenclature by His Excellency, of course).

    You’ve reminded me of a trip to London a few years ago. My dear hostess, hopelessly insecure about her cooking, said that if I insisted on trying to stay awake the day I got off the ‘plane, we might take a long walk together and choose dinner from the new ‘gourmet’ line at her local M&S. With monstrous jet lag, it was hard to take in the fact of the underwear-and-socks specialists somehow getting into food**, . . . and on top of that, choose from the ott descriptions their marketing people had given various substances. . . I deliberately picked the least ambitious label on offer — vichyssoise — and the soup was actually rather good.

    As for the red boxes, . . . but especially that second curb — well done! I am quite sure I wouldn’t have found it at all myself. I never find things like that.

    . . . I did slightly hesitate about this particular post, . . . but the recollections it’s inspiring from the rest of you mean I’m thrilled that I gave myself a little shove past the usual inhibitions.

    [ ** could that have been your problem, too? ]

  12. wordnerd7

    Oh, this is priceless . . . Through an arrangement with Google, the WordPress control screen tells its bloggers what search terms related to their blogs people are trying. . . Anyone who read my 10.11 pm post yesterday will want to know that these are two searches that have appeared:

    cif [name of comrade withheld by wn] guardian rat on bed

    [name of comrade withheld by wn] rat cif

    🙂 …………………………………………………………………….!!!

    @3p4 . . .

    === instead of the church bells going off all night i was awoken by the cows in the minefields,,

    the day after returning to london the IRA tried to blow me up,, ===

    I think that’s a novel in two sentences. . . Brill. I am so glad you survived so that we could have you with us… Sorry I’ve been so slow reading that. I was so maddened by seeing that the spam problem hadn’t been fixed that I couldn’t concentrate on what you said.

  13. BaronCharlus

    ‘a @BaronCharlus problem’

    I’d much prefer a ‘BaronCharlus problem’ to be the underappreciated affliction of being just a bit too roguishly handsome and boss. But I’ll defer to the mob.

    Having a think about holidays…

  14. wordnerd7

    . . . and then another possibility is that we might refer to ‘the @BaronC solution’ — as in, …it’s obvious that @elcal should simply have said to M&S: ‘One g& t with a baked spud on the side, please.’

    Don’t stop thinking about holidays, please . . . I await the result.

  15. ISA

    I’ve typed up a very surreal story of a vist my father made in the Congo at:


  16. Hazlitt

    Many years ago on a business trip,instead of using a soulless hotel I decided to drive off the beaten track in search of a nice old fashioned country pub with accommodation.After closing time I joined the “lock-in” and eventually staggered to my room and oblivion.
    During the night I awoke with the feeling that I was not alone.Peeping half comatose from the rim of the covers I peered around the small room until my gaze rested on a rat sitting on the end of my bed staring at me!
    I stared back for a few seconds,regretted joining the “lock-in”and pledged to cut back before returning to a deep sleep.
    At breakfast (only coffee)the landlord cheerfully inquired if I’d slept well.I said yes except for the strange dream about a rat on the bed and what did it signify?
    “How odd”,said mine host.
    “You’re the third person this month.Same dream,same room.”
    I smiled lamely and made a mental note to stay at the hotel next time.

  17. BaronCharlus


    LOL. As the kids say.

  18. BaronCharlus

    A few years back we decided to go camping in Zeeland province in the Netherlands. We chose Vlissingen (Flushing) partly because it looked like a delightful coastal town and partly – on my part – because Christopher Marlowe would once arrive there on his spying trips.

    In season, it would have been filled with Germans, who have no coast of their own to speak of. Off season, it was filled with no one. Vlissingen is a more civilised version of Yarmouth; no arcades, lots of terrace bars. There is a beach where you can watch huge merchant ships curling around from the west into the strait. We enjoyed the beach in our woollen hats ,drinking red wine from plastic cups. Romantic but, you know…
    Soon we explored inland, walking to the province ‘capital’ Middelburg. A lovely town, bit smaller than – I would say – Cirencester. The cinema was only open on Tuesdays but there was a big church and the bar next to the church sold a beer named after the church tower (Lange Jan) which is my kind of arrangement. Scouting further we discovered a beautiful – and empty – campsite to the north, in the middle of a forest.

    The first night something woke us up, scratching and rustling. In the morning all our cheese was gone from under the tent’s lip. The warden swore it must have been a cat but I wasn’t so sure (I may also share tales of the massive ‘water rabbits’, so called by the locals, in Umbria’s Lago di Trasimeno). We marvelled in the green solitude, made vegetable soup. Then the rain started. For two days, a half-hour’s cycle from the nearest shop, we subsisted on fruit bread (there are worse diets). I read the Old Man and the Sea. I was so angry (due to the book and the weather). It was our first proper holiday together.

    After the rain, we could at least venture out of the forest although I took the sun’s continued absence as a personal wound. We cycled along the huge water defences built across a long stretch of sea, linking two parts of Zeeland. They were built after the ‘water disaster’ of (I think) 1953, when many people died. It is an extraordinary structure. There’s a museum half way along. Out to the west, a tiny patch of sunshine appeared over the ocean. I cursed the ship that drifted beneath it. It was so unfair. Over the day this sunspot grew and grew until, as we sat outside a café drinking tea, a whole blade of sunshine found us. It was, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, one of the happiest moments of my life.

    The next day I was lying on a naturist beach (the cheerful Dutch kind, not the shifty UK variety) eating ice cream and reading the Wife of Bath’s prologue. It’s not about having the good stuff, it’s about earning it.

  19. fenian murray

    I went to spend a summer with a girlfriend´s family but had to leave sharpish after being held dangling over a cliff by her Masonic father and uncles, who were miffed that I was a Fenian.

  20. ISA

    I know just what you mean Baron.

    By the way of coincidences; I pass Marlow’s baptismal font every week in Canterbury; I was lost in Middleburg on my way to Matumi a few months ago and I have done the same cycling trip as you.

  21. wordnerd7

    Stopping in for an instant to do some blog-minding: welcome @Fenian, . . . and I somehow feel sure I’ll remember your opening post well into my dotage. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it anywhere.

