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Please note that many of the places described here have been greatly improved since our visit. Some now have permanent exhibitions, and better access. Some others are closed to tourists for the time being, and may or may not be re-opened. Hotels have been upgraded, and the river boats are generally of a more modern standard.

Egypt was one of those places I had always wanted to see. Old films with Pyramids and Pharaohs fascinated as a youngster, and later exploration in books and TV documentaries left me with a real desire to see this fascinating country. I had just never got around to it. I always felt that if it had lasted for all those thousands of years, it could wait a little bit longer for me to visit. I went to lots of other places instead. Some were changing politically, and needed to be seen as they were prior to that change. Others were cheaper, or just closer, so I took the occasional easy option. But Egypt remained in my mind, as somewhere I always knew that I would get to see. Eventually.

In 1989, I was getting married, for the second time. As the wedding was going to be in late July, we thought carefully about the honeymoon. Travel at this time is not only more expensive, it can also be very hot and uncomfortable. After some consideration, we decided that we would have the ideal honeymoon, in the land that I had always wanted to see; Egypt. However, we would not be going in July, with temperatures at their highest. We would go in December instead. This time of cold and gloom in the UK is the exact opposite further south in Egypt. Warm sunny days, and calm colder nights make December the perfect time to see this desert country. It also makes it more expensive, but I had been saving up. We went for a weekend in Amsterdam after the wedding, then returned to normal life, anticipating our ‘real’ honeymoon later that year.

After reading through some travel guides and tourist information (no Internet then) we decided to avoid Cairo. This did mean that we would not see the Pyramids, or the famous museum. On the other hand, it gave us the option of doing different things, including a cruise along the Nile, and a trip to Abu Simbel. We booked with Thomas Cook, and paid for everything, including the excursions. It was an organised holiday, with the chance to go on trips with guides if you wanted to, or do your own thing, if you preferred that. We would fly to Luxor, and spend a few days in the Hilton Hotel by The Nile, before joining our cruiser, for a five-night trip down to Aswan. After the cruise, we would return to the Hilton, and finish the remainder of the holiday there. In October, with two months to go before the holiday, we began a long strike in the Ambulance Service. As the trip had already been paid for, we decided to still go, and not to let the fact that I wasn’t being paid, or might not have a job to return to, spoil any of our plans. I can’t deny that I was worried though, but that faded away as I sat on the aircraft.

On arrival at Luxor airport, our small group was broken up into those staying at different hotels. We were the only two going to stay at the Hilton, so we were dropped off by minibus with our luggage. Our first impressions of the city were not that good. Half-finished buildings lined the roads, and the whole place seemed to be dusty and run-down. The road leading to the Hilton led nowhere else, and the area around the hotel was studded with industrial buildings, and fenced-off scrub land. Outside the entrance, a group of horse-drawn taxis waited for business; the animals looked to be in a bad way, with all their ribs showing. Inside the hotel compound, all was luxury. Palm trees, manicured gardens, and a stylish entrance, manned by uniformed youngsters whose only task was to open and close the doors for residents. Inside the cool reception, we were treated like royalty, bags conveyed to our room, checked-in without fuss. The room itself was comfortable but not grand. It had one perfect feature though, a small balcony, overlooking the River Nile.

Our deal included breakfast and dinner at the hotel, and all meals on the boat. After a shower and change, we explored the hotel grounds. A huge chess set was laid out, and comfortable furniture surrounded a pool, leading out to the lush gardens bordering the river. It certainly was a glamorous location, at least inside the hotel grounds. The weather was good, warm but not too hot, and the hotel had most things you could want, including a gift shop, cafe, and large restaurant. Dinner was an elegant affair, in an old-fashioned atmosphere. The hotel was not even half-full, so service and food were excellent. There was also the possibility to upgrade to the a-la-carte menu for a very small sum, so we did. We had two days to wait before getting on the river boat, so we resolved to make the most of it. The next morning, we would join the tour to Luxor and Karnak Temples.

We were collected after breakfast, and taken by coach on the short trip via the centre of Luxor. Founded in 1400BC, this city was originally called Thebes. Much of it appeared unchanged on first examination, and even the centre had the feel of a biblical town. Meat hung outside open butcher shops, covered in flies, and the market stalls were busy, with considerable traffic crowding the narrow streets. Arriving at Luxor Temple, the reason for coming to this country was immediately apparent.  The sheer scale and grandeur, the feel of history, of walking in the steps of Ramesses, it is completely overwhelming. Within moments, I was captivated, and knew instinctively that it had been worth all the travelling, and the cost. After listening to the guide for a while, we went off on our own, uninspired by his dry delivery, and endless statistics about the height and weight of the columns. Just walking around the complex. looking up at the construction, and feeling the atmosphere, was more than enough. The main Karnak temple is nearby, along a path lined by what is left of a row of sphinxes that once joined the two main places of worship. The famous Hypostyle Hall, of over 100 ornate columns, and the carved reliefs in the Precinct of Amun Re, are just simply breathtaking, and worth the whole trip alone. It was fascinating to imagine them all brightly painted in their heyday, and we could still see traces of some of the colours, in the shaded roof areas.

