Archive for April, 2011

The Remains of The Day…

We interrupt these tales of Jordan for a brief news bulletin:

It seems that there was a Royal Wedding this morning. Oh, you heard about that?

Well, even I was not immune to the delights of it. Or, to be frank, the opportunity to take the piss out of it. The trouble is, they make it SO easy…Lack of Royal photoAs I cracked the lid on my first bottle of cider (I am in Somerset y’know!) I flicked around and discovered that there was almost nothing else on the telly which would provide as much sport. I tuned in to BBC One just as the commentators, who had been at it since 6 am and had clearly run out of anything meaningful to say in the first ten minutes, were discussing whether or not Elton John needed the toilet. It looked like he did – but did he? High drama at nine in the morning, with the distinct possibility of even higher drama by ten – at which point, with no other option, Elton would surely piss himself in public.

“But he’s Elton John! He can do whatever he wants! If he wants to go to the loo, he can go,” enthused the commentator.

This was gripping stuff. Groundbreaking journalism.

I hate commentators. This one (Huw Edwards) wouldn’t shut up about the young Princes William and Harry following the coffin of their mother Lady Di – “and then they were truly brothers, in an almost Shakespearian sense,” he said.

So, what? More truly brothers than, say, me and my brother? Than anyone, anywhere in the world that has an actual brother? And they were Shakespearian in what way? Did they kill their mother? Murder anyone? Have confused gender issues? No. They lost a parent. Something that has never happened to anyone since Shakespeare’s day, and of course features heavily in all of his work. This commentator, it occurred to me, was a bloody idiot.

Or maybe I was drunk. Well had I learned the dangers of drinking too early – imitating a ridiculous royal wave with both hands and forgetting there’s a glass of wine in one of them.

“Who are all this lot?” Mum asked, as a small fleet of minibuses emerged from the Palace.

We struggled to explain, but after much discussion we couldn’t figure it out. The commentator, despite his incredible boredom and utter lack of anything new to say, didn’t bother to inform us. He did, however, point out that with him was noted historian Simon Schama. He’d been pointing this out every ten minutes or so, as though to prompt the noted historian into saying something. “With me is Simon Schama… the Noted Historian who has been paid about ten grand to sit here with me, and consequently is now about to SAY SOMETHING God damn it!’

By the time we’d decided who was arriving, another bunch of cars seemed to be pulling up amidst flourishes of ushers and clergymen in vast superman capes.

“Who’s this lot then?” Mum asked.

I sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

A new arrival at the Abbey caused a stir of interest. Ah, it was Lady blah-de-blah, “dressed by Anna Valentine,” (but I heard she tied her shoelaces herself).

Anna Valentine had obviously had a busy morning rushing back and forth between royal households in London, as she’d dressed quite a few people. She must be dying for a cup of tea, I thought. I spent most of the show hoping to hear “And hear is Mr and Mrs Cheapskate Royal from Doncaster, dressed by P.R. Imark…”

The lead trumpeter in his raised gallery was featured quite closely. After leading a fanfare he removed his trumpet with a dramatic flourish, and we were treated to a High Definition view of his spit raining down on the hats below.

And what hats! Of course they’re ridiculous, that goes without saying. But one gigantic silver lampshade was clearly pushing the boundaries of what is structurally feasible in headgear. As my sister pointed out, “if all the guests had solar panels installed in their hats they could power the whole of London for the day!”

Kate Middleton’s father, an ex-market trader from Doncaster (okay, flight attendant from Leeds), was giving her some last minute advice in the car (whilst the camera crew focused on her cleavage). I was practising my lip-reading and I’m pretty sure I saw him say: “Eh up lass, ye’ve dun good there. Get yer ‘ands on im and dun’t let ‘im go ‘till ‘e’s impregnated yer. Then we’re ‘ome free.”

Kate’s beginners version of the royal wave was vigourous – we figured it’d be a few years before RSI set in and she scaled it down to the barely perceptible movement favoured by the Queen.

