Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing more to be said

Spotted in a shop window in Harlem:

Rosa Parks sat

So that Martin Luther could walk

So that Barack Obama could run

So that our children could fly

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A knockout

Fifteen-year-old Mike Horton Jr is in no doubt about the importance of Barack Obama’s victory.
As we packed away the campaign leftovers – thousands of unused leaflets, boxes of marker pens and a bag of badges declaring “Catholics for Obama” - he turned to me and said: “You know, if Barack hadn’t knocked out McCain, if we had lost on Tuesday, we would have lost everything, everything.”
He then went on to set out a complicated boxing metaphor, involving, I think, Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney and a knockout in round thirteen. Holmes won, so I got the gist of what he was trying to say.
Winning on points was never going to be enough for Obama’s supporters, we had to win decisively, and on Tuesday night, at around 11.00 pm, only three short hours after the polls had closed in Pennsylvania, we got the knockout punch we wanted.
“ Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States of America,” announced MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, his voice shaking with emotion.
Olbermann, a former award-winning sports presenter, hosts Countdown, a nightly current affairs programme on a major cable news channel.
He loves Barack, hates the Republican Party, Fox News and hypocrites, and revels in his partisanship. I love him.
So does young Mike, but not as much as he loves Barack Obama. While most fifteen-year-olds spend their evenings and weekends instant messaging their friends, Mike has spent his free time working for an Obama victory.
Nine months ago he walked into the newly opened Obama campaign office in Bethlehem’s Main Street and signed up as a volunteer.
“Minorities have been overlooked in this country for too long,” he explained as we took down a poster bearing the legend “Hope”.
“We need change in health and education. I think the bad things that people do are just a symptom of how bad their lives are. Barack will change that.”
Mike’s high expectations are shared by millions of people across the USA, many of whom voted for the first time in this election.
In the 2004 Presidential election only 12 percent of the students at Bethlehem’s Lehigh University bothered to vote. This time 85 per cent voted.
Obama’s message of hope also mobilised African-American voters in a way never seen before. He won 95% of the black vote, compared to just 4% for Mr McCain.
And experts say his appeal to women – from all backgrounds - was one of the most important factors in his victory.
In his masterful speech early on Wednesday morning, President-elect Obama tried to dampen down the people’s expectations.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term…
There will be setbacks and false starts…and we know that government can't solve every problem.”
And with the news that unemployment has hit a 14 year high and that American’s iconic brand General Motors has posted a $2.5 BILLION loss in the last quarter, the road ahead will be long, and hard.
But for Mike, the future has never looked brighter.
He is the youngest of seven children, his mother is a single parent, and like many young men, he sometimes struggles to keep his cool.
But he has a dream.
“I want to go to Harvard Law School, then set up a non-profit, for kids like me. Somewhere they can get support, and I can help them succeed.”
Last week his dream was just that, a dream.
Today as Barack Obama, an African American man, the son of a single parent, gets ready to move into the White House, Mike knows his dream will come true.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Our shared destiny

The world changed yesterday - for good.
Barack Obama is not Superman. Poverty will not disappear overnight. Peace will not reign across the world by Christmas. And prejudice will continue to stalk our communities.
But we now have hope, hope that we can all make the world a better place. We can now believe that dreams do come true, and that change is possible.
All we have to do is make it happen.

President-elect Obama's words are much more eloquent than mine.
His acceptance speech last night was masterful...

...And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope...

Yes we can.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Change the world

With only 48 hours until the polls open at 7am on Tuesday morning the well oiled machine that is Pennsylvania for Change has sprung into action.
Our exhausted field officers, Ken, Katie and Ryan have organised teams of volunteers to knock on the door of every Obama supporter in Northampton County and remind them to get out to vote.
Door hangers exhorting voters to make their mark on November 4th are being hung on every front door, just in case someone, somewhere, has forgotten that Tuesday is decision day.
Supporters drop by with boxes of bran muffins and cheese crackers. Phones ring off the hook, literature piles up alongside Google maps of canvassing routes and Obama stickers and in a few hours time Caroline Kennedy, daughter of that most iconic of Presidents, Jack Kennedy will drop by to wish everyone good luck.
An air of quiet determination pervades the office. The polls still predict an Obama win in Pennsylvania, with the margin of victory ranging from seven to ten per cent, but nothing is being taken for granted.
The word victory doesn’t pass anyone’s lips. Memories of the 2000 election and those hanging chads that robbed Al Gore of victory are still too fresh in most Democrats’ minds.
“We are not going to let up until the polls close at 8pm, and if the campaign needs us, we will hit the phones out west, their polls don’t close until 11 pm our time” Ken tells us.
We all nod in agreement. We are here to do what we are told - all of us - from Rob, who works part time in a Bethlehem bookstore to Martha, a film technician from downtown New York.
Martha’s job is to co-ordinate the out of state volunteers. “Where do you think I should put this guy?” she asks. “He has a car, will work right through to election day and is happy to do anything.”
He ends up in the same area as me. I am in the Hellertown area that has some nine thousand voters. It is a socially mixed community, just like Edinburgh Pentlands where I cut my political teeth – blue collar workers in town and very large, very beautiful homes in the countryside surrounding it.
But just as the Labour Party in 1997 successfully targeted all voters, from hard-core supporters to disillusioned Tories, so Obama’s campaign has broad based appeal.
Last Tuesday morning I was lucky enough to hear him make his solemn promise to unite America at a rally in Chester, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
It was one of the wet, wet days, when the rain and wind chill you to the bone, but the thousands of people who stood cheerfully in line for two hours shrugged off the weather.
Young black teenagers in hoodies chatted, probably for the first time in their lives to middle-aged, middle class white women in North Face jackets, as together, we waited to hear the man who promises to change this country for good.
It was worth risking pneumonia.
He stood before us, bare-headed in the rain, his deep, rich voice resonating across the sports field as he wove his compelling story for change.
He ended with this call to action: “if you will stand with me, and fight with me, and give me your vote, then I promise you this – we will not just win Pennsylvania, we will not just win this election, but together, we will change this country and we will change the world.”
Senator John McCain was due to speak the same morning in Pennsylvania, but cancelled because of the rain. Think about it, who would you vote for?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election fever in Bethlehem

As we checked into the hotel, the receptionist asked what had brought us to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“We are here to help out in Barack Obama’s campaign,” I said, not quite sure what response I would get.
Back home, an admission of political activism is treated either with a bored “really?” or worse, down right hostility. I was in for a big surprise.
“Really ma’am, well let me give you a discount on your room. I hope you have a good time,” he said, grinning broadly.
Welcome to the United State of America, where the whole nation is gripped by the titanic battle between Senators Obama and McCain.
With only days to go to polling day, the pace is frenetic in Obama’s campaign office in Main Street.
Bethlehem is in Northampton County, a key district. The polls show Obama has a big lead in the state, but news that John McCain has decided to abandon several previously Republican states and try and grab Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral college votes has brought a new urgency to the campaign.
Nothing is being left to chance.
Volunteers are busy calling voters or knocking on doors to remind them to go out on vote on November 4th.
The three field officers, Ken, Ryan and Katie are organising their teams for the last big push which begins next Saturday.
“Get all the sleep you can,” Ken told us at a training session last night, “because next week, we aren’t going to go to bed.”
And throughout the day a steady stream of people pop in, looking for badges, t-shirts, yard signs, anything so they can show their support for the dream ticket of Obama-Biden.
I spent this morning with Marion, a great grandmother, collating canvassing packs, stuffing them full of leaflets explaining Obama’s plans for economic recovery.
With Wall Street in free fall, a recession looming, nothing else matters. This election is not about Sarah Palin’s wardrobe or McCain’s foreign policy experience. It is the economy, stupid.
Tomorrow I will hit the streets for the first time. Knocking doors usually holds no fears for me. My first election was in 1983 and over the years I have encountered everything, from dangerous dogs to naked men, even a few Tories. But I worry that my Scottish accent will confuse the good people of Bethlehem.
“Just speak slowly,” Ken advises me, so for the rest of the afternoon I am going to practice my script: “Hello, I am stopping by today because the election is just around the corner, and I want to do everything I can to earn your vote on behalf of Senator Obama.”
Doing everything I can has meant spending the last of my savings to fly out to the USA for three weeks to help elect the man I believe will change, not only the United States of America, but the world.
Not since 1997 has an election mattered so much.
If Obama wins, the USA will be able to hold its head high again, with a President who understands how the real world works. Not just because his mother was from Kansas and his father from Kenya and he went to school in Indonesia and Hawaii, but because his policies and values are what the world needs now.
My mother texted me this morning to ask if I would get to meet the candidate.
“No chance,” I replied, “but I don’t care, I am having the best experience of my life, and on 4 November, things really will start to get better.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Men's work

