When Leo met Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn a few days before the leadership contest in Margate Kent, September 2015

Jeremy Corbynm Labour MP on Margate Seafront, September 2015

We went to Margate to hear Mr Corbyn speak last Saturday. It was pretty much as I expected. Not a disappointment and he was a bit more forceful than he comes across on the tv – which is good, more passion and yet still a refreshing non-adversarial stance. Inclusive and unifying. Packed hall – more than 350 (could have been many more, I think I heard that figure but don’t quote me) – a bit emotional at times thinking just maybe there was a chance to turn things around, to climb up out of this depressing world we seem to inhabit at the moment. One of the speakers, I apologise as I forget who, said something like  ‘There is all this talk of voting with the head  – or the heart – well we are actually talking about the soul of the Labour party’. I liked that. I am tired of all the talk of Corbyn being naive, not having the experience or the gravitas. He speaks with a great positivity and optimism – we should  get behind him and at least give it a try. I think membership of the Labour party is characterised by a caring attitude to all others on this planet, it is about collectivism and fairness, it’s about the bigger picture. If those beliefs do not get us elected then we must try harder – not compromise our beliefs to get power at any cost.

It had been hot and stuffy in the room so we wandered down to the seafront and had a cup of tea.  Marainne went to a dress shop and I went to check out the local band (Project F) playing on the front. I was standing there gently nodding away (coincidentally) to Soul Man ((coincidentally) when suddenly there he was again. Jeremy with just one guy with him, he stopped right in front of me and applauded the band. Too good an opportunity to miss. I tapped him on the shoulder. The other guy wandered on, a few people looked over but mainly he was just another punter watching the band. I shook his hand, had a chat, told him he was doing a great thing, giving us all hope and wished him luck and turned to walk away. Remembered I had a camera in my pocket and said Jeremy can I? Of course he said. Just one shot but a good one. In a strange way he reminded me of Mick Jones of the Clash – not physically but in his attitude. (I have bumped into Mick – a hero of mine – many times and always go and say hello).  Jeremy came across as just an ordinary bloke like me, completely natural and un-phased talked more about the band we were listening to than politics. No false bonhomie, no entourage, speeches over, let’s have a wander down the seafront . It was like bumping into any acquaintance on any day –  a quick chat, a smile, a handshake then go on with your lives. We are on the same side – doesn’t need saying.


He gets my vote.

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Arthur Brown, Rockfield Studios and Me

Musicians Dirty Ray and Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010

Dirty Ray with the legendary Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010

In the early summer of 1970 or maybe 71, when I was fifteen (or sixteen) years old, my parents suggested I take up my uncle Harry’s offer of some summer employment at his petrol station and cafe in the village of Redbrook in the Wye valley outside Monmouth. My Uncle had two daughters who I had always got on with and nothing much was happening in Peterborough so I agreed. It was a good move. Alison the younger of my cousins was at Monmouth Girls School and therefore gave me access to a whole bevy of beautiful – if somewhat posh,  teenage schoolgirls.  The family had a nice house, a record player and a stack of Bob Dylan records and a more relaxed attitude to parental supervision than my parents.  There was a buzz about Monmouth too.  It had an old cinema which was now being managed by a ‘head’ in his mid-twenties and showed things like Easy Rider.  My cousins knew the manager so we usually had the’ royal’ box complete with curtains – handy  for those times when snogging with one of the Monmouth school girls needed to be a bit private. Even more intriguing was the recording studio apparently just up the road in a village with the wonderfully appropriate but genuine and ancient name of Rockfield. We knew that Dave Edmonds had recorded ‘I hear you knocking there’ and still lived in the area.  Andy Fairweather Low was also rumoured to be a local.

The evening hang out for me and my cousin was the Beaufort Arms. A faded but still respectable hotel in Monmouth town centre which tolerated us under aged drinkers of Forest Nut Brown ale in its back bar. Mr Edmonds was to be occasionally spotted there, suave in tight snakeskin trousers, propping up the bar.

One night Alison and I and a few others were in this establishment, perched on bar stools and feeling very grown up when a strange presence  was felt behind us.  I could discern, in the mirror behind the bar, a very tall man, seemingly dancing on the spot. When it didn’t seem too un-cool  I turned round to get a look at him.  He was a vision of strangeness.  Well over six feet tall, he had long lank brown hair but only on one side of his head.  He sported a beard and moustache but only on the opposite side of his face to the hair.  His trousers appeared to have been fashioned from an old Turkish carpet. I nodded to him, as you did in those days and he offered me an apple.  When I declined he dropped it into his beer. A buzz spread round the bar.  This was the legendary Arthur Brown.

