Dont buy the Sun.

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

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

ROH 3: somewhere hot, with a pool

By the time yrs trly reaches somewhere-hot-with-a-pool, it is too late: too late that is for the expectation that a portion of life would be spent not considering the emotional, psychological and physical needs of cats (which can be summed up as "feed me but dont expect gratitude"). The cats have taken over the balcony and the timetable. Now this may sound as if I am complaining for comic affect about RHB's disposition (which some would describe as 'obsessed') towards cats. And this claim is true, I am complaining toward such a comic effect. But I - like so many of us - am nothing if not hypocritical. i rapidly become obsessed with the cats and their welfare. On the second day, I enquire of RHB:

"Have you named them yet?"

She confirms that she has not. I regard this as an omission, tantamount to crueltly, so the cats are quickly named,  based on personality and probable future life experience. In the picture above, the mummy cat is called Hera and from left to right are Luna, Hercules, Loki and Persephone. A large male lurks around picking up scraps but is very shy and never gets close enough for me to photograph. We assume he is the father and name him Zeus.

The rest of the ROH3/vacation starts according  to plan. All of us present (self, RHB and Skarra) have had what soccer writers describe as a 'torrid' time since winter. The plan for this trip is to do absolutely nothing, to try to achieve a state of utter boredom. So the first few days are:  rise late-ish, eat leisurely breakfast, feed cats,  read book, swim in pool, eat lunch, feed cats, sleep, read, swim in pool, feed cats, go for dinner and drinks, feed cats. It is surprising how quickly a state of utter boredom is achieved using this technique and RHB and Skarra have been at it for days. If you consider that I arrive on what English people call 'the Monday', by 'the Wednesday', adventure is sought.

During  our trips to the small centre  where all the identical, built-for tourist bars and restaurants are located, we notice a number of people riding quad bikes. It is decided that temporary possession of such bikes would gain us access to the unexplored mountainous interior of 'somewhere hot with a pool' , and to the far coast (SHWAP is a small island). So we rent a couple of quad bikes for the duration of our stay and have some great adventures, buzzing round the island.

 Such activity is, of course, environmentally despicable and dangerous. Both dimensions give a small buzz - it feels naughty to be driving and it feels naughtier to be driving roads which the occasional massive lorry sweeps along. But we get to see some great things including a couple of ancient tombs that are unvisited by the mass of tourists  and which overlook a spectacular valley. Skarra and I spend half hour excitedly discussing the location and building a picture of the lives of the people who would have built the tombs 3500 years ago.

RHB is less enthused by our archaeolgical enthusiasm but assigns herself to scorpion and snake spotting duty while we blunder through the unbdergrowth
 We also explore some stunning bays and swim in (cliche alert) crystal clear waters

 It is an idyllic time and  utterly at odds with the experiences of the locals, who thanks to brutal neo-liberal policies of austerity are experiencing massive rates of unemployment, huge rises in the prices of staples and face a bleak future. These conditions, they have been told, have been imposed because they are lazy, have overpaid themselves in the past and because their Government has, egged on by them, added huge debt to the economy that they can never repay. It is via a discussion about this one evening at the poolside bar, that  we,   having fed the cats,  meet The Racists. But that discussion - and all that  arose from it - are for another post. For now, I will just end by saying that the conversation occurred at one am while we were being served by a local who had been working since before dawn that day and who didnt appear - at least to us - to be lazy or overpaid.

Friday, 2 August 2013


In the last chapter, I noted that Ride of Hope 3  (ROH3), in common with previous ROH's was, comfortingly characterised by disaster/and or chaos. That this pattern should feature was evident right form the inception. Following RHB's strict instructions, and teaming up with Skarra, I rode to Beverley (about 12km depending on route) to purchase a holiday via a travel agent. Neither self nor Skarra had ever done this before, but it seemed like the easiest way to get the process over and done. Online holiday booking can be, in my experience, a black hole. When I have attempted to do this in the past, it has led to some great holidays but only after hours, days, weeks of considering the multivarious options available. I usually compile an excel project  with seperate sheets on  every holiday within price range, accomodation options, preferences of holiday makers, travel time, onsite expense, political freedom in the destination (UK has often been ruled out as a holiday destination  because of this), distance to nearest airport, full UN reports on transmittable diseases in the locality, historical data, local transport sub-connections and full environmental report (I dont want to go somewhere they dont recycle, its very upsetting for some reason). Then I present the full report to my co-holidayers in brief report form which sometimes leads back to the drawing board and sometimes results in an even more complicated process of seperately booking planes, trains, automobiles and hotels. This time, we decided to make the process simpler.We would go to a travel agent, tell them we had 'x' pounds and our criteria were 1. hot 2. pool 3 baggage allowance and buy a holiday in the month of July.