    Let me guess .. . something to do with Cambridge — this business of being _a_ Fenian as well as _Fenian_? . . . Now that’s just friendly curiosity and you’re under no obligation to answer, natch. : )

  22. wordnerd7

    @ISA, . . . to the dingbat New Age reincarnationists thick on the ground in places not far from where I am today, I usually say — trying not to sound too crisp and icy — that I believe it’s over when it’s over. But I half want to believe the hooey when I consider how wonderful it would be if, for instance, there was some way of letting your father know how much I enjoyed that story. . . Only dealings with medical insurance companies in the West have put anything like it in my way.

  23. wordnerd7

    Well, @Hazzy, I wasn’t absolutely sure that that was your peerless rattus rattus yarn I saw on Cif . . . it’s somehow got even more hair-raising in the retelling. : )

    It would take a transplant to give me the nerves of steel I’d need to pull off something like this – even with every last drop of the pub’s libations in me:
    === before returning to a deep sleep. ===

    Not fair. . . 😦

  24. @BaronC, . . .

    It’s not about having the good stuff, it’s about earning it.

    That’s very well said. . . perhaps everyone who votes ‘yes’ in the virtual voting booth beneath my post feels as you do. (Anyone who hasn’t voted yet — would you please consider doing so?)

    In a book on one my shelves is a Central European who, when very young — about twenty — had to work like a fiend to remake a family fortune his father ran through. Middle-aged at the time of this remark, he’s standing on the steep slope of a mountain vineyard saying, ‘Good vines should always be under a little bit of stress, to have to struggle a little. It’s like if a person has a life in cotton, he usually becomes a playboy, if he has enough money to become one. . .’.

    That idea is deeply ingrained in some of us, even if it doesn’t always show on the outside, and I certainly think it’s absolutely true. . . The latest cover of Newsweek, interestingly, challenges the idea that people should be protected from stress — even the extreme kind. It’s as if, after years of ‘victim’ psychology dominating conventional thinking, we’re seeing a return to stoicism. . . Part of the cover story describes backgrounds of people who are ‘adrenaline junkies’ — and there is some fit with mine, even if I’m sure I’m not a stress junkie, and can enjoy sybaritic spells as if specially designed for them, . . . when I can feel I’ve earned the right to them.

    I might have created the pre-conditions for some of my surreal holidays from frustration with all the people who’ve never wanted to initiate me into the joys and horrors of camping, but think I should only ever be wrapped in ‘cotton’.. . I am a little jealous of your story because camping is something I’ve been told by an expert that I could only ever do on my own if I learnt to use a gun really well, and took one with me. Won’t happen, and I suspect that I won’t do that any other way. . . The thought of having to endure, ‘I told you so!’ from all the people who could be talked into teaching me the art of tent life — should grumbling about anything that went wrong on the trip be necessary — is just too, too awful, you see.

    You couldn’t by any chance expand on this, could you? 🙂

    The next day I was lying on a naturist beach (the cheerful Dutch kind, not the shifty UK variety)

    . . . no, I haven’t forgotton the discussion some of us had of some of the differences, in December’s thread about nudist avatars . . .

  25. BaronCharlus

    I had a feeling I’d smoke you out as a non-camper, Wordn 🙂

    Camping can be a pain in bad weather but when the sun’s shining and you step out into a forest or onto a lake’s shoreline, or a hill overlooking Florence, or a group of hirsute German bikers drinking spirits from the bottle (maybe not that last one), it’s really something special.

    Can’t think of anything more to say on that last point, really, beyond what I’ve already said.

    @CaptainNed, camping is also a way of getting a break on the cheap. An EasyJet flight and a camping stove (plus optional bike hire) can get you to a lot of places. I’ve a feeling a lot more people will be giving it a go before the economy rights itself.

  26. wordnerd7

    It was ‘the _shifty_ UK variety’ I was wondering about, @BaronC . . . [my emphasis] . . . you didn’t say anything quite as eyebrow-raising as that the last time . . . 🙂

    Oh, the humiliation of my non-camper status — I could of course stun you into silence with accounts of more impressive stoical accomplishments, but that would mean being more autobiographical than I’d like. [sighs despairingly]

  27. I’m not a tenter either – but even if the weather is attrocious you can dine out on the horror stories. It’s getting through them at the time that’s the problem.

    We worked in Aurillac in the Massif Central for 2 years about 15 year’s ago. It’s a showcase festival where you shoulder the costs in the hope of picking up bookings from the swathes of international promoters who flock there – it works too. So you need to cut costs. Hence the decision to camp. Unfortunately Aurillac is the umbrella capital of France and with reason.

    It was awful weather but it’s quite a thing to hear a violent thunder storm rumbling towards you over the mountains from far away and feel that temperature drop just before it pisses it down.

    We were there for for 4 days – our tent had a plastic roof and when we came to take it down we discovered a substantial pool of water had collected there and we’d been sleeping under about a gallon of water.

    A permanent fixture of Aurillac is the sight of eagles riding the thermals high above. We wondered if they were on the look out for campers with less robust tents.

  28. BaronCharlus

    Maybe my ‘shifty’ remark was unfair. It seems more of a ‘lifestyle choice’ here rather than, in the N’lands or Germany, being an unremarkable (and to me quite sensible) part of many people’s lives. When in Rome and all that.

    No reason you should go camping if you don’t want to. It certainly isn’t a badge of noble endurance (that would go to the breakfast buffet of a certain Belgian hotel).


    Nice to hear you’ve done the same route. I see it from the aeroplane when flying to/from the UK; I can make out the bridge we rode across and the little tongues of land we camped on, near the sea.

  29. BaronCharlus

    ‘It was awful weather but it’s quite a thing to hear a violent thunder storm rumbling towards you over the mountains from far away’

    You’ve reminded me. I went on a cycling holiday to Land’s End when I was 19. We camped on Dunstable Downs, on top of the highest hill for miles around. Just before settling down we saw the flashes of a lightning storm far in the distance. We all agreed how amazing it looked then went to bed.

    2am we’re awoken by the crack of thunder directly overhead. Now, we’re in tents with metal poles which are the most elevated objects in the region. Our bikes are also metal. All we need is a brass cockerel and we’re essentailly a weather vane. Five Go Screaming in Middlesex.

