Welcome Tweet-fans!

Hi there!
A lot of you will have come here from Twitter, where I’ve been shamelessly promoting myself for the last couple of days.
If that is the case, you might have been told that I blog about crazy shit. In fact, you might even have come here looking for it. Well I hate to dissapoint, so here it is:

Cuddly turd
Yes, it is a cuddly poo. Crazy or what? Don't know where I find this shit...

After all, shit is just shit. Crazy shit is the kind that makes you say, “Mother of God! That is an unusual turd.”

So, mission accomplished. And I got through my quota of swear words in one paragraph, so I’m going to have to delve deep for enough language to continue…

There has been a few times since starting this blog that I’ve had to type really wierd things into Google. If anyone were to steal my laptop and turn it on, they’d freak out wondering what the hell kind of person I am! There are now three photo folders on my desktop labeled ‘Fat Men in Speedos’, ‘Surgical Torture Instruments’ and ‘Pictures of Strange Poo’.
But then, serves the bugger right for stealing my laptop.

Not that anyone would steal my iBook G4 – it’s been obsolete for longer than some of you have owned laptops. I desperately needed a piece of conversion software whilst formatting my book, but it would only run on the newer Macbooks, so I posted a question on some forum asking what I should do. Only one guy bothered to get back to me. He said: ‘Dude. Get a new laptop.’

I’d love to. But I can’t afford it – at least, not until I shift some books. So back to the point of this post (What’s that? Surprised? Yes, this post has a point damnit! I’m just taking the scenic route):

BUY MY BOOK!!! Please. Or I will find you and push soggy spaghetti into your ear holes. This ‘motivated  sales tactic’ has come under some fire from my fellow authors as unethical. But they’ll be cleaning their ears out for a while yet, so not to worry.

My next post will reveal the genius behind my strategy to sail to the top of the charts with my book ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’  We’re into the final week before the launch, so I’ll be posting more about the book over the next few days (including some samples), and eventually the link to Amazon where you can buy it.

Ooh, you lucky people you! Right, that’s your lot. See you soon!

#Sample Sunday… erm… sample.

Hello, Green Volunteers!

Welcome to everyone who found this link through Green Volunteers, the group which originally inspired me to go on the adventures featured in my book. I’ve just discovered ‘Sample Sunday’ and have been inspired to share a chapter with you as a result. Someone recently asked me to “share more about the tree-thing.” Well, here it is. Enjoy!

This is a sample from near the beginning of my book, ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’, which follows my adventures in Ecuador, whilst working as a volunteer in an exotic animal refuge. At this stage the boss of the refuge, Jimmy, is showing me how to make fences that are jaguar-proof…

Growling Jaguar

The Trouble With Trees

My turn at machete work was more to my liking. True, by that point I’d already lost most of the skin on my palms, but I do love sharp things. My first attempt, with a white-knuckled death grip on the handle, resulted in score one for the tree. I deployed all my strength in one brutal swing, only to find that contact with the solid wooden trunk simply redirected most of the force back up my arm. As I staggered back clutching my shoulder the machete didn’t even have the good grace to remain lodged in the tree. It clattered to the ground, a steely ring of defiance from my adversary. “Take that!” The tree said. After a bout of extreme eye-rolling Jimmy demonstrated the proper technique again. With much exaggerated looseness and a precise swing he smoothly embedded the blade three inches deep. It looked effortless, as though he knew which parts of the tree were secretly made of painted foam. To me the problem was insurmountable – the tree was clearly harder than I was. But it was a sitting target! Could I really lose a fight with an inanimate object? Even if it was bigger than me?

I swung loose and was rewarded with a bite. Not quite a Jimmy, but a start – the narrow edge of the blade had chopped clear through the bark and on into virgin wood!

And it took nearly five minutes for me to get it back out.

Score two to the tree.

By the time I chopped down my first tree, Toby and Jimmy had cut enough posts between them for the rest of the enclosure. I consoled myself with the thought that there had to be a knack to it and it had to be learnable. Jimmy might actually have been a machete in a former life, but Toby was a Londoner. He had to have picked up his skills since he got here – I couldn’t see him hacking his way through rush hour on the tube train.

