Broyal Mascroft Graces

After three months of Middle Eastern and Baltic globetrotting I arrived back in London this week for a final taste of UK summer and sunshine before heading home to Australia for winter.  Unsurprisingly since landing in London I have only seen brief glimpses of the sun due to the exceptional amount of rain that has been pummelling the city.  I did warn everyone that summer would finish when I turned up.

My sister had excitedly booked me for a secret event on Saturday.  The secret event turned out to be the Royal Ascot Races.  My initial response was “yay! What’s that?”, followed by me asking if I could wear shorts and flipflops.  The majority of my clothing had been shipped back to Australia three months earlier and the poor selection of clothes I had in my backpack were all looking the worse for wear.  Luckily the friend who now lives in my old room had a snazzy suit that fitted pretty well.  Although his red leather tie and limited edition boots were a little small for my liking I still proudly wore both – mainly because I didn’t have any other options.

We caught the overground train to Ascot – as did everyone else.  Being packed in like sardines, albeit very well dressed and polite sardines, was quite a sweaty yet amusing experience.  My sister’s dress had the misfortune of getting stuck in the train doors when they closed.  While she attempted not to rip the dress in between bouts of laughter her breasts made a valiant leap for freedom.  In a solid win for her dignity she caught them at the last moment.  Finally arriving at Ascot we all peeled ourselves out of the train and marched to the venue, where friends were found, bets were made and alcohol was bought.

Half way into our first bottle of overpriced champagne I started to truly appreciate the tragic state of fashion on display.  I was also quite vocal in my appreciation.  What was even worse was when the tragic fashion spoke.  Your mothers would be so proud.  I have never felt so ashamed for the female gender.  For every elegant and appropriate dress worn gracefully there was a lurid coloured strip of synthetic cloth sparsely stretched to breaking point over curves that I can only assume were meant to have been alluring.  Personally I prefer a little bit of guesswork when figuring out what someone has had for breakfast. Maybe travelling through the middle east for three months and getting used to women concealing considerably more of their bodies from the naked eye has turned me prudish.  Although I actually think that some of the female fashion in the Middle East that consists of simple figure accentuating full length dresses combined with amazingly detailed headscarves is infinitely more alluring, sexual and sensual than ninety percent of what was on display at Ascot.  A Little bit of imagination can go a long way.

Two particular dresses caught my attention over the course of the day.  The first dress I saw on multiple women in multiple colours.  Unfortunately I only snapped a picture as I was leaving the venue.  The blue black version in this photo was nowhere near as comical as the first version of the dress I saw on display.  The original version was off white with a wide black zipper running down the majority of the back of the dress.

The end of the black zipper created a perfect inverted Y with the bum cheeks of the girl wearing it.  It was a racetrack to her arse crack.  Suffice to say I laughed my arse off.  The second dress, and I use the term dress loosely, was so tight as to ensure its wearer could barely walk in it.  Now what was funny wasn’t the fact she was walking like a penguin, nor the fact that she so clearly had no underwear on, it was the two large tags that could be clearly seen sticking out through the stretched fabric of her dress on the side of her bum.  I could see her price tag.  Oh my god could I see her price tag!  It’s pretty obvious what my drunken catch phrase for the rest of the afternoon became.

After the final race for the day we were all sitting down relaxing, champagne glasses in hand, when a brawl broke out.  What started out as two drunks performing emergency dental work on each other quickly escalated into a full-blown mass orgy of upstanding English gentlemen rolling in the mud, hitting each other politely over the head with chairs and spewing blood over the already sodden ground.  My sister thought yelling at them to break it up would help the situation whereas I decided that the best course of action was to enjoy my front row seats, finish my champagne and soak up the live English culture.

The Royal Ascot Races is a great day out!  Oh and did I mention that I saw the Queen.  Australia for a Republic!


Lacking a little love and attention

The Amman hostel that I stayed in was rated one of the best on both Hostel World and Hostel bookers.  Although recent reviews had been less than glowing.  On my first night here the staff got exceptionally flustered when I turned up a day early and tried to book in.  Balea was arriving the next evening, so I asked if I could have a single or a dorm for the first night and then move into my booked twin room the next night.  My booking for the next night wasn’t on their system, even though it was booked through Hostel Bookers and I had my reference details.  Eventually I was put into a twin room that I was told would also serve for when Balea arrived.  The room had no air conditioning even though it was advertised as standard.  To cope with the heat I opened the window and was blasted by the street noise below.  I heard three car crashes within thirty minutes.  Even with earplugs I knew sleeping with this racket would be almost impossible.  When I later met the matron she chided the assistant who had put me in such a loud room before I had even broached it as an issue.  She quickly moved me into a single room that was off the road.  What followed was one of my worst nights of sleep during this trip.  The room was stuffy and had no fresh air.  I was able to steal an industrial electric fan whose ear splittingly loud gale force blast attempted to blow me through the back wall.  The bed itself was the creakiest construction I have ever had the displeasure to lie on.  Each small movement I made would set off a series of loud concussive blasts from the bed.  Lying corpse like was my only way to attempt any form of sleep.  It didn’t work.