  30. wordnerd7

    A permanent fixture of Aurillac is the sight of eagles riding the thermals high above. We wondered if they were on the look out for campers with less robust tents. ===

    No, no, . . . just for installation artists poached à point in fibreglass wrapping .. . and I assure you that I know quite a lot about eagles, @Alarming.

    I have some reason to believe that I might not be too bad at camping, @BaronC. . . I returned from being rained on, on a freezing beach last Sunday with a huge down coat soaked — for the first time — all the way through. Jeans also fully saturated. And that was my condition for the 40-minute drive home. . . . But I’d have gone back the next day, if I could have done. . . Not proof of stoicism, only of intense pleasure from being out in the open far outweighing discomfort. . . some day, I might surprise you with news of a camping experiment.

    @elcal . . . if you see this: I urge you to make a _complete_ record of your surreal honeymoon. I’ve only told part of the adventure in the Languedoc, and the details I’ve posted here remind me of all the others that I wouldn’t want to forget for the world. . . Whereas, when I think, for example, of a lovely hedonistic holiday in the Algarve, I _can_ remember more than the delicious meals and a few scenes and prospects — but not much more than that.

  31. Baron – one thinks of those UK naturists magazines ( okay I do ) where they are at pains to show you the normality of the experience and that everything that can be done with clothes on can also be done without them.

    I remember one set of photos of a nude garage mechanic fixing a tyre. Also a ping-pong match. The photos of this were okay but a YouTube clip would have been funnier.


  32. BaronCharlus


    Presumably the video would include liberal use of the swanee whistle, perhaps the object that most accurately reflects the British attitude to the human body.

    Actually, I wish I’d nominated that as my favourite instrument in Wordn’s poll.

  33. Baron Basically the Carry On films are gritty social realism rather than innuendo-laden farces aren’t they?

  34. BaronCharlus


    If you watch a Carry on Film whilst recalling the various degrees of despair, sociopathic tendencies and general human tragedy taking place inside the heads of most of the cast, the dramatic effect is positively Beckett-like.

    The Confessions movies have a kind of joy to them; Robin Asquith has a weird straight-from-the garden innocence similar to Pasolini’s favourite, Ninetto Davoli. Pasolini obviously agreed as Asquith turns up in Canterbury Tales.

  35. I watched Canterbury Tales being filmed. It’s been decades since I’ve seen it but the Wife of Bath tale ( or the one one where he kisses the arse ) was filmed in one of the oldest pubs in the UK in Norton St. Phillip in Somerset where my grandparents lived at the time.

  36. BaronCharlus

    Fantastic. How must Doctor Who have appeared after seeing what Tom Baker gets up to with the WoB?

    It’s, imho, the least effective of the ‘Life’ trilogy, partly because, due to the Italian practice of filming actors performing in their own language then overdubbing in Italian, you can lip-read the English whilst hearing the badly-dubbed Italian.

    But still full of boistrous joy, some wonderfully shot scenes and one or two very bleak moments.

  37. Hazlitt

    In the foreign land of early teenagerhood,Hazlitt was a bare knee boy scout.We went camping at least three times a year.One Easter camp was so cold no one could be forced to leave the warm fire circle into the “death zone” of swirling snow and nearly zero temperatures.Especially as the dry wood supply perimeter seemed to stretch towards the horizon.We all wore shorts.Have you ever tried to clean a porridge dixie with cold water?
    I remember being in the Forest of Dean one summer,the weather was glorious.The hysterical laughter when “Lord Snooty” appeared one morning from the communal sleeping tent holding a toilet bag and wearing a dressing gown!Or Sawyer who insisted on wearing a raincoat and wellingtons the whole time!And Robinson who went native,walking everywhere naked.We once had a visit from the leaders of a neighbouring Girl Guide camp when a naked Robinson sauntered past on his way to fill a canvas bucket with water.Skipper’s jaw dropped open:
    “Robinson where are your clothes?”
    “Being washed Skip”
    “Put your spare shorts on Robinson”
    “Didn’t bring any Skip”
    “Robinson, disappear”
    ” Yes Skip.”

  38. BaronCharlus

    ‘Have you ever tried to clean a porridge dixie with cold water?’

    Yes. Yes, I have.

    Great story.

  39. Hazlitt

    We must form a support group 🙂

  40. Hazlitt

    “The Cold Porridge Dixie Washer Victims Association”With badges and seminars???

  41. 3p4

    tear up a clump of grass,,(or other available root material) scrub metal with roots with all the soil still attached,,rinse

    i’ll make my own badge

  42. Hazlitt

    “I’ll make my own badge”
    I had mine burned onto my arm,using a white hot branding iron.I can still smell burnt flesh. 🙂

  43. wordnerd7

    Oh what a _lovely_ thread . . . [drools]

    . . . and @3p4, I’m so glad you’ve been sprung from spam jail.

  44. wordnerd7

    Now, would anyone like to argue that the Empire wasn’t built from training like this:

    One Easter camp was so cold no one could be forced to leave the warm fire circle into the “death zone” of swirling snow and nearly zero temperatures.Especially as the dry wood supply perimeter seemed to stretch towards the horizon.We all wore shorts.Have you ever tried to clean a porridge dixie with cold water?

    . . . the only possible explanation for how a set of micro-midget islands came to turn most of the globe pink at the height of its power. The world was conquered by (i) genuine sufferers — poor people, with poor or barely cultivable land, who were forced to travel to find means of sustenance; (ii) those who had had suffering thrust upon them — the children of the privileged, grown-up, who had survived good public schools.

    The second class simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. The children of the well-to-do in other places are pampered princelings and princesses . . . Some of them go to the most expensive English schools, but camping in bare knees with snow on the ground makes no difference because they are spoilt twice as much in the hols, as compensation.

    Do please look up the Newsweek cover story, anyone interested in this line of discussion . . .

    Two classes of alpha male are described in the article, the first almost certainly a spoilt-brat child, some years on; the second, by my reckoning, a survivor of trials by cold porridge

    totally insane son of a bitch” types who respond to stress by lashing out, [and] another type that gets less press: the nice guys who finish first. These alphas don’t get into fights; when they do, they pick battles they know they can win. They’re just as dominant as their angry counterparts, and they’re subject to the same stressors — power struggles, unsuccessful sexual overtures, the occasional need to slap down a subordinate — but their hormone levels never get out of whack for long, and they probably don’t suffer much from stress-induced brain dysfunction. Sapolsky likes to joke that they’ve all been relaxing in hot tubs in Big Sur, transforming themselves into ‘minimalist Zen masters.”