Julia looked sceptical, in a way only a wise nine year old can.
“Can I carry the water on my head?” I asked, pointing at the orange plastic bucket she had just filled with fresh water from Lake Malawi.
She spoke quickly in Chichewa to her friends, who all burst out laughing. The white mamma was going to carry water on her head. How funny. How very stupid.
With Julia’s help I manoeuvred the heavy bucket onto my head, and walking very slowly I managed a few shaky yards along the beach, then turned and made my way back, trying hard not to spill a drop while cursing the weak muscles in my upper arms, damaged by years of typing.
She laughed as she took the bucket back.
“Do the boys not work, help you carry water?” I asked Julia, knowing full well what her answer would be.
She looked even more sceptical. Was the white mamma really this stupid?
Again she translated for her friends, who laughed even louder at my eccentricity.
“Boys not carry water,” she replied. “They not work, they play,’’ as if this was the natural order of things – which it seems to be in large parts of Malawi.
Women and girls fetch water, sometimes carrying heavy buckets for miles.
Women and girls cultivate the land, growing food to feed their families.
They prepare the meals, clean the home, have babies, look after sick relatives, and of course, keep their menfolk happy in every way.
Men do work, but jobs in the formal economy are rare, so most wile away the daylight hours lounging under trees, playing boa, a traditional board game, drinking chibuku, a traditional beer, chewing the fat with their friends, content to let the womenfolk toil away in the African sun.
It is the natural order of things.
Al, one of the young Americans to whom we gave a lift yesterday, is particularly perturbed by this aspect of Malawian culture.
As a Peace Corps volunteer he lives in a village so witnesses this gender gap every day.
“I just don’t get it,” he says. “These strong men let the women do all the work, while they drink beer and play games.
“I tell the young boys my mother would be very angry if I treated her with such lack of respect.”
He is rightly proud of his efforts to persuade some of his younger friends in the village that carrying water is not women’s work.
“They watched me carrying water and asked why I didn’t have a wife to do it for me.
“I told them it was men’s work and made me strong. I showed them my muscles, so now I have a couple of them carrying water, so they can build up their muscles.
“But hey, I just don’t get the rest of the guys.”
A quick look at Malawi’s economic statistics explains why the rest of the guys spend their time hanging around. They make stark reading.
  • only 29% of the workforce are employed in activities other than subsistence farming 
  • a mere 11% receive wages or salaries, while 13% are self-employed 
  • just 8% work in private industry, with 3% each in manufacturing and construction 
  • only 7% are qualified to secondary school level and above, while 70% have no qualifications at all – four-fifths of the latter group are engaged in subsistence agriculture 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Village voices

Jack took the newspapers with a shy smile. “Thank you very much,” he said. “Here in the village we don’t get to see the newspapers every day, and I like my news.”
He sat back in his chair. “I lived in the city for over forty years, it is nice to be back home, it is quiet here, peaceful.”
Jack is 70, and lives in Kadaya, a village in the Thyolo district of Malawi. For decades he lived and worked as a welder in Blantyre, the country’s largest city.
He was a town man. But as old age approached, he and his wife decided it was time to return to their roots. Back to the village, where over fifty years ago, he had charmed her into marrying him against her family’s wishes.
“He was a very naughty boy when he was a teenager,” laughed Thoko, his daughter, as we drove past the luscious green tea plantations on our way to visit her parents.
“They met at the market place. Every Saturday someone would bring out a radiogram and play music. All the young people would dance, and relationships would start.”
This particular relationship resulted in eight children, seven girls and one boy.
“I educated all the girls,” Jack told me. “It was hard work, paying their school fees, but it was important to me.”
And to his country. Jack’s seven girls, now women, are all professional women working as nurses, teachers, or with NGOs such as Save the Children. All have stayed in Malawi, each making an invaluable contribution to their country’s development.
Jack was just about to tell us about the years he spent in Zimbabwe, “it was Rhodesia then of course”, when a small woman with a very loud voice burst through the open door.
“Hello mama,” she shouted. “I am Annie, I speak very good English, I can come and work for you. I am very good.”
“Eeeeh, this is my aunt,” laughed Thoko. “My mother’s sister.”
Annie took over.
Teaching me how to dance like a village woman.
“Move your hips like this,” she shouted, while grabbing hold of them.
Showing us her green maize.
“My garden is only a few minutes walk,” she promised. It took us half an hour to reach her plot of land, “only a few more yards,” she shouted every five minutes.
Introducing us to her many relatives.
“This is my eldest daughter, Miriam.
“My second son, Charles.”
“ My oldest aunt, Elizabeth.”
Telling us about her violent husband.
“He used to beat me. So I said enough, and left him. I came back to my village with my children, and then divorced him. He was not happy,” she laughed.
Admiring my ample backside.
“I want to be fat like you,” she exclaimed. “If you are fat, it means you are rich.”
She finally fell silent as we sat down to lunch, but only long enough to eat four portions of nsima and two pieces of chicken. Growing maize is hungry work.
“I am going to come to Scotland with you,” she announced as she polished off the last of the nsima.
“I will get fat there. I want to be fat.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The power of speech

The silent duo, Rijard and his brother Danny, drove us to the airport this morning for our flight back to Johannesburg, en route to Malawi.
“It is groundhog day,” I said to Nigel, as I buckled my seat belt.
We had just spent seven days with the two young men, as Rijard drove us across Madagascar and as far up the east coast as roads, and bridges, would allow.
Yet we knew nothing about them, except that they may be brothers, that Rijard is 29 and Danny thinks he is 26.
Rijard is single and Danny has two children, a three-year-old and a one-year-old.
Oh, and Danny has something to do with a patisserie.
We never did find out why Danny had come along on the trip. “Security”, explained Njara, the travel agent, but security against what we wondered as the most frightening things we encountered during our trip were a few mosquitoes and a couple of raw pizzas.
We tried hard to communicate with them, but we know only three words in Malagasy and we soon discovered our school French was of little use.
Rijard managed to tell me he couldn’t understand anything I said because of my thick Scottish accent and Nigel fared little better when he tried to engage him in conversation about football and lemurs.
His English was very basic. His cheery “fine?” each morning meant “did you have a good night’s sleep”.
“Money for bed” meant he needed more cash for a hotel room so he too could have a good night’s sleep.
Occasionally he would point out something of interest: “sea” as we passed the Indian Ocean ;“national park” as we drew up at the entrance to Andisabe; Madagascar’s most popular reserve and “thank you” when Nigel gave him more cash, but for the most of our time together there was silence.
It was an unproductive silence as I was desperate to ask Rijard questions about his beautiful country.
Many of them may seem like silly, even pointless questions, such as “what time do the shops usually open in the morning?” and “do Malagasy men help out with housework?”
My particular favourite, after seven days of Rijard dodging large lorries and over-taking on blind corners was: “why do Malagasy men drive so recklessly?”
Facetious maybe, but it is exactly this kind of trivia that helps me get a feel for a country.
I can turn to a guide book for the hard facts about a country’s flora, fauna and visitor attractions, but I want to know more - what makes people tick? What they think of their government? What is the most popular TV programme?  Their favourite tipple?
I will be forever grateful to Peter Potani, who, three years ago, greeted me off a plane to Malawi, on my first ever trip to his country and Africa.
He took a few days to adjust to my informality and constant stream of questions, but by the end of the week he had taught me more about his country’s language, culture and customs than any number of FCO briefings or guide books.
During the course of that first week we also became firm friends, a friendship that has strengthened with each visit to Malawi.
In two weeks time Nigel and I are going to his wedding. He and his partner Debra are now a part of our lives, our family in Malawi, and all because we shared a language.
Never underestimate the power of speech.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Almost a bridge too far

As we turned yet another corner on the long, and very winding road to Foulpointe on the east coast of Madagascar, we had to swerve to avoid a single file of six lorries, all bearing the legend THB.
“That is a helluva lot of beer,” I laughed. THB stands for Three Horses Beer, Madagascar’s favourite tipple. It is a pleasant lager, very welcome on a hot day, or when the red wine is so terrible it is undrinkable, even by our standards.
We soon found out why the lorries were stationary. The middle of the pontoon bridge, the only access across the river, was submerged in a foot of water.
A gaggle of men, watched by a horde of small boys, was attempting to refloat the sunken sections, but they didn’t seem to be having much success.
The river looked impassable.
“Nous returnons a une autre hotel,” Nigel said in very bad French. Our driver, young Rijard and his silent companion, Danny, decided otherwise.
“Non, non,” replied Rijard as he edged the car forward, ignoring exhortations by us, and the small group of lorry drivers by the bank, to stay put.
He stopped by the river bank.
“What do we do now?” I asked, of no-one in particular, which is why I probably got no response.
I waited, patiently, for at least ten seconds, then jumped out of the car and on to the pontoon.
It was made up of large sections, which together, were obviously strong enough to support the steady stream of traffic that made its way daily to the beach resorts. 
The middle section however had recently sunk at least a foot into the filthy river and as I approached I could see two men struggling to refloat it with a long hose attached to an engine.
I turned back to tell Rijard that the bridge was definitely impassable for now, only to see Nigel and Danny come towards me, ahead of Rijard who was driving the car on to the pontoon.
“Non, non,” I cried, in vain. He drove on, stubbornly refusing to even acknowledge me, and before I could roll up my trousers to wade across, he was on the other side, followed quickly by a string of taxi-brousses (Madagascar mini-buses) and saloon cars.
I took off my sandals and plunged into the submerged section of the bridge. The water was dirty grey, very dirty grey, thick with unidentified vegetation and no doubt human and animal faeces and urine, but at least it wasn’t cold.
My paddle across was accompanied by shrieks of laughter from small boys, who obviously found it amusing that the vahuza (white person) was getting her feet wet.
I felt a rather exaggerated sense of triumph as I landed on the other side where I waited for Nigel, and the still silent Danny. They had taken what I considered to be the more dangerous route and had walked along the edge of the pontoon.
Rijard shrugged off our compliments on his driving skills. “It is twenty kilometres to Foulpointe,” he said with a new authority, clearly pleased that he had got us safely across the river.
I settled back to enjoy the last few miles when my right leg started to itch. “Oh my god, I have bilharzia,” I said, grabbing the guide book to check the symptoms of this “nasty and debilitating disease” caused by parasitical pond snail, which worms it way under its victims skin.
“I am sure you haven’t,” said Nigel, who is used to my daily announcements of impending sickness and death. Yesterday I had malaria, tomorrow I will have heart failure, today it is bilharzia.
As I bent down to scratch the itch, three large spots appeared. “I have been bitten,” I said, stating the obvious. 
“See I told you I had bilharzia,” quietly satisfied that I was suffering from a near fatal tropical disease. Either that, or an insect bite.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A slow train to Durban