After closing time I was in the car park waiting for my cousin before walking home when I was grabbed from behind, lifted off my feet and propelled across the tarmac to the open doors of a  transit van.  I was dumped in the van and the doors were closed. Over the next few minutes the doors opened again several times and half a dozen or so other abductees joined me in the back of the van – all of them female and young. This was intriguing and exciting but I don’t remember any of us being particularly scared by our apparent kidnapping.  Eventually Arthur and his manager got in the front of the van started the motor and declared we were invited to a party – at Rockfield studios.

We drove off into the Monmouthshire night and arrived some time later at the farm.  It was a farm.  There were cows and tractors and the studio was a converted barn with improvised sound insulation, mattresses and the like.

The party began.  There was live music including glorious mellotrons and a fabulous light show.  Exotic substances were being smoked.  I don’t think any of us youngsters were seriously compromised but at one point Arthur grabbed me, drew close me to his half shaved face and tried to kiss me, passionately.  It should be explained that at this time I was very slight and willowy and had shoulder length blond hair and was probably wearing velvet loons. I protested loudly, despite being somewhat flattered, that I was a guy. Arthur, somewhat shocked apologised and stumbled off to find someone of the other gender.  His manager, who had witnessed the encounter thought this was hilarious and promptly re-christened me Sarah. A name which stuck for the rest of my stay in Monmouth. Much later we were driven home by my older cousin, Christine who was dating one of the studio engineers – Ralph, who was also Keith Emerson’s  keyboard tech.

We hung out with Arthur and Kingdom Come for their stay at Rockfield.  Apart from the weekend when they all went off to play at a new festival in Glastonbury. An event which, to my eternal regret I was forbidden to attend by my Aunty Audrey. My older cousin did go though.

The album they were making was Galactic Zoo Dossier and we even took part in the recording – joining in on the chorus of a song which I recall featured the lyric ‘We want your brains for further education’ and holding down the keys on a Hammond organ to produce a throbbing swell that introduced  another track.   Strangely I never owned a copy of the album – probably peeved that I didn’t get a credit or royalties.

I did however acquire a copy of the legendary and rare Neon album by Spring – a local band who also recorded at Rockfield – a copy of which recently sold on E-bay for over seven hundred pounds.  I still have that album.

As a coda to this story a good friend of mine, one time lead singer of the Immaculate Fools and now recording as Dirty Ray did a few gigs in France a few years back with Mr Brown.  Ray recounted my story to Arthur and he swore he remembered the occasion – though not the failed embrace.   Even stranger, another friend of mine last year found himself driving Arthur for several hours to a gig somewhere in England and unprompted Arthur told his version of the story himself.

PS Since writing this I met Arthur again at Glastonbury  and had a chat. He did remember the party and we had a good laugh and reminisced about long distant days.

PPS A copy of the Spring album sold last month for over £1200.

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Almost Lost my Hair – an evening with Crosby & Nash

acoustic baffles in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Acoustic Baffles, Royal Albert Hall, London

M & I went to the Royal Albert Hall last night to see Mr Crosby and Mr Nash. Not sure where Mr Stills is but we didn’t really miss him. A thought provoking and emotional evening for me and not just because of the music. First shock was how old the audience were. Nipped to the Gents before it started and looked in the mirror and realised they were only as old as me. Got me thinking about the first time I went to the RAH, it was way back in – hang on I am sure I can Google this…..surprisingly no! It was a Ricky Nelson concert in 1973 or 1974. I blagged a free ticket from the support who were an American duo called Seals and Crofts – we shared a religion but that’s another story. Their greatest claim to fame is that they wrote ‘Summer Breeze’ which was a hit for the Isley Brothers. Anyway I can remember having the same reaction way back then- the audience looked so old. Mainly hysterical housewives screaming at heart throb Ricky. Looking back I suppose as Ricky Nelson had his hits in the fifties and sixties most of these women were probably in their forties – but as I was about 18 that did seem old.