    Would be wonderful if _all_ children had the privilege of washing cold porridge dixies and could live to tell such tales . . . though I’m sure that British males of all classes have more of the second kind of alpha than the first. . . I haven’t actually met the first kind for years, except on these blogs, and my disgust with them knows no bounds. [ Apologies to anyone who read this earlier, before I had a chance to correct an inadvertent confusion of ‘first’ and ‘second’. As if I could ever do that in life. D’oh! ]

  45. wordnerd7

    Well, @3p4, we have a first – a Guardian editor, I believe, who descended from the heights of Cif-Olympus to respond to the angry blogger who went off and launched her own site . . . on that site.

    I’m the putting the link you gave us below this copy of his answer. . . At last the protests of us breakaway bloggers are being heeded:

    === Brian Whitaker said…


    To explain what happened. The “article” about sin was actually an online poll. When polls are first created on the CIF system they appear very briefly as an article on the main page, then move to the usual “poll” slot. They only appear as an article for a moment or two while the CIF operator is working on them. You must have caught it at that point.
    20 February, 2009 11:53 ===


    … The next step I want to see is people like Sam Jordison and Chris Power posting on our blogs. Many of us have generously supported their blogs for nearly two years, yet they can never be bothered to contribute a _single_ comment at our sites. . . except, as someone said after we lost @cynicalsteve, when we’re dead.

    . . . Well done, Brian Whitaker. This is a great day.

  46. After the Dubai festival storm in a tea-cup assault on fragile author’s ego it would be interesting to see if said”banned” author Geraldine Bedell has the guts to come below the line and explain her reasons for writing the bilge that she did. I suspect not . If you read Margaret Atwood in the Guardian today Bedell’s action seem even more pathetic.

    We’ve been rejected and not booked by plenty of festivals. Of course you immediately think ” What a bunch of scumbags” and if you are feeling the need to boost your self-esteem you quickly add ” they don’t know what they are missing” but I’m not sure I’ve ever thought that us not being booked means freedom of expression is at stake. However now…………………….

  47. @Alarming,

    but I’m not sure I’ve ever thought that us not being booked means freedom

    It’s going to be interesting to see what difference putting up more videos on wras.org.uk is going to make to your booking power. As I’ve said before, Compost Mentis mightn’t be the smoothest production, but watching it — particularly after reading you on the blogs for two years — has meant that I would go to special trouble to attend one of your shows. . . And I’m sure that lots of our blogger comrades feel exactly as I do . . . In the long run, that’s what festival organisers are going to have to deal with — or so I suspect.

    . . . I meant to add to my earlier mentions of Sam Jordison and Chris Power — both of whom I like — that even if they only posted on any one breakaway blog a week, that would make a difference to our perception of them.

    At present, GU’s ‘above-the-liners’ only comment on each others’ posts — sometimes very generously indeed. Why not spread the bounty to fit the more democratic way of the future?

  48. WN I’ve no complaints about our touring – 90% of our bookings come from people seeing us or hearing good reports and wanting to book us the following year. We like this because it means they know what they are getting and haven’t been influenced by publicity hype and slick presentations. We haven’t sent out publicity literature for 7 years. As you say the likes of YouTube have been a definite bonus.

    I just wanted to make the point that festivals don’t book you for many reasons – they don’t like you, the festival has a theme you don’t fit into, they haven’t seen you, they can’t afford you, they can’t find a context for you, their budget has been cut and the list goes on. Often they’ll book you the following year.

    That’s what Geraldine Bedell and her publishers have failed to realise and have twisted what seems like a reasonable if clumsily expressed no thanks into an attack on freedom of speech.

  49. Captain Ned

    I wonder if GU staff are discouraged from posting on the sites of disgruntled former posters. I suppose they’re in a difficult position – if Sam Jordison or Chris Power or Billy or Carol or whoever were to be found posting either here or at Mishari’s, for example, it might seem like disloyalty to a passing mod (and it wouldn’t greatly surprise me if one or two mods did have a quick look around the breakaway sites from time to time).

  50. BaronCharlus

    I’ve had the same thought, Ned.

  51. wordnerd7

    Can only stop in briefly, now, @CaptainNed and @BaronCharlus . . . and I do see what you mean. Realised that when, in the first week of this blog’s existence, I pasted in its url for Sam and Chris in blogs of theirs and they politely acknowledged looking, but did not post here . . . My point in my last comment addressed to @3p4 in this thread is that a high-ranking Guardian editor posting on a breakaway blog surely clears the way for young and powerless contributors to do so, too . . . and the greybeards/greytresses at GU must realise that they could be crippling the future careers of these writers if they don’t allow for cross-commenting between blogs . . . This is, after all, the _inter_-net, innit. ; )

    Anyway, any discussion of what that Guardian editor, Brian Whitaker, accomplished by posting on the rebel site . . . (not once but twice, I later discovered) . . . would have to be called How the Cif Chief Got His Bloggers Back. When I last checked a few hours ago, that latest breakaway I know of appeared to be defunct. . . perhaps a Cif regular — @ISA? – can tell us if the rebels all went home?

    There might just be a lesson for the books blog eds in all this, . . .– unless they are ultra-slow learners ???

  52. Hello Wordy,
    How are you?

    I’ve chosen Other for your poll as the most honest answer I could think of. I don’t do vacations. I just travel as and when & that when the wanderlust bug calls.

    I don’t have any eccentricities as such. I think that exoticism, romanticism and all of that is definitely there for the taking and can produce an exhilarating effect on an individual that may even be like a kick one can’t get enough off, but often comes at a high price.

    One morning, I was walking along the romantic but cheroot-smelling streets of Amman when I was suddenly chased by two men who tried to corner me from different angles. I was on the way to a post office, to post cards and I just dropped everything and ran. I ran for about 15 minutes and it was obvious that I was being chased. Finally, members of the public summoned an Egyptian soldier who immediately came to my rescue and the crooks fled.