The old town of Luxor didn’t have a great deal to offer. There were some tourist shops of course, as well as numerous market stalls, and street sellers, all hawking trinkets and souvenirs. The persistence of some street traders was disconcerting. Outside of any attraction, and on the route back to the main hotels, they would follow you relentlessly, brandishing things in your face, and asking ‘English?’, or ‘German?’, if they went by my wife’s natural light blonde hair. At certain points, the Tourist Police would step in, and the salesmen knew better than to carry on. Although used to bargaining in North Africa, Kenya, and Turkey by then, I was staggered by the ridiculous starting prices stated by any shop or seller there. Before leaving England, I had promised my friend’s little girl that I would bring her back a camel. I had expected to see lots of camels for sale, but I could only find wooden ones, not suitable for a small child. I eventually found a leather-covered stuffed camel in one shop, and went inside to look at it. The shopkeeper pounced immediately, telling me that this was a hand made first-class camel and one of a kind. His opening price was the equivalent of almost £200, which we could only laugh at. When he wouldn’t go below £50, we walked out of the shop. He followed us out, and offered a ‘much better price’. After another thirty minutes, we secured the toy for £8. This was probably still far too much, at least twice what it should have cost, but I was just pleased to get out of there. We decided to return to the hotel by horse taxi. This involved more protracted negotiations with the driver, until we settled on the fare of around £1, which seemed to be the going rate. When we got back to the hotel, he asked for twice that much. ‘The rest is for my horse’ he told us, indicating the sorry animal pulling the carriage. I decided to make a stand though, otherwise prices would get inflated. I gave him the equivalent of £1 as agreed.

The next day, we had an early start to visit the Valley of The Kings, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This involved crossing the river by small boat, then a minibus trip up to the first site. Other than a parking area, and a large cafe, there is little to indicate the treasures below the rocky barren ground there. We had a guided tour into the tomb of Ramesses ll, which seemed to be little more than a hole in the ground, with steep steps leading down into darkness. The small group and guide were both compulsory at the time, as there were fears of damage done to the site by the sheer volume of tourists. Once on the staircase, we could immediately see the wonderful colours of the preserved paintings and heiroglyphs. It was amazing to think that the man who once occupied this tomb had died in 1213 BC, over three thousand years earlier. Only one small room was accessible, and it contained the large stone sarcophagus that would have originally housed the decorated coffin, and the mummified body within. Even given the short time allowed for the visit, the impact of those moments in that cold chamber, surrounded by colour from a bygone era, stays with me to this day. After an early lunch in the large cafe on the site, we headed off to see the Temple of Hatshepsut. This monumental building, part of which is built into the surrounding rock, is part of the large area known as the Theban Necropolis. Her temple is magnificently preserved, and an outstanding sight amid the surrounding hills.

Wandering about this complex, marvelling at the reliefs and architecture, I learned a valuable lesson about walking around in the midday sun. Although I hadn’t felt unduly hot, it was very bright, and very warm. I passed out with sunstroke, finding myself suddenly lying on my back, a group of concerned faces looking down at me. Other members of our group, as well as my wife, and the guide, got me into the shade. They gave me water to drink, and also poured water over me. I soon felt better, but resolved to wear a cap every day after that. We returned to the hotel that afternoon, and I was fully recovered by the time we got there. The next day, we would be joining our ship, for the five day cruise down to Aswan.  As much as I was excited at this prospect, I was also pleased to have made the decision to travel to Egypt, and I would have been happy with what I had already managed to see, in just three days.

Part two will follow soon.

Walking with Bertha

We had some plans for today. Julie’s son was coming up from Hertfordshire with his girlfriend, and we were going to meet up with her other children, and all go out to eat in Norwich. The table was booked, and our spare room prepared for the overnight guests. Julie had made brownies as a treat, and for once, everything was well organised. It was going to be a family Sunday. We were not expecting particularly good weather. The TV forecast had mentioned heavy rain was possible, and there could also be strong winds, up to gale force. After so long with blue skies, and uncomfortable heat, it seemed rather cruel that nature should pick this weekend to shuffle the deck. Julie’s son had to turn back. The M25 was closed, the weather appalling, and the surface water was becoming too dangerous. With the prospect of local road closures, weather disruption, and the chance of being stranded somewhere, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and scrapped the whole thing.

