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Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Hills Are Alive

"And you have to watch out for scorpions too"

"Scorpions?" I ask, querously, adding it to the mental list I already have of heatstroke, sunstroke, snakes, bandits, rogue drivers,attack bees, cliff edges, rabid foxes, bike chasing dogs, botulistic rats and feral cats as potential hazards on my planned ride.

"Especially the little ones. They get into your socks"

"Socks?" I exclaim, realising there is yet another thing I have forgotten. I rush back to my little apartment, adding another pair of socks to my back-pack, already bulging with emergency water, phone, towel,maps, Rough Guide to Greece, medications, extra food, two hats, spare teeshirt, cycle cape and camera. I am a bit put out by emergency procedures necessary for this ride, especially since Greece is in the EU. One would think there would be some sort of regulations against all these hazards.

I'm in Nidri, a small port turned tourist town, nestling in a little bay 18km south of Lefkada on the Western side of Greece. Nidri occupies a scoop in the hills, and I've been attending a niece's wedding. Its been eating, drinking and very pleasant (with none of the condescending implications that the word pleasant has sometimes attached and all of the attractive meanings of that word meant) but the mountains that rise 3000ft behind Nidri have been calling. So I rent a bike from a shop in town, borrow a map and announce a plan to the parties assembled to attempt a solo expedition into the interior. Advice comes thick and fast. Malcolm reckons I'll make about 8 kms, then probably die of heatstroke. Matt thinks its a good plan, but would be much more enjoyable petrol powered. The Great Meg tells me to take a phone in for inevitable use - my track record of self-injury, particularly on bikes, is undeniable- in contacting the emergency services. The last, most comprehensive advice about snakes, cats and scorpions, is given by Theo, Lydia's husband, who appears to hold an almost Irish bemusement in respect of people who want to undertake solo or group exercise in the hills that are readily accessible by car. However, all the advice is well given and bearing in mind that I have made two promises to RHB in coming on this holiday alone - firstly dont return home in a cast, sling or having to take medication that I didnt need before I left the UK, and secondly dont buy (another) time share, as cancelling them is costly - I appreciate it.

I set off up the hill, and a number of things are immediately apparent. The first of these is that riding this particular bike is torture: there are no pads on the handle bars, it weighs more than me, half the gears dont work, and its balance is all wrong. Secondly, I havent rode with a pack for ages, particularly not one weighing about 35lbs and as I hit corners on an interminable series of switchbacks, it shifts weight unpredictably, which causes a wild panicked correction. Combined with the steepness of the ascent, this means that the better part of valour is simply to get off and walk for some sections.

Eventually the road runs out,the rough track starts, and views begin to reveal themselves. Views that my photographic skills only do partial justice to. I keep going higher and higher, and the track gets more and more technical, but its brilliant fun. As I get higher, people disappear and I see no-one, apart from a man who is sleeping by the side of the track, presumably a shepherd, his face more deeply tanned than anyone I have ever seen. I ask him if he wants some water, but he points to a bottle of beer next to him, offers it to me, grinning widely. I decline, we shake hands and I ride on.

Further up, I stop to consult the map, and realize I have no idea where I am but can see Nidri spread below me. Suddenly, there's a movement at the side of the road, followed by an extrememly pungent smell, and a fox with a large black tail jumps out of the bush and runs down the track, miaowing like a kitten. I trundle down the road to where it disappeared back in the bush and while I am peering into the bush, notice one of the branches underfoot moving. The bike is dropped in an instant as I realise its a snake and I jump backwards across the road in panic. A deep breath, then I sneak towards the bike, grab it quickly, violently pull it out of the bush and jump on, cycling blindly and desperately trying to find the pedals. Now all I want to do is get down, but as I ride, I see more of the things, five, six, seven, ten, a hundred, lying all over the track, many of them disguised as old olive branches. I reach an open area that looks like it was once the foundations for one of the many abandoned villas up here. Gathering my thoughts takes a minute, because they have scattered throughout the brain and have been hiding where they think snakes cant get them, and only reluctantly come back when I promise them beer if we make it out of here alive. Together, me and the thoughts realize that the best course of action is not to continue to be lost, but to initially head back the way we came and when we get to the first split in the path, choose the one which looks the slopiest downwards.

