Saturday, 6 June 2015

Disco infernal..

I recently had the misfortune of going to a night club.

Now those of you that know me and of my age will be asking "why on earth did you go in the first place?".  For those that don't and to give you some idea, when I fill out a survey I have to tick the box '50 - 55'.  But it's not as daft an idea as it sounds, my wife is younger and evergreen, it was a leaving do for one of our fabulous work colleagues (actually about her 6th, but who's counting?  Obviously me..)  and I used to love night clubs in my youth, so I thought 'why not?'.

I guess my clubbing salad days were the 80's - 1980's not 1880's - and the music was fantastic.  A heady mix of The Trammps, Donna Summer, Sylvester, Kool and the Gang, Michael blooming Jackson for Pete's sake, it was epic.  There was melody, lyrics ('burn that mother down y'all' - almost Shakespearian), tunes and variations of pace or BPM - beats per minute - which gave the whole experience variety and tested the mixing skills of the DJ's.

The Trammps, who performed Disco Inferno, a disco hit in 1976 but still going strong in the 80's.  It's not surprising there was a fire with all that polyester around, I mean one spark..

I appreciated that this was probably not going to be the playlist in the night club of 2015, unless it was an 'Old School' night, probably spelt 'Old Skule', which I'm never sure is done to add a sense of some juvenile element to the proceedings or just to annoy English teachers, which it does, immensely, and breathe..  However I wasn't prepared for the assault on my senses that I received upon entering the place.

At this juncture I should add that the club was on a holiday complex which clearly attracts an eclectic mix of weekend clients, in the same way that a tavern in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie might attract a range of different characters. You know the sort, one eyed sea dogs, bling covered nouveau riche, men the age of Keith Richard acting like men the age of Justin Beber, women the age of Tina Turner gyrating like Miley Cyrus, if only I was hip surgeon..  It was mainly a collection of holiday makers of all ages and young men and women from the UK and Ireland who are expats up from Dubai for the weekend searching for cheap booze, which they had apparently found quickly and in abundance.  I think we in the wider world deserve a thank you from the towns and cites of Europe, as by accepting these youngsters in to our expatriate community we are stopping them from projectile vomiting in your high streets every weekend and giving them the opportunity to empty their innards in a warmer climate.  Taking one for the team.

So I entered the room and immediately thought I had happened upon a worm-hole in the space time continuum because clearly I was now in Guantanomo Bay.  The water boarding had obviously not worked and we were now experiencing intense white noise torture. This was music - and I use the term loosely - clearly written by someone who doesn't like your ears, I say 'your ears',  I mean my ears.  Reassured that I wasn't in Cuba by the lack of cigars and vintage cars, I made my way to the area our group had occupied.  I should mention at this juncture that I was, as usual, the old man of the group and no-one else was phased by what they were hearing.  For me it was a metronomic, electronic row.  A sort of electrical version of metal dustbins being thrown down concrete stairs at regular intervals.  But surely this was just one track, soon order would be restored and Variety introduced along with his friend, Tune.  No, not at all.  It transpires that now every thing played has been mixed to within an inch of it's life in to a monotone, mind numbing, teeth rattling assault on your senses.
Edvard Munch, 'The Scream'.  Allegedly painted after going to the same club.  Honest.

Believe it or not, I am not a stranger to modern dance music, or at least I thought I wasn't a stranger.  I have Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams on in the car for goodness sake so you can understand my confidence in thinking was down with kids.  But these dance tracks are clearly not trance, or acid, or crap enough for the club market so they are re-mixed until they all sound the same.  After all, who needs all that song writing and creativity rubbish?

Daft Punk, who wear masks so you can't see them crying when idiots ruin their efforts.
Now I completely understand that every generation has to send a hero up the pop chart, if they didn't we'd be trying to dance to Green Sleeves, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the new stuff is better.  I also get that I am not supposed to like this sort of music, it's not made for my generation.  I'm sure that Mrs Beethoven senior was heard saying: 'Oh Ludwig why are you still putting out that 'boom boom boom boom' rubbish?!  Why not write something cheery like that nice Mr Vivaldi?'  And for some reason I think his mum would have talked like a cockney tea lady circa 1950's.