The venue was stunning and still is. The acoustics were terrible and still are – well they have got a little better with modern technology and those mushroom things they hang from the ceiling. But the building is beautiful to look at and must have been quite a wonder of modern architecture when it was built. The venue did not escape the notice of the performers and I thought their comments rather neatly summed up their characters and origins. Dave Crosby stood back, looked out from the stage and then said, in soft Californian tones ‘You guys have no idea how this looks from here. Must be the prettiest venue in the whole world’. Graham Nash, bare foot and still the cheeky Lancashire street lad, looked left, right and then up to the enormous dome and said ‘It looks like a giant tit’.

M managed to get us excellent seats in a box on our own right above the stage. Got a bird’s eyeview of Dave Crosby’s bald patch. To be fair they both looked great considering that Crosby is 70 and Nash, 69. It is easy to forget how much these two men have contributed to pop and rock history. Got me musing about what it means to belong to the generation I do. I have heard it said that everyone thinks they were born into the generation that has had the best deal and the best of times, made the greatest contribution etc, We should all be thankful for that. But I think I could argue a strong case for those who were teenagers in the late sixties and early seventies having been particularly blessed. It was so exciting and the field was still wide open. So many rules to break.

I don’t rush to get tickets for my old heroes doing gigs these days. I think there are two risks – it might have all gone a bit limp and cabaret and/or the emotion might turn me into a gibbering wreck. Both were avoided last night – though one only narrowly. There is something that goes very deep when you find yourself listening to music that that meant such a great deal to you forty years ago or even earlier – especially when the artists that sang it are standing in front of you. Graham Nash was in the Hollies and they started the second half of the gig by bringing on the Hollies lead singer Allan Clark and doing ‘Bus stop’. Which was a UK hit in 1966. They opened the first set with ‘Eight Miles High’, which was a hit for the Byrds, surprisingly also in 1966. Bus Stop I certainly sang as an 11 year old but I don’t remember hearing ‘Eight Miles High’ until much later. There may be other contributing factors which I won’t go into here.

Crosby & Nash, Royal Albert Hall, October 2011

And I haven’t even mentioned the CSN stuff. Almost Cut My Hair, Déjà Vu, Wooden Ships. Marrakesh Express, Teach Your Children Well. When C, S & N stunned everyone at Woodstock – no I wasn’t there but did see the film the week it came out – I think for me there was a sense of vindication as well as pure joy at their music. The nay-sayers would have to take this seriously. There was no denying those harmonies were expertly crafted, note perfect and achingly beautiful. They might be a bunch of stoned freaks but they were above all stunning musicians. One other interesting fact – that Woodstock performance was only their second gig.

Anyway back at Albert’s rotunda, I thought I was holding it together really well. Sang along to Bus Stop with gusto. Then Nash sang a song about his domestic bliss with Joni Mitchell a long time ago: ‘Our House’. And that was me done.

It is really heartening that men entering their seventh decade can still sing like angels. And that grown men are allowed to weep. I was not the only one.

I am sure I saw a documentary where Graham Nash talked of how it began for him and C, S & (eventually) Y. He had played Marrakesh Express to his band mates in the Hollies but they didn’t think it was right for them – not commercial enough. Not long after, he was at a party in LA and was invited to join Dave Crosby in a hot tub with several somewhat under dressed California girls. Later he sang the song to Crosby. Crosby loved it. Hmm decisions, decisions. Lancashire, rain, grumpy bandmates or California, sunshine, foxy chicks and jazz cigarettes. Don’t suppose he hesitated long. Interesting to muse on how different things might have been if the Hollies had liked it.

If someone had tried to tell me way back in 1973, as I nodded my head and flung back my shoulder length hair, way up in the Gods of the Royal Albert Hall, that in 40 years time I would be back here reduced to tears by a song I had probably even by then already heard a hundred times – I probably would asked for a pull on his joint.

Mind you if he had also told me it was going to cost £65 for the ticket and £4 for a bottle of beer I would have been highly suspicious of any drugs he had been taking! No way, maan. But not ‘Too much’.

