31 July 2011


...all my troubles seemed so far away. The weather across Sheffield and North East Derbyshire was marvellous - the most summery day since my return from Thailand. Just after midday, our ancient friends - Tony and Fiona - arrived from Hull and we ate our lunch out on the decking. Salad, pork pie, Stilton and broccoli quiche, stoneground pizza and mugs of tea. The garden looks lovely at this time of year with plants at their peak between winters - illuminated by sunshine glaring down from big blue gaps in wispy summertime clouds.

At two fifteen, we jumped in the car and headed to Chesterfield where our beloved Hull City were to play the last of their pre-season warm-up games at the new B2Net Stadium which has replaced Chesterfield's dilapidated old Saltergate ground. I was wearing the tiger T-shirt I had bought in Thailand with a day such as yesterday in mind. By the way, just in case you didn't know, Chesterfield's nickname is The Spireites. This strange term alludes to the town's famous fourteenth century crooked spire which twists outlandishly above St Mary's Parish Church.

Last week our lads beat the mighty Liverpool 3-0 and then in midweek we subdued Bradford City 3-1 so yesterday it was The Spireites' turn to be obliterated by the black and amber tsunami-army with goals from Matty Fryatt and a beautiful looping header from central defender - James Chester.

After the game we drove back to Sheffield and being hot and thirsty dropped in at "The Hammer and Pincers" at Bents Green for cooling drinks in the beer garden. Later, I booked a table at Sheffield's best Turkish restaurant - the Zeugma Ikki on London Road. Beforehand I ordered a taxi and more cooling drinks - in "The Crown" - a rather down-at-heel city pub frequented on match days by multitudes of Sheffield United fans. Last evening it was more or less empty.
The meal in "The Zeugma" was delightful. I had Albanian lamb's liver followed by shish kebab with rice and salad. We all agreed it had been a great meal but a tiny irritation -we brought two of our own bottles of wine and got charged £3.95 x 2 for "corkage". Both bottles had screw tops. Still I guess it was better than paying £15.99 a time for the restaurant's own bottle of sauvignon blanc.

After the meal, we strolled up Sharrow Lane to Sharrow Head where we had planned a further drink at "The Stag" but in the end we decided to carry on walking a further ten minutes to "The Psalter" on Psalter Lane where we sat outside to chat and drink some more. Then it was on to my local - "The Banner" for last orders. How quiet it was in there. There were days in the not too distant past when the place would be heaving on a Saturday night - standing room only - but last night it was so deserted that I expected tumbleweed to blow through the taproom.

Back at home, we watched fragments of "Top of the Pops" from the 1980's - Yazz, U2, The Communards... and then around 1am Tony nudged me. Apparently, I had been snoring.

29 July 2011


Here are some things I have never done. I have never seen even one James Bond film. "Octopussy", Odd Job and 007 himself mean nothing to me - I am not interested in espionage or car chases, motor gadgets or the lechery of suave secret agents. And I have never seen any of the "Star Wars" sequence of films either. For some reason, I am usually attracted to stories drawn from real life - not from fantasy. That may be the reason that I have also never seen a Harry Potter film or read any of the Harry Potter books. I tried one - really I did but a couple of hours with "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" left me bored to tears and unable to turn another page. The writing seemed formulaic and predictable, the characters paper thin. Sorry JK!

Over the years I have visited just about every notable place in the British Isles but I haven't been to Cardiff, John O'Groats, Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Blackburn, Burnley or Reading. Am I missing anything? I have never voted for any other political party but Labour and I have never eaten frogs' legs, truffles or sweetmeat - which is the culinary name for testicles. I have never owned a dog or a motorbike and have never attended a horse racing event of any description.

I think that I am lucky to have travelled to many different places around the world but I have never been to Russia, Alaska, Japan, Egypt, Mauritius, Tristan da Cunha, Australia, Kazakhstan, Antarctica or New Zealand. There are numerous other enticing places I could mention.

