Friday, September 30, 2005

Fitness Thirst

The hotel Royal Saleem in Sousse used as a base by the One Man Crapping team provided a few surprises. Despite its quality interior, the usual faux-marble and ubiquitous soft furnishings, space age lift pods and effective air conditioning, there were a few let downs which gave reminding hints of the country's third world status. The gym, a proud boast of the hotel blurb, which I hoped would provide me with a guilt-ease and an escape from the consequences of over-indulgence, was one. The flab-checking, gentle jogs I routinely make on the '25 motivating workout' Life Fitness treadmills at my health club, could easily be transferred, I thought, into the holiday environment - a little morning regimen easily grafted onto an otherwise sybaritic existence. A little pressing, some good natured pushing, the desirous pursuit of the honing and toning; the nautilus machines would do their stuff and leave the way clear for the day's inevitable abuses. A psychological trade off I suppose.

I checked it out. The gym. The two treadmills looked like they'd been reclaimed from the corporation re-cycle centre. One trying to out runt the other in their under development: twin tatterdemalions of the fitness equipment world. For half a minute I thought they were broken-down nags from the 'run on the rollers' treadmills of the 'fitness at home' theme - no electricity, only person-power keeps them rollers rolling. But I spotted an old flex, like an old rat's tail hanging out of one of them, with bits of black tape clinging on to it here and there. I wondered, not for the first time, whether the concept of health and safety or the words 'risk assessment' would mean anything in these parts, but a glance at some of the locals - who obviously had clearance to drop in any time and play on the machines - shouting at each other in Arabic and generally looking at me as if I'd just been parachuted in from outer space, told me it would have been unwise.

I clambered onto the least unstable looking one and through hitting a random sequence of buttons, and after a few stop starts that nearly had me firstly falling off the front then nearly off the back, the thing and me wheezed into action. By now the local boys had stopped their hand clapping and raucous whoops and whistles which were centered around the one piece of machinery that looked like it worked properly -just a blurred image of metallic crashes, toilet grunts and moustaches spring to mind now, and watched, conspiratorially, knowing that my rickety efforts weren't going to last long. And they didn't. Before so much as a few hundred meters had registered on the misty, dried sweat and spittle stained computer readout, it dropped out of the race exhausted, took to its haunches, spat, and shook its head.

I was approached by a member of the 'audience'. " Theese no work, thees feenished." He was right, it didn't work and it certainly had finished, perhaps for good. And a brief hope-filled consolatory survey of the rest of the equipment which looked as if it had been dragged up from someone's damp cellar that morning - all the seats burst like old mattresses, and the 'chrome' parts, neglected and rusty like a lazy teenager's bicycle, I'd finished as well.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Who Gave Him The Hump?

It's a very touristy thing to do. To ride a camel. For years my proud if somewhat pretentious boast has been that I'm a traveller rather than a tourist. Tourists are after all: vulgar, ignorant creatures; all beach burning, day old tabloid reading, cheap plonk boozing, no language learning, non cultural-philistines. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Toss your Berlitz guide aside and burn your lazy beached body through the day, salivating, instead, over yesterday's news-printy, black and white titty showing nymphets, whilst shouting at the funny foreigner waiters in broken English to bring you yet another beer. Or to go on a tour, specifically to ride a camel.

The pursuit of the humped one. The one humped camel: the dromedary,(Camelus dromedarius )only found in the Arabian deserts. Not the two-humped camel: the bactrian (Camelus bactrianus ) an Asiatic animal. The two humped camel was not making an appearance. Not even guesting. There was to be no Camelus bactrianus at today's show - this was strictly a one humped affair. This was not good news for the nervous. This was not good news for me. For miles I had imagined myself straddled comfortably between humps on what I guessed would be an accommodating flat bit in the middle of its back. Thoughts of front hump hugging for additional security added to my image of safety. A hump to the rear, one of God's clever little tricks this - a back rest.

The dromadary: 'humpus singluarus.' Why would anyone wish to ride one? Who was the first person who took a look at the triangular growth on its back and said " I reckon I could sit on that thing quite comfortably and, if needs be, cross a desert?" But someone did, and they do, and it had now become my duty to try it out.

Once adorned in Arabic dress - I could hardly believe my eyes as attendants fussed around me like deviant dwarf tailors swaddling me in all manner of wraps and gowns in the hope of the authentic look and no doubt a generous tip, I was escorted to my steed. Actually I schlepped with about twenty others towards a herd of them, and once in sight of this grunting and farting flotilla of beasts I began to think that I'd made a big mistake and that the cowardice that had always served me so well in the past should have been allowed to prevent me from coming. Why the hell was I being brave - these things were huge, though I had to admit they seemed serene enough resting on their knees like young tots in front of the telly and their carpetty backs and wooden handle bars making them look like giant, slightly worn toys.