Felling a mighty giant of the forest made me feel a bit guilty. A proud living entity had been callously cut down in it’s prime, hacked to pieces by an arrogant youth with a knife fetish. But it was for the greater good, I told myself. And anyway, it served it right for being so cocky.

I reclaimed the machete and wiped my blood off the handle as the others eyed my handiwork. Jimmy’s critique was a simple, two stage process; first he pointed at the log he had just finished with. It’s end was a neat point, as was the corresponding end still rooted to the ground. Slivers of wood were scattered in a rough circle around the scene. Then he guestured towards the fruits of my labour. My tree had been severed by sheer violence. The length that lay on the ground was badly wounded by cuts ranging up all sides. The rooted portion showed evidence of the same treatment. It looked like Edward Scissorhands had had an epileptic fit in front of it. Everywhere lay chunks, shards, splinters, of wood. I was ankle deep in the stuff. Between the bit that was cut and the bit that was left, there had once existed a clear foot of tree trunk that I had reduced entirely to sawdust.

By the end of the day our new enclosure was finished. We’d hauled logs, raised logs, and jumped around the bases of them like wasted druids. Finally Jimmy had shown us to an area opposite the garage where several huge rolls of wire mesh lay slowly disintegrating. With much cursing in a mixture of languages we’d dragged the mesh over to the new enclosure, unrolled it, and nailed it firmly around the posts. It was, of course, a lot more work than that, but describing it is not even as much fun as doing it was.  Suffice to say the cage was built. Apart from the door; that would be tomorrow’s job.

The day had been one hell of a learning curve. In addition to turning half a tree into kindling I’d begun to understand the true meaning of the word ‘manpower’. I’d learnt that Jimmy, though tiny, was clearly made of the same stuff they built the Terminator out of. And that when people back home talked about making something with blood, sweat and tears they really had no idea. None.

I wasn’t going to let it defeat me though. Today had been a triumph! I had taken all the punishment thrown my way and asked for more. I’d dug, chopped and nailed harder than I’d thought possible. Work here was obviously going to be painful, but I could handle that. I was going to prove it. I would become a MAN!

The upwelling of pride carried me all the way back to the volunteer house and lasted right up until I put my hands into a bowl of hot, soapy water.

Jimmy. Indestructible.

END (of Chapter 5)

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” is available now from the Amazon Kindle bookstore. It costs just $2.99 (US) or £2.99 (UK), and the beginning of the book can be downloaded as a FREE sample from either of the Amazon sales pages. In case you’d like to check it out (and I’d love you to do that!) here they are:

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” on Amazon.com (for USA  and everywhere other than the UK)

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” on Amazon.co.uk (for those of us lucky enough to live in England. :0)

Right, that’s your lot for now! I welcome feedback of any kind in the comments  – let rip people! The adventure continues…

Stalling Tactics (A blog about Petra, Pt.II)

This is Part Two of a Three Part post about Petra in Jordan. To read the first part, click here.

Tomb in PetraAll the guidebooks plead with you not to enter ancient sites without paying, as the money is needed to conserve the area. Well I say bollocks to that! If they’re going to charge £50 to get in, I think everyone should go to see Petra without paying. Boycott the box office. That might convince ‘em to be more careful about biting the hand that feeds them. Or robbing it blind.

The tombs at Petra have stood for more than 2,000 years. The place has hardly changed. It’s been attacked and conquered, sacked and relieved, stolen, lost and rediscovered by every civilisation this part of the world has known. Despite it being low season, the car park was rammed out with tour buses, at least fifty I reckoned. If just a thousand of us were there that day, the authorities had made fifty grand. What the hell kind of conservation they were undertaking on that budget? Building a life-size replica out of Lego?

Most of the tombs were closed anyway. No explanation was given – just steel or plastic barriers stretched across the entrance of all the most popular tombs mentioned in our guidebook. ‘With a funeral chamber in the upper story, it’s a must-see…’ the book gushed. Nope. A mustn’t see. A soldier with an AK47 was lounging against the entrance to Tomb #67.

“I want to go inside,” I complained.

“No. Is closed.” And he patted his gun.

Had I paid to get in I’d have wanted to swear at him, point out that I’d just paid his wages for two days of sitting there, stroking his weapon, telling people what they couldn’t do. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t.