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Ghion Hotel, Lake Tana and Bahir Dar

Ethiopian market scene, Bahir DarThis was sold to me as a lake side retreat with lovely gardens and great food. That is not inaccurate but does not tell the whole story. Bahir Da is on the shores of Lake Tana – which is the size of a small sea really. The hotel is on the outskirts of the town with a main road roaring by and the usual collection of shoe shine boys, souvenir sellers etc outside the gate. If you gave this hotel one star you would be extremely generous. It is on the shores of the lake but is surrounded by a seven foot high corrugated iron fence so you can’t see the lake. The gardens are lovely apart from the serious lack of weeding and the addition of empty beer cans, plastic bottles etc. The bird life is spectacular, exotic and tame. Which makes me feel a little less annoyed about forgetting my binoculars as they are so close I don’t really need them. As we approach the outside restaurant area which is a huge thatched roof built round an enormous tree I can hear the conversation from a table of English people. The man is saying something along the lines of ‘I think it is absolutely bloody outrageous. Imagine if back in England we raised the price whenever a black man tried to buy something’. This was referring to the fact that everything in Ethiopia has a local price and a foreigner price – which incidentally is to do with nationality not skin colour. Rebecca who is 100% Ethiopian sometimes failed to get the local price because if she didn’t have papers to prove she was Ethiopian they suspected here of being a tourist – which I suppose she is! They did not suspect her of being white for obvious reasons. I wanted to go and tell the man what a twat he was and ask him if her had ever compared what international students pay in the UK compared with residents. Besides which this price difference usually amounts to foreigners paying £1:50 for something whilst locals pay 50p which I agree is a large percentage but we are talking about £1 here! If the locals were charged £1:50 they could not afford it. OK I will shut up.

Live hens on pole in market, Bahir Dar Anyway we decide to stay at the hotel which charges £12:50 for a double room. Some rooms are better than others. Our first one is extremely damp and dirty and the bathroom is covered in mould and although there is hot water we cannot get it to come out of the shower head. The bathroom is thick with mosquitoes – big hungry ones and a huge spider in the sink which I re-home in the garden. There is a TV though and electricity – sockets hanging off walls, bare wires in the bathroom. So we get another room which is marginally better and at least the sheets don’t feel damp. We replace the mosquito net which is full of holes with our own and get a reasonable nights sleep. The gaffer here is a bit of a character who run sthe operation from his mobile with a permanently attached bluetooth headset. He deals with any complaints swiftly and fiercely – I think the staff are terrified of him. So am I.

Horse drawn timber cart, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaWe stayed two nights at this hotel – which despite everything I would still recommend for the location and ambience. On the first morning we walked to the market. A huge muddy space with open drains criss-crossing it and dozens of dirty, cheeky children. Sacks and sacks of tef, chickpeas and other pulses and grains. Many of the sacks are stamped UN Aid – Not for Re-Sale. Though it may be just the sacks that are being re-used. The local birds – a collection of many bright yellow weaver birds and other exotic beast – seem to have permission to sit on the sacks and eat as much as they want and in return only leave the occasional poo. Other stalls sell coffee pots, cooking pans made from old tins, clothes, shawls, vegetables, spices and injeera baskets. Bizarrely lots of stalls seem to be selling Sainsbury and Tesco  bags for life. As usual we attract lots of children who follow us round and a fair few adults too who want to sell us stuff or have their photos taken or just try out their English.

In the afternoon we hire a boat and pilot to take us over to a monastery on an island – with a brief diversion to see the hippos. There are three of them and they pop their heads up at regular intervals to eyeball us. We don’t go too close. Surprisingly hippos are very aggressive towards humans and boats and will often attack without warning. They are also very fast on land and in the water. I have heard it said that hippos cause more deaths in Africa than any other wild animal (though I presume this does not include mosquitos). Anyway I manage to grab a few shots which blow up reasonably well.

The monastery is a very typical Ethiopian attraction – very interesting and ancient but in a woeful state of repair and with precious artefacts given no protection from the elements. Here there are centuries old illustrated manuscripts and priest’s robes in open fronted cabinets in a tin shack. It is difficult to see anything in the monastery as there are no lights but at least that will help to stop the wall paintings from fading. We return to our boat, passing a huge number of locals on a papyrus boat which is practically underwater from the load. It starts to really lash it down on the way back and the water gets choppy. I am pleased Rebecca insisted on seeing the life jackets before we left – but they won’t save us from the hippos…..

