Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Playing With Fire

So, in one of the many newsletters I’m signed up for, but generally ignore, comes the invitation of do a Firewalk in Edinburgh – as in, walking across a bed of hot coals, like a semi-naked guru in an old anthropological film. My friend Eva, on the same mailing list, then texts me to pretty much inform me that I am going and she’s booked the tickets. And thus it was I found myself in her car, heading to that scary and unknown place, where ghouls and demons dwell, The North.

We decided to take a few days to do the trip, so first stop was the most gorgeous and delightful City of York. Somehow I’ve managed to live here 16 ½ years and never stop off in this fairy tale city, and I’m so glad we did. A good stroll and sumptuous dinner later, we stopped for the night in the cosy enough Hotel Noir, after getting wonderfully lost in the dark on our way home (Rome Without Baedecker!)

After a fairly early night I dreamt that I’d set off a burglar alarm. I then became conscious and found it was the hotel fire alarm at a mere 7am (on a holiday morning! Sacrilege!) This kinda got us out of bed, so after breakfast I thought I’d climb the Minster tower. It was till too early so I took a little stroll around town and got caught up in a wonderful shop called Demijohn’s that sells homemade oils and vinegars, whiskies and gins. Delightful! Somehow, during the conversation with the sales guys, it came up that we were headed to Edinburgh for a firewalk and it was pretty much at that moment that I realised what we were going to do. That very evening we were to trip the light fantastic over a bed of genuinely (very) hot coals.

By the time I had purchased numerous delicious little bottles of wondrous unctions, I’d missed the opportunity to climb the tower, as we still had a five hour drive ahead of us.

So we hit the road northwards again, stopping and the fabulous Angel of The North – always a glorious sight, and though we’d been promised endless and tedious rain all day, we seemed to be pushing it away ahead of us which made the drive a real joy. We took the A roads along the most wonderful route through the rolling hills of Northumberland, an area I’ve never been through before. It’s absolutely stunning. We also accidentally stopped at the most beautiful view. Just before three we realised we should stop at the next pub to get some lunch before they all stopped serving. So we pulled in at an unpromising looking establishment, parked up and then turned around – the view was just wonderful – endless open space, scudding clouds, bright, bright sunshine. It was all there. And the pub turned out OK – decent food and a table put there just for us, overlooking the vista.

On our way again, we found our guesthouse in Edinburgh – I won’t rant about how feeble the place was right now as there are more important things in life to talk about, but suffice it to say if this were a more usual “my holiday” missive, this rant would constitute a significant part of it.

To cut a long moan short, we parked up in the advertised “parking facilities” – a meter 2 ½ blocks away, dumped our belongings and jumped into a cab over to the Salisbury Centre (I kind of hippyish esoteric centre that seems to exist because people are nice – honesty box for the tea and coffee etc), where the walk was to take place. Eva and I were the first to arrive (not comforting) and I wasn’t really sure how to feel. We had had such a lovely day, and here we were contemplating hot coals and burnt soles and it was difficult to get my head around it all.

Shortly thereafter, a couple arrived and it turned out that the guy had done it before, and had blatantly lived to tell the tale (and was back for more) so I took that as a good sign. Eventually a group of about 12 or 13 gathered, the two instructors arrived and we got started.

First we had to build the fire. They had a van load of Silver Birch – which burns at 1,200 deg F, and we formed a chain to get the logs from the van, through the house and out into the backyard, which had the lushest, greenest (and comfortingly dampest) grass ever. I took this as another good sign, something to cool the tootsies down with. Once the logs were assembled, we all took part in the lighting process, spending the best part of an hour getting it going and just talking quietly. After a time we went back inside, leaving a seasoned firewalker to tend the fire.

Once back inside I was expecting a lot of meditation and so on, but all we really did was talk – but it did bring the group together into the same space and just being present in the moment. A good energy developed in the room, and strangers were starting to feel comfortable with each other. At one point we took a break to go and see how the fire was doing, and we spent quite some time gathered around it while the dusk turned to night. But it was still too young, so we went back inside, where we were pretty much surprised into breaking an arrow – on our throats.

The arrows are made of American Cedar, especially used for the lovely scent they give off when snapped. Proper archery arrows, a few had been lying on the table and we’d passed one around, but I for one hadn’t really twigged what they were for. Then all of a sudden, while waiting for the fire to get to the required coal-phase, one of the leaders, Sutra, said something to the effect of “lets break some arrows” and he and Brice (the firewalking teacher) demonstrated.