The injustice continued on the souvenir stalls. Yes, an experienced haggler could barter a deal that made both sides think they’d won, but that wasn’t really the point; this is Petra: recognised globally (even if it is because of Indiana Jones), if not a Wonder of the ancient world then certainly a marvel. But it’s also a market. Hundreds of stalls line the trek through the canyon, selling buckets of fake silver jewellery and shitty beady necklaces. It would have been interesting, if every tourist site I’d visited so far hadn’t been lined with identical stalls selling identical ‘hand-made Bedouin products’. I was starting to think that these mysterious Bedouin were bloody productive, given that there were only a handful of them scattered around the remotest parts of the country. And as closer inspection of the trinkets revealed, at least some of them now lived in China.

I struggled to comprehend the depth of the scam; they charge us such a ludicrous sum of money to get in here that we don’t dare leave until we’ve walked every square metre of the place. Then they fill roughly 50% of those square metres with irritating locals trying to sell us stuff. Presumably they take a cut, in the form of licensing these people to continually harass the paying guests. So we’ve basically bought a ticket into an enclosed version of the tourist-scamming hell we’ve been trying to escape since we set foot in the country! Oh, somebody, somewhere high up in a Jordanian government building, is laughing into his quail omelettes.

Stall selling junk in PetraWe sped through the site barely pausing at the tombs, intent on making the furthest part of Petra before the crowds. There were steps we wanted to climb – eight hundred of them. They wound up the gorge to a distant plateau where the most impressive structure – the Monastery – was carved into the side of a mountain. The views were legendary and the trail, gouged out of the rock by hand centuries ago, was twisted and torturous. Precipitous, even, bordering on the downright scary. One one side, then the other – or occasionally on both – vertical drops for hundreds of feet led to a nasty finish on a carpet of fallen boulders. Narrow, steep, uneven – all these words were redefined by these monumental steps. Eight hundred – that’s about sixty-four floors of your average building. I loved every minute of it.

Well, apart from the stalls which lined the entire route.

What IS it about these people? WHY do they think I want to buy their shit? I had just run the gauntlet of over a dozen tatty stalls pushing exactly the same crud. At each, a fistful of filthy merchandise was thrust in my face and a voice pleaded with me to pay for it. I repeatedly fended them off whilst shouting “No, NO!” in five languages – one of which was even their own. So what in all the hells makes the stall holder at pitch #13, watching my progress from his ragged awning, think “Eh up! This guy looks keen…”

By stall thirty I’d started swearing at them. By stall ninety I’d run out of swear words and my throat was full of sand. Luckily enough stall ninety-five or so seemed to be selling cans of cheap cola – no doubt for the price of a Stella in a swanky Soho night-club. But between me and the outrageously priced beverages lay at least four more stalls. I could see the owners rubbing their hands in glee. “This one’s lost the will to fight already,” they were saying to themselves, “he hasn’t cursed anyone for ten stalls! Perhaps he will buy my shit just to shut me up. Quick! Rasheed! We must be extra persuasive…”

A young Arab clucked to his donkey as he rode down, leaning back against the incline. Sure-footed, the donkey plodded down step after step, picking a path so precarious it had me clutching at the rock wall for support. Of course there were no handrails.

“Hire a Porsche?” The man asked as he came level with us. “Air conditioned, see!” He waved his hand above the donkey’s ears.

I had to smile. “Sir, your Porsche is trying to eat my hat.”

With a chuckle he was off, slapping the ass of his… ass. It paid him no heed, taking its own sweet time to choose the footing.

“I think I’d be more scared doing this on a donkey,” Mum said.

“Me too,” I told her. “But mostly I’d be scared for your donkey.”

I had to run the next few steps.

Four door Sedan, One careful owner, Only 8,000,000 stairs on the clock

To Be Concluded…

Eat, drink, be merry! Then get fat.

A measure of good healthToday I started a new fitness regime with ‘MyFitnessPal.com’. It was recommended by one of the staff at the gym, where Roo and I have been slaving away trying to achieve our dream bodies. (None of those dream bodies are looking at us though, so we’re stuck with each other.)

So, feeling a bit lazy today I thought I’d make a move in the right direction by signing up to the website. It has an online calculator where you put in the food you’ve eaten for each meal and it tells you how much of it you shouldn’t have eaten. Then a giant hand comes out of the monitor and slaps you across the face, whilst a shrill voice in an American accent shrieks at you about the dangers to your health.