One similarity with discos of old was the complete inability to talk to anyone as the sound from the speakers was too great.  Hence conversations are attempted at close quarter, enabling you to smell the fags and booze on the other persons breath, mmmm, it's that heady mix of nicotine and stale alcohol á la pub carpet circa 1970.  How come no-one has ever bottled that?  What's not to like?

As was inevitable, one customer got in to a heated debate with a bouncer, who was more at the 'brick outhouse' end of the scale than the 'gets sand kicked in his face', so the youngster was unceremoniously removed from the establishment over the security guy's shoulder, priceless.  I overheard Hades and Dante having a conversation along the lines of 'seriously, how could we have imagined this?'.

So was this my last visit to a night club?  I hope not.  I have fond memories from my youth (can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday though?) of nights/mornings out with my friends, so I may have to give it one last go, but when the music played is going to be more to my liking.  I want to go out on a high note as I'm sure did Steven Gerrard.  In case you weren't aware he is a football player who made over 500 appearances for his club, Liverpool.  Unfortunately in his last game they lost 6-1, not the finale he was hoping for. If that script had been written by Hollywood he would have headed the winner in the 90th minute, probably past a diving Sylvester Stallone, and if you get the movie reference there give yourself a bonus point.  Nor a French script either, where he would have caught cholera and died on his wedding day, have you ever watched a French movie?!  No, this was an English approach, 'no need to show off old boy'..

Friday, 16 January 2015

Come fly with me..

According to Wikipedia (never wrong..), the first fixed wing airline was formed in 1916 by a chap called George Holt Thomas.  He modified military aircraft so they could carry two - yes, two - passengers between Folkestone and Ghent, in Belgium.  It goes on to say that these were 'relief' flights but doesn't clarify who was relieved, the pilots who were responsible, the passengers or maybe both?  It wasn't until 1919 that passengers started paying for a service, £21 to go from Hendon to Paris.  Either way you look at it, it's less than 100 years since people have had the choice to complete their journeys by air and I don't think any of those pioneers would recognise the industry now.

'First class Madam?  You get to sit inside..'.
There are a plethora of little vignettes in any flight, from check in to collecting your suitcase on the carousel, but if you take the time to do some people watching and keep a smile on your face in the mini adversities that it presents, it can be entertaining.

With so many to choose from, which scenario do I write about today:  having to re-pack your suitcase at check-in as it's 2kg overweight when the guy behind is clearly heavier than you by at least 20kg (don't ask me to re-pack, ask him to run round the airport perimeter..), people rushing the gate when they've already been told it's not their time to board, the Herculean efforts to lift a carry on bag in to the overhead locker when it weighs more than a Volkswagen Beetle, people still texting when the plane is taking off even though they've been told 3 times to switch their phones off, the list goes on.  What makes me chuckle is the in-flight meal.

When you're on a plane for longer than maybe 3 hours, I fully appreciate that you may get a bit peckish and the airlines (non-budget types) are keen to show you how well they cater at 35,000 feet.  The trouble is that in an effort to outdo the competition they maybe try a little too hard.  I need to add at this juncture that we tend to fly economy class, like most people probably, so space is at a wee bit of a premium.  The airline would like to cram in as many people as possible to maximise their efficiency and profit, the public would like enough space for luxuries like breathing, moving your toes a bit, not having to link arms Auld Lang Syne style just to open a packet of pretzels.  Certainly if you are fond of your personal space, economy is not for you.