    Even in Africa, there is so much breathtaking beauty and splendour, you can’t imagine. But a woman travelling alone is in constant danger. You only have to hear the stories here. The moment, I step out of the hotel, I have to be alert and constantly on guard. You can be robbed at any moment and this often by groups with knives, who step out from behind one of the many trees. But a foreign woman is advised of this beforehand and will be begged never to walk along any coastline or beaches alone as many bad things have happened here that the media doesn’t record internationally. The police is very corrupt in East Africa and can be bought even by thugs. So all this beauty that I’m relishing, comes at a price.
    We either have to be protected or otherwise trained earlier by guides as to the safe places to walk or else in my case because I’m seasoned, I’m ok…people know me and my chances of safety are higher than others. But I cannot walk in many places alone and if I ever demonstrated my mobile phone in public, it would be snatched immediately.

    But I have learnt the knack of being able to enjoy and to always remember the good things.


  53. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, lovely to see you pop up on the horizon again … tried posting at your site over the weekend but the comment never appeared.

    We’re ultra-relaxed about our definition of ‘vacation’ on this thread, as you might have seen. Most contributions – except for @BaronC’s (but then he’s a gentleman of leisure) seem to be about journeys for work. . . Perhaps we are all people whose work is inextricable from down time.

    How am I? Typically lovely of you to enquire . . . When I was about five, my mother used to sing the White Rabbit’s song in Alice to me:

    I’m late, I’m late for a very important date
    No time to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”
    I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late . . .

    That’s true on a number of fronts, I’m afraid . . . : )

    .. . back as soon as I can be. . . Have a _wonderful_ time hobnobbing in the fleshpots of Dubai — on behalf of all of us. Take notes!

  54. I’ll catch you next from Dubai then, Wordy. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed reading everyone on this thread. Your blog’s really evolved. So many gems scattered about from good friends. I am the classic misfit so I just try to wade in now and then. 🙂

  55. wordnerd7

    Safe flight, @Suzan . . . but I’m not letting you get away with this:

    === I am the classic misfit so I just try to wade in now and then. ===

    . . . since there are days on which I think that this is the Groucho Club actually living up to its billing — and not the unconvincing and overcrowded if amusing watering hole of the same name that fashionable London created.

    But yes, . . . I couldn’t be more pleased with our companions here, and the stories on this particular thread are good even on second and third readings . . . gems indeed . . .

  56. ISA

    I wasn’t following any rebellion, Wordy. Hope you got what you needed to get done, done and get those who you needed to see, seen.

    I think we all build up a backlog of work and then have to leave blogs for a while. I have some deadlines too. Course syllabus for a uni tomorrow, materials designed, bla, bla.

    But I am shocked on CiF that people don’t put up better opposition on these debates. Perhaps posting on CiF is only for the hoi poloi who have hitherto lacked a proper voice – like me.

    Rebels? Down with the traitors, down with the rebels:

    “Yes, we’ll rally ’round the flag, boys
    We’ll rally ’round again
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom
    We will rally from the hillside
    We’ll gather from the plain
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom

    The union forever, hurrah boys, hurrah
    Down with the traitor, up with the star
    While we rally ’round the flag, boys
    Rally once again
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom

    We will welcome to our numbers
    The loyal, true and brave
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom
    And although he may be poor
    Not a man shall be a slave
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom

    So we’re springing to the call
    From the east and from the west
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom
    And we’ll prove a loyal crew
    To the land we love the best
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom”

  57. wordnerd7

    Good luck with this, @ISA:

    === Course syllabus for a uni tomorrow, materials designed, bla, bla. ===

    Sounds ‘orrible . . . Sorry I haven’t been able to drop in at Xuitlacoche, but I’ll be there soon to see what you’ve been up to.

    Re: rebels: read @3p4’s last post in the thread . . . and then the mentions of Brian Whitaker. . .

  58. Captain Ned

    Perhaps there’s a particular disapproval (explicit or implicit) of Guardian writers posting on sites such as this one and Mishari’s, which were set up in clearly stated opposition to the conduct of the mods. BM obviously has no trouble posting on obooki’s site; I should be surprised if he hasn’t at least had a look round here and Politely Homicidal, but with subtly (or unsubtly) threatening hints doubtless resounding in his ear, one can’t blame him for doing no more than looking. His first priority has to be the continuation Poster Poems, after all, and Sam and Chris will be thinking of their own babies’ welfare. The mods’ reaction to the recent expressions of dissent seems, if anything, to have hardened their attitude in some respects – though they have let Des back on board, which is nice (assuming I’m correct in thinking that Flarf is Des).

  59. wordnerd7


    Perhaps there’s a particular disapproval (explicit or implicit) of Guardian writers posting on sites such as this one and

    Perhaps there is indeed, and that’s of the essence of my point. _They_ — the powers at the books blog — need to, er . . . let their people go. Follow the example of the high-ranking Cif editor Brian Whitaker in dealing with breakaway bloggers on equal terms. . . Why is no one else celebrating that?

    These breakaway blogs have strikingly different agendas. On close inspection, mine and misharialadwani’s have almost nothing in common.

    As I’ve explained more than once, I’m most exercised by the censorship of blog posts that challenge Guardian books section editors’ suppression of critics of corporate publishing.

    See, particulary, . . . Since when was a newspaper strictly a mercantilist tool? . . . and The Guardian books blog: they do prate of freedom, but . . .

    . . . On the writers you’re defending — anyone who gets GU lots of clicks and posts, if only by creating a fragile frame for other people to express themselves in verse — is someone that GU needs more than he or she needs GU. . . That’s the sort of person I’ve been watching for signs of courage and initiative. I’m still watching; still waiting patiently . . .

  60. Captain Ned.
    Yes, that is Des.
    I’m guessing that the mods don’t know because if they do, they’ll remove his posting rights straightaway.

    My gut instinct from all that’s happened these last two years, is that if it’s a certain individual you have in mind..whom you’re watching for patiently, you may have to wait a long awhile. And it does sadden me to say this. Just speaking from the heart, Wordy.

  61. Sorry Wordy, for the grammatical errors.

    That should be, waiting for patiently… and also a long while.