Price William, however, arrived in a black cab with a cardboard royal crown stuck over the ‘taxi’ sign. But it was a Bentley taxi, which makes all the difference. And then he was out of the taxi and into the church – which made me think about camera placement. I can’t imagine why anyone would specify an aerial view with extreme zoom capabilities when the groom is bald as a plucked egg on top? I had to marvel at the power of a lens that can pick out a necrotic hair follicle from the top of Westminster Abbey.

That trip down the aisle was memorable for one reason; it was the exact moment that Mum stood up to pass round cups of tea. From my perspective her ass perfectly obscured all 42” of widescreen, HD action.

The blokes were led into position by a church official dressed like one of the faculty at Hogwarts, complete with brandished wand. Actually it looked disturbingly like the thing used to brand horses. Perhaps Kate was getting more than she’d bargained for. I couldn’t resist my favourite joke when I saw a group of Sisters sitting off to one side.

“How much fun d’you reckon they’re having?”

My sister saw it coming. “Nun,” she said.

The two Princes, standing at the altar, were struggling not to laugh. Harry was swaying, regretting having one more glass of wine before leaving the palace. Our eyes were on Kate’s sister, looking very tasty in her plain white dress. Looking tastier than Kate, by quite a lot. It suddenly occurred to me that, as best man, little Harry was obligated to at least try and shag her. I wasn’t the only one having that thought – at that moment the camera caught Harry in a backward glance followed by a few sly words and a grin to Willie. “Gonna tap that tonight,” he was saying.

No wonder he was smiling.

I watched the vows and cringed as soon as the bible readings began. ‘Fear God and his Wrath and Sacrifice Yourself to Him’ seemed to be the gist of it. Highly appropriate for a wedding. Bu then, when has the bible been appropriate? Elton John had spent the entire ceremony inside God’s holy church, standing right next to his gay lover without so much as a lightening bolt from heaven.

I contemplated this, and decided to switch channels. I’d seen the bit that mattered and the TV coverage would be endless. I was starting to think it would go on all night as well. At what point would the cameras peel away? Perhaps we’d see the future monarch being conceived from about 11:30pm….

I welcome your thoughts and opinions, as always!


Petra To Go

This is Part One of a three part tale. To read the second installment, click here.

Yes folks, it’s the post you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve skipped all the pointless waffle about desert duelling, about camel-back capers; this is it. The Big One.

This… is… PETRA!

(It differs from Sparta both geographically and in the number of bronzed man-boobs on display).

View of Petra TreasuryFact No.1 We Did Not Know About Petra: You can do it in a day. Apparently. So said Mr and Mrs Modra, a fit looking couple in their early thirties. Mind you, they were Aussies so it’s possible there was a bit of bravado in their statement. They did have that slightly feverish, gung-ho look about them – the ‘up at 6am, took a shit in the bush and wiped my arse with a cactus’ type breed. Depressingly enthusiastic outdoorsy-type folk. Anyway, they were clearly nuts as they were actually driving. Our guidebook has a whole chapter about driving in Jordan. It’s one word long and says: ‘Don’t.’

Fact No.2 We Did Not Know About Petra: It is the biggest rip-off in the world. No, really, it is. For two reasons; first, it’s literally the biggest – over 500 individual tombs – so many you’d be dead of boredom and needing one yourself long before you saw the lot. Luckily they’re scattered across thirty-five square kilometres of rocky desert, much of which is only accessible by goat.

Second; because it costs £50 each to get in. For one day. Yes, that’s right – US$80 per person! Which is why Jordan isn’t on the backpacker trail. You can buy a cocaine plantation in some South American countries for that.

But was it worth it? Well, this is a tough question for me to answer really, because I didn’t pay. You see, I’m a big believer in Fate, and this is why:

We arrived in Petra town after a six hour drive through the desert, stopping en route at canyons and castles – basically we were knackered. So we headed into the tiny town centre of Wadi Musa (which the unkind might point out is just a roundabout) to get the quickest, easiest food possible before we passed out eating it. We chose a kebab shop at random (there were three of them, and nothing else); and seated next to us were Mr and Mrs Modra.