Skarra and I found ourselves standing in front of bubbly, blond Kelly.

"We want to go on holiday" Skarra announced, with a degree of superfluity.

"What, the both of you?" Kelly sang back. [Note; "The both of you" is what many English people say when they mean "You" or in this context "Together"]

"Yes" we replied.

Kelly sat forward with apparently increased interest and said "Let me look at The System" for you. [Note "The System" is what travel agents and railway booking clerks call computers]. Kelly click furiously for a few seconds and said "Where do you want to go?". The screen display of  The System was turned away from us, but I noticed that a pink glow was reflecting onto Kelly's face.

"Er, we want to go with my wife" I said hastily.

Kelly looked at me, and clicked furiously and the pink glow disappeared.

"Where do you want to go? " she asked.

Skarra siezed the moment decisively "Somewhere hot" he said "With a pool. In July."

It is credit to Kelly that we actually ended up with a holiday at all, because this really was the only information we could provide her with. We reached agreement  and I paid with my card. As the transaction completed, my cellphone rang. It was RHB.

"Have you booked the holiday?" she asked

"Yes" I replied

"When" she asked

"In July" I answered

"Shit" she said

"What?" I asked

"Jody's coming" she said

"When?" I said

"In July" she exclaimed

"Oh" I said.

Ulitimately this Gordian knot was resolved with me on a  seperate flight than Skarra and RHB, four days after they left, albeit I had to arrange that flight independently so ended up with little idea of how I would get to them once I was "somewhere hot". In short what happened was  RHB travelled to Durham to work with CCP and Jodi four days before the start of her holiday then travelled back to Large Mansions with Jodi, stayed for a night then  flew out on holiday the next day with Skarra, Jodi meanwhile  flew out the day after (to Rome) and I travelled to Liverpool two days later, then back to Manchester then flew out.

I wont go into too many details today, because I want to get on to the ROH3/holiday tomorrow and I have run out of time because a paper is demanded of the joint second best academic in the UK, but while RHB was in Durham,I was looking after a nieghbour's cat while she (the neighbour, not the cat) was on holiday. At some point the cat got into a fight. This is normal for cats (Toshack is forever wandering home nonchalantly with battle wounds) and usually the best thing to do is let the wound heal, at most cleaning it with water. But Dave's wound wasnt healing. In fact, three days after he incurred it, it started to smell and turn black. [Two additional pieces of timing are relevant to note here: firstly, our own cats were due their annual booster shots and veterinary check up on the day that I would be alone in Large Mansions (ie the day after Jodi left and prior to my travelling to Liverpool). Also , the cats owner was due home on the day after that, in the morning which was ok because I was travelling to Liverpool in the evening. ] A decision was forced - Dave had to go to the vet, and it made sense to take him co-incident with my cats.

I dont know if you have ever placed a cat in a cat box. Some cats enter meekly, others with less willing. In this case, Tosh, Calli and Dave were all reluctant. Now 'reluctance' is quite a mild concept when applied, as a description, to humans. "Reluctance' however turns when it comes to cats and boxes. 'Reluctant' becomes a knock-em-down-and-they-get-back-up, brutish, noisy scrap. Tails, legs, paws and fangs appear from nowhere, forcing lids off and preventing the door of the cat box from shutting. At one point, my arm was in the cat cage under Tosh, trapped in the door while he gnawed my elbow, so i sprayed his face with water, he bit down hard but at least then retreated and I slammed the door shut.  I repeated the procedure with Calli, a smaller, more vicious version of the same fight. Then I went to my neighbours for Round Three with Dave.

The taxi driver I had called refused to take the cats, so I set off the half mile walk to the vets with three cats in three boxes. The boxes swung from the handles, the cats miaowed and hissed, striking out through the doors. My flip flops (I have no idea!) flipped and flopped. AT the vets, Calli and Tosh passed muster, but the vet looked at Dave's wound and said "That's nasty". Three hundred pounds later, I took my cats home, returning for Dave that evening  after his treatment, and packed.

I will eschew an account of the career crisis which was running parallel with these events, suffice to say it has now been resolved. I will also provide no details of the nightmare flight, other than asking the reader to appreciate that of 238 souls on board, 237 of them appeared to be  members of a fraternity or sorority loaded up with alcohol, hormones racing, overexcited about their first vacation without their parents. Except they were British. And the journey to "somewhere hot with a pool " from the airport in an unlicensed taxi at four am on cliff hugging roads need not be described here. Suffice to say, that at five am, four days after RHB and Skarra, I arrived. RHB had not wasted the four days, because as I settled on the ground floor balcony, exchanging news with RHB, slowly, from amid the vinyard opposite, there was movement in our direction, which eventually coalesced onto the balcony. RHB looked pleased.