The tip of the arrow is placed in the soft hollow of your throat, with the shaft horizontal, parallel to the floor. The feathered end is placed against a board with a notch in it to hold it in place. The board is held in place by the instructor. Then the person breaking the arrow prepares themselves to make the horrifying decision of literally walking into the arrow with enough force and decisiveness to break it in two. To me, this looked like the most terrifying and impossible thing to do – your throat is such a vulnerable part of the body, and it looked like it required more strength of character than I possess.

But then Eva just stepped up and did it, and walked with no fear or hesitation, straight into the arrow and snapped the thing right in two. After several more people did it, and survived in hale health, I manned-up and stepped forward to choose my arrow. I picked a red shaft with blue and yellow flights. I must confess to dithering somewhat about my choice to delay having to actually place the thing in my throat, but eventually the arrow chose me and I was committed.

Placing the tip of an arrow in the hollow of your throat feels something like submitting to a particularly angry dog. It might choose not to tear you to shreds, but its capability to do so is undiminished. The other end is placed in the notch on the board and Brice braces himself to hold it in position. The group does a bit of chanting and you stand there making up your mind. Once made, and you have committed to taking the step into the arrow, you breathe deeply and slowly, and then you just do it. The snap of the shaft is like gunfire in the small room (your own arrow sounds much louder than anyone else’s), and then all resistance disappears and the broken arrow falls to the floor.

The feeling afterwards was quite overwhelming and I must confess to shedding a few tears. It was an incredible feeling of lightness and burden-lifting that I was almost dizzy from it.

After that, hot coals were a doddle.

As soon as the arrow breaking was done, the fire was ready. We took our shoes and socks off inside and all went out and gathered, barefoot, around the fire. Even though it was a chilly evening, the fire was hot enough for us to take our jackets off. The bulk of the silver birch was now red hot coals, with a few flames still flickering in unusual colours – pinks and greens as well as the more usual blues and yellows..

Brice spent about 10 minutes preparing the walking colas – the fire is spread out into a square that will take at least three strides to cross. The bulk of the coals are kept in a heap on one side to keep them smouldering and retaining their heat. Some are then spread into a blanket for walking on. He taps them down to make a fairly even surface (you don’t really want to be tripping and falling face first into them!), during which they slowly start going dark (a loss of about 200 deg F). The lush, damp lawn was particularly comforting under my feet at this point…

A few more taps with the rake and they fire was declared open. Lord knows why, but I stepped forward first. Standing at the edge and looking at the short, yet endlessly long, distance to the other side, I was now committed. I think this qualifies as one of the biggest “moments” in my life. You can’t help but be totally and utterly in the present moment. I imagine this is what it must feel like just before you jump out of an aeroplane, or bungee jumping off a bridge across a raging river.

I did have to ask the group to chant to give me the final impetus to get me moving, and then suddenly I just stepped forward and walked across 1,000 deg F Silver Birch coals.

And then I was on the other side, completely unscathed, and flooded with every good chemical the body produces. Not even a tiny pinprick of a burn. It was astonishingly easy, once the commitment was made. And it really felt like walking across a bed of slightly warm cotton wool.

After this, everyone walked, most more than once. Friends, partners, strangers walked across in pairs. One woman even danced across. And when the coals got too cool, Brice raked out fresh coals and we could all go again.

The result? Relief, liberation, and the wiping out of a substantial part of the resentments I have harboured for many, many years. And dirty, but unburned feet.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

My HoliGroundhogday

Tuesday 10th Feb, 5.15 AM. I land in Dubai on my way back from South Africa. A flight that improved immensely after I handed this note to the air steward, she sniffed the air, and took pity on me…

In Dubai airport, I meet Colin and we jump in a cab. We’re on our way to Beirut, but flying from a different airport. We’re flying from a different Emirate, in fact, Sharjah – a dry country. Possession of alcohol is a jailable offence. Our flight is at 7.50 AM. I have a bottle of wine with me, purchased, as one does, at duty free in Johannesburg. It’s most of an hour’s drive to Sharjah, during which the dry status of the place becomes clear to me.

As the double-domed, single-minaretted mosque-esque airport hoves into view, I mention that I have this bottle of wine. True to form we feel it’s a terrible waste to throw it away, so risk incarceration and search out a nice corner in a carpark hedge and proceed to neck it (thank god for screw-tops…). Around 7AM we think we really ought to go check in.