I have never drunk any alcopops or worn women's clothing, dropped litter or subscribed to "Sky". And I have never owned a mobile phone or tweeted on Twitter or had even a glimmer of interest in joining Facebook. Never had an i-pod or run a half marathon or scaled Everest or seen a stag or a golden eagle in the wild. I've never read "A Tale of Two Cities" or "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" or anything by Jeffrey Archer, Maeve Binchy or Jackie Collins.

The more I think of it the more things I realise I haven't yet done. Statisticians say that in "The United Kingdom", male life expectancy is on average seventy eight years. That means - if I am very lucky and can successfully dodge The Grim Reaper through to 2031 - I have twenty years left to tick off the above items. But I shall need sponsorship... please!

27 July 2011


I spotted this sign near the doorway of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre Museum in the southern suburbs of Phnom Penh. Of course I had no intention of smoking as I find that filthy habit most distasteful. No trendy baseball caps - so good - I could still wear my knotted white handkerchief! No cameras - bah! Why do some museums ban photography? But I could live with that. No mobile phones! - Good! I don't own one and to me they are one of modern life's biggest irritants. No shoes! - No problem - I was wearing sandals!

Then in the bottom left hand corner I see that handguns and hand grenades are also banned. Phew! What a relief! It meant I didn't have to leave my Browning Automatic Rifle at the door. I mean - those things can be dangerous - what would have happened if a child had got hold of the thing? For some reason the museum cleared of visitors as I entered and I was able to view the ghastly exhibits in unhindered peace.

The sign has inspired me to design a similar one that I shall affix to the wall near our front door. These are the things that are banned - cigarettes, dogs, people with body odour, double glazing salesmen, junk mail, woodlice, Conservatives and LibDems, "The Sun", Norwegian mass murderers, dark chocolate and women with verbal diarrhoea. What will you put on the sign near your front door?

25 July 2011


RIP Norman 1962-2011. That's him above on his wedding day in 1991. He was a "private man" who lived for his family and his dogs. We said farewell to him at York Crematorium today. His mother and father, his sisters, his wife and his sons were naturally distraught. There was no singing, just piped music, including this song by Snow Patrol:-
We'll do it all
On our own

We don't need
Or anyone

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

Afterwards, we went to "The Marcia Inn" at Bishopsthorpe on the south side of York and ate sandwiches and sausage rolls, washed down with ales and soft drinks. When a man of forty nine dies, in the very middle of his adult life, it just doesn't seem fair and the religious promise of the presiding vicar seemed tired and hollow. I shall go out now and drink a couple of pints in memory of Norman. He wasn't my best buddy or anything like that. I only knew him through family connection and we rarely met but I always felt comfortable in his company and we could chat happily together for ages. I knew him for twenty two years and now, tragically, he's gone. Cheers Norman! The rest of us will be joining you before long old son!

24 July 2011


This is Anders Behring Breivik. I turned him upside down because that is what he has done to Norway. Blonde-haired, fit as a fiddle and blue-eyed - not the stereotypical image of evil. Not only did this egotistical monster callously destroy the lives of some of his country's most promising young people, he simultaneously concocted a sadness that will seep through the fissures of Norwegian society for many years to come. What was he thinking of and who the hell did he think he was? I picture him sitting smugly in his cell, smirking as he imagines that he has single-handedly shifted the direction of Norwegian politics, striking a blow against multiculturalism, standing up for old conservative values. What a dunderhead!

His Viking forefathers devised various methods for disposing of wrongdoers such as the "blood eagle" torture in which the victim's ribs would be cut at the spine and then forced out laterally in imitation of an eagle's wings. His lungs would then be pulled out of the chest cavity with salt sprinkled on the resulting wounds. Even though Breivik is clearly completely mad, the "blood eagle" ending would surely suit him fine - instead of twenty one years in a warm, dry Norwegian prison with a flat screen TV, games of pool and three square meals a day.