I take a drink of water, regret not bringing any duct tape to tape up the top of my socks and set off. The first five minutes are a panic of attack snakes and jumping scorpions, but when I actually see another one, lying in the road, this all changes. It is unmoving, and as I get near, obviously dead, possibly run over, and possibly by me. I get off, and examine it, feeling incredibly guilty. It is beautiful. Very, very beautiful. It dawns on me, that in reality, the wildlife here is probably in more danger from me, than vice versa. Its good that no-one comes up here very often. My thoughts interrupt this reflection, reminding me that I promised them beer, and so I jump back on the bike, and descend. Trying not to hit any snakes, scare any scorpions or freak out any bees, the descent takes about fifteen minutes. It's breathtaking in parts, and when I hit the tarmac again and the speed really begins to climb, the fear returns. Without pads on the handle bars, sweat keeps making my hands slip, and the brakes are badly set, making the bike pull to the left, especially at speed. I overtake a couple of mopeds as the curves get less intense towards town, but suddenly the back pack shifts, pitching up over the right shoulder. Time, I think, to slow down, so I slam the anchors on, reduce speed to a crawl and head into town. My thoughts return and demand to be taken to a bar. The beer tastes great.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2011



Mr Mazzer 'Funtime' O'Reilly McEvoy Nickson and His Brain are happy to announce the birth of a healthy degree after three years of gestation. Both degree and Brain are doing well, but the father M. O'Reilly Mcevoy Nickson is said to be in shock on the completion of his final assignment. Asked what type of degree it was Mazzer said "It's too early to tell: we only find out in mid-August. All I can say is that Brain has survived a difficult birth, and although expected to make a full recovery, will not be doing any strenous thinking for some time. Tomorrow, I'm taking Brain to the pub to shout at the football, while baby degree is going to rest in the computer system, awaiting further evaluation".

O'Reilly McEvoy Nickson and Brain chose a controversial new technique for delivery of the new degree that involved applying Science to Art and Art to Science, supported largely by Wikipedia. Wikipedia refused to comment, pendig further editing.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Luck of the Irish

A great writer quoth "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself". After many years of self inflicted injuries, I tend to paraphrase this saying to "The only thing I have to fear is to fear myself". And in the great tradition of stupid accidents, I can now introduce my latest, the 'head/neck' thing. It all started when I was asleep....

I woke with a start. Pitch black, the only thing moving a cat rummaging around the bed. Tosh by the sound of it, licking his nether regions, a slightly disturbing sound and when attended to as enthusiastically as he does, capable of interrupting sleep. Fully awake, the bathroom called, so I crawled out of bed and headed, sleepily to the smallest room. From experience, I can attest that when engaged in potentially life threatening accidental behaviours, no account is true. There's always a degree of recreation, embellishment, fragmentation, and this was no different. When I say I 'felt' myself falling, noticing as I did so that I had tripped over the bahroom mat, I am entirely unsure what order I felt the fall, and what order I noticed the trip, but lets just suppose that I did.

Again, its ex post facto, but the next thing I noticed was a hefty connection with the windowsill and a sharp pain in the neck. It was all very quick. Next I suppose, I blacked out because I dont regaining my feet, but I must have because I now remember urinating. Then I went to bed. Next day, a hugely stiff neck, and a massive headache. I also felt like puking all day, but this particular feeling has been a constant for the last two weeks as final deadlines for the degree - next Tuesday- rush to meet me. Some may quibble here : how, they might ask can a future event rush to meet you? That, I would say is a decidely Western view of time - linear and static. Many cultures (ok, some) dont view time that way, they percieve it as a great big sea that we float around in, so the past present and future are all around us. Our relationship with time isnt fixed, sometimes tides rush us towards the future and sometimes the same tides bring the future to us. for me, the last few weeks have seen the future approaching me as I float statically in Sargossan tangle of words, unable to move. And the future hasnt just been approaching, it has been a tidal wave, an unstoppable tsunami. Naturally, and with the smell of rotting - in this case rotting words, not kelp- that I always imagine pervades the Sargossa filling my nostrils, I have felt ill for good portions of the time. So to awake then feel like puking is not that unusual.

I should at this point mention that three days after the event everything feels fine - neck only a slight twinge, headache completely gone, nausea still present but only for very short intervals and only when I think about essay deadlines. Possible diagnosis - possibly a mild concussion, some soft tissue damage to the neck. Treatment has been icepacks and painkillers. But that’s this time. In all seriousness, it could have been much worse – I could have damaged the windowsill that RHB had taken such pains to beautifully paint. And medical services here are, despite the best effort of the brilliant doctors and nurses, not the best in the world, as our politicians insist on politically telling us. I don’t want to enter a political diatribe describing how neoliberal economic determinism that’s rampant in the UK(and that Canada is shortly going to understand the full fury of, given the recent victory of the Harpon tyranny), knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and therefore puts a price on our health, but very little value. And I don’t want to say that what was once a victory of civilization – universal health care – has now been re-trenched to a minimal service and the bastards that have run this country for the past thirty years are now even going to privatise that as well. NO, I will not say that, as politics has no place here.