7.05AM, and we’re told in no uncertain terms that check in has closed and there’s no way in hell we’re getting on that plane. Much arguing later we’re still nowhere near a check-in counter. A couple of other people have made a similar mistake (probably without the wine, though), but no amount of begging, cajoling or other attempts at persuasion can change the mind of the stony-eyed woman in the elaborate grey veil.

We then refer back to the airline agent. “Tomorrow’s flight is wide open, Sir. We charge an extra 100 Dirhams to book here, why don’t you go home and book online?”

Already having lost one flight’s worth of money we appreciate his point, and head back into Dubai, in morning rush hour, with a Sri Lankan lady cab driver, dressed in an elaborate blue veil. Apparently it’s compulsory uniform for female cab drivers in her company. It takes a long time. A very long time. A huge amount of time-spent-in-traffic later, we sneak (I’m not really supposed to be there, what with fraternisation between the sexes very much frowned upon and fornication being downright illegal) back to Colin’s “cell” in “Alcatraz” – a very large and slightly unnerving development of residential apartments, whole swathes of which are unoccupied, nodding to Security Man on the way in. He clocks the backpack and wheelie bag.

We give up and get some sleep.

What is there to do in Dubai? Certainly a lot less than there is to do in Beirut! So,we do as the locals do, and go to the Mall. Exiting past security sans luggage, we drive into the sunset, off to the Mall of the Emirates to watch people fall over on the indoor ski slope whilst sipping £7 pints. An absolutely luscious (alcohol-free: SOOOO many places don’t serve alcohol at all) Persian dinner followed, and then it was time to book our new flights for the next morning. Could we get connected? Could we fuck. Neither the free nor the pay wifi could get us online.

Never mind! The flight is “wide open”! We’ll just bite the bullet and pay the airport surcharge… We’re going to Lebanon!

[Notes on the Mall of the Emirates: (1)The ladies toilets have a full lounge facility. I’m reliably informed the Gents do not.

(2)” Mall Walking” is an accepted form of exercise (it seems ludicrous until you think that in summer it reaches 55° Celsius with 80% humidity)]

And so, to bed, sweet dreams of Lebanon gracing the night…

Wednesday 11th February, 4.30 AM. The alarm(s) ring(s). Yay! We’re on our way to Beirut. Enthusiasm for getting out of Dubai defeats any inclination to stay in bed. On the way out the door - backpack and wheelie bag in tow – we nod to the (same) security guy. We trek on foot to the local mosque, where cabs are apparently more plentiful. It is dark and we pass lots of “worker accommodation” where the underclass of Pakistani labourers are “housed” (6 to a room, some hot-bunking). Hundreds of men are streaming out of the buildings and getting onto buses bound for whatever health-and-safety-free, in-serf-like-bondage job they’re here to do. The muezzin are calling and we’re chiming in, trying to attract a taxi. Eventually we get one, do the classic Dubai U-turn (there’s very few opportunities to turn left or right out of the often 5-lanes-a-side roads, and U-turns are the accepted way of turning around, with inside lanes provided for the purpose) and off we go! To Sharjah! And thence, Beirut!

6AM and we are well in time for check-in. We waltz smugly up to the counter and ask for two tickets to Beirut, please. The (same) guy struggles to look us in the eye as he tells us the flight is full. Yesterday it was “wide open”, today it is full. We can go on the standby list but tickets are triple the price. We opt not to go on the list. We do, however, opt to buy a ticket for tomorrow right then and there, screw the surcharge. We can still do ONE night in Lebanon.

Another taxi back to Dubai (by now we’ve spent almost a flight’s worth of money on fruitless taxis to Sharjah and back) and in we waltz into Colin’s block, with backpack and wheelie bag, once again past the same security guy (who is fortunately turning a blind eye to all my comings and goings). We nod sagely at him. He stares at us, trying to compute.

Still, we now actually have a ticket to Beirut. We spend the day on the beach, which is very chilled,

Note the Desert Cool bag…

and head for the Malaysian (I think) area, via what I like to call “Muscle Alley”. If anyone has ever been to Trade, you’ll know there’s that passageway between the bar and the dancefloor where all the Muscle Mary’s stand against the walls and you have to run the gauntlet of them to get to where you want to be. Well, there’s one particular street (more of a motorway, actually, it has about a zillion lanes) which is just lined with these skyscrapers, all of them glitzy, many of them unfinished, and they’re just so imposing it feels like running the gauntlet of Muscle Alley.

