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The Far Pavilions

22 Mar

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With a heavy heart I wandered the streets

felt the pain of travel upon my feet
Absorbed the culture of an unknown beach
Crossed into lanes for treasures out of reach
Golden globes from India
I had to eat
Sat in the Pavilions
Under the mid day heat
Walked along the Pier
No one did I greet
Took myself along the promenade
My thoughts did I keep
Sat in a café drank tea
Wanted to weep
Heard jazz music
My soul did not leap
Browsed by bars
Did not take a seat
Welcomed in a church
Heard 99 words in a beat
Invited to dinner
C’est Magnifique
In a strangers’ home
Did we speak

Without a blessing
I fell asleep

 

 

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BEAUTY IN THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

30 Jan

There is beauty in the kindness of strangers
Defending the weak from foul mouthed words
The vulnerable seeking support against abusive tirade
Black woman scorned and brown mate sworn at just for the colour of skin

There is beauty in the
Kindness of strangers
A bus full of “ethnicity”
Made to feel insecure by the majority
Unspoken words vocalised by a drunken minority
Anger fuelled by a dichotomy
Tissues at the ready
Snot smeared on the seat next to an ugly personality
Words of hate from lips of a woman who sounds like she’d had a lobotomy

Spitting sounds please call the psychiatry
Barriers created because there’s no chemistry
Skinny white woman shouts don’t look at me!
Black Swan responds don’t bother me
Brown English man in Green suit says no more bigotry

Hate filled words pollute the air with no dignity
Crash claimed hearts with vulgarity
Man came to part with some words of clarity
Took down the drunk with his love for community
Mate call the police for your sanity
Strange kind words spoke for humanity.

There is kindness in the beauty of strangers.

Hurghada From sun and desert to snow and deserted…

24 Jan

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I’ve always had a desire to go to Hurghada, Egypt. So, when T won a bit of money recently, we took the opportunity to book a last minute deal to the desired destination.

On arrival at Hurghada airport, we had to pay the £13 GBP for the visa. It’s not like Sharm El Sheikh, said the Customs Officer, where you have a choice over there.
We made it through the security checks and passport control and were awaited by a man waving a placard with our names emblazoned on it. We were then introduced to our Egyptian Rep, who accompanied us to a small minibus, greeted by another British couple and we sat down and soon set off to our designated hotels.
We had booked the Elysees Hotel, a four star hotel about 3km outside of the main town of Hurghada. It was clean, pleasantly decorated and suitable for our needs.The Rep mentioned that our luggage had to be left at the entrance so the porter could carry it to our room. We thought we were on a different floor or some distance away from the reception/foyer but we were only about a 100 yards away on the same floor. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Porter placed our suitcases in our room and expectantly waited for a tip. I only had £1 sterling on me and explained that I didn’t have any change. He suggested that I when I did manage to have adequate change, Egyptian or British, to hand it to him when possible! I was unimpressed by his direct approach and felt he had placed me in an awkward position. After he left, we unpacked and explored the town nearby.
It was chilly that evening, as were most of the evenings, but we managed to see the stores that offered the usual ware for the tourist- leatherware, brass goods, glass ornaments, Egyptian art on papyrus, counterfeit designerwear, bric a brac. Why do they still insist on producing this tat and do tourists/holidaymakers still buy into this cheap souvenir market? Obviously they do or else these businesses wouldn’t survive.

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The roads are wide, and I noted that there wasn’t any traffic lights, pedestrian or zebra crossings. It appeared that the motorist was truly the King of the Road and to cross the road was a task you undertook at your own peril. As well as the numerous black and orange taxis which drive up and down the main street on a very regular basis blowing their horns in order to gain attention or potential fares, large articulated lorries, trucks and buses would speed by and hardly consider the safety of the pedestrian.