Economy, everybody inhale, now exhale, easier if we do it at the same time.
So it comes to lunch/dinner/breakfast time.  You've read the menu, decided what you'd like and the smell of freshly warmed up ready meals comes wafting down the aisle, where the flight attendants are passing out the trays.  Their trolley is completely blocking the pathway of course, which means they have the usual queue of passengers either side of them trying to get to/from the toilet.  They reach the row of seats in front of you, you're now pretty hungry and eager to see what your fare looks like but wait, the person in front ordered a vegan nut and squash roly-poly and the crew are trying to serve them a vegetarian tofu and lettuce mélange, it's tantamount to Armageddon.  Some bloke in 12B is already half way through the nut and squash offering and is now considering eating the cardboard lid instead, so it's too late to change.  I can read the steward's mind 'really, is it that different?  What do you want me to do, pop out and get another?  Serves you right for having a fussy diet..'.  But he remains calm and professional and the problem is solved with some cream crackers and a yoghurt.  It's your turn.

First class, a bit awkward if you drool or talk in your sleep, 'of course I'll respect you in the morning Brad..'.
You drop down the little table attached to the seat in front of you, which is probably in the reclined position, restricting your elbow room even more (is it not good etiquette to ask before reclining your seat?  Just asking..) and it's then you realise the food tray is the same size as the little table, so whatever you do everything has to stay on the platter unless you're fortunate and have no-one sitting next to you.  It's an impressive array of dishes, a veritable feast, a marvel of culinary expertise and spacial design as everything is arranged like a edible jigsaw with not a micron of space to spare.  

Therein lies a problem because the food is packed in containers with lids and once you've uncovered your lunch all this packaging has to be put somewhere.  So you commence the game I call 'Aircraft Eating Jenga' (pat and trademark pending) and start to skill fully move items around so that you can get at the meal one bit at a time without causing a catastrophic collapse of the pile.  Smoked salmon salad to start, followed by chicken with potatoes and veg, then a chocolate dessert, then cheese and biscuits, then bread (should I have eaten that first?  Too late.), a drink, a cup for your tea, a tiny chocolate, cutlery, a napkin, a refreshing hand wipe (lemon scented), a cuddly toy, a Teasmaid. The list goes on and I finally realise that with this mental ability and hand eye dexterity I would be quite good at doing a Rubrics Cube if I applied myself to the task. Then when something falls on the floor it's like playing Kim's Game by yourself and in an extraordinarily confined space.

Bon appétit, elbows in please.

Often it's when you're mid way through this trauma that the person sitting next to you asks if you could move so they can get out to use the facilities.  'Move?' you ask, 'I've suspended my heart beat while I do this as it was taking up too much room..'.  The relief when the attendant comes along to take away the remains is wonderful, like the feeling when you have the inset of your shoe scrunched up under the sole of your foot all day and then you finally get to sort it out.  You can now relax to watch the movie, on a screen which is closer to your eye ball that your eye lid, with the headset kindly provided by the airline (has this really been sterilised?) because for an unknown reason it is the only place on the planet where you need twin plugs on your ear wear?

Suffice to say I'm saving up my airline loyalty points for an upgrade to first class, by my reckoning I should achieve this goal in about 20 years, it's good to have a dream.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Call me Lawrence..

lawrence of arabia remake otoole Roland Emmerich Developing Lawrence of Arabia Miniseries
Peter O'Toole, the most widely known image for T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia, my role model for our time in the Middle East.  Well you have to aim high..
I recently had the opportunity to experience flying out of our local airport using a regional low cost airline.  Nothing dramatic there, thousand of people do that every day. However it did provide an unexpected insight in to an aspect of life here.

Airport check in queues, often so long.  Why are the airlines not prepared for the number of passengers?  Do they not know how many tickets they sold or do they just think 'ah, no-one is going to turn up..'.  Or is it they know you have no choice?  You decide.. 

It's well documented that there are a lot of expatriates here, or expats as the shortened version goes. You often hear the figure of 80% when it comes to Dubai, that's right, 80% of the people that live there are expats.  Up here in the north it's considered that around 70% of the population are local and us strangers only make up the remaining 30%.  