"Oh yeah" she said to me " I've made some new friends"

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Ride of Hope 3: Dont forget your passport

As I write, all in the world is back to something like normal: Burt and Grasshopper are back in NS, Joe and Anna are moving to another unfriendly city, the Legal Eagle is in Glossop. Further, RHB and I are impossibly broke, cats are smug and (self)satisfied, the UK weather's unpredicatable and its politics are predictably glum, Jody Culham's on her way to a conference somewhere, and I really have difficulty smiling with anything like sincerity with too many of the people I know. But the atmosphere at Large Mansions has changed, and not imperceptibly. This is probably the result of this year's Ride of Hope, the Ride of Hope 3: Dont forget your passport. (ROH3:DFYP)

It all started when  Skarra, my regular co-rider on the annual Ride of Hope informed me "I dont think I can be arsed with the Ride of Hope this year". Such lack of enthusiasm is not uncommon in the relationships between Skarra and I. As well as Riders of Hope, we are also  band members in Cheek to Cheek, a musical venture that more people have heard of than we have performed to, and few people have heard of us. In fact, since our inception, Cheek to Cheek  have recorded no music and performed once in public after three years of solid practice (and even then it was only me becasue Skarra was too nervous/busy/not bothered);  we have six songs written, three of them with words, and one where we havent figured out the chorus yet. But Skarra word were not uttered with the blithe lack of concern that usually accompanies our conversations about rehearsal, closely followed by an analysis of SBeyonce's latest track. His eyes were listless, his skin pale and wan. He spoke with a weariness that told a story of mental fatigue, physical stress and emotional turpitude. And I was familiar with some of the reasons for this through my proximity to RHB who is Skarra's colleague: it has been a hard year in academia in the UK, particulalry locally. It was clear I needed to adopt a sensitive line.

"Again" I said.

"What?" said P (his alternate acronym)

"You have to say 'I dont think I can be arsed with the Ride of Hope this year again'" I said, "Just so its clear who's fault it is. Not mine."

Such was Skarra's condition that he did not even rejoin with a comment about who's fault it was we had got lost in a bog, fully laden with panniers, just outside Newcastle that time because someone wanted to see what off-road,  fully panniered-up, mountain-biking-on-road-bikes, was like. Instead he just sighed:

"I dont think I can be arsed with the Ride of Hope again" he said, tiredly. The lack of rejoinder  on topic (or non-sequitur  rejoinder about Shakira not being as good and artist as Beyonce) was another indication that this was a situation where I needed to conduct myself with Theory of Mind fully engaged, cognisant of, and responsive to, my co-dialoguee's needs and unspoken message. Which appeared to be some sort of attempt to initiate a conversation about how he felt; matters close to the soul men dont often discuss between themselves as readers may know. Consideration was indicated in how I reacted.

"That's shit" I said "For me. I was really looking forward to a holiday this year. Specifically that holiday. It would have made me very happy. Now you've ruined everything. For me."

We went on to discuss   Beyonce,  the origins of agriculture, Game of Thrones Season Three Episode Ten (GOTS03E10)  before playing a few songs (it was a typical rehearsal),  and the topic was not re-addressed. But the seed was sown. Four weeks later we were in a travel agents booking a holiday to somewhere hot. Our party had grown  to include RHB because when I  returned home to moan to her that he had ruined my summer we engaged in discourse:

"Do you know that P doesnt want to do the Ride of Hope this year? Can you believe that guy?" I said "What am I supposed to do this summer?"

"I've talked to P. about this" she said, "I need a holiday.  So does P. Go to the travel agent and book it. The requirements are:
1. hot
2. pool
3. baggage allowance that lets me take lots of books

You can come if you want. Are you still here?"

At this juncture two issues need addressing. The first is that regular readers might object to my identification of what is clearly a holiday as a Ride of Hope because the Ride of Hope is an occasionally annual bicycle ride. In response I would argue that the rules of the Ride of Hope do not specifically declare that any riding must be by velocipede, all that is required is that either I or Skarra go somewhere for a reason. I realise that this means that a bus ride to the local shops could be nominated as a Ride of Hope, and to be honest I cant rule that out as a possibility. The second issue is that disaster or chaos features prominently in Rides of Hope. As readers will learn in forthcoming entries, this essential requirement was not omitted in this, The Ride of Hope 3: Dont forget your passport. Indeed, the opening scenes of ROH3: DFYP which find yours truly at home nursing a $300 vets bill for someone else's cat, while struggling with an urgent problem that had potentially career ending implications,  and entertaining JC on my own (not that I object to this - JC is brilliant) as a result of  RHB's not consulting a calendar,  while RHB and Skarra were jetting off to somewhere I had no means to get to and spending all our holiday money on feral cats, confirm this adherence to tradition. As did the rest of the holiday. But those tales are for the nest few episodes.