As we boarded the train to Durban we looked in horror at our “coupe” for two. This tiny compartment was to be our home for the next two days, and while we weren’t expecting the Orient Express, this claustrophobic space, with barely enough room for our luggage, let alone my fat bum, was far too small for comfort.
“I can’t stay in this,” I shrieked, and for once the usually calm Nigel shared my concerns.
“You are right, we can’t spend 48 hours in here, we would kill each other,” he said cheerfully as he went off in search of someone in charge.
Just as the train was about to set off he tracked down the deputy manager. He was very reassuring.
“Of course madame, sir, I can see there is no room for you. I think I will be able to get you bigger carriage, but it will not be easy, no it will not be easy.”
Quick translation: “The train is half empty madame, there are plenty of bigger carriages but I will make you sweat a little bit, so that my tip will be even more generous once I move you.”
And so it came to pass. After moving us to one of the many empty four-berth compartments, he disappeared, returning thirty minutes later with a sombre tale about how he was having difficulty pacifying the passenger who had, allegedly, booked the very compartment in which we were now comfortably settled.
“I told him you needed it more than he did,” he grimaced. “I am sure he will calm down by the time we get to Durban”. Nigel looked worried.
“Should we pay you just now for an upgrade, will that help?” I asked, not-so innocently.
Mr Deputy Manager smiled yes. Nigel passed him 200 Rand, the maximum sum we had agreed earlier we would pay for the privilege of not suffocating.
Mr Deputy Manager quickly pocketed the cash and gave me a cheerful thumbs up.
“Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you madame,” he smiled as he closed the door. We never saw him again, nor did we need to.
Shosholoza Meyl's Trans-Oranje train from Cape Town to Durban is not nearly as luxurious as the famous Blue Train, but it is very comfortable and very good value for money. A one way tourist ticket is around £35.
We had brought along two bottles of South African Pinotage - £2.50 each from Woolworths, M&S’s South African cousin - to accompany the rather basic, but adequate, on-board meals.
We also had three bars of Lindt chocolate, some fruit and a few good books to satisfy all our appetites, so snug in our vivid purple bunks we sat back and enjoyed the South African countryside as it rolled past.
At night we were lulled to sleep by the movement of the train, and in the morning we enjoyed a hot shower while watching the sunrise over the plains.
Our journey took us through the arid desert of the Karoo, past the De Beers Diamond mine in Kimberley, across the Orange Free State via Bloemfontein and into Natal.
We passed the spot near Estcourt where in 1899 young war correspondent Winston Churchill was taken prisoner by the Boers and stopped at Pietermaritzburg the station where Mahatma Ghandi was thrown off a train in 1893
When we reached Durban we disembarked reluctantly, but refreshed and ready for the next leg – the mysteries of Madagascar - but first a night by the magnificent Indian Ocean lay ahead.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Mother City

Cape Town is a revelation, or as much as it can be after three days in my sick bed with a chest infection, caught no doubt on a plane. Not to mention the ferocious storms that battered the city for most of our short stay – the worst in seven years according to the media.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect of the Mother City, so called because it is where European got their first toe-hold in Africa; lots of white millionaire ex-pats I think, and there are certainly plenty of those.
On the drive to Cape Point we passed scores of very expensive, heavily secured homes, were passed several times by very impatient Porsche drivers and gaped in awe at the scores of (white) surfers who, on a wet Monday afternoon, clearly had little to do with their time but fling themselves at the mercy of the Atlantic sea.
But the city is much more than a playground for rich, white folks.
It is a lively cosmopolitan place, with high-rise Art Deco buildings that would look at home in New York, great restaurants and a stunning waterfront. Eating moules and frites while watching lumbering seals enjoy a Sunday afternoon snooze was definitely a highlight of our stay.
Others were the penguins at Boulders Bay; standing at Cape Point, which seemed for a moment like the end of the world and enjoying tapas at Fork – twice.
But this is also a city with a past, and a challenging future.
We tried three times to make the trip to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, but failed because of the bad weather.
There is a modest, but heart-breaking museum near the national parliament which tells the terrible story of the forced removal of the residents of District Six to shanty towns outside the city centre. 
One of its exhibits is a park bench that bears the sign: Europeans Only. This ordinary piece of street furniture is a haunting reminder of the capacity of ordinary humans to do evil.
And there is mile after mile of poor suburbs, where the vast majority of Cape Town residents live in homes that are often nothing more than tin shacks.
It will be a long time before all South Africans will share in the wealth that is so conspicuous in this beautiful city, but that day will come. It has to.
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is a protection of a fundamental right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In search of the big five

The friendly South African couple looked perplexed.
“You are touring southern Africa, but you are not going on safari?” asked the astonished husband.
“I came to meet people, not see animals,” was my glib, but honest response. “But if I bump into an elephant I will be sure to say hello.”
Nigel on the other hand had a hankering to see at least one of the big five – though we had to admit that we weren’t really sure what constituted the big five.
“Lion, rhino, hippo, elephant and giraffe?” speculated my husband.
“Not sure, but are we really going to spend £1000 we don’t have on three nights in a luxury tent in the bush so you can pretend to be David Attenborough?”
“I suppose not,” was his muted reply, but I could tell he really wanted to see at least one big animal.
As it turned out our first sighting was purely by accident. We were on our way to Mukuni village, on the outskirts of Livingstone, when I saw three elephants by the side of the road, enjoying a late lunch.
“Oh, there are some elephants,” I thought, as if spotting elephants on the roadside was a daily occurrence.
“Oh my god, there are elephants, look Nigel elephants…oh my god, they are huge,” I screamed when I fully realised what I was looking at.
Nigel was ecstatic, and I have to admit I was rather taken with the lumbering beasts.
Walter, our guide (more from him later) explained that they had probably wandered over from Livingstone’s small game reserve, or even Chobe National Park in Botswana.
“They eat all day, every day,” he said. “There are so many elephants in Chobe that they have eaten all the trees, so some come cross the border to feed.”
We were so taken with our accidental encounter with the biggest of the big five that we signed up for Walter’s game drive the very next day.
The fact that it was only $90 for two people and ten minutes drive from our guesthouse also helped make up our mind.
“And I have always wanted to see a giraffe,” said Nigel, revealing a deep desire he had managed to keep hidden until now.
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is tiny compared to reserves such as the Serengeti in Tanzania but it was big enough for us.
We soon forgot the early morning cold as we gazed in wonder at a solitary old elephant demolishing a bunch of saplings, laughed at the baby baboons baring their backsides and speculated on whether warthogs are uglier than wildebeest.
Groups of graceful impala rushed everywhere, cheeky ververt monkeys provided us with a floorshow around every corner and Nigel couldn’t resist shouting “zebra crossing” when one wandered across the path in front of us.
And there were giraffes. We watched mesmerised as the ungainly, dinosaur-like creatures lumbered across the ground in search of more trees to chew on. Even I was impressed. Nigel was ecstatic.
We didn’t spot the park’s remaining rhino – poachers had killed its companions last year and our only sighting of hippos was the top of some heads as they floated in the Zambezi river.
But that didn’t matter. We had seen a giraffe enjoy its breakfast. 