Once we bail from (yet another) cab (it’s the only way to get around) we stumble upon an internet café. A decision is made that since we’ve only got one night in Beirut, let’s just book ourselves a nice hotel and be done with. The “let’s just turn up and see what happens” approach is no longer so appealing. A tediously slow connection eventually provides us with a Deluxe Sea View Room in the Palm Beach Hotel, With Luxury Spa Bath. Happy, we go find ourselves a very random bar, manage to avoid the Indonesian covers band due to play later, and eat some very odd Thai food.

We go to the base of the Burj Dubai to gawp at the tallest building in the world, but the weather has come up and we can barely see it. Luckily you can see it from afar, no sweat.

And so another day not in Beirut draws to a close.

Thursday 12th February, 4.30AM. The alarm(s) ring(s). Enthusiasm for another trip to Sharjah Airport is not quite as evident as it was yesterday. Nevertheless, we now have flight tickets in our grubby paws, and we have a Deluxe Sea View Room With Luxury Spa Bath awaiting our pleasure. Once again we pass Mr Security Guy. Luggage, as always, in hand. By now he’s barely raising an eyebrow. We joke about him setting his watch by us, but we’re going to fool him by not coming back this time! Snigger and chuckle… We have tickets and we’re on our way! We walk to the mosque in the dark. We witness the I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-in-the-twenty-first-century class system in action once again. We sing along to the muezzin to hail a cab. We get one. The cabbie moans about having to drive back in the morning traffic {it’s particularly bad on the way into Dubai from Sharjah, and Dubai cabs can’t pick up passengers in Sharjah, so he has to drive back empty}. We fail to care.

We get to Sharjah airport. Miracle upon miracle, we actually manage to check in! We have boarding passes! We have allocated seats! We are going to Beirut! It’s all worth it in the end!

And all continues to go well. We manage to ascend the escalators with no hindrance. Even the queues for immigration are short. With glee we approach the immigration officer (another steely-eyed woman in an elaborate grey veil). Mr Bremner hands over his boarding pass and passport. I let my gaze wander about the room. I think how glad I am that I don’t have to see this goddamn shitty airport again.

“Excuse me, Sir,” the elaborately grey-veiled woman says, “but your passport seems to have expired.”

And that was the end of Beirut.

All that anger management therapy seems to have worked. Colin got away with being called a cock and buying breakfast.

Remember kids, always check your passport before attempting to travel! It might cost you two flights to Lebanon, one flight back from Lebanon, and one Deluxe Sea View Room With Luxury Spa Bath in The Palm Beach Hotel, Beirut.

* * *

At this point going back again to The Cell, and passing that damn security guy once again was simply NOT an option. Turns out he could have set his watch by us. So, while trying to locate another internet connection to book ANYTHING that’ll get us away from Alcatraz, we randomly saw an ad for new resort opening in another emirate – on the other side of bloody Sharjah - that was doing good deals for the opening week, and booked ourselves in there…

Although it was not QUITE Beirut, Ras Al Kheimah was at least different, and very educational. This is what Dubai was like not very long ago – sand, sand, sand and more sand, with the odd settlement here and there. Like, really, it’s a desert. All there is, is sand. And super-giant-enormous billboards promising fabulous new developments. Marinas! Golf Courses! Wonderful, luxurious homes! Communities specialising in Ostentatious Displays of Wealth! Glamorous western families horseback-riding over a perfectly manicured lawn(?)! And behind the billboards, just sand. We travelled there by rickety public bus, an event in itself. There are two single seats up front for single female travellers – fortunately I was Ostentatiously Displaying My Fake Wedding Ring, and could sit with Colin. Oh yes, and there were lots, I mean lots, of camels.

The place we stayed eventually was just such a billboard come to life. Something rather elaborate built out of absolutely nothing. Not really my thing, but if you’re going to have unchecked development in a pristine environment, I guess the desert is the best place to do it. It’s not like you’re chopping down ancient woodlands or anything. One does have to admire the human endeavour in creating these places once you’ve driven through sand for an hour and a half. How exactly they picked this particular piece of sand rather than any other to develop a huge resort, who knows. But they have certainly managed to build it.

Still, like most other things in Arab World, it was ever so slightly tacky and designed precisely to assist all comers in Ostentatiously Displaying Their Wealth. By this time we, of course, no longer had any Wealth to Display, ostentatiously or otherwise, and had to make do without a sea view… Only the picture of the dome ceiling was taken in anywhere near our room.

And again this funny transport rule applies. The bus from Dubai cannot pick people up in other emirates, so it goes back empty (you can tell they don’t suffer a shortage of oil). And there is no bus from Ras al Kheimah to Dubai, so we had to get yet another cab. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated proper public transport before. Having taxis, even though cheap, as your only form of transport is quite tiresome.