But what or rather who do you think of as an expat? Pictures spring to mind of bloated land owners during the last days of the Raj, sipping a G & T before riding an elephant around the tea plantation to make sure the locals are putting in a full days work for their tuppence pay.  Or do you have a more up to date vision of the comfortably off businessman in Dubai, sipping G & T before touring the building sites where impoverished workers are putting the finishing touches to the latest additions to his portfolio of building investments, hang on, meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

They were probably caricatures that I used to have in mind, but not any more.  There is a huge expat community here who are not from the western Hemisphere or eastern Europe, they are from the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines and smaller countries like Nepal. They do a whole range of jobs including IT, teaching, construction, engineering, shop work, cleaning, you name it.  They are the crucial links that keep the place running and they are economic migrants, but then maybe we're all economic migrants in some respects?  The difference is that some of us could have stayed at home and still had a pretty comfortable life style, not a choice that everyone has.

Most of this cohort is male and they've left their families at home, normally for two year stints, in order to provide for them and often an extended collection of relatives.  Ironic isn't it, in order to support your family you have to move away from them?  For many from the ISC (Indian Sub Continent) there are fewer options. Work at home for them is sporadic and very poorly paid or non-existent and if they don't work, they don't eat let alone find a comfortable place to live.

So they look for work abroad, many working outdoors for long periods in the summer heat.  These men often travel en-masse sponsored by a single employer.  They share the same accommodation, eat together - it's cheaper that way, play cricket, send money home, repeat for two years.  When you see them out and about they don't have the demeanour of an under class, quite the contrary, they have the posture of quiet confidence, emitting the air of someone is getting on with a job and earning money which is making a real difference to people thousands of miles away.  This is not a single gender effort, there are countless women doing the same thing.

This is what I've observed since we moved here, but it was bought to front and centre by what I saw at the airport.  I hadn't realised it was a hub for men arriving from Bangladesh before they take connecting flights all over the region.  On my outward journey I saw a large group, some of whom were clearly excited about their journey, others more reflective but all with a palpable sense of expectation.

On the return it was a different story.  Most were pushing trolleys laden with their belongings and packages which contained everything they had accumulated over their working stay.  Unfortunately virtually everybody had more than the one item of hold baggage and they all looked heavier than 20kg.  This is partly what was causing the traffic jam at check in and therefore the huge queues that were building up behind us.  Every time one of the passengers arrived at the check in desk there ensued an animated discussion with the staff, which I can only guess was centred around the amazing amount of packages they were trying to force across the scales.  These contained, amongst other things, gifts for the loved ones at home;  sunglasses, mobile phones and perfume seemed to be popular.  'Forget gold, frankincense and myrrh, they're so anno domini.  Bring us Ray Bans, Samsung and Chanel, real or fake we don't care, no-one can tell the difference these days'..  Some were being turned away to re-pack their loads or get rid of some weighty items, which they were trying to give to their friends who were already loaded to the gunwales themselves thus moving the problem further down the queue rather than away from it altogether.

As I wasn't in a rush - I couldn't go anywhere after all - I was just an interested observer in all this, all be it one that stood out like a sore thumb.  Apart from a dozen or so Emiratis trying to get on to the flight there was me and then the entire working male population of Dakar, although that may be an exaggeration.  It was one of my fairly regular Lawrence of Arabia moments where I definitely am not blending in with my surroundings no matter how hard I try.  Just as well I wasn't rushing, because the second reason behind the painfully long check in process was becoming apparent.  Whilst there was a semblance of a queue in the lead up to the desks, it disintegrated in to a melee at the head.  Other than the amount of luggage quandary, this was also partly due to people's enthusiasm to check in with their friends, particularly when their mate had made it to the front and they were still #32 in the other line. However the handling agent's staff were made of stern stuff and promptly sent them away, but place #32 had now been taken by someone else so they had to go to the back of the line again, consternation ensued.