PS The big five are, according to my Google search, the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. One out of five ain't that bad...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Simai Faki Simai

Mr Simai Faki Simai is a taxi driver extraordinaire. In the hour it took for him to drive us from Stone Town to the east coast of Zanzibar he managed to give us a full briefing on the island’s political history, a run down on its agricultural industry and for good measure throw in some juicy gossip about organised crime – mostly run by Italians according to him.
By the time we got to Paje we felt we had known him for years, so we were relieved when he said our hotel was “very good”.
It turned out he was only being polite. When he arrived to pick us up after our four-day chill out by the Indian Ocean, he whispered: “how was your hotel?”
“Not so good,” shrugged Nigel.
“Yes, yes,” responded Simai cheerfully. “It is bad hotel, you would have much better staying at the Beach Bungalows next door. This one has too many Italians, sometimes they wear nothing on the beaches.
“We have to hide our eyes,” he ended with a flourish and a grin.
“But why didn’t you tell us it was bad?” I asked, somewhat surprised at his reticence, given that he had told us everything about his island, his family and a few other things beside.
“You told me I had a reservation,” he said sadly, “I thought it was too late to change it.”
And he was right. We were mugged for 360 dollars for four nights accommodation as soon as checked in, so we were forced to stay put, stranded in the midst of a gaggle of noisy beach bunnies, served by staff who couldn’t care less and kept awake by DJ Marvin Gaye Junior. Great name, terrible play list.
But the surrounding scenery more than compensated for the shortcomings of our “funky” beach resort.
The East coast of Zanzibar is so beautiful it stunned me into silence. There are no adjectives to describe the shades of blue in the sea, colour that is alive. The sand is white, so white it burns your eyes and nature’s final flourish are the tall palm trees which fringe the coast and provide a modicum of shade in the midday sunshine.
But even beauty palls after a while and we were mightily relieved to return to the calm oasis of the Abuso Inn in Stone Town.
As we headed into the town, the island’s only fire engine went screaming past us.
“By the time it is filled with water, it is always too late,” said Simai solemnly. “I wonder where it is going?”
The Paje Beach Bungalows, we later discovered. Five minutes after we left our hotel, next door to the bungalows, they caught fire and were razed to the ground.
As we headed out for our final morning coffee before leaving Zanzibar, Simai appeared from nowhere.
“I wanted to say goodbye,” he said breathlessly. “Thank you for coming to our island, and I hope to see you again soon.”
And thank you Simai, for showing us your beautiful island. And for the green coconut milk. It really does “clean out your kidneys”.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Zanzibar siesta

Time has suddenly stood still. I am in Zanzibar, the spice island. I had not planned to visit here when I started this adventure, yet I am now loath to leave it.
So much so that our week long stay has slid into a second week. We spend our days wandering round the alleys of Stone Town, stopping for coffee – wonderful coffee – and to stare at the amazing buildings, all 1700 of them, that were build by at the height of the island’s trading power in the late 19th century.
At night we eat fresh fish and drink passable but expensive red wine before falling into a deep sleep, enlivened by vivid Malarone induced dreams.
I have started dressing like a 21st century hippy, floppy trousers, flip flops and beads. I have stopped blow drying my hair and no longer get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t check the BBC and Scotsman news pages every day.
Even when I do log on, it takes so long for a website to open that by the time the headlines show up, I am already bored. Scotland seems a very long way away.
And yet it is not. I am sitting in a beach side bar, facing the Indian Ocean. It serves great food, good coffee and has free wifi. It is also the exact spot where David Livingstone’s body lay while waiting for a ship to take him home for the final time.
Tomorrow we head to the island’s east coast. I may be gone for some time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy birthday Mr Senator

Happy birthday Senator Obama, - forty-seven today. Let’s hope he celebrates his forty-eighth birthday in the White House.
I was amused to read that John McCain and his mongrel attack dogs are attacking Senagtor Obama for being the world’s biggest celebrity.
Given that his staff put Britney Spears and Paris Hilton at number two and three respectively, I think we can safely assume that McCain’s assertion that Obama is number one is nothing more than the political panic of a desperate old man.
Everyone knows that Madonna is the world’s biggest celebrity, and that Paris Hilton is only famous in the over-heated world of celebrity magazines. Even there she is running well behind silly Sienna Miller and her tangled love life.
Senator Obama is huge in Africa however – and for all the right reasons.
“Obama, he’s in my blood sister”, a young Tanzanian man greeted me the other day when he spotted my limited edition Scotland for Obama t-shirt.
A Swahili magazine charting his rise to global prominence has just hit the streets of Dar Es Salaam and the newspapers in Malawi and Tanzania carry stories of Obama’s campaign every day.
The prospect of a son of Africa becoming the President of the United States of America has energised this continent, just as it has excited the rest of the world.
Sorry Mr McCain, but we all want someone who understands the world as it is, not as it was, nor as it is viewed by the readers of People magazine.

Foodie heaven

A few months ago I would happily spend a three figure sum in Waitrose every Saturday afternoon, then go back to the nearest Marks and Spencer food-hall on Tuesday evening to forage for treats, as there was “nothing” in the fridge for dinner.
I admit that much of our supermarket bill was wine – decent Fair-trade red for weeknights and a bottle, or several, from the fine wine section for the weekend, but even taking into account our alcohol habit, we spent an obscene amount of money on food.
But organic baby plum tomatoes, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and fresh Parmesan are now tastes and textures from a different world.
Since coming to southern Africa we have dined almost every night on chips, cheese omelet and “cut” tomatoes. If we are feeling adventurous we will sometimes opt for a Spanish omelet and have even been known to splash out on vegetarian spaghetti, but most nights it is cheese omelet and chips for two.
Our staple meal is washed down with a glass - or two - from whatever box of South African red is available, and followed not by a Gu chocolate pot, but by either a Bounty or bar of Dairy Milk. Both are made in Kenya - like many of the products on the fancier supermarket shelves.
We start the day with toast, honey and indifferent coffee and for lunch we usually have…chips.
We are drinking far too many bottles of Coke and Fanta, have re-discovered our taste for salt – how on earth did I ever eat chips without salt – and have realised that life doesn’t come to an end if we don’t have our daily fix of Green and Blacks.
Far from feeling deprived, food has once again become a necessity rather than self-indulgence. A treat now is not a night at Martin Wishart’s eating rhubarb foam, but an in-season, unadorned avocado from a street market.
However, this might all be about to change because on Wednesday we leave for a few days in Zanzibar, the spice island.
I hadn’t realised, or more likely I had forgotten that Zanzibar is also the birthplace of Freddie Mercury. According to our guidebook, Freddie guides the menu at Mercury’s bar and restaurant in Stone Town from his dressing room in heaven.
Mama mia, mama mia, let me go...omelet and chips a la Freddie. Not even Anthony Worrall Thomson could dream that up.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hello sister

I love cities, even untidy, half-finished, sprawling ones, and Dar es Salaam is certainly not neat.
Nor is it the capital of Tanzania as I thought, which just shows how ignorant I am of African political geography. That responsibility lies with Dodoma, which became the country’s official capital when the national Parliament moved there in 1996.
According to my very useful Bradt guide book, Dodoma was mooted as the capital as far back as 1959 for the undeniably equitable reason that it was the country’s most centrally located large town.
But political logic alone does not make a capital city, people and geography play a big role, and Dar retains the buzz and energy of the capital city it was before losing out to modest Domodo.
I write this from the tenth floor of a hotel that has floor length windows offering views of the Indian Ocean, although the workmen building a high rise block a few yards from my window keep distracting me.
No, I am not having a Diet Pepsi moment, I am simply amazed that none have yet fallen to their certain death, so careless are they of their personal safety.
Our studio is so large I can hide my stash of Mars Bars from Nigel without fear of him confiscating them, there is a cream leather chaise longue which wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Manhattan, as well as broadband, BBC Prime and of course the aforementioned views of the Indian Ocean.
We are only here for three nights and went off budget as a mid-adventure treat to ourselves. Come Friday, and our trip to Moshi in the north,  and we will be back in the “moderate” range of hotels and hostels – but until then I am going to enjoy every marble tiled moment of 0ur Harbour View executive suite.
And that means cooking meals instead of eating out in indifferent restaurants.
The city’s fruit market is just a few streets away from our hotel and this morning I stocked up on life’s essentials including red ripe tomatoes, tiny baby aubergines and avocados so large – and ripe - they are almost unrecognizable to someone used to buying tiny ones which defiantly refuse to ripen no matter how much I coax them.
Tonight we are dining on fresh bean soup, feta and tomato salad and bread, followed by fresh fruit. Actually I will probably skip the fresh fruit and have a Mars Bar, but you get my drift.
The fruit market is like the city, at first glance it looks quite chaotic, but is actually as efficiently organised as any major supermarket, and a lot more cheerful.
Stall holders smiled when I declined their offer of bunches of greens, cassava roots and large bags of potatoes. They were happy for me to pick through their produce, taste the herbs and local spinach, and they all grinned at my attempts to speak Swahili.
“Jambo, jambo,” I cried at every stall. I concluded every purchase with an effusive “asanti sana, asanti sana” and was touched when I was greeted in return as sister and not madame.
There is no more uncomfortable salutation than an African man or woman calling a white woman Madame. It stinks of colonialism and bestows a status that none of us deserves. I hate it. Sister, on the other hand, is a greeting between equals.
Tomorrow I plan to extend my vocabulary beyond hello and thank you very much - brother seems a good place to start.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Gossip in paradise