I was amazed at how comprehensive the food lists were. Search for ‘Crunchy Nut Corn flakes’ for example, and you get ten different variations – different bowl sizes, types of milk, even brands of corn flakes. Woo! I was excited, of course.

Then, less than halfway through the process of recording my food for the day, I cheated. What is that they say about best intentions? Well, wherever that road is headed, I’m going there. I knew the food records were private. At least, I was fairly sure they were. But even so, there was just something so wrong about admitting – even to my computer – that I had whisky for breakfast. I didn’t dare search for a listing.

The software also records exercise. So far today, sneaky snifters none withstanding, I’ve done alright. In fact I seem to be eating about 600 calories less each day than I should be doing, which probably means I should drink more. For compensation.

Today there was no exercise to record. Or was there? Next to me, Roo was also working on her fitness program. “Should I put ‘sex’ under exercise?” she asked.

I laughed. Then said, “yeah!”

The only trouble was, after an extensive search under ‘Cardio Exercise’, we couldn’t find it anywhere.

One advantage of this particular site however, is the ability of casual users such as myself to add to the foods and activities on offer…

So feel free to go now to ‘MyFitnessPal.com’. Should you be interested enough to register (free) and start recording your progress (also free), you could choose to browse the exercise categories, where now, under ‘Sex’, there is the following:

1) Sex, quickie in the kitchen, 8 minutes, 0 foreplay: 150 calories

2) Sex, gentle spooning at 8am. One or both partners still asleep: 85 calories

3) Sex, ‘taken roughly from behind’, 300 calories

4) Sex, toe curling, multiple screaming orgasms, 500 calories (handcuffs optional)

5) Sex – imagination only, as bed is now broken: 35 calories

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get fat. Food for thought  :0)

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!

Jordan By Day

And so, we woke up and took our first look at the city. We’d been hearing it all night; for some reason every snort, scratch, fart and whistle from the street below came in through our window. It was almost as though we were sharing a room with the various tramps and late night street vendors – not to mention the incessant beeping of car horns. Still, it was lovely to be woken by the Muslim Call to Prayer – played on loudspeakers from the towers of every mosque, it was a haunting melody with a soaring, yearning quality – utterly different from the harsh wail you hear in movies. Of old there would have been a man singing it out from each tower five times a day, which must have seriously devalued the nearby houses if your local singer was crap.

My first opinion was that Jordan is… brown. If you think this is unjustified or insensitive, please refer to the following photograph:

Amman by daySo there. There’s no flat land in Amman – every building clings to the hillside and every alleyway leads to a steep flight of crumbling steps. To live here is to gain thighs like tree-trunks and lungs like Zeppelins – unless you’re a woman. They don’t go out much. I had the unusual experience of seeing more pre-Christian archaeological sites (2), more city-dwelling wild rabbits (3) and more kilt-wearing Jordanian-Scottish bag-pipers (2) than I saw women on my first day in Amman (0).

Day One; Mum locked herself in the loo again. Possibly this was due to Karma, since she had stolen a butter knife from the plane “in case we need it for picnics”. This thought occurred to me at exactly the right time, as using the knife I was able to free her from the outside. This is now the forth continent on which I have successfully broken into a toilet.

Our hotel receptionist showed us the back way up to the ancient Citadel. By climbing up, around, past and sometimes through the local people’s houses we came from below and snuck into the ruined fortress in secret. Thus we bypassed the entrance fee, which has made me feel guilty ever since. It’s true – crime doesn’t pay. There were guards – armed police that were dressed more like the SAS – but they didn’t seem to be doing much. Just standing beyond the safety barriers, on the edges of cliffs and monuments, chatting. Almost as if to say ‘We’re police, nothing is forbidden to us! Just you try it…’

“Tough gig,” I remarked. “Can’t see much trouble up here. Visitors tend to be in the 60+ age bracket. Not much gun crime in that demographic… Job description: Look menacing. Smoke cigarette. Take a call. Move to other end of site and repeat.”

But it had to be said – the ruins were amazing. Gigantic. These ancient civilisations, they liked their columns and they liked ‘em BIG. Two in particular dominated the site, somehow still supporting a carved lintel that must weigh the same as a decent truck.