When driving in England I was always surprised by the ill manners of the Company Representative, often in an Audi, who would skip down a line of cars who patiently queuing for roadworks or whatever, then try and cut in with an air of innocence that didn't quite whitewash what was clearly part of a premeditated 'I'm more important than you' endeavour.  I often mused as to what would happen if people did the same thing in a supermarket queue?  You know, walk down the side of it then edge in without making eye contact.  Now I know what happens, they get told to go away.  But with my co-travellers at the airport it wasn't bad manners, it was just the way they rolled.  There was no 'my journey is more important than yours' attitude, it was just 'ooh you've left a centimetre between you and the person in front, that's just enough space for me and my luggage'..

Then again, how many other nationalities are as obsessed with a queue as the British? Have you ever been in the line for a ski lift in France or Italy or at a bus stop in Holland? It's all elbows and survival of the fittest rather than 'after you madam'.  I'm sure some Brits would rather miss the train than throw themselves in to a wall of humanity and squeeze in to such close proximity with strangers.

Since when have Polaroid made TV's anyway?  Is it actually a television or just an enormous camera where the photos come out immediately on A3 paper, imagine the disappointment..
I say 'some' because I've just seen footage from the black Friday events in the UK.  I've never seen such a collective lack of dignity or decorum, all for a cut price big TV to watch the EastEnders Christmas special on, really??  How do people allow themselves to be slavishly influenced by big store marketing and the desire for pointless upgrading of something that I'm sure they already have?  Then to top it all, you have some of the customers filming their escapades on Go Pro's or mobile phones.  I'd like to see Go Pro use that in their marketing.  Normally their posters have surfers catching a perfect ride through the blue-green tube of a huge wave.  If instead it was a bloke in a puffa jacket falling as he leaps over four stumbling, avarice motivated sale seekers to get to a pile of boxed up electrical goods I'm not sure they would be so cool?

At least the men I was observing in the airport had a good excuse for their behaviour, it's just the way it is where they're from.  What are your excuses Black Friday shoppers or I guess you don't need one, perhaps it's just your view of society these days?  As Blur once commented 'Modern Life is Rubbish', I'd rather hoped that we still followed Sting's advice ' an Englishman should walk and never run', obviously not.

Maybe that's one reason why I like living in the Emirates?  In government offices ladies don't need to queue, that's just for men, women can go straight to the front of the line and if they need to wait they do so in their own, more comfortable area.  How civilised. If you want a big TV, a man from the shop will carry it out to the car for you, no need for any Kung Fu.  If it costs £20 more so what, it's not a deal breaker and your stress levels remain at Antarctic rather than volcanic, a heart attack would definitely be more expensive.

Chill out people, 'tis the season to be jolly, you don't need a new kitchen to cook a turkey (a food you don't eat any of the other 364 days of a year..), you will be able to buy a cheap sofa in January, the Vicar of Dibley looks the same on a 42" screen than it does on a 50" whopper.  This doesn't have to be 'the best Christmas ever' it can just be a really nice Christmas, much the same as last year and probably similar to the next one.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A whiter shade of pale.

Like most blokes these days, I'm a sucker for creams and lotions that promise to keep me from cracking up under the strain of the sun and other natural phenomenon, collectively determined to reduce my body to the appearance of dried corn flakes stuck to a an over-weight skeleton.  Don't get me wrong I've not gone down the whole 'Metro-sexual' route, I can still get in and out of the bathroom in fifteen minutes, but if you look at the shelf in there it does look like a research centre for the Laboratoires Garnier.

Naturally you have the shaving gel (not foam, it has to be gel), face cream, hand lotion, foot softener, hair gel (not really a cream), after shave (again, not really a cream..), sun cream (x2, winter and summer) and toothpaste.  Not too indulgent really?  I put it down to living in the middle east and the Baz Luhrmann song from 1999 Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen).  There is no doubt that sun + wind = dryness, hence the desert, so I feel obliged to protect myself at every opportunity.

Seeing I was running low on the face cream recently, my wife kindly offered to pick some up during a shopping trip.  I'm no slave to a brand, unless the brand is called 'Special offer' or 'Buy one get one free', I'm not even convinced that these various lotions are any different to each other, so she had free reign with regard to choice.