Sure enough, within the hour, the sun had appeared. Blue skies and gusty winds blew away the rain, and we were left wondering if we had been too presumptuous with our cancellation. Either way, I had to take Ollie out, and we left for his walk in pleasant temperatures, and brightening conditions. I decided to wear a light coat, just in case. We had been informed by the weatherman, that these conditions were the result of catching the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, as it made its way across the Atlantic before fizzling out somewhere further north. I did a couple of tours of the meadow, and cheered by the warmth, decided to take Ollie across to Mill Lane, heading for the route behind the pig farm. I hadn’t got very far, when the sky darkened rapidly. Bertha had arrived. Perhaps she had gone for a look around north of Gressenhall, and decided she preferred the Beetley area. Whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a very unusual weather experience.

Once past the few houses, Mill Lane becomes a dirt track, shaded by large trees that meet overhead, and form a closed glade. Even in the brightest and warmest weather, this section of the path is usually dark and damp, and the ground always remains muddy. As I entered this, the sound of building wind became louder, and different to any I had ever heard before. In a moment, it was as dark as night, and all around me small branches, twigs, and leaves began to flutter down from the trees. They were caught in the strong winds, and began to swirl around just above ground level, as if they were trying to get back up into the trees that they had fallen from. Loud cracks advertised the falling of larger branches, which plopped down into the mud. And it was raining. Not just any rain, but hosepipe rain, coming at me horizontally, as if unseen Firemen were hosing me down. I didn’t really feel able to continue forward, or to turn for home. I had to close my eyes against the debris lashing my face, and within seconds, I was wet through to the skin. I wasn’t in the ‘eye of the storm’, I was directly in the storm. And it felt very strange.

I opened my eyes to check what Ollie was making of all this. The answer was that he was continuing as normal. Sniffing around up ahead, and trotting about as it it was just another day. I managed to pull up my thin hood, but that was soaked before it covered my head, and if anything, made me feel even wetter. I trudged on, shoes now black with water, and filling with mud and twigs, trying to remind myself that it was still August, and that this must soon pass. Once clear of the glade and into the open fields of battered blackcurrant bushes, the rain could really make its point. It lashed down with renewed fervour, causing me to turn sideways to avoid the worst effects. I contemplated going home, but Ollie had run off a few hundred yards ahead of me, to sniff at the rabbit burrows, so I carried on, hardly able to see for the water running down my head. And then it stopped.

In the blink of an eye, the sun was out again. It was bright and hot, and it was as if I had imagined the previous ten minutes. I started off once more, following Ollie, who had by then reached the plum orchards up ahead. Much of the fruit had been blown to the ground, and the stumpy plum trees looked buffeted and bruised. The hot sun could be felt on my back, and although I was still wet underneath, my thin coat began to dry out. I looked over to the south-west, and could clearly see the cloud that had passed over me. Low, black as pitch, and still swirling. It was accompanied by nearby thunder, and someone in the direction of Wendling was no doubt getting the same treatment I had recently received. I checked my watch, and realised that I had only been out for forty minutes. I had spent twenty of those minutes in the company of just the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, and it had been a far from pleasant encounter. I decided that Ollie needed to have his usual walk, so I carried on. The sand around the pig farm was damp, and reminded me of a beach as the tide comes in. The pigs showed no signs of being bothered by the storm. If anything, it had provided them with muddier than normal wallows, so they seemed content. I made it up as far as Gingerbread Corner, then turned to retrace my steps for home. Near the fruit farm, Ollie had other ideas. He spotted a rabbit, and took off along the rows of blackcurrant bushes, disappearing a few hundred yards inside the fields. I followed him up there, as I knew he would soon be back, looking for me.

Sure enough, he soon returned. But so did Bertha. A few raindrops, accompanied by darkening skies, and I knew she was back. I walked into some hedges lining the fields, and waited for the worst. Just heavy rain, and plenty of it. Ollie looked up at me, wondering why I wasn’t walking. This time, I was going to wait it out. After fifteen minutes that seemed like an hour, the rain stopped once again. In hot sun, I set off briskly, determined to get home before the next cycle began. We arrived back in warm evening sunshine, and a stiff breeze that made the leylandii hedges wave at us. I discarded my wet clothing, and gave Ollie a good dry with his towels. Julie made me a coffee, and resisted the urge to chuckle at my dishevelled appearance.

I had survived my walk with Bertha, and I sincerely hope that she never feels the need to return to Beetley.