The first leg of our southern Africa tour is almost at an end. On Sunday afternoon we leave Malawi and fly to Dar es Salaam where we will explore some of the many delights Tanzania has to offer.
“Are you going to climb the mountain?” asked my friend Thoko when I told her we were planning to visit Kilimanjaro.
I laughed, the steep hill from her house in the Chilomono area of Blantyre leaves me breathless. Climbing Africa’s highest mountain was never in our plans. Looking at it, now that is a different matter.
Then we are off to Zanzibar and for some reason I can’t get Bob Hope and Bing Crosby out of my mind. For those readers who are slightly younger than I, Hope and Crosby were Holywood royalty in the olden days.
Think George Clooney and Brad Pitt, only uglier but funnier. They made a series of movies called The Road to…, Zanzibar is the only one I can remember.
But before we leave the warm heart of Africa we are enjoying a weekend at the lake, this time near Mangochi.
What is left to say about Lake Malawi that hasn’t been said before, many times? 
Sparkling clean sand, gently lapping waves, blue skies, warm sun, friendly vervet monkeys, sea eagles swooping overhead…paradise.
And gossip too. Malawi is agog at the story of a senior banking executive who has been enjoying a torrid extramarital affair with an accountant who works for an internationally renowned firm. Her husband also happens to be a prominent lawyer.
The chap stored some 47 compromising pictures of him and his lover on his business laptop. The said laptop was then put in for repair. You can guess what happened next.
Yes, someone copied the images on to a DVD and distributed around Blantyre. Before you could say Oswald Mosley, the banker and his girlfriend were the talk of the town.
Fast forward a few days and the poor couple are charged with acting in, and the distribution of, pornographic material.
His life, and that of his lover, lie in ruins.
And as if the prospect of a notorious court case was not sufficient punishment for being, quite frankly, stupid, according to Thoko, the photographs reveal that the poor chap in question has “a stout belly and a small member”. His humiliation is complete.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mais non, this is Africa

I am easily seduced. The website for the Hostellerie de France promised a wine list that wouldn’t be out of place in central Paris, let alone downtown Blantyre – that is Blantyre, Malawi, not Blantyre, Lanarkshire.
Nigel was more impressed by the room rate, which was well under our too-tight budget and so we booked a studio, complete, said the website with a kitchen and private garden.
Why, oh why do I believe hotel websites. Sure, the wine list was real, but its author Jean Michel and his wife must have drank dry it a few years back because all we were offered was chilled, yes, chilled red wine served in brandy glasses.
The studio apartment was big enough, but the kitchen consisted of a two-ring hot plate, a bashed frying pan and a few mismatched glasses.
The shower only worked on alternative days and the private garden was a shared strip of geraniums, which the huge Alsatian guard dog used as his own private parade ground.
Don’t get me wrong. I know Malawi. I don’t expect the Ritz. The electricity supply can be erratic. Water is a precious commodity, so needs to be used carefully, and who needs expensive red wine when there is Kuche Kuche.
But Jean Michel’s whining response to our complaints: “mais madame, this eez Africa, nothing works” was baloney, as well as insulting to his adopted country.
The shower didn’t work because he had skimped on the plumbing. The so-called kitchen had been bought on the cheap and the wine list was nothing more than a cruel trick to persuade suckers like me to give him my hard earned cash to fund his retirement in the sun.
This is not Africa, this is a cheeky Frenchman, which is why I am now sitting in the Malawian-owned and run Mount Soche, eating home-made cake, drinking Mzuzu coffee and savouring a view to die for.
Jean Michel, this eez Africa.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A banking miracle

As the cash machine swallowed our one and only credit card I stood transfixed.
No card, no cash was all I could think. All we had left were a few hundred kwacha (latest exchange rate is around 280 kwacha to the pound), a Maestro card that is worse than useless in Malawi and forty euros left over from our European tour.
The bank had just closed its doors, it was Friday afternoon and we were due to travel to Blantyre at 7.00 am the next morning.
My panic got worse. No credit card meant we had no way of paying our hotel bill. How would we pay for meals? It was 3.15 pm and we hadn’t even had lunch yet. Now the prospect of dinner was receding as fast as my pulse was racing.
“What happened?” asked Nigel, clearly trying hard not to panic.
“A message came up about the card reader or something, then our card disappeared,” I said.
I ignored him when he asked what that meant. How would I know, I can’t even balance the cash in my purse.
Then I saw it.
A notice next to the cash machine which read: If you have technical difficulties with this ATM please call the National Bank of Malawi on 01831485.
So I did.
“How can I help you madame,” asked Tanya. I explained what happened.
“Oh, so your card was captured. Where are you now?” she asked.
“Standing outside the front door of the bank,” I said.
“Let me call you back shortly, I will get this fixed,” she said cheerfully and hung up.
Nigel looked at me. I looked at him. “What are the chances of getting our card back?” he asked.
“None”, I said, “it was a call centre”.
Then a miracle happened. The bank door opened, we were ushered inside and told to wait for the manager. Note the manager of the capital city’s biggest branch. Not a teller, or a salesperson, or the cleaner. The manager.
He appeared, laughing. “I have had a call from our call centre in Blantyre. Your card is stuck in our machine. Let me get it out for you.”
He called an assistant and she cheerfully extracted our wayward credit card from the back of the machine.
“Thank you so much, zikomo kambiri, zikomo, zikomo,” I spluttered.
Now we could eat and pay our hotel bill. We may even have a Malawi gin or two.
As our taxi approached the hotel, my mobile phone rang. It was Tanya.
“Hello, I was just checking you got your card okay, and have a good weekend,” she said cheerfully.
A call centre that called back. I was stunned into silence.
Sir Fred Goodwin et al please note.
A bank that helps its customers instead of trying to sell them financial products they don’t need and usually can’t afford. What a novel idea.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

We are family

It took three-year-old Bill Potani – a city boy - three times before he dared stick his big toe in Lake Malawi.
Clutching his father’s hand tightly he took a shaky step towards the surf, then another, and then finally stood with both feet planted firmly in the sand as the waves swirled over him.
“That’s it, that’s it,” he cried in triumph as he beckoned the waves towards him.
All fear now gone in the excitement of the water, he took some persuasion to leave the lake an hour later as the sun began to go down and the wind grow stronger.
It is wintertime in Malawi, which is not quite the same as Scotland. The temperature during the day is around 25 degrees, though it does get colder at night. It can rain, and often without warning a wind will whip up, blowing the leaves off the trees and tiles off roofs.
But as this is an African winter a day at the beach is a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday.
Senga Bay, where we spent the weekend, is an hour and half drive from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. We went with our good friends, Peter and Debra and their two children Lindy and Bill, and passed the time walking on the beach, sharing photographs and memories and drinking Kuche Kuche and Cherry Plum.
The only low point came when little Bill threw up his Fanta orange all over the dinner table, but a quick wipe down and he was tucking into his egg and chips as if nothing had happened.
On the way home we debated the root of Senga Bay. Peter insists it is not a Chichewa word, or even Angoni - his tribe, so the most likely explanation we could come up with it was that this most beautiful of bays was named after some long dead missionary’s wife from Scotland.
I hope it is true, because if it is, then that Scottish woman unknowingly helped cement a friendship between our two countries which still flourishes today, thanks in particular to the efforts of Scotland’s longest serving First Minister Jack McConnell.
Once we had tired of speculating about Senga and her bay, we turned to beer. Peter, whose favourite tipple is a Special – a considerably weaker version of the Carlsberg Special sold in Scotland, as he discovered to his cost two years ago when he spent a fortnight with us in Edinburgh.
He pointed out an advert for Chibuku – “The People’s Choice”.
“It is brewed from maize,” he explained. “And you can’t buy it in shops, only in taverns.”
“The name comes from the world buku – book. When men have no cash, they would go to the bottlestore and ask for a beer, and it would be entered into the buku. Chibuku means big book.”
“A slate,” I cried, “It is the same in Scotland”.
And we settled back to listen to the Black Missionaries and Robbie Williams as we sped home to Lilongwe, content in each other’s silent company.
Two countries, separated by five thousand miles and a global economy that favours the north, but in the things that matter, we are family.

We can end poverty

There are times, when I am sitting by the pool in the Lilongwe Hotel, lounging on their vintage 1960s pool chairs and watching the sun ripple across the water’s surface, that I forget I am in the capital city of one of the world’s poorest countries.
But as soon as you step outside, on to the streets of Lilongwe’s old town, the scale of Malawi’s development challenges becomes all too clear.
A young man crawling along the ground with his hands in flip-flops, his under-developed legs flap uselessly behind him.
An old woman, her face ravaged by poverty, begs silently for pennies by the front door of the supermarket.
The street children are more vocal in their requests. “Help Mamma,” “Money boss”, “Mammie”, their hands outstretched, their dark brown eyes challenging you to ignore them.
Leave the city behind and deep in the country, where the majority of the country’s 12 million (and counting) people live, and you will witness an existence that has changed little in centuries. Families struggling to eke out a living growing maize for nsima, Malawi’s national dish, while coping with malaria, HIV/Aids, dirty water, cholera…whatever nasty surprise nature can throw at them.
But Malawi is not a poor country, it has one of the world’s most beautiful natural landscapes, with the magnificent Lake Malawi at its heart.
Rains permitting, it is a fertile land, where aubergines, bananas, tomatoes and greens grow without really trying.
And its citizens are energetic, optimistic and above all else, resilient.
It is its economy that is poor, that is struggling to grow in a global market where the selfish interests of the north are enshrined in treaties and emerging economies such as China forge ahead with a relentless ambition last seen in the hey day of the British Empire.
The government of Malawi has made great strides in the last three years to grow the economy, and the slogan for the recent Independence Day celebrations showcases the country’s ambitions: Building a Nation of Achievers.
But Malawi will not succeed on its own, just as the UK, or China, or France cannot succeed on their own.
We are all in this together.