  62. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, yes indeed to this . . . [with your corrections of tiny errors included]:

    === if it’s a certain individual you have in mind..whom you’re waiting for patiently, you may have to wait a long while. And it does sadden me to say this. Just speaking from the heart, ===

    I didn’t say I was waiting with any expectation of a reward . . . or even with anything resembling hope. . . You went onto that site a few months before I did, I think, and will have noted the same transformation from self-declared idealist to collaborator. . . . We are of course speaking of someone who has openly stated a wish to be invited to chomp at the Hay Festival in a few weeks, and who’s been applying lavish dollops of butter to the right people from his churn accordingly … hmm . . . 😉

    I was discussing this with my most practical wise friend, who is interested in the intersection of psychology, sociobiology and ethics. He shrugged — and replied with that same gesture when I expressed my astonishment that bloggers who advertise themselves as left-wingers could be bribed by gifts from an individual with a lot more money than sense. ‘That’s probably true of most people, and you should know that’ he said of the takers — not cheerfully.

    I’m going to look for reports of the litfest on your site, now … tell @Des that I miss hearing from him here. And yes, I knew about Flarf — and only refrained from mentioning his wonderful puncturing of a certain balloon head last week for fear of blowing his cover.

  63. Hi Wordy,
    I’m in such a mess-up this morning!
    Lost my luggage key in the Kilamanjaro. 4 hours before the airport here in Dar and I can’t find it. So maintenance say they will break the lock or else I go out now, buy a new suitcase, leave my bag here in Africa, go on to Dubai and buy my winter clothes there all over again. Thank God, my airline ticket was safe with me.
    I do have to rush over to Magrudy’s tomorrow to get my festival tickets. Suddenly, it’s all switching to the Arab world. I’ll do my best to write what I can. I can’t even imagine that I am going straight into a controversial scene by default but it should be interesting. I’ll be able to write things as they really are – firsthand.
    Wordy, I shall dissect your intriguing post above – winks and all – in a day or so. 🙂

    And do expect Des to return miraculously to life when I reach Dublin end of next week. He’s been very sad that I’ve been away and it’s got worse which is why I’m going back. He’ll be here before Easter although I know he reads you faithfully. 😉

  64. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, I’m so sorry, since departures are quite tense enough without crises like that . . . The sensible people always advise locking suitcases and the keys are usually so small. .. Now if @Des could only travel with you . . . lots of problems might be solved at once . . .

    A few hours ago, I was cooking as a recorded voice read:

    let us reckon upon
    accidents! Life is a chaplet of little miseries which the philosopher
    counts with a smile. Be philosophers, as I am,

    Good advice, though never harder to follow than in circumstances like yours — yet you bounced back fast enough to write such a buoyant post . . . No need for a dissection in reply to my comment, unless you disagree . . . tell us about surreal Dubai instead. Someone called it Las Vegas with extras in Arab costumes. Wild camels couldn’t drag me to either place, .. . but I’m looking forward to reading you on the subject.

  65. Wordy, I can’t for the life of me, imagine you cooking. Can’t… can’t! 🙂 I’ve always seen you as this steadfast intellectual.
    Des is a good chef too, did you know.
    Gone out and bought a suitcase. The whole experience really is comical. You were right that my keys were really small.
    At least, I know my things are safe in the luggage department.
    I’m just going to have a cup of tea, pack and be gone out the door in a couple of hours.
    I’ll be composed and check-in will wonder why my bag is so light.
    If I turned up with no bag, I’d be seen as a criminal on the run.
    Dubai changes everytime. I’ll definitely keep you updated.
    Till tomorrow then from a different country. 🙂

  66. wordnerd7

    Surreal in another context is a knockout beauty, an economist in 6-inch heels, telling us that Western celebrities have become the _chief_ spokespersons on African poverty. . .

    @Suzan and @ISA . . . I thought that this brilliant young Dambisa Moyo from Zambia might be someone for you, our experts on that continent.

    Unlike the petulant, rant-y … can’t-stand-Bono-can’t-stand-Gwynnie-can’t-stand-Sting. . . because I can’t, that’s why!‘ … tirades I’ve seen, she has super-sharp arguments against African dependence on charity fund-raising and economic aid …

    Q – You argue in your book that Western aid to Africa has not only perpetuated poverty but also worsened it, and you are perhaps the first African to request in book form that all development aid be halted within five years.

    A – Think about it this way — China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.

    Q – Maybe that’s because they have so much money that we here in the U.S. are begging the Chinese for loans.

    A- Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.


    Q – What do your parents do?

    A – My mother is chairman of a bank called the Indo-Zambia Bank. It’s a joint venture between Zambia and India. My father runs Integrity Foundation, an anticorruption organization.


  67. I think her arguments are uncomfortable for us in the west because she nails the problem in one.

    We’ve become used to the idea that money can solve the problem – Geldof had the brilliant idea of using the West’s addiction to entertainment to solve the problem. We carry on buying music and watching comedy and our guilt can be assuaged by the fact that these actions are making money for people who are in a different level of reality altogether. It works in the short term but doesn’t seem to stem the tide of problems. But the problem and the method of solving have no logical connection.Maybe because that appetite for entertainment means the rise of big corporations to feed that which inevitably lead to exploitation etc. etc.

    To not help people by giving them money ( I know she’s not against humanitarian aid ) is difficult because we all have natural compasssion and want to act on that but maybe we need to realise the depth of the problem. It’s still an uncomfortable idea ( rather like legalising hard drugs ) and I can’t think of a politician who’d make that step.

  68. wordnerd7


    === she nails the problem in one. ===

    She does indeed. . . and only someone like her could have said what she has.

    === I can’t think of a politician who’d make that step ===

    I can’t either . . . _but_ a stark laying-out of the facts is the first essential step. I don’t know if you had a chance to follow my link for the interview with her . . . I was dazzled as I rarely am.

  69. Hi Wordy,

    I am safe in Dubai now and it feels that I have stepped straight into a high-tech space age… 🙂

    I do have an interesting contribution for what you said up above but I will write it out tonight after I’ve been out and about.