The next morning I demanded that as I had booked a twin room with air conditioning that I wouldn’t accept anything less.  This caused a lot of head scratching and consternation.  Finally a room was provided and upon finding a modern working blower of cool cool air I was pleased.  My attempt to have a shower was thwarted by the lack of a showerhead.  When I requested a showerhead burst of laughter erupted throughout the hostel workers ranks.  The eventual installation of my showerhead was delayed by a water pipe bursting in the adjoining room.  Well at least my bed was silent.  Over the next few days the elevator broke, the hot water went on vacation and their booking system failed resulting in emergency rooms and beds being made up and staff all squeezing in together as they had overbooked and overcommitted the beds available.

Balea and I ended up staying three nights and using Amman as a base for travelling to and exploring the region.  The breakfast at the hostel was better than average and we received a free home cooked dinner from the owners one evening.  The matron was also fantastic and the staff were good fun, which explains why I was so forgiving and happy to overlook the many problems with the facilities at the hostel.

Next stop was Petra where we met up with my other two travelling friends.  Using the toilet in our Petra hostel required a level of dexterity and flexibility that I was unaccustomed to.  One didn’t so much sit on the toilet as contort on the toilet.  After a few days in Petra we all came back to Amman for our final night.  We booked two twin rooms through Hostel Bookers at the same Amman hostel that Balea and I had already stayed at.  When we turned up, apart from the staff firstly being confused by our booking, they then went on to inform us that we had only booked one room and there wasn’t any room for Balea and I to stay.   Together we attempted to explain their own booking system to the lady behind the counter and in the process point out the pertinent details that showed not only that had we booked two rooms but that we had also paid to confirm them.   The first room offered to my friends smelt horribly stale, had no ventilation and no air conditioning.  They declined.  More consternation followed in which we were again told that the hotel was completely full.  A short while later my friends were shown a further two sets of rooms.  Both were turned down for various reasons.  Finally a suitable room with air conditioning was offered.  While they moved in and lodging was found for Balea and I, I decided to use the toilet facilities in the shared bathroom.  Intense relief was quickly followed by panic as I discovered that the toilet didn’t actually work.  I took the cistern apart and discovered that nothing short of a new cistern would help me to flush away my shame.  Quickly checking that no one was watching I escaped from the crime scene and found my friends again.  In the intervening minutes a room had been found for Balea and I.  It was on the first floor, had no air conditioning and overlooked the street of no-sleep noise.  We decided to take it just to avoid any more hassle.  Turning on the light switch for the bathroom failed.  So, once again needing to go to the toilet I set about it in the dark.  Upon flushing I discovered my second broken toilet for the day.  Again I took apart the cistern and unscrewed the internal mechanism connected to the water flow.  Suddenly water was gushing out in a powerful stream across the room.  Not a drop went anywhere useful.  Covered in water and after much spluttering I managed to get the system reconnected and water flowing where it should, only to discover that the seal to stop the water freely running through the cistern into the toilet was missing.  Wet and defeated I went back down to reception and asked for another room with a working toilet and lighting if possible.  Simple requests.  Miraculously within five minutes we had another room.  This was the sixth twin room shown to us within an hour.  For a full hotel they sure did seem to have a lot of empty rooms.

Having checked the toilet was in working condition I was mostly mollified.  The bathroom still didn’t have any working light, but I was assured this would be fixed.  It never was.  The first time the toilet was to be used Balea and I broke down into uncontrollable fits of giggles.  The bathroom door had no door handle; if it were to be closed then there would be no way to open it from either side.  For the next day all bathroom activity was conducted with the door open.  Not only were we picky tourists who liked to be able to see while we were alternatively shitting or showering, but also surprisingly neither of us relished the idea of being locked in the bathroom for an extended period.

Over the course of the evening my other friends had their air conditioner freeze completely over while they also battled with a lack of any cold water and an abundance of scalding hot water.  When surfing the internet that evening to finalise everything for our flights the follow day a web page flashed up informing us that the internet bill was overdue and as such the connection had been disconnected.