Long story short – they’d both bought two-day passes, hiked the crap out of the place in one, and wanted to move on. They offered us their passes – for free – on the off chance we could make use of the second day.

Which we did. Especially when we noticed how much they’d cost. We scurried back to the hotel and asked the receptionist. “Yes,” she confirmed, “Fifty dinars for one day. For two days, only fifty five.” One Jordanian dinar is pretty much one UK pound.

Collectively we suffered heart failure. Because our guidebook listed the entry fee as twenty dinars – circa 2009. Who could imagine the price almost tripled in little over a year? Faced with becoming so broke we’d be eating cream cheese for the rest of the holiday (it came free with every breakfast we’d had, bizarrely) we quickly formulated a plan. Roo and I would go in posing as the Aussie couple. Mum would buy a full price ticket for herself – for two days, since it was only five squid more. And that was that. As the morning of the scam approached Roo and I got progressively more nervous. I imagined all the questions they could possibly ask and came up with a story for all of them. We’d left our passports in the hotel safe. We had no other ID for fear of pickpockets. I didn’t sound like an Ozzy because I’d only just moved there from England. Our names were… why couldn’t I remember our names? And what if they had photos…?

No. In the event, the guard’s ticket scanner didn’t even work. He gave it a couple of ineffectual wafts, frowned at the screen, then banged it repeatedly against a nearby rock. This didn’t seem to do it much good, so he passed the scanner back into his booth and waved us through. Grand Larceny had been committed, and it was only 9:30 in the morning!

Fact No.3 We Did Not Know About Petra: The horse ride to the entrance is free. This is a country where, despite the cost of living being similar to the UK, people still seem to see tourists as purveyors of great wealth. God knows why – they must have studied customer relations in Bali. Everyone we met had their hands out for our cash, from the kids in the street (wearing trainers I couldn’t afford) to the taxi guides earning £70 for four hours’ work. So when a bunch of guys hanging around the ticket office started to follow us and demand we get on their horses, we ignored them and walked on. They shouted that it was free – but this was a tactic we’d seen before. Whilst entirely free to get on, getting off at the other end requires the application of a tip; probably five dinars. Pretty steep for a five minute ride.

And yet it turned out to be true! Mum got a leaflet with her ticket, which we were all too nervous to stop and read whilst the guards could still see us. We read it later that night in the hotel. Apparently a horse-ride to the canyon was included in our ticket price – they mentioned it almost by way of apologising for the exorbitant cost. But it also mentioned that it was customary to tip the guide afterwards… just five dinars.

Fact No.4 We Did Not Know About Petra: It was not discovered by Indiana Jones. There is no immortal knight inside, no spinning blades or bottomless chasms. Behind the gigantic facade carved into the wall of the canyon, there is just an empty square room. And it was closed.

Many Petra Tombs

Tombs - hundreds of the buggers!

To Be Continued…

To read Part Two of this post on Petra, click here.

Meanwhile – Whaddaya think? Would you pay a £50 entry fee? Or try to sneak in… or am I a Very Naughty Boy for even having that thought? I’d love to know!


Shit My Mum Says…

I know, I know. I should be writing about Jordan, not plagiarising a well known (and outstanding) Twitter feed / book / sit-com.

But what the hell, here goes! Because, now that the dust has settled post Mother’s Day, I suddenly felt inclined to ask; What’s in a Mum?

Well, typically about 50% fat… a bit of muscle and sinew, some rapidly degenerating bone matter and a series of internal processes that take turns in causing trouble. All wrapped up in cheerful wrinkles and hair that defies anything as restrictive as a ‘style’. The heart is generally the largest organ (though this is only because the ass is not considered an organ).

But we love them anyway, because they love us, because we’re genetically pre-programmed to, and because they feed us.

I’m over thirty and mine still feeds me.

This is my Mum. She’s a gnome.