Most of the hotels and buildings are modern looking and with the very heavy presence of Russian people in the hotels, it came as no surprise to learn that the majority of investors which are currently driving the coastal economy are Russians who are helping it to develop into a highly sought after destination favoured by their own people. The posters dotted around Hurghada proclaiming the good strong links between Egypt and Russia confirmed this special relationship.
On a different level, I observed how some Russians, chose to drink vodka and sprite, rum and coke or brandy and coke at any given time of day and night. In the Lucky Dolphin pub attached to the hotel it was from 8am until last orders!

We also learned that Hurghada as a coastal town does not have a centre as such. It is a large sprawling resort, if it can be called that, divided into three distinguishable areas. Where we stayed is or will be a predominantly hotel based area for holiday makers tourists, short term breaks etc. The surrounding shops and nightlife caters for such a client group.

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The main part of Hurghada again caters for the wealthy holiday makers and tourists. Hawkers, street vendors selling cheap cigarettes, watches, faux leather belts and “silver” chains and necklaces jostle for attention against the high street boutiques or cleaner looking stores, malls and bazaares. Sitting almost incongrously amongst them all would be a Pizza Hut, the ever almighty Golden Arch of Mcdonalds, Burger King and KFC. Faced with competition from the more local cafes or cuisine it came as no surprise that we didn’t try it as we happened to have seen a local seller hawk into his handkerchief and proceed to clean a serving dish with the same cloth! Then there were the unusually exotic smells of cooked foods, meats and sweets camouflaging the smell of burnt/singed meats and decaying flesh in some quarters. To see some of the meat was off putting to say the least but at the same time, I was shocked, impressed, in awe, disgusted, tempted and inquisitive about what the local food actually tasted like. In hindsight, I think I should’ve been brave enough to try it but don’t think my stomach would’ve been able to handle the side effect…

The third section of Hurghada was really the most exhilarating and exciting part of Hurghada. Known as El Hur or Dar Har , head towards the Elzohour Hotel, only about 30 Egyptian pounds (£3 GBP) from the main part of town. A “dustbowl of a community!” it catered for the indigenous population. A market place which is incredibly cheap and cheerful, the hustle and bustle stimulated my senses in more ways than one. At last I felt alive and realised that yes, here I was certainly experiencing something new and diverse. A culture still yielding up to traditions and customs. A predominantly male presence, a slightly agressive and menacing atmosphere in a community which did not allow me to take any photographs, that almost made me fearful that I maybe accosted or assaulted, robbed or romanticised, treated with respect or terrorised with request to buy, buy and buy. It really felt less superficial than the other parts of the town and the heart of Hurghada. It buzzed with the beat of traffic congestion, human consumerism, and you could almost feel the ancient vibe of mysticism and spirituality.

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As it was approximately 30 degrees nearly every day, we spent the days sunbathing on Dream Beach, a private beach allocated to Elysee Hotel. Most hotels have their own private beach and if you were to venture further, there was a small fee or charge of 20 L.E or more (approx. £2 GBP) for the privilege of sitting on another beach. At Dream Beach, we listened to old classic standards, “chilled out/House/ambient music” with the imam calling the community to prayer in the background, watched the sunset over the Red Sea and on two occasions at approximately 4pm, we witnessed two flying fish skim the waters and veer to the left before disappearing from view under the pier. We waited for this to occur again for the third time but it did not happen. But just when we were about to come to terms with our disappointment, we saw two dolphins diving in and out of the waters! A serene and majestic sight indeed!

The sea water was cool and refreshing and you are surrounded by all manner of tropical fish…The irony of it is that although the Government of the Red Sea claim to conserve the Coral Reef and surrounding bays, pleading with the world to save the area, with the amount of tourism building up and boat trips offered, wouldn’t the amount of pollution going into the water be killing it off? Oils, effluence, a number of fish restaurants, lots of fish tanks on display in shops and restaurants, fish spa treatments, pieces of coral on display for sale…