Upon her return I was initially confused as to why she had bought a diminutive tube of toothpaste?  Not wishing to complain, as let's be honest, if someone does you favour and buys something for you, saying 'it's not the right thing?' is a quick way of wearing the entire contents on your head, with immediate effect.  So I took a closer look, '10x whitening effect', must be toothpaste?  But no, it is face cream, designed to protect and lighten the skin, an entirely new concept to me.  

It does exactly what it says on the tin..
I should mention that when I'm filling out a form and I get to the bit at the end which asks 'This is not a compulsory question, but where are you from and what colour are you?', I tick 'White European'.  Becoming whiter was not on my to do list, in fact I'm aiming for the opposite.  Let me give you an example.  When we first got here we had to produce a bundle of passport style photos for various I.D. cards.  My wife was called in to the office and asked if she could get more photos of me looking 'a bit darker', as my white face was blending in with the white background?  You see my problem?

Moreover, we visit the beach most weekends and every time we see a host of tourists trying their hardest to change their white skin to brown, it had never occurred to me that some people may want to go the other way?  I always thought that whole Michael Jackson thing was a modern myth?  I appreciate that there is a host of products available to change the colour of your hair, but your face??

But fair (get it?!) enough, whatever floats your boat, but now a moral dilemma, do I use it, throw it away or give it to someone else?  It has been said that I am careful with money, I'm paraphrasing, I think the actual words were 'tighter than a duck's chuff', so throwing it away is not an option.  Difficult to give it to someone else without seeing the sub-text of 'he thinks I'm too brown, what a racist'..  So I'm using it, which explains my current translucent state.  A friend (you know who you are JK..) suggested that I use it on only one half of my face, so we can see a before and after effect, I say friend..

Besides, I'm not in possession of a colour chart showing me the different shades of white?   How would I know if I was 10x lighter, how does anyone know?  I've been using toothpaste which promises to make my teeth whiter in 15 days, but I've never checked to see if it's worked.  So I think I'm going to have to take it on the chin (oh there's another!) and buy some ordinary cream, or soon I'm going to be rocking the Elizabeth I look.  

Besides my skin is getting confused, 'whitening during the week, sunning himself at the weekend?  Make your mind up mate!'.

Friday, 10 October 2014

In search of the elusive unicorn..

We've just got back from a visit to a zoo, which is quite a common occurrence in our household.  Our five year old is animal crazy, so a visit to see some in a zoo is always high on her 'to do' list, which leaves me with a dilemma.  I've always been a bit of a conservationist so zoos give me a conundrum.  Having said that I can't claim to have any detailed knowledge of conservation.  For example it's beyond me how a country (no names, no pack drill) can have a whole fleet of ships for whaling, purely for scientific research?  What are they researching?  Other than '101 uses for blubber' it's difficult for an ignoramus like me to comprehend the scope of their studies?  If they want to find out how whales communicate or navigate the oceans with such accuracy I would have thought it best to do that while they're alive?  Ah, my naivety..

Giraffes, nature's way of pruning the top half of a tree.
Most zoos these days will have part of their website dedicated to telling you how much of a conscience they have, how they are the guardians of the world's species and the fact that the public is admitted to have a peek at the animals under their protection is a positive educational side effect on their conservation.  I see their point, there is no doubt that since mankind came to dominate the globe its ceaseless persecution of every other species has been shocking.  So much so that the only way to preserve some animals is to take them in to protective custody as such.  We have visited some zoos that do this very well and create an environment that is as near as realistically possible to the breed's natural habitat.  I say 'as near as possible' because there is only so much you can do to twin Cheshire with the jungles of Borneo.