Truth be told, it was an awesome adventure. Even the groundhog day effect was endlessly entertaining, and it was good to see more of Dubai than I’d planned to, and it’s all about the company anyway. It was fun!

Dubious Foreign Product of the Trip:

Now let me explain as far as I understand – I could be totally wrong…

On the way out to SA I stopped over for one night in Dubai and we went to the Creek. It was the most charming part of Dubai I’ve seen (it’s a big enough river to make you feel comfortable in the desert), and is a bit Ye Olde Worlde (for Dubai, that is, so less than a century) and there’s a touristy “traditional village” you can visit. In one area they were performing a Bedouin (I was given to understand) marriage ceremony, and I couldn’t understand why all the women had huge moustaches (the light was dim…) Turns out they’re these almost full-face metal masks, in the shape of the yellow felt mask on the doll above. I don’t know why they wear it, but they do.

Anyway, after seeing this, we come across a stall selling these DOLLS!!!!! She speaks when you press her hand. We asked the vendor what she said, and he translated it as something like “I am nothing, I have no choice, I am the slave of god”. Of course the ardent feminist in me was horrified (so was Colin, to be fair) – I mean the DOLL is wearing a MASK!!!! Kids play with this stuff!!!!! This is Barbie! (although Barbie is hardly an example of responsible toy-making). Traditional dress is all very well, but there’s something about the mask that made me want to scream and shout and rip all those little yellow bits of felt off every doll in the shop.

Turns out she is actually a character in a Simpsons-like Emirati family, so all may not be lost, but still. I was shocked.

Best Foreign Sign of the Trip:

Best Foreign Cool Cultural Thing of the Trip:
You can leave your bags in the coffee shop at the airport and both go to the bathroom and come back and find it all there, untouched. Which is really very nice. You can also tell they don’t really consider themselves at any risk from terrorism.

Best Foreign TV of the Trip:
Camel TV. Yip, a whole channel (Colin assures me, he has personally done the research) dedicated entirely to footage of camels wandering in the desert, set to traditional music. No talking, no presenting, no program beginnings or endings, just camels wandering. Schweet!

The End

Friday, March 28, 2008


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Friday, January 18, 2008

In The Parallel

A little bit of messing around to the start of Phillip Neil Martin and Luke Vibert's "In the parallel". Reflections from the catwalk at the RCA fashion show January 2008...


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Letters from The Sea - Part VII - Corsica

Hi all

One more sleep and I'm home! Of course, now that the weather has settled into marvellous mediterranean sunshine, I'm kinda sad to be on my way home. But I think the feeling will only last as long as I'm on land. As soon as I'm on board again I'll be ready to tear my hair out...

Anyway, once gain sipping capuccino, this time in the pretty little town of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. Only french place I've ever been served within a minute of sitting down, and quite liking it! The ship is berthed right in town, about a half a minutes walk away,so no shuttle bus hell, and it looks quite pretty with the mountains of the interior looming behind it. Unfortunately my camera battery just died and I didn't bring my charger...


Not much to tell about Corsica except that the men are absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I've always gone for skinny white boys, but ten months of screwing a Turk may be changing that. The young men here are swarthy and dark with really striking features. And it seems they turn into really characterful old men. Not very friendly, mind, but let's not forget they ARE technically French. Oh, and apparently Napoleon was born here. Would love to settle into a nice ocean-facing restaurant for lunch, but the ship sails at 1PM in a last-ditch effort to pump money out of the passengers. Tomorrow is Palma and a changeover of punters.

I've met some pretty decent people on this ship, I have to say. If I was staying on board I've identified a couple that would definitely have become close friends, and plenty more that'd be more-than-acquaintances, but seriously, I miss you lot! And the best people I've met (also more my age) are the director and two other people involved heavily in the production shows - and they're all based in London! Micha Borghese is the director (he did the airial show in the Dome) and his resident director and costume designer, with whom I've shared a number of bottles of wine, live in East and West Dulwich respectively, so about 5 minutes from me.

So, off to see if I can find somewhere to send this from...