Alcohol helped us all cope with the annoying situation and to appreciate the hilarity of it all.  Alcohol also helped me to pass out and sleep through most of the Jordanian rally driving outside my window.

Personable staff can only get you so far when you run a hotel.  What could be a great place is held back by an absurd and severe lack of maintenance; a lack of maintenance that has turned into a funny story for me to share.  Oh and yes, I did go to the toilet a lot that day.

Arafat’s driver

After Balea and I had spent two hours trekking and swimming through the Wadi Mujib reserve we decided to skip paying the exorbitant tourist fee to float in the Dead Sea as we already looked like prunes.  A few days previously I had freely floated to my hearts content and my testicles intense stingy discomfort in the Dead Sea in Israel.  Balea had already spent her entire days budget on trinkets and thought that a bit of self imposed thrift would ensure that she didn’t starve.  So instead, with chocolate, chips and cookies aplenty we sat down on a strip of shaded needle sharp grass to wait for the others tourists on our day trip to return.  Our driver soon came and joined us and we quickly struck up conversation.

Everyone has a story to tell.  Often the most unlikely people have the most striking and stirring tales.

For ten years our driver had been part of Yasser Arafats security team.  He was his personal driver.  He spoke of the boundless energy of the late Palestinian leader and of how he ran his security teams ragged.  Afarat was a man who never slept and ate little.  Although when he did eat he loved his bananas, which he consumed in great number – like a monkey.

Our driver then turned to more personal stories and retold how the Israeli war in June 1982 took the lives of his wife and nine month old son.  Quietly and calmly he reiterated that he has no love for Israelis.  His restrained resignation showed a man who had learnt to live with his loss, but who would also never forgive or forget those he held responsible.  In the years after their death he had become lax in paying the housing taxes on his home in Jerusalem.  He barely lived there anymore due to his demanding job.  When the Israeli government demanded over £40 000 in overdue taxes and interest on his home he had no other option but to let them seize it.  They had already taken his wife and son, what did his home matter.

He has since remarried and has a new family.  For the last eight years he has been driving tourists around Jordan.  Knowing tourists, I reckon that working for Arafat would have been easier.  On our drive back to Amman I felt infinitely more comfortable not wearing a seat belt – I’d seen his resume.

London – A Retrospective

This post has been a while in the making.  It’s personal, introspective and long.  The content has also changed over time as I have become more distanced from events and emotions during my years in London, but the overall intent of the piece remains the same – the intent being me writing about myself…  Because of this I’ve put it on a separate page so as to ensure that only people who really want to endure my self-indulgent writing do.

London – A Retrospective


Local perspective

Having witnessed mass demonstrations, rallies and protests in a majority of the countries I’ve visited in the last few months has made them almost feel normal and expected. As has seeing a constant military presence. Arriving in Jerusalem it therefore came as no surprise that it was Jerusalem Day and the Jews were flooding the streets in celebration of retaking/reuniting the holy city under Israeli rule. Large numbers of armed soldiers were highly visible and on alert. Jerusalem Day is not a day that is celebrated by everyone in this divided city.

Our hostel was just outside the Damascus gate in a predominately Arab neighborhood. We watched from our hostel window as the main Jewish procession swept past us and down through the entrance of the gate into the old city. When a large group of celebrators started to congregate around our hostel the mood turned aggressive. The young Jews started chanting, yelling, spitting and throwing things at the shop keepers below us. Jewish parents benevolently watched on as their children helped widen the racial and religious divide for another generation. Many of them were filming their disgraceful behavior. The Arabs were outnumbered a hundred to one and could do nothing except to start hurriedly closing their shops. Some tried to return the vocal abuse but this only incited the growing Jewish mob more. Finally riot police came in and moved the troublemaking revelers on.

One of my friends was worried and upset, another had mixed concerns, whereas I was strangely and sadly energized by the situation. I’d survived walking through mass protests and rallies in Syria and Lebanon, I could handle anything! Couldn’t I? Plus if everything had gone pear shared I’m sure the fact that I was a tourist would save me… Wouldn’t it? At this point I hadn’t actually engaged my brain to properly consider what was happening, nor the possible ramifications – mob mentality had entranced me.

Later, one of the Arabs who worked at the hostel came into the common room and we all started chatting. His eyes were a bit red and glazed which led me to believe he’d either been near tears or smoking weed. A few moments into the conversation I concluded it was the former. He spoke emotionally about their city being taken from them and how they had been marginalized. He spoke of the Jewish mob earlier abusing them and explained that this was an everyday occurrence. They were second class citizens in their own city. It was heartbreaking and I felt powerless and a little ashamed.