She loves to tell me about how people start to shrink once they get beyond a certain age – it’s true. You stop growing in your early twenties and by the time you’re thirty-five you’re already starting to feel those years weighing down on your spine. My Mum struggled to reach five foot tall at age nineteen (in platform shoes and a top hat) and it’s been down hill ever since. If it carries on at this rate, by the time she retires she’ll be about waist high.

My mum is great for two reasons:

Firstly because she’s the very soul of compassion, generosity and comfort. Anything she can do to help someone, she will do without hesitation.

But mostly because the reflexes controlling her mouth are about four times faster than those which govern her brain. This has, on occasion, resulted in words coming out before they’ve been properly processed. Had she sufficient time to ponder her statements before uttering them, I’m sure she wouldn’t say half the awe-inspiring things she does.

But she hasn’t, so she does. And I get to save it all up, remind her about it remorselessly, and eventually record it in my blog so that all six of my readers can have a good laugh at her too.

That being said, here are a couple of recent examples from our Jordan trip.

Driving through the desert we were all awed by the alien-ness of the landscape. We sat in stunned silence as fields of orange sand strewn with rocks rolled by. The desolation stretched to the horizon in every direction and it’s scale was just breathtaking. Every now and then we’d pass a handful of bare concrete houses surrounded by market stalls made of sticks. It brought a bit of colour to the journey and some welcome interest to the eye – none more so than mum. She hadn’t said anything in over an hour when she sat bolt upright, stared straight out of the window and said, “That’s a very big cauliflower.”

We were understandable impressed by her contribution. It would certainly give us something to discuss for the next hundred kilometres…

Going for dinner in the hotel restaurant, she paused to listen before opening the door. It was a tiny place which doubled as reception, and we’d eaten there the last two nights running, so her caution seemed a bit unnecessary.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“It sounds very busy in there!” came her stage-whispered reply.

I opened the door and stepped through to a muted roar – Manchester United were playing Arsenal on the tiny telly by the bar, and someone had just scored. Apart from the receptionist, avidly watching the match, the place was empty.

I had to mock her. “Do you know, for a minute there it did sound like there were 80,000 screaming fans on the other side of this door…”

Browsing Arabic TV channels in our room later, she displayed an impressive capacity for understatement. “That’s an unusual sport,” she said.

On the telly, on Dubai Sports 2, commentators chatted and important statistics flashed across the screen as several bearded men dressed in full traditional bedspreads were attempting to throw enormous fish. Each was holding what looked like a narwhal by the tail, then spinning, spinning and releasing it at high velocity. It was like a hammer toss only, y’know, with fish. Unusual indeed.

Whilst sitting at a computer, trying to send an email back home:

Mum: “I can’t read my writing!”

Me: “But… you’re typing?!”

But taking pride of place amidst my memories of the trip, beyond all the subtle amusements of her getting locked in the loo, or having a laughing fit whilst trying to use a squat toilet, or her bartering down to £1 for a necklace then trying to pay for it with a £50 note… better than all that by far, was mum’s complete inability to speak pidgin English. You know, the kind you sometimes use to get your point across. Great example: our taxi guide to the Ancient Roman city of Jerash. He spoke more English that I did Arabic – but only by a handful of words.

Me to taxi driver (slowly and clearly, with hand gestures): “We go Jerash now. Go castle after, okay?”

Taxi Driver: “Okay.”

Mum to Taxi Driver: “Well, unless Jerash is open a bit later, ‘cause if it is we could nip to the castle first and get it over with, then we’d have longer to traipse round Jerash. What you reckon?”

Taxi Driver (veins popping out of his head): “Uhhhrrr…?”

Mum to Taxi Driver: “What I mean is, is one of them open later than the other? We don’t want to rush to get somewhere if it would be better to do the other place first, but we also don’t want to miss out on the castle because we take too long in Jerash.”

Taxi Driver: “Ah… you go Jerash?”

Mum sitting in a Roman colloseum

Thanks Mum! We love you!