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that),
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree an a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That man to man, the world, o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

And if Robert Burns hasn’t convinced you, read Jeffrey Sachs. His books, The End of Poverty and The Common Wealth are just plain common sense – a rare and precious commodity among economists, development experts and politicians.
For starters try the lecture he gave in Edinburgh last May. 
We can end poverty if we want, we just need to want enough.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


After twenty four hours travelling – nine of those spent squashed in the back of a plane with a horde of girls from Mallory Towers on their way to a safari camp in Tanzania – we landed in Malawi around lunchtime on Sunday.
As the plane shuddered to a halt I felt tears starting to gather – not of relief, though I was damn glad to be finally at our destination, but through the sheer joy of being back in this small, landlocked African nation.
Three years ago I knew almost nothing of Malawi, save that its erstwhile President, Dr Hastings Banda, had been educated in Scotland and that Dr David Livingstone had been the first European to travel there.
Six trips, seven if you count this one, later and I feel at home here. I have made precious friendships, learned a few words of the language and am beginning to understand the immense development challenges facing a country, where the majority of its citizens exist on less than a dollar a day.
Since my first visit, I have struggled to understand what made me fall in love with Malawi, for that is exactly what my relationship with this country feels like.
Yes, it has beautiful landscapes – from the cloud covered Mulanje mountain in the south to the stunning northern shores of Lake Malawi, one of Africa’s largest freshwater lakes.
Its citizens have a deserved reputation for being among the friendliest people in sub-Saharan Africa – hence its name, the Warm Heart of Africa. Or Africa for Beginners as some more cynical travel writers have dubbed it.


There is almost a spiritual quality to the place. This has nothing to do with the thousands of churches and mosques that are scattered across the country, often no bigger than a garden shed. Nor the fact that almost everyone believes in God, or Allah.
“What do you believe in, if you don’t believe in God?” a young Malawian journalist once asked me as we discussed our countries relative relationships with faith.
“Nothing,” I said, and she looked at me as if I were mad. Here, belief is as part of life as water, and often more readily available.
I still don’t believe in God, or Allah, or Shiva, or Jehovah, but I think I fell in love with Malawi because it confirmed my faith in the essential goodness of human beings.
I don’t have a rose-tinted view of the country and its people, there are nasty people here – just as there are in Scotland and every other country in the world.
There is nothing romantic about having to walk five miles to get a bucket of dirty water for drinking, or dying from malaria because you don’t have a bed net.
And the development challenges facing this country are immense. So immense that just listing them is almost meaningless.
But here in Malawi the difficulties – and joys - of daily life are shared. Friends look after each other and family bonds are strong, almost unbreakable.
When we landed in Lilongwe on Sunday, our good friend, and Malawi Photographer of the Year 2007, Govati Nyirenda was there to meet us. 
He had got up at 6.00 am that morning and spent nearly five hours on a bus just so he could welcome us back to his country.
His cousin, Kambani, whom we had never met, had left the wedding celebrations of a close friend to drive us to our hotel, and had to be persuaded to accept money for fuel.
And today, another good friend, Peter Potani, the first Malawian I met when I arrived here three years ago, has spent his precious lunch hour searching for a decent car for us to hire.
Peter and Govati and our other friends here have given me much more than the precious gift of friendship.
They have made me believe, not in God, but in life.

Loving my country

The Brighton taxi driver who took us on the first leg of our journey to Malawi had a ponytail longer than Rapunzel’s. His face was even longer.
“To tell you the truth darling,” he said, when I asked him if he liked living in Brighton, “I grew up in this town and it ain’t what it used to be. I would love to live somewhere else.”
Twenty three years as a taxi driver, twenty two of them on the night shift, may have coloured his view of Britain’s best seaside city, but I got the impression it was the more than that.
The very thing that makes me love Brighton - the feeling that anything and everything goes is probably the same thing that made him weary of his native town.
He cheered up when he dropped at as the bus station for the coach to Heathrow.
“You off anywhere nice darling?” he asked.
“Africa,” I grinned.
“So I took you the first leg of a very long journey,” he said, apparently cheered up by his contribution to my trip. Either that or it was the 30 per cent tip I gave him.
I once said, only half jokingly, that if Scotland ever became independent, then I would move to Brighton.
Excuse me while I indulge in a little bit of personal politics here, but I love being British.
I am proud that we were the first country to develop a National Health Service, that we stood up the Nazis, that we have the best street fashion in the world, and that our small island produced such geniuses as Robert Burns, William Shakespeare and Lennon and McCartney.
I feel at home in Manchester, Stoke, the Lake District as well as Glasgow, Dundee and the Highlands.
I support Manchester United and Hibs.
I cheer for England when Scotland is not around, and 28 years ago I joined the Labour Party because I wanted to be part of a movement that had social and economic justice at the core of its being.
My husband says I am a closet Marxist because I insist that class is at the heart of all politics. I say I am simply someone who wants every child, regardless of their background, to grow up confident that they can be the best they can be – the best brickie, the best father, the best friend.
That is who I am, and I make no apologies for my beliefs.
I don’t believe that Scotland will vote for independence – so I may have to relinquish my dream of living on the Sussex coast, but I will do that cheerfully if it means I get to stay in the UK.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Brighton rocks

We arrived in Brighton just as Wendy Alexander resigned as leader of Scottish Labour and Amy Winehouse touched some bloke at Glastonbury.
I feel sorry for both women, both misunderstood in their own way, but only one sings like an angel, and it ain't Wendy.
The so-called fan who has spent the last couple of days whining about being “elbowed” by Amy is surely in the running for wimp of the year.
How hard can a frail, drug addicted, six stone girl elbow anyone? Not that hard I don’t imagine, unless he was standing between her and some crack cocaine, which he clearly wasn’t.
Secondly Glastonbury is not the Royal Opera House or your local multiplex. People push and shove, get down and dirty in the mud, crap in boxes, get arrested…it is a music festival for God’s sake, - anyone remember Altamont. Now that was serious.
To veterans of punk, when fans were fans and not headline junkies, the hoo-ha surrounding this incident is laughable. 
In her heyday Siouxsie of the Banshees thought nothing of giving fans the odd nudge or two.
Did you hear them complain? Far from it. Indeed to be on the receiving end of Siouxsie's’s bad temper was a badge of honour for a fan, not a reason to go running to the press.
James Gostelow - get a life.

Brighton is simply the best city in the UK - sorry Edinburgh and Glasgow, but Brighton rocks in a way other cities can only dream of.
If you have never been, jump on a train as soon as you can. The city welcomes everyone: young, old, middle-aged, fat, skinny, gay, straight or not-quite sure. 
It has a great beach: think smooth shingle, traditional deck-chairs and ice-cream, with a twist of hippy, hip-hop chic. There are wonderful restaurants, good fish and chips, and when the sun shines, as it has since we arrived, it (almost) beats Greece for summer fun.
It is too hot to write any more, I am off to bag a blue and white striped deck chair, and finish my book. 

Friday, June 27, 2008

The end of part one

It is our last day in mainland Europe. The skies are grey, and getting darker with every kilometre. The wind is fierce, shaking the camper van as we struggle up the hills of the A16 en route to Boulogne, then tomorrow morning, Calais and the Channel Tunnel.
And yes, it has started raining. Altogether a miserable day and not just because of the weather.
I don’t want to stop driving, or to be more precise; I don’t want Nigel to stop driving. I want to explore every nook and cranny of France, visit every Greek island, and eat in as many Italian restaurants as my waistline and bank balance will allow. To say nothing of spending more time in Serbia, exploring Croatia and finding out if the Black Sea coast is a beautiful as the brochures say it is.
Europe is a treasure trove of exciting food and drink, gorgeous land and seascapes, and fascinating people, all shapes, sizes, religions and allegiances. I had not fully realised until now what an interesting continent we belong to, nor just how our fully our future, and our past, is intertwined.
There were many highlights.
We ate most the amazing fish soup in a century-old fish restaurant in the outskirts of Belgrade. It was the very essence of the sea, garnished with the freshest of herbs, served in a small copper tureen that looked as old as restaurant.
We savoured our first, and last, glimpse this year of the Acropolis as we meandered down Ermou Street in Athens.
We were astounded by the scale of Amiens Cathedral, which is twice the size of Notre Dame, to say nothing of the technical genius that built this most powerful of monuments.
We fell asleep to the sound of birds, and woke to the sound of birds.
We drove through the Alpine clouds, tasted champagne at 10.30 in the morning with a bunch of Belgians, danced in the streets of Belgrade during Eurovision, lit candles in Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery, got lost in Budapest and shared showers with total strangers, usually doughty Germans.
We drank beer in the same Hamburg street the Beatles started their career, relished the first sip of cold, cold Retsina, delighted in finding a bottle of Samos Muscat in a French supermarket. 
And I read, for the first time, James Ellroy’s amazing novel The Cold Six Thousand and for the second time, Andrew Nicoll’s equally compelling book The Good Mayor.
There have been some bad moments too.
Damaging the camper wasn’t much fun, nor were the wet few days we spent in Bavaria while it was repaired, though we did taste the best chocolate of the trip during a visit to Neuburg.
Imagine handmade white chocolate, infused with champagne and studded with real rose petals. Sounds wonderful? It is even better than that.
Saying goodbye to our grandson Kyle at the end of our detour to Crete to see him on his summer holidays was painful, but we cheered up considerably when we found out his father, our Sean, had proposed to his partner, Kyle’s mother, Karen, a few days later, and that she had accepted.
And we have had a few cold, wet days, when we were forced to don our ugly plastic anoraks just to go for a pee. But once the camper van was battened down, the red wine flowing and the West Wing on the MacBook, even the sound of rain on the roof became a comforting part of the trip.
We are going to spend the next week in Brighton, and this weekend with my sister Wendy and her partner Steven. We will catch up on all the family gossip, bitch about Big Brother, drink too much champagne and gorge ourselves on food and kinship. Wendy and I may even do a little light shopping, for essentials of course.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blogging: a sad ego trip or the future of journalism?