But perhaps its time for a rethink. Perhaps, given that the next time I do injure myself I may be asked to choose between a full repair and a patch job, based on my ability to pay, maybe I could change direction: focus less on the physical accidents , and more on the cerebral haplessness. So instead of falling over, and off, and onto things, I could focus on saying the wrong thing. I could perhaps, be introduced to someone for the first time, and just gratuitously insult them. The thing is, it will have to be accidental.

Opportunities arise for this new career next week, as I travel to Greece immediately after handing in my final assignment. My plan is to get to Athens, and then somehow get across Greece to wherever it is my friends are getting married. The trip involves at least two days of solo travel, by train, bus and ferry. I will of course have to speak to hundreds of total strangers. Probably in Greek. My knowledge of Greek is limited to dogma, praxis, Soto Kyriakous, Telly Savalas and the notion that Oedipus has sex with his mum. This might be the ideal opportunity to test my new verbally based, insulting accident career.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Golden Flees

Its 14 days until the odyssey ends, and today marked the end of the first triptych with the presentation, after a Herculean effort, of an assignment where informal learning was discussed. Remaining, I have to slay a hydra, untie a knot of Gordian proportions and refrain from unnatural relations, but I only have to do this within about 6000 word, most of which are already etched. so principally it's editing from hereonin. Naturally, in seasons such as this, a young man's thoughts turn to "what's next?" and although I barely qualify as young, I too have been drawn by thoughts of what may lurk beyond the banks of the Styx.

In less purple terms, I am trying to work out how to get to Greece for Lydia's wedding. Lydia, as you may or may not be aware, is a favourite niece and is shortly to be married in Greece. When I say shortly, I mean on, or around, the 21st May. RHB cannot attend for work reasons, so I am to be the representative of Large Mansions. But there is a problem. My final assignment deadline is the 20th May, and usually I use every available day to complete assignemnts - even if written weeks in advance, there's no writing that cannot be improved by assiduous editing, as the absence of in these spontaneous journals will negatively attest. Given the date, and in view of the fact that matter transportation has not yet been invented (hurry up Physicists) I cannot allow myself until the 20th to complete. I must be on a plane by the 18th.

The question you may ask yourself though, is a plane to where??? A direct flight to the nearest local airport is not possible as inbound flights are once weekly and i would have to depart on the 15th to make the wedding, which because of a realistic perspective on how long final assignments will take, is not possible by about 48 hours. I therefore have to get a plane to elsewhere, then make my way to the wedding location, by hook or by crook.

The solution you may say, is simple: fly to Athens then travel overland to the wedding location. Very simple. Foolproof. This is actually true. I could get about one from a zillion planes to Athens, practically on an hourly departure, rent a car and drive to the wedding with two days to spare. But, as the adventurous among you will realise, this solution is too simple. It lacks adventure, unpredictability. It is a pragmatic solution, and when you consider this is an adventure of a lifetime, that Albania, Serbia and Macedonia are within reach, as well as Italy, and that after three years of being an undergraduate, I have a real need to 'find myself', and that I have no better half whose comfort I need to consider, the real solution becomes obvious. The trip cannot simply be getting from here to there and back again, the trip itslf must become the adventure.

How to plan for such a voyage? Here I draw on experience. The last time I arranged a long range trip, practically everything went well. I arranged outward bound flights, accomodation,and researched the local area providing, IMHO, a wonderful venue. Where there was a slight hitch was that I forgot to arrange transportation back again, thus causing a frantic, death defying three hour drive through the hellholes of Turkey, and causing RHB and myself to be stranded on our return to Blighty. This opoeration, complete with forgetting to arrange return transport took three months or so of careful planning. This time, I will have about three hours, just before I get on a train to what ever airport I am flying from to whatever destination I am flying to, to arrange the thing. My possible itineries involve MAnchester-Rome Flight, Rome to Bari train, Bari to Greece ferry then 'somewhere in Greece' ( I dont know yet where the Bari ferry ends up) to 'somewhere else in Greece' ( I have no clear idea where the wedding is) by the mode of transport commonly known as "somehow'. The second planned route is flight to Tirana in Albania form somewhere in the UK, the somehow get to Greece from there.

I lay the details of my plans before RHB and the assembled cats. RHB looks as if she's just caught someone falling asleep in an exam, then for the first time in our relationship, snorts loudly. THe cats follow suit.

"Whaddya think?" I say, "Brilliant, isnt it?"

"I think you'd better finish your assignments" she says " You can make up whatever fairy stories you like after that".