Lots of love

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Letters from The Sea - Part VI: Tunis, Naples, Livorno and Villefranche

Pretty, pretty Villefranche

So here I sit in a Salon de The in the most gorgeous and charming Villefranche - a lovely little town on the French Reviera. It can only be described as "delightful"! Terracotta houses lining a lovely bay, 16th century citadel, little boats bobbing up and down, and two big cruise ships anchored some way into the sea - it was also quite fun that the only way off the boat is by little boat... And YAY!!!!! The sun is shining at LAST! Was planning to go to Cannes to get a photo of something I failed to photograph when I was last there, but missed the train station, and when I turned back and could finally see it from a distance, looked at all the people waiting on the platform and thought, the last thing I really want to be doing is hanging about trying out sunday public transport in France, so have now been sitting here for a while being charmingly ingored by the French waiters.

View from my Salon du The

By now I'm desperate to be home. I am SO bored I am no longer able to give a flying f*** about seeing the same resident singers over and over again, singing off the same "safe" playlist. I mean, they're lovely people, and great singers, but jeeeeeeeeezzzzzzz. Give me some variety! One of them did "Same Jeans" by the View the other day and it went down a storm! Everyone loved it. But it was pretty risky. I'm so glad it worked out cos that means they can venture into slightly less safe territory. Especially since the ship is aimed at 35-55 years olds... (Not that it's succeeding that well, everyone seems more like 65-85 to me...)

Anyway, only 4 shows to go! And all of them are proper "production shows" with dancers and acrobats and stuff, so much more fun for me.

So, backtracking a bit...

The morning we arrived in Tunis, I didn't even get woken by the anchor-lowering process... Had been up till about 5 AM having my ears bent by one of the dancers. See, the crew bar shuts at one. But everyone buys a stash of at least another three drinks just before closing, and we sit and nurse them till we're chucked out at 2. Then there is a general movement up to the Players Bar & Casino where a cheesy disco continues until the punters all finally stagger to bed, any time between 2 and 4AM. We can drink here at hefty discount. When that finally shuts, we either go to someone's cabin who has a stash of beer in their fridge, or we go to Plantation, which is the 24-hour burger bar, where LUCKILY they serve no alcohol. I'm always happiest in the morning when the latter course of action is taken, as it usually means an end to the alcohol consumption for the night. My first few days I was quite good, but lord above, one does need an escape from the dullness of life on board a ship, and since the poker night I don't think I've been to bed before 5... Except last night, but then my alarm was set for 7.30 so I could go on the trip up Vesuvius... I've sworn I will not set foot in Crew Bar after work tonight, but hey, late night's are my time of day and somehow I think it'll be hard not to... Wish me luck!

So Tunis was a non-event for me, and the weather sucked again, and my mood was awful and I had nightmares when I tried to get some kip around lunchtime, and all I wanted to do was GO HOME!!!! And we spent the whole afternoon setting up the band in Crew Bar for a party last night - which shouldn't really be a problem, except Crew Bar is on deck 2 midships - the lift only goes down to deck 4 - and all the gear is scattered between the various venues in the ship, which are generally on decks 7 and 8. So you can imagine how many times we had to trek up and down the stairs in order to get all the bits we needed... It took HOURS! Thankfully there are four stagehands who did most of the heavy stuff, but jeez... What a dull afternoon...

So the crew party was kinda fun, and I managed to drag myself out of bed to get on a coach to Mount Vesuvius. It was well worth it, and I was SORELY tempted to buy some of the souveneirs... I've seen some tacky stuff in my time, but OH-MY-GOD I've never seen anything quite this bad. A vast array of tacky little creatures carved from black lava, and then painted in GLITTER of all things!!! So imagine: two little bunnies hugging each other around a red-glitter heart. A tortoise with a green-glitter shell. An enormous roman soldier with all different colours of glitter festooning his person. I SO wanted to buy one, on the one hand, but SO couldn't bring myself to encourage that kind of industry in the end...

Bad Picture of Mount Vesuvius

The crater of the volcano

Then spent the afternoon wandering around in Naples, which was loads of fun! Insane traffic - crossing the road is an art: find a local and put him between you and the traffic and walk when he does. It works very well - I remember having to do something similar in Bangkok. It's got quite a buzz about the place. Feels vaguely dangerous, with some rough looking characters wandering around. The kind of place in which you expect to be pick-pocketed. And remind me never to wear a crop-top in Italy again. The men were SO leery and lecherous. Ugh. But still, it had that properly Italian look to it, castles and all, and I like a bit of edginess, me. And I managed to get connected...

Naples side-street

The Galleria Something in Naples

The we moved up the coast to Livorno, and descended into bad weather and huge swells - apparently something like 4 metres. But my trusty sea-legs did their job and even though the ship was listing at an angle of about 20 degrees I managed to only feel mildly dizzy.