Then one - a huge brown one, the colour my mum's old settee, decided he'd had enough time on his knees thank-you, and started to suggest that he (or she) wasn't really in the mood for another trundle around the same old sandy course. Right on cue, during the safety, and for the feint hearts, emboldening brief, he dragged himself up and grunt-roared showing the world rows of brown, really surprising looking sharp teeth. Leathery-skinned herdsmen struggled to tame the beast dragging at its nose and whipping its quarters whilst shouting Arabic imperatives at him, all of which sounded like hack-hack ack-ack whilst skillfully avoiding its stamping feet and snapping jaws. Still it roared, and seemed to want to make a break for it, a bid for freedom, an escape from the tyranny of daft tourists (like me) with all their nervous giggles and fake friendly pats.

For a while the scene reminded me of one of those comic or cartoon scraps, when everyone pitches into the melee which is just a cloud of dust with the odd hand or foot poking out from it. Eventually he was brought, sulkily, under control - only a bit of scuffed up sand and a few hand rubbing herdsmen to show for this little act of defiance. Once the hubbub had died down one of the guides shouted out in passable English: "Who wants to go with turbo-charged one?" There were no takers. And nerves were now a little more frazzled.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I was going to write a blog entry from Tunisia. Having found an Internet cafe I paid my 2 dinar (about £1.00) tipped the attendant in advance to encourage him not to clock watch too closely, kicked the sand from my sandals (de riguer footwear in these parts), cracked my knuckles and hovered my fingers over the keyboard like a concert pianist. It was then that I noticed the 'qwerty' keyboard is probably a western construct as I was instead presented with something altogether different: وقد تم توجيه الاتهامات في هذه القضية, isn't exactly what I saw though at least provides a rough illustration of what my eyes met.

I struggled my way through a couple of emails typing like a two fingered chimp, conceding all thoughts of punctuation - I never did find the dash; nor the semi-colon, and the screamer must have gone walkabout around the endless Tunisian wasteland on the fringes of the Sahara! But I couldn't stretch to a blog post. Very quickly my fizzing eyes, bloodied fingers and bruised forehead (think of that little video clip of a pathological computer-phobe that did the rounds recently) refused to go on any further.

I reminded myself I was on holiday and as such did not need this kind of stress, this kind of pain, so I booked a bus trip to the Sahara desert, the fringes of which can be found near the bottom of the country, dangerously close to the border with Algeria. In truth the roads to the country's bottom are really Tunisia's ass end: Only spiky gorse and sickly olive trees which seem to be straining for life can be seen mile after mile through the desolate wilderness. Odd villages with their complement of poverty stricken, ragged inhabitants and rickety buildings offer the only relief - if it could be considered such - from the barren landscape. I found myself wondering what sights of incongruity would be made by any outer space alien reckless enough to have chosen this ramshackle moonscape to undertake any examination of human study. Wondering what sense would it make of these contrasts: the oblongs of rolling opulence with cargos of plumply indulged faces gazing indifferently though glass panels whilst passing through endless raggle-taggle rubbish tips of wretchedness and desperation.

But I lowered my Oakley sunglasses into position and tweaked the curtain to shade the sun - feeling closer to cracked-lipped John Mills, squinting earnestly at the boiling sun from his sandy hell in 'Ice Cold in Alex' and hoped that the bus wouldn't break down in the middle of this furnace with no (treacherous) Anthony Quayle on board to save the day. I reminded myself I was a tourist on my way to savour an authentic Saharan experience: a camel ride.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Last Post

Joining in

Billed as the biggest drinking party in the world, the Munich or 'Munchen' Oktoberfest or 'Wiesn' is a great way to unwind. Originally held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavaria's King Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen it is now an annual week long 5 million litres consuming Barvarian beer fest. Huge tents, each sponsored by one of the many Munich breweries stand shoulder to shoulder, ornately decorated with brewery advertisements and sumtuously adorned in the Bavarian way: all banners, bells and beautiful frauleins. The idea is to trawl your way round and visit as many (of the tents) as you can before walking mysteriously becomes impeded.

Silly hats,strong bladders and an ability to crash steins every five minutes with any German who happens to be near, and they make themselves near, are all that is needed. Each time the assembled 'oompah' band strikes up a cue - and you soon get to recognise it - the deal is to join in with raucous songs (any words will do) and copious howlings, hugs and handshakes.

Remembering this has put me well and truly in holiday mood. Somewhere differant this year which will no doubt, at some point, feature here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sound as a Pound

The tumblings of soft training batons poking up like rude finger gestures, laying against chest pads with their flopped, buckly, velcroly, harnesses; white arm-guards tangled with convex shaped kick pads and knuckle-protecting gloves: fingerless gloves,like leather gauntlets fashioned for homeless people. Each pile of body-shaped protectors together with an arsenal of pretend weaponry, now sweat-drenched, peeled and shaken off with heavy breaths and relief-sighs, and foot swept, kicked or dropped onto blue heavy rubber gym mats with half-hearted concessions towards tidiness. Rubber moulded armless manikins with boxer-bad boy faces and solidly crafted, wish-they-were-yours torsos stand sentinel in their water filled stands. Each one facing a different direction as if obeying orders, their hard flat pecs and shoulder muscles still fizzing with the unrestrained poundings of a thousand trial hits.