    I wouldn’t take any kind of superficial armchair approach bearing hard and fast rules about what works and what doesn’t work in the African continent where each nation is pitted with rivalry against the other and offers its own complicated rules and strange superstitious beliefs for everyday living. Also, when you consider illegal governing powers that still lend themselves to coups and bloodshed or otherwise, a rigid dictatorship almost as if it’s all in a day’s work…

    Aid is necessary of course, there are many who without it, will just slink away. They’ll die quietly and silently, those who judge them will never even know. I’ve already lost 7 seven friends one after the other because what happens here is that someone gets sick.. they don’t have money to visit doctors and then they just die. They die in their sleep, not waking up. They die at 20 years old, 30, 40. They don’t even have time to work to earn that bit of money for a necessary injection.

    But a structure for self-reliance that encourages financial independence is just as important. This unfortunately, is very much in its infancy here. The stumbling block are the extremely high and open levels of corruption.

    I do agree, that Western celebrities have used Africa for their own ends…especially the likes of Madonna.

  70. Wordy, I have seen the article.
    I don’t think she can speak for Africa as a whole in spite of her knockout beauty. She is actually speaking for Zambia which is a different nation, has a different culture and a completely different lifestyle among its people. I don’t think it is right that she places black Africans in a nutshell.
    I know you’ll come against me for thisWordy but she’s seeing the continent and its people as a stereotyped-whole when it’s not.
    Tanzania and Kenya are the closest in a specific East African culture, yet the structures that have allowed themselves for Kenyan poverty for instance, are totally different from Tanzania.
    In Tanzania, corruption is practiced as a form of sacredness among its own people, one towards the other. Foreign aid may heighten the crime but corruption like an age-old ritual thrives well even without it. And basically, no Western celebrity has even looked this way. Not Jolie, not Madonna and I think Geldorf was in South Africa?
    She should study each continent separately and not use Zambia as a representation for everyone else.

  71. WN The Guardian ran that interview or another version of it a few days ago. Very provocative.

    There’s a documentary “Darwins Nightmare” about the area around Lake Victoria which has been totally messed up ecologically and socially by outside interest and all the subsequent ills that poverty provokes.

    Friends of mine who worked in Mozambique told me that Soviet influence in the area ( the mania for putting nomadic people in tower blocks ) has created its own mini-disaster with ghettoes of people who’ve lost the ability to be self-sufficient and who are now mimicking the US ghettoes with the reliance on drug trafficking and its attendant violence.

  72. wordnerd7

    @Suzan and @Alarming, . . . have been reading you with extremely close attention, but can’t reply immediately. . . I’ve been typing on borrowed time, answering an earlier post than yours (except for the quickie addressed to @BC). . . I hope that others will join the debate before I can return.

    For the moment, just this for you, @Suzan:

    === I know you’ll come against me for thisWordy but she’s seeing the continent and its people as a stereotyped-whole when it’s not. ===

    No, no, I often object to excessively broad generalisations myself . . . and am keenly aware of the differences between the different parts of Africa. . . .Consider her context, though — which is a contrast with China. From such a perspective, perhaps the similarities between many African countries outweigh the differences — ?

    . . . oh and @Alarming, this is distressing beyond belief:

    === ( the mania for putting nomadic people in tower blocks ) ===

  73. Hi Wordy,

    I apologize if in my rush this morning, I sounded a little insolent, even rude. I’m sorry that I was insensitive to your optimism on the subject and felt badly about it the whole time I was downtown. I didn’t mean to be a wet blanket.

    But to answer your question, indeed, there is a clear difference between the Chinese population and the African continent since we are talking about them as a whole which I still feel is not the right thing to do.

    If comparisons must be made, the Chinese are industrious by nature as a whole. It’s in their genes. They are naturally a hardworking people, very ambitious and will invent work (no matter the status or level of work) if it means extra dough even if there aren’t jobs available. The majority are trained to see money as their security from when they are raised as babies and to work towards this security. Most of their religous prayers (Buddhism & Taoism for example) are revolved around the need for financial security. Again, they are taught this necessity for wealth from tots and there is no difference in this aspect between a farmer in an isolated village in China or a professional architect in Hong Kong or Singapore. Their inner philosophies are always the same. To the Chinese, red is a valuable colour because it spells prosperity.
    One of their superstitious beliefs that include Taoism, is in burning paper money for dead relatives/family so that the soul wouldn’t be poor in the next destination.
    The science of feng shui worshipped by the Chinese are also designed to attract the right energies that are said to bring about prosperity, success and the easy accumulation of material goods.
    Status is secondary.
    So it’s a very easy thing for any Chinese no matter how rich or poor or their geographical locations, to work for a living. They are naturally a practical people, self-reliant and motivated towards wealth. 40 years ago, they were persecuted by the Mao Revolution when the State snatched everything and they had to work to avoid persecution and just to survive another day.
    Their hands were tied. No matter how motivated, there was nothing they could do.
    The moment the Revolution ended its rigid atrocities and a more democratic government came into power, the Chinese would of course, rush to make as much as money as they could, to recover goods lost by old families in the past and to build wealth on time lost – however they saw it. They are naturally motivated.

    The average black Africans suffer from a lack of motivation. I would actually be specific and say East Africa. They are not ambitious by nature. They lack zeal. They have no vision to aspire too. They are not naturally as industrious as the Chinese are known to be whether times are good or bad.
    This isn’t because of an over-supply of foreign aid or an unemployment rate but rather, a lack of education from infancy, a lack of motivational aspirations, a lack of professional ambition and especially insufficient nutrition in their diets that affect a physical and emotional outlook, among many other factors.

    Many who hold jobs are often lethargic and many still lack efficiency and speed in their movements. Things still move very slowly in East Africa.

    It’s quite startling when you think that boundless energy and industry is poured instead into escapism that includes an over-the-top born-again Christianity, painstaking moral preaching or time-consuming superstitions bearing from a belief in witchcraft.

    Helen Oyeyemi, a young Nigerian author, popular in England for The Icarus Girl pointed this out a few years ago.

    And please don’t tell the Massai about those tower blocks. In any case, they would never have surrendered. These are nomadic people who are different from all the rest…they are proud, self-sufficient and prefer to take no help even from the locals. They still treasure their culture.
    But then Tanzania and Kenya aren’t at all Mozambique which is why I feel, it’s unwise to lump African nations together.