Roman Temple ColumnsThey were crying out to be climbed. But surely that wasn’t allowed? The few tourists and locals were strolling casually over the walls and fallen archways, clambering onto stone pedestals for a better view or posing atop smaller chunks of ancient masonry. No-one seemed to care. I couldn’t resist trying a few parkour jumps across gaps in the stonework – after all they’d survived the earthquakes that destroyed most of the citadel.

Parkour JumpGood clean fun! Then I spotted two other lads, both clearly local boys, doing a bit of the same. They’d scrambled up the massive stone walls, right to the base of the twin columns. They seemed to be contemplating an epic jump down to a grass covered mound below. Surely if they were up there it must be allowed? It never would be back home… Before you could say ‘Bad Idea’ I was leaping up the blocks towards them. Just then a harsh command in Arabic exploded behind me. The other two guys froze – then they threw a pair of worried looks over my shoulder. I crapped myself, jogged along the wall in the direction I was facing and jumped off the far end to safety. Roo was waiting for me in the shadows. A quick glance back the way I’d come showed the would-be athletes surrendering themselves to a whole pack of armed guards. Neither group seemed particularly happy.

We moved as quickly as we could in the opposite direction, putting a sizeable chunk of ruins between me and the soldier-police. I even took my bright red jacket off in case it made me more recognisable – though the fact that I was being very obviously arm-steered by the only blonde woman we’d seen since we entered the country probably didn’t help. ‘Go in springtime, the guidebook said, there’ll be no crowds…’

As my almost-partners-in-possible-crime were frog-marched away by the police, Roo and me peeked out from behind a two thousand year old corner. “See, how they’re carrying those machine guns?” Roo gestured at the departing escort. “There is a time and a place for climbing old buildings and jumping off them,” she said. “This is NOT that time.”

Amman For The Night

Roo asleep in the Arab Tower(Being a Summing Up of Our Adventures on the way to Jordan.)

It’s the trip of a lifetime; my girlfriend, my Mum and myself have travelled to Jordan, a place known to many people as that big temple in the desert discovered by Indiana Jones. Oh, and the bit that happens to surround it. In fact it’s a pretty awesome place where the ancient and modern coexist on every corner. I’m going to explore it and blog about it – and because this is me, I will probably do some pretty stupid things and blog about them too. This goes double for my Mum (whose reputation in this area is considerable), with the exception that she won’t be blogging about them. Luckily enough, I will.

It started well. Great flight – delicious food on Turkish Airlines (apparently famed for it – who knew?) and safe arrival in Amman, capital city of Jordan. The flight out of Heathrow sat in a traffic jam for an hour, queuing up eight planes deep behind the runway, which led to my favourite experience of the trip: being late. It meant we were met at Istanbul airport by a frantic bald man in epaulettes who escorted us at a dead run to our connecting flight. Older and less fit passengers fell away wheezing in droves and by the time we reached the boarding gate for the Amman flight there was only three of us left. We’d sprinted the length of the airport leaving in our wake a sea of open mouths and confused expressions. “Who were those guys?” people were asking, “And why were they chasing the pilot?”

No-one awaited us in the airport. Perhaps because we were the very last to arrive, having queued all the way to the passport desk before being told visas were issued at a different desk (helpfully marked ‘Visas’). It turned out someone else had seen the sign our transfer driver was holding and pretended to be me to avoid fighting for a ride of his own. But it was soon sorted out with a call to the hotel manager, who negotiated on our behalf with an airport taxi driver.

Jordan by night is… dark.

The hotel by contrast was very welcoming. I’m a budget backpacking-type traveller, so typically have low expectations when it comes to standards of accommodation. That said, I’ve renovated a fair few houses in my time so I know how simple it is to turn a hovel into a haven with a mop and a fresh coat of paint. All too often the managers of lower-end hotels and hostels don’t seem to care about the upkeep of their establishment, as though being cheap makes it a wasted effort to keep the place clean and welcoming.