I don’t know the answer to the question I have just posed. 
As a new blogger I often feel that my online writing is nothing more than self indulgence run amok; at other times I truly believe it is the future, not just of journalism, but of human engagement, from the personal to the political.
Barack Obama’s online campaign, with its social networks and personal blogs, shows just how powerful a tool blogging can be.
But I am sitting in the French sunshine, waiting for my fish stew to cook, and don’t have the energy to argue the case, for or against. Roy Greenslade however has put together a good piece on, where else but his Guardian blog. Worth a read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Let them drink champagne

It was Napoleon, that most French of Frenchman, who described the UK as a nation of shopkeepers.
Little wonder that the general was surprised at our propensity for shopping, even back in the early 19th century, because from my experience of recent days, the French don’t shop.
Can you imagine the uproar if Tesco, or Asda, or any one of our nation’s supermarket chains decided to close for lunchtime – and not just an hour, but two and a quarter?
Of course you can’t because it just wouldn’t happen. We expect our shops, particularly the big brands, to be open at our convenience.
Not in France it seems. Yesterday we arrived at a reasonably large branch of Intermarche in a reasonably large town, Mourmelon le Grand (le petit is just down the road) at the reasonable time – or so I thought – of 2.25 pm.
“Pardon madame, nous sommes ferme,” smiled the manager guarding the entrance.
“Pardon,” I said, “je ne comprend pas”, and I didn’t mean his impeccable French.”
“We are not open for another five minutes,” he smiled, turning to explain to a group of German soldiers why they couldn’t stock up on beer.
Mourmelon le Grand is a garrison town, hence the soldiers, just in case you were thinking I had wandered on to the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
If I had taken the time to check the opening times outside I would have seen that the supermarket opened at 9.00 and closed at 12.15 for lunch, opening again at 14.30 until 19.15. At least you can buy a baguette and a bottle of vin ordinaire on your way home from work.
On Saturday the sign boasted the supermarket was “Non stop” from nine through to seven, but closed on Sunday. Now, there is a surprise.
Once allowed through the hallowed doors of Intermarche I stocked up on life’s essentials. Red wine, coffee, chocolate, some tomatoes noir and, of course champagne – I am in the region after all.
And I threw a baguette and some country bread into the trolley just in case it was too late to catch the boulangerie at the village where we were spending the next two days.
It was just as well, because Val-de-Vesle is a shopping desert. It is home to at least 1500 souls and the delightful municipal campsite hosts hundreds of visitors a month, yet there is no shop. 
I checked, twice, before asking at the campsite reception. “Qu’est que un magasin dans le village?” I asked in my version of schoolgirl French.
“Mais non,” she smiled, then gave me very complicated directions to the nearest shop, which seemed to be at least five kilometres away.
“Il est un cave de champagne dans le village,” or words to that effect, she said on finishing.
A champagne warehouse?
I smiled. When there is no bread, let them drink champagne. I like the French.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Handy hints

Three most useful things for life on the road

  • Our MacBook, we use it for everything – storing photographs, writing home, doing our finances, watching the West Wing and when we have wifi it becomes our radio. We couldn’t live without it, or Martin Sheen. 
  • A corkscrew and a decent coffee pot (thanks Wendy) – no explanation needed.
  • A sense of humour and a sturdy pair of sandals.
Three (and counting) most useless things for life on the road

  • A Swiss Army knife. I bought Nigel a state of the art one for this trip. I asked him the other day if he had used it. “I tightened the screw of my sunglasses with it,” was his reply.
  • A sat nav – all you need is a Philips Multiscale map of Europe, and the aforementioned sense of humour for when you get lost in Budapest…and Neuburg…and Kavala…and of course, France.
  • Heels, underwire bras, Mac make-up, more than one handbag, cheap, and not-so cheap costume jewellery and a very expensive Nicole Farhi silk chiffon shirt dress – yes I packed them all, and apart from the bras I have used none, and the bras only when absolutely necessary.  So will I take them to Africa? Of course, after all, a girl never knows when she might need a good frock…or handbag...or raspberry lip gloss.

Home sweet Hymer

I began this blog on an autobahn heading to Berlin, and seven weeks into the road to Dot, I find myself once more spending a sunny afternoon on German motorway, this time on the A8 heading towards Baden Baden and the last leg of our tour of Europe.
It is hard to imagine life without our motor home. What began as a pragmatic solution to the challenge of getting round as much of Europe as possible in eight weeks has become a way of life.
Nothing fazes us now. We coped when the gas ran out in Amsterdam and when two days later the fitting was condemned as illegal and highly dangerous by a Hymer expert in Osnabruck.
We laughed, nervously, when the lights failed as we entered an unlit tunnel in Serbia. Laughter became rather strained when we realised the horn had gone too, but a friendly Fiat dealer in North Greece soon sorted us out.
We even managed a wry smile or two when our new best friend, Herr Haglet, handed us a rather large bill for the bodywork repairs he had just completed.
We brushed aside the never-ending rise in fuel prices and to balance the books, resolved to drink cheaper wine
We found a simple solution for our stuck waste water drain – biological soap powder and a bumpy road; not a moment too soon, as the smell was in danger of making us pass out.
And when our fresh water tank started emptying of its own accord in Poland, did we panic? Not much it has to be said.
It is hard to adequately describe the appeal of living in a Fiat van, albeit one with a Hymer coach built body attached, but perhaps a sense of freedom best sums it up.
Freedom from the drudgery of housework. Five minutes each day with a broom – 50p in Bulgaria – and a few all-purpose wipes is all it takes to keep it sparkling.
Freedom from the stultifying routine of an eight to seven existence that saps your soul as surely as it pays the bills.
Freedom from stuff – piles of half-read magazines and Sunday newspapers, 400 unseen cable channels, unopened junk mail, unworn shoes, unanswered phone calls, a fridge full of uneaten food…
We still have a few days left in our Hymer home from home and in our wilder moments, after a glass or two of wine, we talk about staying on the road, of becoming full-timers as they say in motor home world.
What is to stop us? The internet keeps us connected to home, our children are grown and we have no career ambitions left, none anyway that need to be, or indeed can be, realised in Scotland.
We are heading for the Champagne region of France where we fully intend to enjoy ourselves. Who knows what decisions we will make after a glass, or several of the finest fizz…

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pitstop in Bavaria

The entry in the visitor’s book for St Anna’s Church, Augsburg, was startling in its honesty.
Amid pleas for “God (to) save Italy” and “Germany too” and a heartfelt petition from a mother for a celestial intervention to cure her daughter’s arthritis, was a confident, yet anonymous, assertion that could only have been written by someone under thirty.
“Actually I have no wishes at the moment, and I suppose I am my own God anyway.”
Oh to be so satisfied with one’s lot. It won’t last. Life will pick her up, I say her because the handwriting was distinctly female, and toss her around before too long.
One day she will have plenty of wishes, if not for herself, for her children, her partner, her elderly parents…and while she may never believe in God, she will realise, eventually, that none of us are our own gods, we are simply human beings together, all struggling to make sense of this strange experience we call life.
I have been feeling a bit grumpy these last few days. Earlier this week we were forced to stop in the very small town of Muhlhausen in lower Bavaria for some emergency repairs to the motor home. Nothing serious, but it did mean we had to stay in a hotel for two days while the Hymer mechanic, Herr Haglet worked his magic.
We found a “pension” right next door to the repair shop, a short bus ride from the city of Augsburg. It looked great on its website – they always do – but alarm bells started ringing when we asked if the heating could be switched on in our room. It was around ten degrees and my hands were tingling with the cold.
“I know it is cold, but the heating is switched off until September,” barked the handsome, but strangely detached owner. He seemed far more interested in his DIY than his guests, so we gave up and put on another layer.
The room was Ikea basic, the curtains were a calming shade of green, but only closed half way and were so sheer that the 4.30 dawn woke us each morning.
There were no water glasses or wastepaper bin, and when, on the first night of our stay, we asked what time the restaurant opened, we were taken aback by his answer.
“We are closed tonight, you could try the campsite down the road, it has a pizzeria.” It did, and we did.
Our stay reminded me of the worst of Scottish hospitality and those awful hoteliers who are more than happy to take your hard earned cash, but less keen to offer a decent service in return.
My worst experience was one Valentine weekend in the East Neuk of Fife, when, on telling a hotel receptionist that there was no hot water in our room, was startled by her response.
“Did you have a shower last night?” she asked.
“ Yes”, I responded warily.
“Then you won’t need one this morning,” she said triumphantly.
Welcome to Scotland, and lower Bavaria. We are off to the Champagne region.