Browsing The Blog

I have spent some time this week looking back at articles on this blog. With so many published now, it is easy to forget some of them, especially the less personal or controversial ones. Do you ever decide to have a look through your bookshelves, revisiting old favourites, or remembering that some were placed there, half-finished? You might skim through a record or CD collection, occasionally playing a few tracks from one, or wondering why you ever bought another in the first place. Browsing the blog is a bit like that.

I confess that I have been embarrassed by how bad some posts are. Poor writing, erratic punctuation, and incredibly long sentences. Many of the earlier efforts were actually quite aggressive, or bombastic in tone. Yet still, I wouldn’t really change anything. It has all been a learning process, and the blog has developed the way it has without undue thought or contrivance on my part. The stories about my time in the Ambulance Service are rarely read these days. But examination proves, at least to me, that they are all valid, and their publication was worthwhile. My short film reviews, usually grouped in areas of nationality, still have occasional readers; and a quick perusal assures me that they are all still relevant.

My category of Holidays and Travel was popular, but I have neglected it greatly since the last post on the subject. I must set about rectifying that. I have a lot more songs and music selections to add to that section, but current problems with You Tube links have meant that this has had to be put on hold for the time being. My last attempt at fiction received mixed reviews from readers. However, there was enough positive feedback to make me consider developments in this area, though I expect this will be a project better suited to long winter months. My other blog has enjoyed a welcome increase in viewers and readers lately. I suspect that this is only a blip though, from some who have only just realised it was there. I actually think that the standard of the posts on that blog is higher than on this one. Perhaps that is because of the passion that lies beneath the writing, or the fact that I publish a lot less over there.

Trying to be critical of your own work is difficult. It is even harder trying to read your writing as if it was fresh and new to you. I would say that some of my articles are very good indeed. I have been pleased to write them, and would have been equally happy to have read them elsewhere. Feedback has been good, even flattering on occasion, making me realise that there is something to be said for blogging for others, as well as just for yourself. At the same time, certain posts appear clunky and lacking flow. I have to admit to over-describing things sometimes, and often going over familiar ground. This applies particularly to my posts about life in the countryside, and walking with Ollie. These are the most popular here, and always get the most views and comments. To me as the writer, I feel that they are too similar, and relate the same story, at different times of the year. But then that is the point I suppose. Familiarity and continuity is trending well in literature, films, and TV, hence the success of serialisations, sequels, and soap operas.

As I approach the previously unimagined figure of 500 posts, I am sure that I can only maintain and improve this blog, by looking back over things half-forgotten, and rarely read. I wonder if my fellow bloggers do anything similar? I would recommend that they do.

 

A Time To Remember

When I was born, the Korean War was still being fought. The Second World War had only ended seven years earlier, and many more wars were still to come during my lifetime. Today in the UK, and all across Europe, we have been commemorating the anniversary of the second day of World War One, one hundred years ago today. Britain remembers today, as we declared war on Germany on this date. However, the day before, Belgium had been invaded, and Liege attacked.

There have been ceremonies in France, Belgium, the UK, and many other countries. In Britain tonight, many of us turned off our lights at 10pm, using only one candle for illumination, for one hour of remembrance. TV documentaries and live broadcasts have covered everything, from church services in London, to interviews with long-dead veterans; tears in their eyes as they remembered the hardships and loss decades earlier. It has been a day of reflection, respect, and nostalgia. There has been no jingoism, no chest-thumping, and no satisfaction. Just regret and sorrow, for millions lost, and lessons still not learned.

I will not be here for the 200th anniversary of that war. I doubt very much that I will see the centenary of the Second World War either, or for that matter, the Korean War. But I was around for this one, which is more than can be said for those that fought in it. They are no longer here, to be able to tell us their individual stories. Thanks to film, TV, radio, and newspapers, we do have some first-hand tales of their experiences. They are usually harrowing, often touching, and to our modern eyes and ears, they may seem naive and innocent. Whatever we think of them now, we at least owe them one thing. It is an easy thing, and takes little effort. They did things that we probably could not do, or want to do, They did them for reasons that seemed important at the time, and in the context of history, had a relevance in the development of Europe, and opposition to belligerence. In return, we can do one small thing.

We can remember them.

Unseasonal Seasons

It has been a strange year in Norfolk, and in some other parts of the country too. The seasons do not appear to be playing ball with the calendar. They are all out of synch, arriving earlier than expected, and with unusual extremes. Last winter was unusually mild. Frosts and snow appeared, but did not last long. And without the very low temperatures of the previous year. Then the rain began. March rain in January, April rain in February. It didn’t seem to stop raining, and by the end of April, we had the heavy rain normally associated with winter months.