His killing spree will no doubt quietly strike a chord with other right wing extremists whose perceptions of the world are equally warped. My heart goes out to Norway, to the grieving parents and friends, to the shattered tranquility of a quiet and civilised country. Anders, Anders, Anders...what have you done?

In Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" (1882), Dr Stockmann says "The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone." But Ibsen's character was just as wrong as Breivik was on Friday afternoon. The strongest people are those who stand together for the things that matter - for freedom, family, kindness, life itself and the future of humanity.

22 July 2011


We frequently absorb words and sayings without knowing where they came from or even what they really mean. Often their origins are obscure and much-debated. From my mother I am sure that I inherited many words and sayings and even snippets of songs. She was a great one for singing and when she was in a good mood, I would often hear her tuneful renditions of wartime favourites as she ironed, sewed or lugged baskets of washing into the garden:-

We'll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more.

In September 2007, at mum's funeral, I was so happy that as the wine-coloured velvet curtains closed on her coffin, her assembled friends and loved ones heard Vera Lynn's version of "The White Cliffs of Dover". It was one of her favourites and of course this song meant a great deal to her because she was in the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) during World War II and had known a good number of young fliers who gave their lives for Great Britain and freedom.

Mum was no shrinking violet. She'd take people on directly if she felt they were in the wrong and her temper could be quite fiery. Police officers, schoolteachers, shop keepers all felt the lashing of her tongue. Demure and coquettish she was not.

One of her favourite oaths or mild curses was "blood and sand". I have often used it myself. You know - when you hit your thumb with a hammer or you hear Cameron or Clegg's weasel words on the television - "Blood and Sand!" The other day I was wondering what on earth this expression means so in a website called "The Phrase Finder" I discovered this:-

It's the title of a Spanish novel about bullfighting published in 1909 by Vicente Blasco Ibánez (the Spanish title is "Sangre y arena"). It has been filmed several times, most famously starring Rudolph Valentino. It lends itself to use as a mild imprecation, along the lines of "Hell and death!"

So there you go. All this time both Mum and I were unwittingly referring to an obscure Spanish novel. How the phrase seeped its way into the English language is another story that would take a detective of the calibre of Sherlock Holmes to clarify.

Another phrase I explored was "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" and was disappointed to discover that the usual explanation is most likely fanciful. It probably doesn't allude to iron cannonballs on warships jumping spontaneously off little brass deck trolleys called monkeys because of the differing effects of cold temperatures on metals. Ah well. But what about the mild insult "Wally"?

When I was sixteen at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival, I was sitting one sunny afternoon in a crowd of half a million. It could be hard to get back to your place once you left it. You had to remember homemade flagpoles nearby or you'd end up getting completely lost. In a gap between acts, I noticed a young man tiptoeing through the crowd a few yards from me. He was looking this this way and that as if lost. Then from several yards further back one of his friends called out , "Wally!" Wally looked around but still couldn't find his friends. Another called out, "Wally!" and then some unconnected wag sitting in front of me yelled "Wally!" just for mischief and before you knew it a thousand people were yelling "Wally!" from various parts of the field. There was great hilarity but finally young Wally found his mates.

As far as I know, before that day in August 1970, the name "Wally" had never been used to describe an idiot, a buffoon or a nitwit. Later, the Wally notion even spawned a series of comic books and a cartoon series. The Isle of Wight connection has been suggested elsewhere and in my mind, until someone proves otherwise, I believe I witnessed the birth of a new "saying" though of course I myself might be a Wally! I certainly feel like one sometimes.

20 July 2011


This afternoon the Murdoch dynasty jetted out of England, caring not a fig about how much aviation fuel their private aeroplane was burning up on their merry way to New York. Yesterday's parliamentary committee meeting was notable not just because Murdoch himself came across like a bumbling old man who had just about lost his marbles, but also because his face collided with a foam pie delivered by a certain Jonathan "Marbles". So much for the tight security!