One other thing about this place – the monks in another nearby monastery chant for many hours a day – which I suppose is common practice among monks. But these ones amplify their efforts so you can hear them for miles around. I quite enjoyed it but when we visited the posh hotel next door I noticed that someone had written in the guest book that it was an outrageous imposition on his holiday and if they expected him to stay there again it would have to be stopped. Those who know me will know that I am a confirmed atheist and generally pretty intolerant of any religious mumbo-jumbo. But one of the few redeeming factors for me is the wonderful music, buildings  and artworks produced in the name of religion. Ethiopia has these things in cups.

Hippos on Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Bizarre Police building Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia couple carry goods from market

Teenage Ethiopian boys in traditional shawls

Stormy sky on Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Plastic shoes on Ethiopian market stall

Stacked brooms on Ethiopian market stall

Young Ethiopian girl clutching papyrus leaves

Ethiopian woman carrying wooden bowl on head

Ethiopian man with stave standing in front of market stall, Bahir Dar

Sacks of grain and pulses on Ethiopian market stall

Ethiopian woman in green dress carrying herbs

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Back in Addis

We are back in Addis after a fairly punishing two day drive from Lalibela. This is the last time I can blog from Ethiopia but I will put the other stuff up when I get home anyway. Thousands of photos to sort out and lots of scribbling to transcribe. It is hard to put in perspective what we have seen in the last two weeks but I suppose the biggest impression is the contrast between the lives of the average rural Ethiopian and that of us in the west – or even those here in the Addis Hilton.

 

 

 

Some strange facts about Ethiopia:

  • They have thirteen months in a year
  • It is currently 2003 in Ethiopia
  • The Ethiopian clock starts at what we call six in the morning. Therefore they have lunch at 6 or 7 o’clock – which for us is noon or 1pm. Weird eh? Mind you most of the clocks we saw didn’t work anyway.
  • Only China has more donkeys than Ethiopia.

Would I come back? Definitely but I would try to do less and spend more time absorbing the culture of one place and trying to see more wildlife. The birds here are stunning and remarkably tame too. You don’t even have to leave the towns to see hornbills, blue starlings, sunbirds, eagles and vultures. Also travelling with an Ethiopian make life much easier and cheaper. It is hard to remember the little cultural differences and to leave behind European prejudices.

The historical riches in this country are immense and in danger of being lost despite help from Unesco. I was shocked by the inappropriate and intrusive way they have tried to protect some things – such as the rock-hewn churches. And many things are not protected at all – ancient manuscripts in open cabinets in such a humid environment. My other abiding memory will be of the happiness and kindness of the people here. And not just because they think they can get a few birr from you. I was so pleased we  experienced traditional music too. So it was in a hotle bar and they wre probably doing the equivalent of churning out rock standards for the tourists but it was still fantastic and after three nights of it I think we bonded with musicians if only for the gusto with which we embraced the dancing. Other nationalities were way behind us band of Ethiopian-Irish- Brits. Mind you we had probably drunk more than them too.

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Camels, camels and more camels

Last leg of the journey now and we are staying outside Dese before beginning the final 400Km to Addis. There is an internet connection here but no way of getting photos uploaded. I will do that tonight from Addis. Since leaving Gondor we have been to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches which are pretty amazing.
We have done lots of shoulder dancing to traditional Ethiopian music but with contemporary lyrics mainly about funny ferenji dancing badly – I believe. Great food and again fantastic people everywhere. The begging does get a bit wearing but I will write more about that when there is time.
Yesterday we drove up to nearly 4000m and then down to just abouve 2000m. Went through cloud and rain with locals clad in hides and woolly hats down to the hot steamy forests where there are camels galore and monkeys and …mosquitos again! Our drivers have been fantastic not only in their driving skills but also for putting up with us lot.

Group dynamics now getting a bit challenging as we are all tired but I think we shuld make it back to the UK without getting physical. That is if the UK isn’t burnt to a cinder. Honestly I turn my back for a few days and the whole country goes up in flames….

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Into the mountains

Too tired to write much but… drove up into the Simian Mountains today searching for baboons, didn’t see any but heard them and foudn fresh poo. Walking in the mist with local guides and children. Cold and misty and no Enough. Off to Lalibela tomorrow. A long trip on rough roads. Here are some pictures:

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Photos

 

 

 

Untweaked – will try to do more but such a slow connection

Horse drawn carriagein Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Horse drawn carriage in Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Bajaj (tuk-tuk), Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Bajaj, Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

Ethiopian children offering woven baskets to tourists

Marianne getting the hard sell and handing out pens

Woman carrying firewood down into Addis Ababa from the Eucalyptus forests

Woman carrying firewood down into Addis Ababa from the Eucalyptus forests

Two hippopotamuses in Lake Tana, Ethiopia

What you looking at?