Livorno was a bit of a mission of a day. It's a gateway port to Pisa and Florence, but I was sent into Livornio to try buy 2 multi-cd changers and a DJ thingy with MP3 capabilities. Yeah right. In a dodgy little Italian dock town? With not a single word of Italian at my command? In the piss-pouring rain? I managed to find two electronics shops, but they seem to have been lost since about 1985. SO much for that. Waiting for the once-every-half-hour (read: once-every-hour) shuttle bus was my next fun experience. So, an hour and at least 4 busses going to a different ship later, the queue getting longer and longer, and moodier and moodier, and the rain not letting up, a bus labeled Ocean Village arrives. It drops off 8 people, closes the doors and drives off! By now there were about 100 people in bad moods just wanting to get back to the ship. Another half hour or so later a coach finally arrives to pick us up, and we have to squeeze everyone in like a rush-hour tube. Bearing in mind everyone is fairly elderly and somewhat infirm, this caused much consternation. When we got back to the ship, I went to tell the manager of the shore excursions what had happened,and he just shrugged his shoulders and said "it was siesta time"... might have been nice if someone had MENTIONED there would be no coaches in mother-f***ing siesta time - everyone could have settled into a nice lunch somewhere instead of standing in the pissing rain. So much for customer care - it has been firmly proven that OV only really cares about the folks who go on their seriously over-priced tours. If you choose to be independent, they want you to suffer as much as possible so people are forced to aceed to the organised tours. Oh well.

But that was yesterday,and today all is fabulous. Just GORGEOUS! This pretty much makes up for a lot of the crap days. I love the south of France! so damn pretty...

Anyway, gonna take another stroll, see if I can find an internet caf and head back for work...

Lots of love

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Letters from The Sea - Part V: Naples

Hiya! finally found an internet caf in Naples, so HELLO!!!!!! I cannot believe how out-of-touch I've been feeling.... There's this massively annoying big red cross underneath the words "internet is not available" on the screens of all the on-board computers...

Since I last wrote, things have been very up-and-down for me. Starting to be so damn BORED I'm losing my mind. The only thing I can find to occupy my mind is eating continuously. The weather has been incredibly crap, so relaxing on top deck with a book is out. This also means that all the comfy indoor areas are occupied completely by passengers, so no luck there. And my cabin is so depressing I really would rather not be in there unless I'm asleep! So I find myself wandering aimlessly around the ship, passing by the Cyber Zone every ten minutes to check if maybe, just MAYBE, they've sorted the connection out...

And of course, the crew bar is another danger... At 85p a beer... And with my poker winnings I now have pounds in cash again, so I can do my share of round-buying... Had another seriously late night on Wednesday, then last night was a crew party, so more lateness, and I'd booked myself on a trip up Mount Vesuvius which left at 8.50 this morning, so I am suffering somewhat! I also missed Tunis completely, yesterday, as I was fast asleep in my dark hole of a cabin...

Crew Bar!

As crew I can pretty much go on any of the shore tours that get me back in time for soundcheck, and Vesuvius was kinda cool. Long trek up the slopes of an active volcano! Last erupted in 1944, and you can see the lava flow where it cooled. It's also the volcano that buried Pompeii in 791AD (or thereabouts). You can see little puffs of smoke coming out of the cracks in the magma, although the actual centre has been "plugged" since the last eruption. And loads of people have houses on the slopes! They all live in daily fear that it will erupt again - there are early warning systems in place...

The outer ring (previous incarnation of the mountain) of Mount Vesuvius and lava flow from 1944. Taken from the side of the current active volcano.

Anyway, gotta go, my battery is dying! DAMN!

Next port is Livorno (also in Italy) and I want to head into Florence, or maybe Pisa... And tonight's entertainment is a Kylie tribute, tomorrow is Elton John.. Whatever...

Love to you all!