The late spring was brief. A warm spell, with sunny days, soon passed. Welcome as it was, it gave way to more rain. More April rain in May. After another cold spell, June saw temperatures rising again, but the rain came back. This time, it was June rain in June; as hard as you might expect, and passing through rapidly, drenching all in its wake. By the end of that month, we had a real summer. Hot days, sunshine, warm evenings. The temperatures kept climbing, and by July, we had August heat, with thunderstorms to match. The month kept warming up. Records were equalled, as we sweltered at night, sleep difficult to find. It was beginning to feel like early September.

All the crops came early. This week, they picked most of the apples, and harvested the wheat. It is too early though, and the glut now will become a shortage in late September, when it should be around in abundance. Nature was fooled by the weather, and brought in its bounty too soon. The first of August felt more like September. Undeveloped acorns are falling from the oak trees around the house. This morning, in a light breeze, I watched brown leaves falling onto the lawn outside, and it rained heavily for an hour around tea-time. I had seen the darkening skies as I walked with Ollie, stifling heat replaced by a fresh breeze. It felt like autumn, eight weeks early.

Since moving here, I have become acutely aware of the weather, in a way that I never could have in London. I started to realise when it would rain, and when it would be dry. I could guess the time of day, without the benefit of a watch or clock, and generally be only ten minutes out, either way. This has all been turned upside-down, by this strange seasonal malfunction. However, the forecast for later in August tells of the chance that we might see the highest temperatures ever recorded in England. When I was young, we called these ‘Indian Summers’. They arrived late, and were hot. So perhaps it is returning to normal after all.

 

I have been fortunate enough to have an article on this subject published on curnblog.com today.

As wordpress seems to still be preventing me from cutting and pasting anything into my posts, please visit the site if you would like to read it.  Alternatively, there is a link in the comments section below.

Many thanks, Pete.

On December 31st, 2012, I published a post on this blog. I gave it the title ‘Never Volunteer’, and it was about the fact that I was soon to begin two voluntary jobs. After seven months of living in Norfolk at the time, I felt the need to do something. To be useful, become an integral part of the community, and to get the chance to meet new people, and to travel to new places.

After eighteen months doing these two jobs, I resigned from them both this week. This was not done on a whim, or because of a fit of pique, cross words, or an episode of disappointment. I gave it due consideration, and realised that I did not have the enthusiasm and commitment necessary to continue. Neither role was unduly demanding. Teaching the Cycling Proficiency only involved two or three sessions a year, and working for the Fire Service involved doing as little or as much as you had time for. I did what I could, and when I felt sufficient inspiration to do it well. Talks to groups, safety checks in homes, and installing smoke alarms where necessary. I also worked with the school fire experience unit, which is much-loved by the children who attend it,  and receives a great deal of positive feedback.

However, there are only so many times that you can install a smoke alarm, deliver the same safety talk to groups, or take kids through the fire safety routine, every ten minutes, six times an hour. Like any job, it soon becomes routine, and eventually stale and uninspiring. It is not the fault of the role, or indeed any fault in me. It is just how it is. Life is like that. Work, whether paid or voluntary, is still just work. Sure, you meet a few new faces, but only for the shortest time, and then you all move on. You get to see some new villages, discover unknown byways and back roads, or tucked-away streets. Once found, they are no longer new; the dilemma of exploration, I suppose. I had some issues with the Cycling Proficiency course, outlined in a previous post. To use a popular expression that I do not care for that much, those running it were ‘not on the same page’ as I was.

In the background, I was also feeling the need to develop my writing; perhaps branch out into more fiction, and generally improve what I was already doing. I thought that I might also enquire about my eligibility for reduced rate adult education courses in something of interest, or see if there were other voluntary roles in areas that I am attracted to, like history. Not least, I have to get my head around our much neglected domestic situation. Rooms undecorated after almost three years, and boxes of things still gathering dust in the garage, since the day I moved in. Although it may seem selfish, I decided that the personal and home needs should take precedence over the voluntary jobs, so I resigned.

Both organisations took it remarkably well. They were gracious, and full of praise and thanks for what I had done during the eighteen months. They sent good wishes, and kind words. I didn’t feel too guilty. After all, I spent thirty-three years working in the Public Services, and always did my voluntary jobs with professionalism, and to the best of my ability. So I bid farewell to the voluntary sector, at least for now. I do feel the need to make some comment though. If there had not been the spending cuts, confused council politics, and lack of funding from the outset, these organisations would not have to be so dependent on volunteers in the first place. Remember that when you next cast your votes.

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