It seems as if an official blockage has prevented publication of full frontal photos of Murdoch with his face covered in foam though immediately after the pie throwing, chief BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson remarked that the sight of tycoon Murdoch's foamy face was something he would never forget.

Apparently the hurler of the foam pie tweeted on Twitter just before his heinous assault - "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before - splat!"

Of course, it would probably be politic to sensibly deride this self-publicising Jonathan May-Bowles for his stunt. However, I tend to think that what he meted out was a kind of poetic justice. After all, how many people have Murdoch and his phone-hacking minions thrown metaphorical cream pies at over the years? Such a tycoon, such a magnate, the 117th richest individual in the world with shaving foam all over his face - just like a circus clown. There's a sense that this was the perfect punishment for Murdoch. Under questioning he had paused and bumbled like a fool and then in the end, he simply looked like one!

Pity that Mr Marbles wasn't in the Houses of Parliament today to stuff another cream pie in the smug face of Claude Ponsonby-Cameron - our truth-bending prime minister - as he cleverly dodged questions about the appointment of Andy Coulson and pretended he hadn't been close to Murdoch's News International at all! By tomorrow morning he will surely look as if he was carved by Geppetto!

18 July 2011


Keith Rupert Murdoch was born in 1931. With huge personal wealth, he is judged to be the 117th richest individual in the world. Across the globe, he has exerted enormous influence upon our political landscape, being feared and revered by a succession of ephemeral leaders. Murdoch's fingers have been in many pies - from local newspapers to film and television. Early on, he sniffed the potential of satellite broadcasting and over in America formed Fox Broadcasting. He was never elected to office and yet through his arrogance, his empire building and his ultimate control of the mouthpieces of democracy he has wielded a power that has been almost divine in its magnitude.

But now this eighty year old Australian-American magnate with intellectual powers waning is like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Closing Britain's famous "News of the World" will not be enough. The ruthlessness and egotism that coloured Murdoch's rise to power filtered down to his employees. Phone hacking and interception of electronic mail were commonplace - anything to get a good story and damn the ethics or the effects.

This afternoon he will be spotlighted by a parliamentary committee - at last being brought to book. No doubt he will squirm and use his vast personal wealth to deflect blame but he was the farmer who sowed the seeds of News International and nurtured the crop. No matter what he says, he knew exactly what was going on.

Round the world, politicians of different hues need to ask themselves how it was that they allowed the Murdoch Monster to grow unchecked, how they danced to his tunes, how they accepted his gifts and opened their doors to him. That is not democracy.

We don't know all the ins and outs of Murdoch's dealings - perhaps we never will - but at last this pompous puppeteer is having to face a different kind of music. Whether or not his inquisitors have the guts and the capability to force him against the ropes remains to be seen. No doubt Murdoch will want to drag others down as he falls. The soap opera will run and run.

17 July 2011


I have been looking back over the many photographs I snapped in South East Asia. Mostly they are of landscapes and buildings but I was always very pleased when I managed to snap pictures of local people. Doing that is rarely easy. I mean, you can't just walk up to complete strangers and say "Watch the birdie!" Sometimes people pictures are taken sneakily when the subject isn't looking and occasionally they might even involve the exchange of money. You have to keep your eyes open for opportunities.

We all see the world through our own eyes. No one else has our particular perspective but throughout our lives we wonder about other people's stories - what they have seen and how they look at things. We are all fascinated by the other people around us - from close friends and family members to the lives of total strangers. This may explain why I am not alone in cherishing pictures of others. Here's a selection:-
Cambodian landmine victims band.