Not so in the Burj al Arab or Arab Tower, Amman (see photo). We’ve arrived at the very start of high season – hopefully good timing, as we’re expecting less crowds, milder temperatures and  good deals to be had. Our room in the Tower is a perfect example; having booked a three-bed room for three of us we’ve been rewarded with what appears to be a suite – a living room with sofa and chairs, tv/dvd player, bathroom and two single beds AND a separate en-suite master bedroom with the biggest double bed I’ve ever seen (room for six close friends :0) and another single bed. It’s clean, it’s gradually getting warm and it’s costing us about £10 per person per night including buffet breakfast (all the boiled eggs you can eat?! Go on, just try and refuse!). Quite simply – I love it.

On a creative note, the walls seem to be stencilled with a leaf design in pale gold – a massive expanse and flawlessly done. And to remind you you’re in the Middle East, every room features a wall plaque indicating the direction of Mecca. Salaam Alaykum everyone!

Travelling with my Mum keeps life interesting, that’s for sure. Her post-arrival investigation of our room was thorough and she quickly discovered the bidet jet built into the otherwise western-style flushing toilet. And – being my Mum – by discovered it, I mean: “What’s that? Oh it’s a… Where’s it turn on… Oh, down here… ARGH!” That last bit uttered as she squirted herself forcefully in the face with it. Thus ended her investigation, proving once and for all that even age has no cure for that urge, upon finding a strange button of unknown function, to push it.

Lessons learned:

1) Provided you do your research and read as many reviews as possible, budget travel really is the way forward. Keep low expectations, be pleasantly surprised and avoid that cotton wool wrapped ’Rich American Tourist’ experience. Unless you really want to be insulated from the locals and their (sometimes uncomfortable) environment, which is sometimes understandable.

2) Taxi drivers are a MINE of local knowledge. Use it – they love it! Be aware they’ll likely tell you what they think you want to hear (Of course it’s safe here at night!) and you may have to filter out declarations of poverty tucked into every comment – but you can learn a lot of key points in a short time, from a local point of view – and try out any dubious language phrases you’ve been practising.

3) They love the King (wise and benevolent) and hate the government (Greedy and corrupt) NOT the other way around.

4) Don’t rely on word association to remember foreign phrases, or when under the considerable stress of having to use your hard won phrase, almost certainly the wrong thing will come out. An example from my own recent experience; when attempting to remember the phrase “Peace be upon you”, (Salaam Alaykum) be very wary of coming out with “Salami alaykum” (May the sausage be upon you)…

4) Before testing a bidet, it is wise to interpose an arse between it and one’s face…*

The Bidet That Punished(*Later she tried it out again – properly this time – and emerged giggling, with two further comments – It works! And It’s VERY COLD!)

To be continued… I promise! Most likely after I’ve seen the county in daylight.

Gym Karma

I had a rare insight into the working of Karma recently. A direct experience in fact. One of those tales I would normally be inclined to preface with ‘It wasn’t my fault, but…’ However. Sometimes (more often if you’re me), you have to put your hand up to the possibility that just maybe, at some level, it was your fault.

I was on the way to the gym, fired up by that heady combination of testosterone and insecurity that is the unique premise of the middle-to-lower-ability male gym-goer. I was accompanied by my girlfriend Krista (also known as ‘Roo’).

As we rounded the corner from the car park we were faced with the impressive plate glass facade of the gym, a series of gigantic windows designed to radiate the vitality within and, I’m sure, intimidate the uninitiated. It’s definitely a ‘Wow, look at all that stuff… all those guys… Scary! Um, maybe we should go.’ type moment. I think I’d been to that gym half a dozen times before I dared go inside.

This time though, there was something else that sort of grabbed your attention. Well, it grabbed mine anyway. It was almost impossible to ignore because it filled the field of vision. Emerging enthusiastically from the pool, scant inches away from the biggest piece of plate glass in the district, was a behemoth.

The guy was enormous with boobs bigger than my head, that took slow-motion turns in leaping up and down as he shook himself. For several seconds I thought he was naked. Then he turned, and the side view revealed something mostly obscured from the front by a low hanging paunch; the man was wearing speedos. Tiny, tiny trunks which would not have looked out of place on an eight year old boy – except that most eight year old boys have better taste. And they were bright red. Before my mind could fully comprehend the horror of what I was about to witness, the big fella completed his turn, presenting both gigantic, furry buttocks to the world. In swim wear several sizes too small, quite predictably he was flossing. His arse looked like an Ewok that was being strangled with fishing line.