However we have also visited some which fell more toward the cash cow option rather than towards the preservation aspect.  Rows of small cages containing primates that would far rather be swinging from tree to tree and terrariums that are devoid of any greenery, and in fact are of lesser length than the snake they contain, are not an edifying sight.  It's more reminiscent of Stalag Luft III from The Great Escape rather than the plains of the Serengeti from Born Free.  From the point of view of the customer, I can appreciate that if you've paid to see animals it's animals you want to see, not areas of greenery with rustling leaves where they move around freely out of your line of sight.  But small cages and the absence of any aspect of a habitat that facilitates natural behaviour seems so, well I guess Victorian.  Showing us a cheetah and saying how it can run at speeds up to 75mph is great, but they forget to add that in its compound, which is 20 meters square, it can only get to 15mph.  I would far rather they built it a home in the shape of a greyhound track and feed it by attaching lunch to the electric hare, now that would pull in a crowd. Ah, there speaks the Victorian in me.

Steve McQueen escaping from Stalag Luft III circa 1945, dressed as a resident from Malibu beach and riding a bike that wasn't built until 16 years after the event.  Still, accuracy isn't everything.  (I'm being sarcastic, obviously it is..)
But there are other dilemmas that visits to the zoo bring.  Our daughter's favourite animal is a unicorn, so we get the inevitable question while we are walking round, 'where are the unicorns'?  Naturally we do what any good parent does when confronted with a tricky question, we work out which lie is going to give us the least amount of grief later (after all good parenting is all about sincerity, if you can fake that you've got it made).  For example if we respond 'they have the day off',  then she'll suggest we come back tomorrow.  So rather than tell the truth and rain on her parade, we just explain that they don't like living in zoos.  She looks at the other animals and you can tell she's thinking 'I don't blame them'..

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Eid mubarak.

I was going to write a light hearted piece about shopping, but events in the news made this seem very light-hearted and trivial, so I'm changing tack.

We are fortunate to live in a very interesting place among people from a variety of nations and with an indigenous population who seem happy to share their space with the world.  I understand that there is a quid pro quo, but on the whole it seems to work, a win-win situation.  

However if an alien were to land and read the paper or watch the news they may think that the majority of the world is not like that.  They could think that most people are doing their utmost to ruin the lives of anybody who doesn't see things the same way as them and that it is the norm to act with great savagery and prejudice.  But to go away with that impression would be shame, as I believe the opposite is true.

I'm currently struggling to come up with one word to describe a group of people who are smaller than the smallest of minorities, is microcosm sufficient?  A group whose actions push them to the forefront of the news ahead of any features which concern work which is for the general good of mankind or encourages bonhomie, two areas that encapsulate the vast majority of human endeavour.

So my good news report is about a day of joy, as today is one of the Eid celebrations.  I'm not going to explain in detail the origins of the festival, mainly because I don't know much about it and I'm not about to re-cycle a load of information from Wikipedia, that you can look up yourself if you feel so inclined.  All I'm going to do is outline what I've gleaned from discussing it with people who celebrate the occasion.

In that respect it seems the same format as special days throughout the world, including time spent with family, special food and a day off work/school.  More recently it would appear that consumerism has begun to creep in but that is inevitable I guess?  If the big loser at Christmas time is the humble turkey, an animal that is left alone by the majority of people for the rest of the year yet eaten with abandon for one day only, the beast of choice over Eid is the sheep or goat, depending on who you ask.  As we live in a rural area, many local families still raise and despatch their own animals so there is still a direct connection with the source of their meal.

The turkey, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Big, slow and tasty, it's never forgiven the Founding Fathers or whoever it was who first sought out a regular supply of meat for a celebration in North America.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on looking good at the family gathering so new clothes are an important part of the preparation.  Elaborate collections of sweets are prepared by the local stores, sometimes to be given as gifts but always it seems shared with family and friends. Street decorations are evident but subtle and there are no noisy outdoor manifestations of celebration like we see on National Day.

It seems like an understated day of private gathering, sharing and of goodwill, messages which in my opinion should be on the front page of every newspaper and on every TV station.

I finish with a profound reflection from one of my students who is of the wise old age of 12 years:

Me:  'What do you think of Eid'?

Him:  'I don't like it, lots of old ladies come round the house and talk all day.  I have no-where to sit as they take all the chairs'.

Me:  'Who are these old ladies'?

Him:  'I have no idea'..

Well everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014