Happy friends at Choeung Ek, Cambodia

Coconut girl at Angkor, Cambodia

Little boy at Angkor

Muay Thai boxer at Hua Hin, Thailand

Leila, the Serene receptionist at Rama IX Park, Bangkok

Squid fisherman on Koh Poda

Schoolboys at Ang Thong, Thailand

Washing in a stream in northern Laos

Tiger keeper in Chiang Mai

Karen "long neck" weaver near Chiang Mai

Songkran Parade, Chiang Mai

Woman weaving a new roof in Laos

Hilltribe woman in Luang Namtha, Laos

Our "mahoot" in Koh Chang

14 July 2011


The one memorable moment of this week was supposed to happen today - Thursday: Frances's graduation from the University of Birmingham. It's why I came home from South East Asia when I did. But - life being what it is - we were presented with another memorable moment on Wednesday afternoon. This one was unexpected and very much unwanted.

Around half past two the phone went and at the other end of the line was a wailing dervish, speaking some kind of gibberish. Fortunately, someone else grabbed the receiver and I heard the professional tone of an ambulance woman telling me that Shirley's sister's husband had died and that we needed to get to their house as soon as possible.

I put our phone down in stunned disbelief. Shirley's sister is just fifty and her husband is/was just forty nine. Parents to two teenage boys. I zoomed to Shirley's workplace and we sped towards their unexceptional village near Selby.

Shirley's sister remained a gibbering wreck - as if a hurricane had passed through her normal and unremarkable life. The police had arrived and her husband's body still lay like a sack of flour dumped on the floor of the utility room between the kitchen and his little office. His face was changing colour rather unpleasantly. He had gone forever.

He was always very civil to me and I felt at ease in his company. He had been married to Shirley's sister for twenty years and had had no significant health problems but the last couple of years had been laced with financial worries. He'd lost jobs and had taken, like a gambler, to playing the stock market but with very little success. In fact, he had been driven to re-mortgage their house. He was quite secretive about it all and my sister-in-law was left in the dark about most of his difficulties. He has unluckily left her an awful mess to sort out and it won't be easy for her. But I will remember his pleasant nature and his lilting Scottish accent - he came from the Scottish Borders - and I will remember how he was loved by his boys and tried to be a good father to them. Forty nine is too young to die. May he rest in peace.

And so to Thursday. Driving down the M1 and the M42 and along the A38 to Edgbaston on the southern side of the city of Birmingham. Me and Shirley with Ian and Frances in the back. I had never been to a graduation ceremony before, having deliberately missed my own many moons ago. There were perhaps three hundred graduates in the congregation we attended in the university's Great Hall. It all went like clockwork and traditional rituals were followed. The address by the Vice Chancellor. The playing of the national anthem. The gowned and capped graduates announced one by one as they climbed on to the stage to shake hands with the Chancellor - Sir Dominic Cadbury. And amongst those graduates was our own Frances Emily. I felt so proud - at least as proud as she must have felt at that moment.

The future is uncertain for so many graduates these days but such practical concerns belong to another day. Today was all about the celebration of achievement in one of England's finest universities and our lovely clever daughter was amongst them, bearing my mother and father's name and Paul's. Like Wednesday, a day to remember but for very different reasons:-

12 July 2011


So, I am standing outside the newly refurbished central market in Phnom Penh. It's hot and I have just been taking pictures of fish and fruit sellers. A man and a woman stop to talk to me. They say they're from Vietnam and they are well-dressed. Venus is a nurse in a recovery ward and her male cousin is a car mechanic with a supervisory role. I forget his name. They invite me into the nearby department store for a cold drink and there I meet their jolly auntie. She's about sixty and is a primary school teacher. She lives in Phnom Penh at her brother's house.

Auntie tells me about her niece who is soon to start nursing in Manchester. She even shows me a photo of her. She asks if I'd like to come for lunch and talk to her niece about England. We all travel into the suburbs together in a bumpety red tuk tuk.

The house is quite spacious and clean with tiled floors and wooden furniture. As lunch is being prepared, I talk to the head of the household - "Uncle T" who tells me he is a croupier in a casino in Siem Reap. He is about sixty, wearing a lemon coloured open-necked shirt and golden signet rings. There is the aura of stale cigarette smoke about him and I suspect his slicked down hair is dyed. The young nurse is nowhere to be seen. She has, apparently, gone to the hospital with the aged grandmother. On his request, "Uncle T" and I swap contact details on yellow post-it notes. He promises that after lunch he will show me a couple of card tricks.