Now, like most gym goers I’m a fan of larger people working out. I think it’s great that they want to get fit, get healthy – it’s a tough thing to do and fair play to anyone who’s doing it. I can’t say I’m keen on them doing it mostly naked though. Especially if I’ve just eaten.

Passing the staff at the front desk I couldn’t help myself. As we paused to swipe ourselves in I addressed Krista at top volume; “What age is it you reach where you loose all self respect? Some random point in your life where a switch flicks in your brain, and suddenly you think ‘Yeah, I’m pretty fat. Actually I’m huge. Guess I’d better put my Speedos on.”

Behind the desk the staff were sniggering. I decided to take it up with them.

“I mean, I know some guys only ever wear speedos. Some older blokes probably don’t know any better. But if they must wear them, please God why do they have to wear the ones that used to fit them circa 1968? That guy’s got more cleavage than my missis – and in a totally different part of his anatomy!”

By now the staff were cracking up. I decided to run with the materiel.

“I tell you, that scrap of red fabric is looking pretty worn and it’s under some serious tension. If he stretches too far getting out of the pool they’ll shoot off so fast they’ll break your security camera!”

Better leave it there I thought. Quit while you’re ahead. So I swung my bag onto my shoulder, grinned around at the chuckling staff and headed into the changing rooms.

That’s when disaster struck. Fumbling into my cupboard at home, I’d picked my t-shirt out by touch. Now revealed in the electric light of the changing room was a slinky black top that belonged to my girlfriend.

Now Krista (also known as ‘Roo’) is tiny. She’s tall, but willowy, like… I dunno, what else is tall and willowy? A hedge? I think we might be heading in the wrong direction here. Anyway, the point is her clothes are tiny. I’ve got dolls that don’t fit into them. (As to why I have dolls, well we won’t get into that now.) Krista poked her head into the cubicle after hearing my grunt of dismay. “Hey,” she said, “that’s mine!”

“Um, yeah I know.”

Then it dawned on me. After completely going off on one on the way in – ranting extensively and emphatically about hideously inappropriate workout wear – I was now faced with wearing a size 8 woman’s lycra slip into the gym.

“I don’t think they’ll let you workout topless,” Roo said.

Dismally I held up the jumper I’d arrived in. It was thick, insulating. I used to wear it skiing. The thing was so damn warm, I hadn’t bothered to wear anything under it for the trip to the gym. Consequently I had nothing else.

“We could go home…” I could tell by the vagueness in her voice that she wasn’t keen on that idea.

“No it’s fine,” I told her. “I guess I’ll just wear my jumper.”

So I did. And oh man did I sweat! I mean, I’m one of those guys that just sweat. When I’m watching a PG rated film and some hot chick in a bikini saunters on to the screen, I instantly break out in delicate beads on my forehead. When I noticed an unopened email from a publisher in my inbox, my hands get cold and clammy. If it’s a good email they start to drip. So when I go to the gym and run hard on a treadmill for half an hour, I tend to emerge looking like I’ve been hosed backwards through a car wash and into a swimming pool.

An hour later we called it quits. I left a number of small puddles in my wake. I got into the car and immediately peeled off my soaking jumper. “I don’t care,” I wheezed at Roo. “I’m going home like this!” Luckily she didn’t seem to mind me sweating copiously into the upholstery.

We were short of petrol (who isn’t these days?) so we pulled up in the queue to buy some ridiculously overpriced fuel. As Roo got out to fill the tank I seemed to be getting a few strange looks from the surrounding vehicles. Why was everyone staring? Then I heard a gasp from Roo. She’d just turned around from the pump and was now staring in through my window. “God Tony, from here it looks like you’re naked!”

Of course it did! I was naked from the waist up, which was all anyone else could see. And since it was twilight on a freezing winters day, they could hardly imagine I was coming back from the beach…

“Shit! Better get out of here!” She paid for the petrol in record time. And laughed at my predicament, as she strode back across the forecourt.

Well what would you think, if you got out of your car at the petrol station and saw this?

Tony James Slater, possibly naked.
There were shorts beneath the bag - honest.

Honestly, that’s the very last time I take this piss out of an enormously fat old man in skin tight swimming briefs. I don’t care if it looked like he was flossing. It’s just not worth it.