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Debre Markos – perhaps

Monday

Lunchtime start on the road to Debre Marcos . Hilton staff helpful and joshing as we pack the 4x4s. Then off through the suburbs of Addis . Teeming with activity and humanity and every type of vehicle imaginable – nearly all of them totally dilapidated.  Once out of Addis we pick up speed and pretty much maintain it at all times. This seems to be the norm. It is scary but again not really aggressive driving. The concept of slowing down when you enter a village does not exist. Horn used constantly just to say we are coming but everything carries on with donkeys, goats, horses, bajajs (Ethiopian name for tuk-tuks) and people somehow managing to narrowly avoid collision. The roads are lined with tin shack shops selling fruit, pots and pans, welding shops making gates and fencing, kids gathered round table football sets and table tennis tables.  Approaching and leaving towns and villages, hundreds of people walk by the side of the road or drive two wheel carts drawn by donkeys or horses. They carry huge amounts on their backs wrapped in khaki cloth. Outside Addis we see a constant stream of women of all ages carrying an unbelievable amount of firewood on their backs down from the forest to the city.  Not sure what distance they carry this but we were still seeing them about 10 miles out of the city.

The road doesn’t really change much and every town has the same incredible range of goods and humanity. Everywhere we go men and children wave and shout  or smile. Even in the distance working in the fields, the people can spot a ferenje vehicle and shout and wave or ululate or crack their whips. Once well out of the city we are in medieval agricultural territory. With thousands of acres being ploughed by oxen with long wooden ploughs, the men walking behind constantly laying the whip across the hind quarters of the oxen.  In the evening we see the men carrying the huge ploughs back home on their shoulders. Cattle here are not sacred but the way they wander into the road they possibly think they are.

Eventually the terrain changes as we enter the more mountainous areas and climb up to the ridge of the Blue Nile gorge. We stop at a vantage point to look at the view. There is no-one in sight but within about one minute of getting out of the vehicle people begin to appear running up the hillside clutching woven baskets and carved stone crosses. The pressure to buy becomes a little uncomfortable with these young adults and children trying every technique from cute to pleading to mildly aggressive ‘You mister, you buy this now. 30 birr. You give me now’ Accompanied by menacing stares!  But as he is only about 12 and stick thin ………

Then we are winding down the gorge to the bridge over the Blue Nile.  We are allowed to walk over the old bridge but not the new one which is guarded by soldiers with rifles.  The Blue Nile is decidedly brown. As we climb up the other side of the gorge we pass a tree clattering with bird noise and when we look it is decorated with dozens of woven nests suspended from the branches and twice that number of bright yellow birds.

Soon we are driving in the dark which the guide books say is really not a good idea. I  agree entirely. If driving during the day was scary this is terrifying and the lights on the truck are not too impressive either. People and animals loom out of the dark every few minutes and it is really hard to see the regular holes in the road.

After an hour or so we reach town and the hotel.  The drivers tell us ‘no more night driving’. The hotel has rooms but no electricity. Then they do and then they don’t then they do again but it waxes and wanes. Anyway there are beds and it is secure and we eat there and the food is good. We sleep OK but are woken several times by the dogs howling in an amazing cacophony which doesn’t last long and finishes so abruptly it is as if someone flicked a switch. Rebecca says it is because they hear the hyenas coming and they will pick out a dog to separate off and kill.

Morning comes and we have tea and French toast and get back on the road.

The road becomes even more crowded with agricultural vehicles and workers and we pass through many towns all buzzing with activity – country people,  people in modern dress, priests with matching umbrellas.

Soon we head off the main road and stop to ask for a waterfall that Rebecca wants us to see. It is called Fang but no-one seems to have heard of it, even when we get really close they do no t know the name. Then we are off down a very rough mud track lined with mud houses, lots of kettles smoking outside and very thin horses and cattle. The people  obviously  do not see many ferenje go by their front doors. Almost everyone waves and shouts and the kids run after us for miles. This is a very muddy track and at times even our 4×4 vehicles struggle. The track ends in a newly planted field and we now have about 15 of the most determined kids with us. Many of them speak a little English and they are obviously going to guide us down to the waterfall – whether we like it or not.