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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Letters from The Sea - Part IV: Palma Deck Day, and Sex Aboard Ship

Sweet poster in the M1 corridor

Or so I thought… Now, you gotta remember that my cabin has no porthole. So, hangover included (but the suffering reduced by huge poker victory over Big Man Aussie Comedian) I get up at midday in anticipation of furthering my sleep under the glorious sun, ladle on my hugely expensive sun lotion which takes an hour and a half to become effective (hence the planning needed), gather together my pool needs and in-flight entertainment – book, laptop (I’ve been told that one can usually find random wireless networks in this port, and since the ship’s internet has been down for 2 days solid…), bikini, girly dress, flip flops, shades, towel, and head up to deck 14 for some breakfast and a bake in the sun. And emerge to see the day - cloudy, rainy and COLD!!!! I couldn’t believe it! And there are no other ships (read: unprotected wireless networks) in port either so here I sit in long sleeves in the coffee shop wondering when I’ll be able to talk to anyone ever again…

So today is the start of the cruise proper. The last week was an unusual route, as the ship is generally based in Palma, not Southampton. Tomorrow is a sea day again (please, oh god of the sea, keep it calm and the waves piddly…) and then Thursday we hit land again. I’ll let you know where we are as I find out… there are new passengers on board, so more drills (which I can skip, yay!) likely. Easy day today, just one soundcheck at 5.30 and one show at 9.00. Tomorrow is a long one again – starts with death-defyingly dull sales patter at 11, then rehearsals in the PM and two shows in the evening.

I keep having every member of the production staff, even the costume designer, coming and telling me how grateful they are that I’m on board. It terrifies me to think how bad their experience is in general with sound people! And not just the guy who got sacked this time round, but it seems they’ve just never had someone who actually gives a toss! Astounding… And I’m really NOT that good – I’m just prepared to spend time and effort trying to get it right, and am up-front with people about what’s possible and where the problems lie. It seems to inspire confidence. The actual shows (musical-type affairs) are really quite good, and the acrobats are astounding, the dancers excellent, vocalists pretty fine, and lighting is superb! It’s such a shame they seem to be let down by the sound all the time.

In-between the big shows the entertainment is usually tribute acts - some of them are pretty good too! Tina Turner, for example, is a SUPERB entertainer and George Michael is a great performer. I didn’t like the Robbie Williams guy too much, although he did get the mannerisms right. And then there’re “resident” singers who do sets in various lounges around the place and usually warm up for the tribute acts.

No more minor dramas or exciting incidents to report…

Oh yes, about the boat that was adrift… We slowed down and spent a while in the area it was reported as possibly being in (the exact position was apparently entirely unclear) but couldn’t find it, and the Spanish authorities sent us on our way after a while. Hope someone found the poor buggers!


Much later…Still no net, so might as well continue… I’ve been pondering the nature of sex on board a ship. Tradition holds it that sailors have a woman in every port, or at least a brothel. And not much is different, these days, I find… The kind of guys who want to settle, all seem to have a Philippino wife and child. They obviously met her on board, but now send money back to them and see them twice a year. And they do seem besotted by their ladies, but manage quite fine without them. I wonder what their relationships will be like when they leave ships and they actually see each other every day. I suppose they based there relationship on seeing each other daily in the first place, but they’ve been restricted by work hours and silly, hierarchical rules about who’s allowed in which areas and when.

The guys that DON’T have a Philippino girlfriend often have a girl at home, but that obviously doesn’t stop them having a relationship on board. The on-board girl seems to be reliably informed about the “real” girlfriend though, so it seems to be more of a fuck-buddy situation. And then you get the nicest boys of all, who seem to be so innocent and sweet, but when Matt (my new buddy, all of 22 and a great singer, bless) invited one of this type to come with us to explore Barcelona, the response was “nah… I’m just gonna get a beer and a peep show”. I don’t actually know that many women on board, so can’t vouch for what they do with their sex-lives, but when it comes to the boys, I don’t think much has changed for centuries in sea-farers’ lifestyles.

What would I do if I stayed????? Who knows…the be-uniformed guy who kept finding me when I was lost turned out to be security, not an officer so I lost interest. How shallow is THAT?????? Never knew I had it in me to be quite that snobbish. And the 22 year old – it crossed my mind to try seduce him, he is gorgeous - but that’s all it was – a crossing of the mind. Besides anything else he seems very happy with his girlfriend. I think we’re destined to be good mates. We really get on and it’s more important to stay friends with someone you click with, really.

Matt and Lucy - of the Ain't Nobody song incident...

In the same breath, I have noticed 2 guys with crushes on me. I don’t think they see new blood very often. I’m not remotely interested in any of them, but take it as a compliment. There is a real competition for my time and attention. I wonder how it’d pan out in the long term… But not enough to try and find out!!! I’m ready for final disembarkation already, but am not fussed that I have to stay. I’m doing this for the pay-cheque after all, and the experience is vastly different from anything I’ve done before. Even though they’re trying to be different from any other cruise, the institutionalisation is very obvious and very much there. Rules, rules, rules… This Is How We Do It… No Argument.

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