Streetlife at nightime offered more charm and glamour I suppose, and any other opportunities that may have arisen were quietly rejected or declined.
Three times we searched for Hurghada Marina but we could not find it. Although it is clearly marked with blue lettering “MARINA” and a large red arrow on a large, orange beacon in the middle of the main road, we still found it difficult to find. On the second occasion, we walked down a dirt road and chanced on small workshops which were reminisce of old world charm. Young men sitting on their haunches sewing blankets, old gnarled men smoking tobacco and sheesha working with iron to make gates, trendy lads selling fabrics, young shoeless children playing in the dirt and running after kittens and cats, rummaging in rubbish tips and boxes, men gathered discussing the design of handmade upholstered furniture and sofas, greasy, dark skinned men sitting at tables with sore, blackened hands working with oil and various car parts, electricians sitting in dirt ridden units, waiting for their next customer. The craftsmanship and attention to detail and work was inspirational. It is such a shame that in the Western world, this is an art form that is slowly dying…

We eventually managed to find the Marina at our third attempt. It is near to the road full of small workshops but it is a gated community geared for the rich and affluent. Yachts, fancy restaurants, designer labels and wealth in sharp contrast to the outside world of dusty cars, dirt road tracks, poorly paid staff and illiterate children. Locals are not allowed in and it does make one wonder how the poor within the surrounding areas feel about this exclusive and elite domain.

One thing to remember about Hurghada – Dust fills the air and permeates most items in shops, stores, clothes, nostrils and mouth but that is to be expected as we are in desertland. So don’t expect it all to be pristine pretty and clean.

EL GOUNA

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A purpose built luxurious village which catered for the more discerning clientele. About 40 minutes away from Hurghada, it costs approximately anything between 50 – 70 LE (about £5-7 GBP) to get there. It all depends on how well you negotiate or barter with your taxi driver! The brochure stated that this was an experience not to be missed and declared that “there is nothing like it in the Red Sea”. We decided to spend a day there and found that the brochure was not wrong! It reminded me of several things : The Stepford Wives, because it was so clean and carefully planned out, a luxurious holiday village in Gambia (not that we’ve ever been there) and something quite futuristic in that there were small tuk-tuks driving up and down, the heat made it appear surreal and the lack of people in the area provided an air of solitude, isolation and sheer indulgence. Small Islands with villas that had individually numbered designated seating areas on the beach, sunbeds and parasols, surrounded by lagoons and a beach which meandered around. It was an oasis of calm and brilliance!

The Marina was full of yachts and we likened it to St Tropez (not that we’ve ever been there either!) But we could imagine parts of it to be very similar!

I am fascinated by Egypt and all that it has to offer: the customs, traditions, artefacts, history…as one road sign in Luxor reads “It is where Ancient Civilisation began”. I would loved to have been there for the dawn of the Millenium period.

One day, I would like to be a passenger on one of those ships that cruise along the Nile…

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We returned to Birmingham after 7 nights away. The contrast in weather conditions was truly unbelievable. Within 8 hours, we were transported from hot sunshine and desert to freezing cold.Snow blanketed the UK overnight and left the streets deserted.

The Learned Kat

On the buses

5 Jan

Having been a seasoned traveller of buses, it never fails to make a very bad impresssion on me. I suppose one could say “well, why don’t you learn to drive?” The thing is, I did take driving lessons many years ago. In fact,  twice a week I forced myself to sit in the drivers seat and make a haphazard  guess as to what to do next. I couldn’t focus or concentrate, my co-ordination was not the best to say the least. I think, after all said and done, although the driving instructot was very calm, patient and re-assuring, I think he was inwardly frustrated with my efforts and eventually, I just gave up. Truth is,unlike my peers over the years, I just didn’t feel motivated, have the strong urge or desire to learn how to drive four wheels  around the streets of Birmingham. I suppose I followed after my non-car driving parents but that’s another story.

So now, I choose to use public transport to take me from A to B. I suppose I could say I’m being friendly to the environment, being a beacon of the “Green” initiative, having to save on using car fuel, MOT expenses etc. However, what used to be a not-too-pleasant experience anyway, is becoming more and more of a travelling nightmare in the city.