The path is steep and slippery and the kids are at times a hindrance rather than a help – vying to grab at your every limb and place your foot in the safest place in their opinion or trying to stop you touching poisonous plants. To my horror my guide decides to call me granddad and congratulates me on every step for making it as if I am in my eighties. The climb down is short and definitely worth it. The waterfall is not high but the power of the water cascading over the ridge is awe inspiring with the spray reaching us hundreds of yard away.  I take time to get out the gorilla pod and put an ND filter on the camera  so I can blur the water – and later discover a huge blob in the middle of the filter ruining all my efforts. It is all a bit rushed – especially for a granddad. When we reach the top I tell my guide I will wait for my wife. He asks which one is my wife with a look of incredulity. When I point out Marianne he punches me good naturedly and congratulates me for getting myself a young wife.

Then things go a bit wrong. Fion is crying and says his money – only 10 birr or so –has been stolen by the village kids. Johnny gets upset and starts shouting at the kids. The drivers get wind of this and somehow think a mobile has been stolen and go running off into the village pursuing two young boys. The atmosphere turns dark. Rebecca arrives and gets very angry with Johnny for kicking off at the kids. Just when we think it can’t get any worse the whole adult population starts to arrive and surround the vehicles. Rebecca looks worried that this could turn very unpleasant. There are maybe 200 hundred villagers and the drivers are missing and the vans are locked. But things seem to calm down and the drivers re-appear though they are still threatening some of the kids. We go back to the vans and give our guides some money and sweets but the frenzy starts again with many children shouting for money and stopping us getting into the vehicles. It is not menacing but hard to control. An older boy is trying to stop the children begging with not much success but eventually we are all on board and manage to set off again with dozens of villagers running alongside us and people waving from all the houses.

We learn just how easily wars start! And perhaps to be a bit more sensitive. Still don’t know what really happened – maybe Fion dropped the money. Most villagers seemed horrified to think that someone would steal from their guests. Then again kids are kids the world over.

Back to the main road and off towards Bahir Dar – our next stop on the shore of Lake Tana. Travel is exactly as before – frenetic with lots of swerving and braking hard. Swimming  through a throng of people and animals.

When we reach our chosen hotel the Guion on the lake I admit to being initially  disappointed as I thought it was going to be an idyllic spot on the shores of a lake with gently lapping water and chalets opening on to the shore. But the town is actually on the lake and the hotel is on a busy road though in a compound. The hotel is extremely run down. To call it one star would be extremely generous. In Europe it would be condemned in an instant. Our room is very damp and the furniture is ancient and filthy and the bathroom wet and black with mold. The electrics are fragile and intermittent. But it is secure and safe and we are tired so we check in. It is also very cheap.  Maybe £10 per night. The lake is hidden behind corrugated iron sheets but there are beautiful if dilapidated gardens andthe birds are spectacular and very tame, eating off the tables and sitting in trees all around us. We get settled in after we have had room changes because of non-working locks and dodgy electrics.

We eat on a veranda built round a huge tree. The food is good and again very cheap and the staff very friendly. There are many nationalities here -English, German, Catalan, Belgian. The lake is huge – like a sea really with no sign of the far shore. There is a monastery near buy with amplified chanting of the monks until midnight. The shore path is busy with an air of ne’er do well about it. But we eat good food and go to bed with lots of mosquitos trying to find a way into our net. Tired but feeling secure and healthy if a little damp.

Before dark we go for a short walk and visit the luxury hotel next door which is five star and currently houses the friend s of Rebecca we met in Addis. It is low season and we could stay there for a very reasonable rate but still ten times what we are paying at the Guion.

The next day is sunny and the gardens are beautiful and the birds are back in cups. Breakfast is fine then we head off for the market. Nothing like Mercato but still a shock to all the senses with open sewers criss-crossing it and again we are the subject of much attention from both stall holders and children. All friendly and many with a few words of English.