Self Defence Course 23/05 assemble and huddle around towels and water bottles and survey the erstwhile arena of elegantly co-ordinated violence, all thoughts of mock-anger and controlled antagonisim now a memory and dissipating like the dying echoes of threats, challenges, protests and pain. Parched throats are slaked, sticky mouths are swished-swirled, grazes and joint sores are dabbed at,tentatively. And exhausted mutterings about how much harder it is, each year, to pass the test. This mandatory test. To learn and remember the repertoire of defensive moves and sequence of counter-attacks, to memorise the specialised jargon and the gratuitous technical terminology - from the relatively simple palm distractions, parallel punches and arm entanglements, to the forward and backward upper and lower fluid cutting and shockwave strikes. And to then bear the aches, and the pains, and the stiffness.

Body and mind's getting to old for all this.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Booker Sighs

I have been searching for a little decent reading for my two weeks holiday. I'm hoping that I'll be having such an exciting time I won't have time to read - though I know I'll be disappointed if I don't rack up at least a couple of novels during the two weeks.
I have been known to pack previously read books for holiday trips. This could be likened to taking a couple of old friends along rather than gambling that at least some of the people you meet there might not resemble several shades of awfulness and actually enhance the holiday experience. Old friends and previously read books won't let you down by being a dreadful disappointment, but they won't create surprises or set the holiday ablaze either. With them you pretty much know how things will turn out.
A half-way house might be to select new books by familiar authors. They're unlikely to let you down, and might just throw up a new challenge. This happened to me a couple of years ago with a certain (J)ames (G)raham Ballard. I had bought and packed Cocaine Nights, Super Cannes and High Rise having read and enjoyed Empire of the Sun and its sequel, The Kindness of Women. I had no idea that one of Ballard's main themes away from these loosely autobiographical, most famous(to me anyway)of his books is the exploration of how people either cope with or respond to a breakdown in the usual order of things.
Typically this will be through some kind of catastrophe where accepted values are rendered meaningless; or through a collective psychosis prompted by shared feelings of desperation and boredom brought on by the pamperings of technology and consumerism. In Ballard's world the human reaction always seems to be a return to baser instincts when feelings of despair - whatever the cause - are faced, tempting back an unholy trinity, that devilish threesome of darkly scandalous vices: crime, perverted sex, and violence to help provide the true meaning of life.

Hmmm. Probably not the best happy holiday reading. I think I'll go with the newest books by two of my favourite authors: Author Author by David Lodge, and Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Poe Waster


I haven't really embraced the use of images and photographs on this blog. This must change, particularly when I have little time to blog. A picture, as they say, wins a thousand birds, and until I have more time on my hands here is a picture of me b.logging for England.

I'm tired at the moment, and when I'm tired I tend to get tetchy and argumentative. Then when real brain-fade kicks in, particularly after a stressful day with little sleep the night before, my brain seems to rewind back to some indeterminate time during my childhood. It's almost like some kind of psychological degenerative disorder where the more tired I am the less adult my words and actions. So I post this image to represent my current state of mind.

When I first discovered it I wanted to make it my icon. Then I remembered that I have no idea how to do this. So the drawing board will have to be returned to (when I have the luxury of time) and, soon, I shall emerge blinking into the light clutching it like a rare find.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cling Film

Conversation snap-shot. The sad consequence of a little down time at work.
Me: "I'm compiling a list of my top twenty coolest films of all time"
Frank:" Hmm... What do you have at the top?"
Me: (Without hesitation) "Pulp Fiction. It has no equal. Vibrantly episodic, the snappiest slang-dialogue ever uttered, anywhere. The coolest thing on celluloid. Ever. In fact it'll never be bettered in the cool department. It can't be - Tarrantino re-drew the boundaries of film cool. He'll never be able to amaze again in quite the same way. And no-one else is in the same ballpark, the same league, even playing the same fucking sport. What about you?"
Me: "Ok. Zulu. Zulu's good. Zulu's not cool though. I like Zulu. It's my dad's favourite film."
Frank: "Is it?"
Me: "Yeah. You know, every time I ring my dad, he's watching Zulu. Every time. I say 'high dad how you doing?' You watching Zulu? And he's watching Zulu. He sits there all day, and Zulu's on.
Frank: "It's a good film."
Me: "It is: 'Don't throw those spears ...', all that lot; and the malingerer, what was his name, Corporal Hook? Good film. Loads of heros. Fascinating true story. Not really cool though. Glengarry Glenross is cool " Always be closing - Always, be closing!" Fight Club is cool: 'The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is, you do not talk about fight club. The third rule of fight club is, when someone says "stop" or goes limp, the fight is over.' Blade Runner. Mmmm. Cool. 'I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears... in... rain. Time... to die.' Very cool films. Bound to feature in my list. Any more thoughts about how your list would look?"
Frank: "Nah. 'cept Zulu."

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