Lunch is nice and simple - river fish in a mild sauce, barbecued pork and fluffy white rice. All is very pleasant and I am thinking - what nice people.

After lunch "Uncle T" invites me and Venus upstairs to show us his card tricks. Actually, they are not tricks at all but methods of cheating punters in casinos. There are various simple hand and finger signs to let you know what card is next.

Now I have always despised card games. I remember at Beverley Grammar School "when I were a lad", some of my fellow schoolboys seemed to spend every lunch hour in intense card schools. I couldn't see the attraction. Playing cards has always made me glaze over with abject disinterest and I have never bet a single chip in any casino anywhere in the world. Clearly, "Uncle T" thought differently - for him cards and the exchange of money were a huge part of his life.

Just then the doorbell went downstairs. Rapidly, "Uncle T" said he thought it would be his friend from Singapore. He asked me and Venus to open our wallets and gave us a couple of hundred dollar bills each as stake money. What the hell was going on?

The upstairs room door opened and in walked the visitor "from Singapore" who had clearly not been to drama school - such was his ham acting. He was also wearing a lemon coloured open-necked shirt and chunky gold signet rings which probably symbolised his prowess as a gambler. He greeted me and promptly sat down at the card table, pulling out a wedge of American banknotes - amounting to some two thousand dollars.

Then the penny dropped for me. I realised in an instant that this was a set-up and the guy "from Singapore" we were supposed to be ripping off via the clever hand signals was actually there to aid "Uncle T" in ripping me off! I crossed my hands across my chest and said "I'm not playing" immediately and I gave Madame Venus the hundred dollar bills that "Uncle T" had urged me to stuff in my wallet.

My heart was racing. There I was in a strange house in the suburbs of somewhat lawless Phnom Penh and I had been identified as a dupe - a foreign white fool to be cheated of his money. I had visions of fighting my way out of there. I have long believed that cards and gambling mean trouble and that is partly why I have never been interested in that kind of activity.

Realising that the sting hadn't worked, the bespectacled visitor "from Singapore" took his leave after no more than five minutes. Afterwards, "Uncle T" seemed angry with me - saying I'd lost his two hundred dollars and demanding the yellow post-it note back. I wanted to yell, "You cheating little bastard! I told you in the first place that I am not remotely interested in cards you money-grabbing little worm!" but I didn't think that that would go down too well in the circumstances.

I was just so relieved to get out of that house in one piece. A few minutes later I was riding in another tuk tuk with the jolly auntie, Venus and the car mechanic cousin. They said they were going to the hospital to catch up with grandma and the young nurse. They dropped me off near my hotel. It's possible that they were always part of "Uncle T's" little con trick and they were simply riding back to the central market to find another tourist to be duped.

I guzzled an "Angkor" beer from the fridge in my hotel room before diving in the pool, sensing that without doubt I had just had a very near miss and had been extremely lucky to emerge from "Uncle T's" house in one piece with my wallet intact. The next day my lovely tuk tuk driver "Peter" said he had heard of this kind of trick happening before and an Australian visitor he had transported a few weeks earlier had lost $600US in a similar card game set-up. Phew!

11 July 2011


At Choeung Ek, The Killing Fields

...Now I am back home. I arrived at Manchester Airport at midday on Sunday. There was Shirley with Frances and Ian waiting for me as I emerged from the ante-room of "Nothing to Declare". So delightful to see them in the flesh again - my dearest loved ones - and we travelled back to Sheffield over the Pennines via The Snake Pass, calling in at The Snake Pass Inn for sandwiches and drinks.

How lovely England is in the summertime. The rolling moors of The Peak District, deciduous trees in full leaf, sheep grazing in fields walled by rough limestone, echoes of history everywhere and my beloved Yorkshire, the true heart of civilisation. As we drove into our city the local streets were thronged with flag-waving schoolchildren and older Sheffielders, pleased to see their most esteemed resident returning from his missionary work in the far East. Home.