When I lived in Devon for almost three years, although the pace of life was considerably slower, at least the buses were clean, the drivers were pleasant, the bus journeys occured without any incident or a passenger spewing a mouthful of abuse and it seemed to carry the similar  childhood memories of bus travel. Meaning that the drivers seemed to hold a form of authority and commanded a level of respect.

In comparison to travelling by bus in the City of Birmingham. A number of bus drivers appear too timid to speak up, just look as if they want to get on with driving the buses or give the impression that they are the lords of transport. There are others who are too busy chatting to friends or regulars, or flirting with females and some who choose to ignore fare dodgers for whatever reason or allow certain types of passengers to board the buses without paying their full fares. Some people choose not to pay, think they can have a free ride, feign ignorance or adopt a “swagger”, others deliberately create an aggressive atmosphere, as witnessed last Wednesday evening, when a youth was stopped and he provoked the police officer and the police community support officer to “search him”.

We have signs that say do not abuse the driver, the passenger has a right to make a comment, compliment, suggestion or general enquiry, fare dodgers and smokers would be fined, a seat is available for those with pushchairs, elderly persons or disabled although they are constantly in use by more able bodied people either chatting, on the phone or too selfish to move and passengers pushing and shoving, who do not appear to have any spacial awareness, consideration for others, stubborn in their lack of movement or just too self absorbed in their own world.

Then, there is the smells. A certain aroma wafts and drifts around the bus and either the driver is too cautious and chooses not to say anything or has a major nose block not to notice the strong scent of weed  coming down the stairs. Although there is a sign up on the windows saying there would be a fine of £1000 if anyone is caught smoking cigars, cigarettes or  marijuana on the bus. Not that I’ve heard of or seen anyone being fined that amount over the years… The buses themselves, when not smelling of cannabis, tend to have lingering musty smells, which may emit from individuals, the stagnant food or chicken, fish and chips strewn on the floor or the heat of wet bodies pressed together after boarding the bus from being drenched in the rain. The floors are pressed with manky copies of Metro, a local newspaper available in most parts of the country, or cans of pop or alcohol or general rubbish and the windows are no longer vandalised in a way that made them look “artistic” as they did back in the hey day of the 70’s and 80’s with felt marker pens. In the last few years, with the introduction of shatterproof glass in the window panes, we have “etchings” of rude words, street slang, abusive words, “name tags” or just general scratchings. They tend to look as if they have been scraped in with a key, a ring or knife.

Bus shelters are no longer the scene of  gentle banter, quiet acknowledgements, a respectable queue, the home for love birds or even a “quickie”. They are constantly vandalised. Within days of a new one installed, it looks as if it been around for a long time and destroyed with more inane graffiti or “etchings!”  and a lot of people tend to rush to get on as if their life depended on it. What’s the rush? It ain’t gonna move until everyone is on. And if you were to say something to a certain type of person, you may receive a look that kills, a kiss of the teeth or a “glasgow kiss”. In some cases, even more horrendous things have occurred like being stabbed, maimed or murdered…

A bus journey no longer feels a safe form of transport in the city. When I was a child, we used to watch a television comedy series, “On The Buses”. There may have been politically incorrect banter amongst other things, but at least the fictional characters had pride in their work, the buses themselves were clean, bus inspectors and conductors who demanded and commanded respect and their word against the passenger was taken as rightful. If they told you you couldn’t get on/off or no music to be played, that was a given. They were respected and authoritive public figures. Looking back over real life experiences, right up until my late teens, that impression held some truth in it.

But today, that respect and authority has gone. I doubt it if we will ever get it back. I can understand why some people call  for the return of Conductors and Inspectors, a bit like asking for the return of Matrons in hospitals.

Sometimes, even the well intentioned plans need to have a strong sense of leadership.

What do others think about the state of our buses and what are your experiences ?

 

The Learned Kat