  74. @Suzan, you must jet-lagged . . . the only possible explanation for imagining that you’ve been ‘insolent’. You of all people!

    Unless you’re about to give us a bulletin from Dubai, . . . if you feel like it, would you please say more about this:

    === She is actually speaking for Zambia which is a different nation, has a different culture and a completely different lifestyle among its people. ===

    Then, about this:

    === If comparisons must be made, the Chinese are industrious by nature as a whole. It’s in their genes. They are naturally a hardworking people, very ambitious and will invent work (no matter the status or level of work) if it means extra dough even if there aren’t jobs available. The majority are trained to see money as their security from when they are raised as babies and to work towards this security. ===

    The Chinese are also hugely diverse — to an ethnographer. Just picture the differences between the appearance of Northerners and Southerners, for instance. So you might be said to be lumping all of them together. But that’s fine as long as you make it clear that you’re doing that for a very specific argument or hypothesis. . . No one who knows the Chinese would disagree greatly with your point about the industriousness of the average Chinese, but Chinese literature and Chinese films have plenty of feckless lazy bums in them, wouldn’t you say?

  75. I am jet-lagged, yes.

    Northerners and Southerns differ in most international regions by way of speech, habits and personalities among a few other things.
    I’m sorry that I can’t offer specifics at this moment.
    I am always on the move of late… either going to or returning from somewhere when I look at the web. I would have to sit down with some relaxed contentment in my flat in Dublin the week after next to do this.
    But to compare an industrious Chinese with an African in East Africa…. that’s like comparing chalk to cheese.
    If the Chinese were compared to a Japanese, at least there would similarities offered when speaking about industry, and if the Africans were compared to say, the Tongans and the Fijians for example, they who are not as motivated as most others and command the same lackdasical personalities but have still managed to make their mark through tourism, that to me would be more realistic.
    The feckless bumsare mostly works of legends and myths and they do entertainment to any tale. But I would say, they still serve as an exception to the rule.
    Even the beggars outside Chinese temples, say Hong Kong, who do nothing but curse, swear and spit at any passer-by who may have decided to part with one coin instead of five, are highly-aggressive, mainly from a greedy desire to fill their begging bowls at the earliest opportunity.

    Also, the Africans have specific tribal heritage in their own nations. And the idea of Northerners and Southerners would differ in Tanzania just asmuch as it would differ in Nigeria.

    The Chinese in international regions today are children of the diaspora, who were children of migrants who all left China for greener pastures once upon a time. Same too, with the Indians.

    Africa is a continent, managed by several governing powers. China is a country, managed by one. Everyone knows this. What doesn’t do it for me is to compare a continent with a country.

  76. Let me expand that last line again to say:

    “What doesn’t do it for me is to compare the workings of a vast intricate continent similar to the notion of a visual imagery (“oh, what a tangled web we weave kind of thing..”) with an Asian nation heavily persecuted as a whole by the Mao Revolution 40 years ago.”
    And China especially Shanghai did amass wealth before that intrusion.

    In fact, why doesn’t she point out the flaws of her own people? Why does she paint them with a haloed light and blame it all on the West for their supposed laziness? After all, the core of the poor in East African villages don’t always see aid, don’t even have water or electricity supply or any of the basic primitive necessities, their houses are built themselves from dried mud…their rooftops are made up of dried palm leaves…. Yes, they could do better if they were ambitious. Instead, I don’t see how their constant lack of motivation or industry to strive for anything themselves could be blamed on foreign aid. A foreign aid that the poor would never have seen, simply from a sophisticated corruption that still exist in the governing offices.

  77. wordnerd7


    I hope that you’ve been giving yourself a chance to recover . . .

    I did suggest when I posted those extracts from the Dambisa Moyo interview that her opinions were for you and @ISA to dissect . . . but he hasn’t appeared, probably because, as he told us, he’s busy designing a syllabus. Or because he has too many opinions on this subject to want to get into it, just as I have too much to say about his lively and most interesting posts on futurism and the evolution of the net.

    About this, though:

    === After all, the core of the poor in East African villages don’t always see aid, don’t even have water or electricity supply or any of the basic primitive necessities, their houses are built themselves from dried mud…their rooftops are made up of dried palm leaves…. ===

    Her targets aren’t the poor of that continent but their governments. See:

    Q – Why didn’t you get a bond issue going in your native Zambia or other African countries?

    A – Many politicians seem to have a lazy muscle. Issuing a bond would require that the president and the cabinet ministers go out and market their country. Why would they do that when they can just call up the World Bank and say, “Can I please have some money?”

    Q – I keep reading about a new crop of African presidents who are supposedly free-market guys, including Rupiah Banda, the president of Zambia.

    A – There are lots who are nominally free market, but they haven’t been aggressive about implementing those policies.

    . . . Her answers to both those questions show that she is doing exactly what you want her to when you say,

    === In fact, why doesn’t she point out the flaws of her own people? Why does she paint them with a haloed light and blame it all on the West for their supposed laziness? ===

    She isn’t pretending that her own people are angels — let alone the only angels on the continent. Maybe you were racing as you read her, with the lit festival on your mind?

  78. Wordy, I’m going to concede defeat, withdraw gracefully or inappropriately but either way, give you the trump card.

    It wouldn’t be fair to you, the subject in question or myself to conduct a fair argument that from my end may succumb easily to the danger of an amateur argument, although I don’t believe I have as yet allowed this. Of course, you will see it differently. I would like the luxury of delving into research or essays for my own arguments, the experience of my own recent observations in Africa and searching for some interesting data that may actually support something of what I am trying to say. Unfortunately, my tight schedule doesn’t allow this.

    I’m sure you’re right on all counts and yes, I think you would enjoy Isa’s thoughts a lot more than mine.


  79. Oh and that was meant to read:

    …may succumb easily to the danger of an amateur opinion… and not the use of the word, argument.

  80. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, I do hope that Dubai is treating you well.

    No, no, you’re very kind, but I’m no illusionist or pretender . . . that was Dambisa Moyo you’ve been arguing with. All I did was quote her paragraphs to remind you of what she said. And yes, she’s right — as she should be, since she’s speaking on her subject.

    You are a model of graciousness, as you always are, in conceding that.

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