A very modern man

Our enforced stay in Muhlhausen wasn’t all bad. We spent a very pleasant day in Augsburg, a city that I didn’t even know existed until a week ago.
My husband did. Apparently it is a post-industrial city and earlier this year, when he was still gainfully employed, he had toyed with idea of using it as a comparative city for an economic audit of Glasgow he was drafting. He decided against it, but was still keen to see it.
I was more interested in its shopping potential. Seven weeks without buying anything but wifi access and chocolate had left me slightly tetchy. I wanted some retail therapy and Augsburg seemed the place to do it.
After all, it was like Glasgow according to Nigel. I should have known he wasn’t talking about frocks.
There were plenty of shopping opportunities, I just hadn’t counted on German taste. Shop after shop offered sturdy clothes in ten shades of beige, enlivened only by the occasional flash of pastel pink or yellow. The shoes were very expensive, very well made, no doubt very comfortable, and very, very ugly. Ditto the bags.
I gave up after coming across a jacket featuring dominoes, yes dominoes, and headed for the birthplace of Bertolt Brecht, arguably the 20th century’s most influential playwright.
According to the guide book, the city of Augsburg had debated long and hard about how they should honour their most famous son, given that he had decided to live in East Berlin after the war, being of a socialist persuasion.
Luckily commonsense prevailed and his former family home has been transformed into a fitting memorial for a genius.
He may have died in 1956, but was a man of the 21st century. He embraced popular culture as well as high art. He loved boxing, revues, jazz, records, radio and film. He understood the plight of the individual in a mass society. And he liked the odd drink and cigar.
He wrote this short poem wrote in 1939, when in exile from Nazi Germany. It speaks for itself.

To those born later 3

You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
When you speak of our failings
The dark time too
Which you have escaped.

For we went, changing countries oftener than our shoes
Through the wars of the classes, despairing
When there was injustice only, and no rebellion.

And yet we know:
Hatred, even of meanness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly

But you, when the time comes at last
And man is helper to man
Think of us
With forbearance.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Three thousand feet in the air

We drove through the clouds yesterday and this morning we ate breakfast, three thousand feet above sea level, at the foot of snow covered mountains, breathing air so fresh you can almost taste it.
We are in the Alps, yesterday the Italian, today on the Austrian-German border, just outside Innsbruck.
I am no lover of mountains, or snow, or ski jackets, but Nigel has always wanted to drive through the Alps, so we tossed a coin: heads the south of France, tails the mountain roads. I lost.
I hadn’t anticipated it would be so cold. It is early summer after all. But this high up, even when the sun is shining, as it is just now, it is cold. My feet are freezing and I am wearing three, no, four layers of clothing and a scarf.
Neither had I anticipated the scariness of the roads – nor do I think had Nigel. Our poor old camper almost didn’t make it up a hill yesterday. It was so steep I was breathless just sitting in the passenger seat.
But the main thing I had underestimated was the sheer beauty of the mountains. I am not a poet, so I won’t even try to describe how they look, suffice to say they leave me breathless just looking at them.
We are setting off for our next destination shortly, but not before I listen to the Archers omnibus on my trusty MacBook, thanks to the wonders of wifi.
We are staying in a campsite so modern, so luxurious it is almost decadent. There is the aforementioned wifi, also hot baths, granite shower units, a shop selling everything, and I mean everything, a professional camper could desire.
There is a bar, no, two bars, a restaurant, takeaway, swimming pool…I could go on, but I won’t.
It is of course a German campsite, one of the best, but even the most basic sites in this country are sparkling clean, efficient and full of amenities.
Greece on the other hand is hit and miss, with some sites so run down that even we, in our new chilled out, hippy phase of life, refused to stay in them.
But given the choice between German efficiency, wifi and hot tubs, or Greece’s more relaxed approach to life, I know which one I would choose…
I think there is a bottle of retsina lurking somewhere in the back of the fridge. Is it too early for a glass?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sex and...

When Carrie Bradshaw and Mr Big finally got together again in the last episode of Sex and the City three years ago, my sister and I cried buckets. Our emotions that evening were fuelled, it has to be said, by several large Cosmopolitans, but we were genuinely moved by the very modern love story that was Carrie and Big.
So I couldn’t wait to see the much-anticipated big screen version of the cult TV hit series. Indeed I was so desperate I dragged my poor husband along to the Village cinema complex in downtown Athens earlier this week to catch an early evening screening.
No, I am not going to give away the plot, such as it was, or spoil the ending by telling you if it was happy or not, but I did cry a couple of times and laughed a few more.
But I didn’t really enjoy it. The genius of SATC - the TV series was the brilliant script. Okay, the accessories were to die for too, but the dialogue was sassy, fast paced, even at times, insightful.
The movie script just didn’t have the same sparkle or depth. It was also clearly a solo vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker, with everyone else; yes even the magnetic Chris Noth, relegated to the sidewalk.
It was also very cynical. I don’t usually mind product placement, but when it as blatant as it was in this movie, it leaves even a brand junkie like me feeling a bit jaded.
In one of the most poignant moments of the movie, an iPhone gets a better close up than any of the four women.
And the graphic sex scenes that made the TV series such a talking point were largely absent. The most desirable thing in the movie was a pre-war Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment, with a walk-in wardrobe that was surely designed by a god-like genius.
As Mr Big would say, it was abso – effing – lutely gorgeous.

...the city

Not even a self confessed Grecophile such as I could describe Athens as abso-effing-lutely gorgeous.
It as a sprawling, raucous city of some four million souls, most of who live in concrete suburbs.
But its heart, the Acropolis is, as I have said already, one of the most stunning cityscapes in the world.
And just a short walk from there is my favourite restaurant in the world. 
The Café Avissinia doesn’t have a Michelin star, nor does it desire one.
It is not in the most fashionable location, tucked away as it is in the corner of the Monastiraki flea market.
And the décor, maroon paint, busy floral wallpaper and mismatched tables and chairs is late seventies Laura Ashley on speed.
But it is a little bit of restaurant heaven. 
We found it by accident on our first visit to Athens six years ago, when we ate there twice in four days, and yesterday was our sixth visit.
I love food, buying it, cooking it, reading about it, and most of all eating it, and so does Ketty Tooros the owner of the Abyssinian.
The menu is traditional Greek, but not the bland versions that tavernas dish up for tourists. This is food as Ketty’s grandmother used to make, but with a few modern twists.
Yesterday we sat down to fava using split peas from Santorini and grilled Halloumi cheese, followed by yaprakia, which is finely minced and perfectly spiced pork wrapped in cabbage and sardines, stuffed with herbs, wrapped with vine leaves and cooked in the oven with tomatoes and onions.
We drank a red wine from Drama, and don’t believe anyone who tells you Greek wine is undrinkable. It now has some terrific regional wines that are as good as the best Italy can offer.
We finished with a dense strawberry compote and Greek yoghurt, and a, small, glass of muscat de limnos from Alexandria.
“I would love to come to Edinburgh in August for your Festival,” said Ketty’s son who was in charge yesterday, “but we are having a baby soon,” he said, smiling with love and pride at his beautiful and very pregnant wife who sat at the next table.
“And Edinburgh would love to have a restaurant as good as this,” I replied.
No doubt he thought I was spinning him a line, but I can’t think of a similar place in my home city.
One that is open from noon to midnight, offers live music at the weekends, serves up great food in a relaxed atmosphere and is not competing for awards, simply celebrating life. And crucially doesn’t require a credit card or expense account for lunch.
Maybe The Dogs, David Ramsden’s new place in Hanover Street comes close, but where else?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Greek delights

A former boss of mine once advised my colleagues that if I was ever grumpy with them (as if), they should simply mention Greece, and I would calm down.
“Get her on to the subject of Greece,” he purportedly said. “She loves talking about it.”
He was right. Greece is one of my favourite places, and not just because of the fabulous weather.
There is the obvious sense of history, with the ruins of ancient towns scattered across the mainland and the islands. Where else would you find the remnants of a 2500-year-old community next to a café offering all day English breakfasts?
The Greeks practically invented Western civilisation. When we Brits were still running around in animal skins and woad, the Ancient Greeks were getting to grips with democracy, drama, philosophy, mathematics, medicine, and of course, organising the Olympics.
Athens is not the city most people think it is. Yes, the traffic is manic; even at 6.30 am as we discovered this morning on our way from the port of Piraeus.
Yes, most of the buildings are post-war concrete monstrosities that give large parts of the city a rather downmarket feel.
And the nightlife doesn’t start until midnight, which for someone who needs to be in her bed by 10.30 pm makes for a very quiet social life.
But it is also one of the most stunning city centres in the world. The Parthenon is one of the most enduring symbols of who we are and what we can achieve as human beings.
I defy anyone to stand in front of the Acropolis and not be uplifted.
But before I get my next fix of the classical world, I have a movie to see. I cannot believe that Sex and the City has been out for over two weeks and I have yet to see it.
Mock if you like, but there is no finer escapism than the world of Carrie Bradshaw, and no sexier character than Mr Big. I only hope it isn’t dubbed.