I am going to try and post this and add fotos later – whilst we have a connection

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Mercato

Mercato is apparently Africa’s biggest outdoor market. But if that gives the impression of acres of canvas covered stalls it is not like that all. It is more a vast area dedicated to trading. Yes there are pitches on the streets but there are also wooden shacks, corrugated iron shacks, mud wall buildings and indoor arcades. And you can buy just about anything – including apparently camels though we did not see any. A few words to sum up my thoughts about Mercato would include chaotic, muddy, noisy, confusing, and bewildering. The guide books all issue dire warnings about crime in this market and I guess they have some justification but I wish I had risked bringing my camera. We picked up a ‘guide’ as soon as we arrived – this time a middle aged guy. Actually I will go back a bit and talk about the taxi ride first.

Taxis in Addis are all blue painted Ladas. Old Ladas and the odd Datsun. Those Datsuns from the 70s that are shaped a bit like Ford Capris. Sara Mac used to call them greaseball cars. The paint jobs are hand done – I mean painted by hand rather than sprayed. These cars are small and decidedly tatty and smoky and many don’t have lights. They all have a piece of material – like chenille or sometimes fake fur – draped over the space between the dashboard and the screen. You get a cab by finding one and negotiating a price. We are a big group so we always need two. Rebecca does the bargaining as we don’t speak Amharic. This can take some time and it is tempting to not argue over another 50p but that is just not the way it is done. Anyway eventually we are all aboard and we cast off into the river of traffic like flotsam bobbing about in a stream. Driving in Addis is completely bonkers but it is not at all aggressive – very little horn blowing – but then they probably don’t work.  Somehow every vehicle plus a few donkeys, goats, camels (tho we are yet to see one) and pedestrians just about manage to avoid collisions. The fumes are horrendous and add that to the lack of oxygen and it can be very unpleasant. There are buses too – big ones and mini-buses but we haven’t braved them yet. They are seriously overcrowded though everyone is inside – they don’t seem to allow hanging off the outside or climbing on the roof. They don’t have any indication of where they are going and I wonder how you get off if you are at the back and your stop comes up.

Anyway we get to the market and the first thing you notice is that everyone is staring at you – with nothing more than fascination for the most part – I am sure most of these people, except  perhaps some of the children have seen white people before but maybe not often. The market does attract traders from miles around though so I suppose there will be some who might not have seen many white people. Many, many people want to practice however much English they have and smile away at us –some just say Lampard or Beckham or Manchester and grin. But there are also the children with little trays of bubblegum or fruit or strange twiggy things that I have not got a clue about and you are a definite target for them. The approach ranges from plaintive pleas to buy something to what they call ferenje fever – foreigner fever – where half a dozen or more of these children surround you chanting  ‘You You YOU!’  thrusting their wares in your face. Somewhat unnerving but our self-appointed guide shouts at them and they go way.  There are a couple of moments when you feel people are deliberately blocking your path and you are getting sort of bundled but with a little determination we rapidly extricate ourselves. Obviously you do not have bags open and stick in a little group.

Thing is, it is so easy to get distracted. I feel like I am in one of those documentaries they used to show at tea-time on a Sunday afternoon – the World About Us or something. It is all very colourful – huge sacks of spices and incense and bundles of charcoal, and coffee roasters and twig burners fashioned from old tin cans. And huge drums of cooking oil pierced by hand pumps for dispensing into anything from cups to 5 litre cartons. The people are almost as varied as the goods on offer with dozens of different tribal garments, ancient women squatting on sacks of turmeric, younger women with babies slung on their backs, pitiful beggars with leprosy, other who just crawl along the roads with twisted or missing limbs. The smells change every few yards too – one minute it is roasting coffee, then chilli spices (don’t sniff them we are warned), then incense, then something disgusting, then goats. The whole place assaults your every sense. Many stalls seem to sell just one thing but maybe in different sizes – so it might be baskets , or aluminium pans or incense. It is incredibly colourful and fascinating to look at. Another thing I did not expect are the roads – the main ones are tarmac but many of the twisty side streets and alleys are just huge chunks of stone and mud. You have to watch your step all the time – you could easily fall and that would not be much fun on those rocks. There is constant activity here – lorries reversing, donkeys – some of them seemingly on their own running down the streets, a man with a pile of green and yellow mattresses twice as tall as he is on his head, people cooking and roasting over charcoal.

Soon it is starting to get dark and we decide it is time to find taxis again. I did grab a few shots on my phone but I would love to go back with the big camera – and maybe a couple of minders.

Having dificulty with uploading at the moment. Also we are both poorly and under the doctor… should survive . But maybe no update for a while

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