Peshawar

If you’re one of the lucky few to have read my memoir you’ll know I was sent to Peshawar, in the northwest frontier region of Pakistan, to start up a new flour mill. I was a very young and still wet behind the ears engineer dropped in at the deep end. I was there for three months and it was a fascinating experience. Here’s my first trip to downtown Peshawar, it was 1970:

I was driven into downtown Peshawar by Salahuddin in the mill Land Rover. The city centre had a decrepit and rather chaotic feel to it. Many of the old buildings were of unbaked brick with intricately carved wooden window frames, doorways and balconies but it seemed as though these were being demolished to make way for characterless and poorly built modern concrete structures.

Crowds of people filled the pavements, the men in their pyjama-like loose trousers and shirts, the women uniformly anonymous, covered from head to foot in blue or black burqas, peering out at the world through mesh-covered peep holes. The dusty roads carried handcarts and donkey carts and old diesel trucks belching fumes. The shops in the bazaar sold leather goods such as Peshwari sandals, belts, holsters and bandoliers, there were colourful mountains of fruit, piles of exotic eastern spices and bolts of material in every hue.

The slight breeze carried the aroma of wood smoke from the small bakeries turning out coarse chapattis. Goat carcasses hung from steel hooks outside the butcher’s shop, the proprietor occasionally flicking a whisk to momentarily interrupt the gorging of the black flies which encased them. Men squatted in groups drinking green tea, smoking and chatting, their eyes following me as I strolled by, an alien interloper in downtown Peshawar.

(The pictures aren’t mine but they’re from that time)

 

 

 

Coincidence

Don’t you just love coincidences? That little shudder, the little frisson of surprise.

People who buy a lottery ticket are anticipating a coincidence – that the numbers they select will be the same ones chosen by a machine a few days later. The chances of that happening are incredibly small – in fact one in 14 million in the UK.

At the other end of the scale of coincidences would be meeting someone with the same name as you, wearing the same shirt as the bloke next to you in a restaurant, a car number plate one digit away from your own. That sort of thing.

Last week, Wednesday, I finished a piece of flash fiction in which the main character was called Aaron and he was the victim of a tornado which destroyed his farmhouse. My short fiction MC is usually called Adam but I changed it to Aaron, Adam didn’t seem quite right. Anyway, on Thursday I did the Times quick cryptic crossword puzzle, I do it most days. The answer to 6 down was tornado and to 10 across it was Aaron. The two clues formed a neat crucifix. Ooh, that is weird!

Anyone know what the chances of that happening are?

Five-man pedersen

This is an object of art. It could also be an answer to the low-cost transport aspirations of a family of five.

It was made by Simon Starling and it’s called “Five-man pedersen.”

I photographed it at the Tate Modern in Liverpool.

Night Sailing

 

When the sun has melted into the horizon like a knob of butter on a hotplate you flick on the navigation lights and prepare for a night at sea. Night sailing is at times magical, at other times intimidating. Deep water with plenty of sea room, no traffic, a gentle breeze and a big moon are the ingredients for a pleasant night passage.

We enjoyed just such an untroubled passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on our sloop Adriana on the first of our modest odysseys.  It had been hot and windless during the day but as night fell the breeze came back and the lights of Mayaguez twinkled on the horizon. I set the jib, slacked the mainsheet and cut the engine. Adriana leaned her shoulder into the sea and came alive. The sky grew into deeper shades of night, beset with a million jewels, as we cut a swathe through the boisterous sea.

Other night passages have been less idyllic: Battling to windward along the north coast of Hispaniola under a grim moonless sky, hugging the rocky coastline to stay within the umbra provided by the land, lightning blooming on the horizon – that wasn’t the most relaxing of night watches.

Dawn creeps up with the promise of delight or of dire warning – radiant sunburst or red tinged clouds. Another day at sea begins. What will it bring?

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

This is the follow-up to Jane Harper’s excellent first novel, The Dry, and features detective Aaron Falk. 