The next evening I was chatting with an Israeli guy. Keeping the conversation away from pricklier subjects we talked about my experience in the UK and the recent end of my visa. This then moved into discussing morally questionable means of extending a visa indefinitely. Marriage of convenience was the most common visa extension tool I had heard about and I mentioned that I could never do that for a visa. He was astounded that I wouldn’t cheat the system to get ahead and then informed me that the Israeli way was to cheat and manipulate every situation to your own benefit. He proclaimed that his parents would be proud of him had he achieved a UK visa in this fashion. I can only hope that his was an extreme and uncommon view.

Our Jerusalem tour guide when telling us how to identify the Muslim quarter told us to look for the satellite dishes.

When walking with one of my friends through the Muslim quarter on our first day, Jerusalem Day, I was infuriated by an Arab kid who followed us for a few blocks hurling abuse, rubbish and what ever else he could find at us. Knowing what I know now and that he most likely believed we were Jewish, I am only surprised that his aim wasn’t any better.

Thoughts on Egypt

I have now looked up the meaning of disulfiram. After throwing up in my hostel and at dinner I thought it would be worthwhile understanding the finer print I’d initially glossed over in my Flagyl medication leaflet. In a warning to drinking alcohol while taking Flagyl the two words ‘should’ and ‘possibility’ were used. Using sound reasoning I concluded that the flexible nature of these words provided me enough leeway to ignore them. My argument for drinking was further supported by the fact that I didn’t actually understand what the combination of alcohol and Flagyl could cause – Disulfiram. Now I do. Disulfiram is a synthetic compound used in the treatment of alcoholics to make drinking alcohol produce unpleasant after effects. Unpleasant is a very apt description.

A little bit more research before following my Flagyl tablet with a shot of vodka would have saved me a lot of pain this evening. A little bit more research before I embarked on my Egypt trip could also have helped me care, or at least further appreciate the crumbling remains of a collapsed ancient civilisation. Especially when considering I was expecting to fall in love.

For years I have wanted to gaze on the pyramids of Giza and walk the tombs and temples of the ancient Pharaohs and their gods. My mother has always had a genuine love and excitement of all things Egypt and I’d thought, until this trip, that she’d successfully passed that love and excitement on to me. I’ve grown up watching fascinating Egyptian documentaries and Hollywood blockbuster action movies that all managed to make Egypt seem magical, mystical and exciting. I expected to experience these emotions when exploring Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. But Instead I more keenly felt these emotions while walking the Great Wall of China, meditating in a Monastery at the top of Emei mountain and climbing through the vast temple complexes at Angkor Wat. That’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself, only that I found myself treasuring the random moments more. Taking funny photos in front of towering ornate columns, drinking and chatting in a Cairo hotel room with my friends while watching the sun set over the city, constantly singing the phrase Lah Shukran (no thank you) to the chorus of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, eating a fantastic dinner of freshly killed Duck in a roof top restaurant overlooking Medinat Habu, a restaurant that was only open because we were there, and cruising down the Nile in a ‘five star’ boat that was unexpectedly actually five stars. The list goes on. These moments weren’t weighed down by years of expectation.

Ancient Egypt was a society based around transient deification. Each pharaoh would not only spend their life, but often the lives of many peasants and slaves in building monuments to themselves to ensure their successful passage into the afterlife. Honestly, it just seemed like such an immense waste of money, time and energy, which could have been spent so much more effectively on useful stuff like; inventing refrigeration, dental care, or kick-starting the democratic movement a few centuries earlier.

Which brings me to the hardest part of travelling through Egypt, seeing first hand the desperation of the people. The revolution that started on January 25 is having a devastating effect on the country. The people are hungry and poor. The further you travel from Cairo, the more you see the effects. Aggressively and unceasingly people attempt to sell you everything from taxi rides and boat trips, to shoddy souvenirs and marijuana. Touts plead with you almost to the point of tears, always with a hint of deep resentment in their voices. It’s as equally heartbreaking as it is repulsive. I want to help but I also want to scream obscenities at them and run away. Unfortunately I cant fix Egypt’s current problems all on my own, but what I can do instead is tell you all that Egypt is safe, the landscape is harsh yet beautiful, the history is epic as are the temples and most importantly the people need you. Just be careful and be aware of your surroundings, like everywhere else. The touts will hopefully only get less aggressive as tourists return and their desperation for survival recedes.