I found this one more like an Agatha Christie mystery set in the Australian rain forest. Five women go walkabout, four come back. Whodunnit? In alternating chapters, we follow the story from the point of view of the police investigation and of the five women involved in a team building trek through the bush.

Jane Harper has thrown the lot at this one, I had trouble keeping up with who was doing what to whom and why. Five women who work together in a firm of accountants, one of them a whistle blower who is being pressured by Falk to get the dirt on the company, another a member of the family that owns the company, set off into the Australian rain forest for no really satisfactory reason. Their male colleagues do the same but in a separate group of which we then hear little. The relationships between the women are tested to the limit as a series of disasters befalls them – they get lost, one gets bitten by a snake, they run out of food and water and one of them dies.

A few red herrings are knocking about.

I found it lightweight compared to The Dry and, although all fiction is contrived, I found this tried a bit too hard to fit some square pegs in round holes. An unsatisfactory follow up to an excellent debut novel.

Irony

I was browsing in a tee shirt shop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when I found a shirt that had SAIL NAKED printed on the front. I held it up to the checkout guy and said:

“Is this irony?”

“No, you can just let it drip dry,” he replied.

Birthday

Here’s a very rare venture into dystopian fiction:

Birthday

The shadows of the headstones creep across the ground as the sun sets and I pull my jacket tighter against the evening chill.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. That birthday.

We don’t celebrate birthdays the way we used to. When I was young we had birthday parties, a cake with candles to blow out, joyful friends singing your name and clapping, faces smiling, happy. That all ended by the time I reached, what, sixty? Twenty years ago. Fucking revolution.

The others will be at the house now. Bert and Emily and Joe. That’s all. It’s enough, though. I told everyone I didn’t want them here when it was time but I knew those three wouldn’t listen. They’re good friends from the old days.

I’d once hoped to be buried here in this cemetery, the old-fashioned way. It’s so pretty with the wild flowers and the ancient oaks. A lovely place for that eternal sleep. The headstones are interesting: They all died at different ages. That’s how it used to be, pre-revolution. Now we have CoMo.

I get it. I really do. How can you provide health care, pensions, housing, food and water if people are dying untidily at all ages, some getting to a hundred or more? Controlled Mortality. I get it. The Revolutionary Council wants a tidy, controlled society. No surprises. Eighty years is enough they decided after takeover. That was when we had the cull. When my parents went. That was tough to take, I must say.

Things are going well now, apparently, so RevCo are putting it up another two years starting next year. Just my luck, eh?

Oh well, best stop these silly thoughts, wander back to the house and get cracking with the last supper. They’re coming for me at midnight.

Happy fucking birthday.

The Revolving Door Incident

My short stay in Bahrain was immensely improved by this incident which I witnessed from the hotel coffee lounge on the mezzanine level, overlooking the lobby. Whilst one group of Japanese tourists filed out through the magnificent plate-glass revolving door another group started filing in. For Japanese people to fail to bow to each other is unthinkable and so they did; the sound of foreheads hitting glass was like a crate of apples being poured onto a wooden floor. The door was jammed with concussed Japanese and the lobby was littered with others stumbling and falling, unable to avoid crashing into the people ahead when the line abruptly halted. Some guests thought it a terrorist attack and screamed and ran for cover. O Joy.

Farewell to Texas

Back in England after a couple of weeks in Texas, shared between Clear Lake, south of Houston, and Gruene, in the hill country to the west of Houston.

It was all good. Here are a few pictures:

If you’re looking for a second-hand pair of cowboy boots, I know just the place. Here’s a small section of their stock.

Weathered board and corrugated tin seems to be the decor of choice for a hill country town trying to maintain authenticity:

 

Here’s one of the wineries:

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m sure you all know what this is. No? It is, of course, a Letz 350D feed grinder. Having spent a lifetime in cereal processing it was of some vague interest.

That’s all for now folks.