So why is the title of this post "Darkness"? Well, I'm still thinking of Cambodia. Specifically I am thinking about the estimated two million who died under the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Who died? City dwellers, teachers, educated people, former police officers or members of previous military forces, people who wore glasses, people who were too ill to get out to work in the rice fields, people who ran away, babies, people who collapsed on long treks or got stuck in the mud, people who did not bow their heads or looked "funny" at their Khmer Rouge guards. It was a dark and evil madness.

I realised that the judicial system that operated after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by Cambodia's Vietnamesse liberators was weak and narrow in its outlook. So many of the cruel foot soldiers must have been absorbed back into regular Cambodian society. Now in their fifties or sixties, they will be husbands and fathers, grandfathers, tuk tuk drivers and rice farmers, mechanics and builders, guarding memories of their madness, their black pyjama uniforms, the corrupted Communist dream and the sound of wooden hoes breaking skulls.

Their evil leader - Pol Pot died in luxurious exile as late as 1998, never having faced the official justice he so richly deserved. Though Cambodia is trying to move on, the legacy of the past fills the air like the foul odour from the sewage farm I noted as my tuk tuk driver - "Peter" took me to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Earlier he had taken me to the eerie Tuol Slong High School, once a torture centre for the Khmer Rouge. I found myself whistling the same lament I had whistled under my breath at Sachsenhausen near Berlin. Why and how? And where will this darkness surface again in another part of the world? Perhaps it's already reappearing in Afghanistan and Libya, Syria and Yemen. Perhaps it never went away. At Tuol Sleng, I saw classrooms meant for enlightenment, discovery and learning turned to prisons and torture chambers and displays of the dead, like this frightened little girl:-
And this nameless baby-faced little boy:-
Never to wait at the airport gate for their fathers. Never to see another summer. Innocent victims of the darkness in men's hearts. Needless to say, these children did nothing wrong. But who shall remember them and ensure that their deaths were not entirely pointless?

8 July 2011


Just back from Cambodia. As well as delighting in the wondrous remains of the great Khmer civilisation, I could also tell you the tale of how, in Phnom Penh, I was so very nearly fleeced of all my money by a greedy Vietnamese "croupier"/ card swindler in what may have been one hell of a tried and tested set up to sting innocent lone tourists. He didn't get a penny from me or a dollar or a Cambodian riel. But I'll save that story for another time. For now, six photos from the many ruins of Angkor:-

3 July 2011


"Awesome" isn't a word that normally figures in my vocabulary. It's similar to other "trendy" terms that young people have historically adopted to express approval - from "fabulous"to "wicked" or "cool". However, I think that "awesome" is probably the best word I could pick to describe the building complexes that make up the historical park known as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Quite astonishing.

I think of all the man hours involved in hewing all that stone and then transporting it along jungle tracks. Then the brilliantly well-organised assembling of huge buildings, then the intricate stone carving - miles and miles of it - all expertly done. Thousands and thousands of man hours spread across five centuries before Angkor Wat was regurgitated by the jungle and almost forgotten. And I think - why? Why do this? What was it all about? Clearly it was driven by all-consuming religious commitment married with the characteristic egotism of any civilisation's most powerful leaders.

For two days, I have ridden in the back of trusty Savuth's tuk-tuk, visiting over twenty ancient sites. I have seen so much and yet I almost think that I just scratched the surface as I picked my way over broken stones or dipped my head as I moved along endless corridors or scaled mighty temples shaped like some mythical Hindu mountain. Awesome indeed. I have already taken over three hundred photographs.

I'm writing this in the lobby of the lovely Angkor Spirit Palace Hotel on the southern edge of Siem Reap town - just twenty US dollars a night for a double room with breakfast. Such friendly, helpful staff and the other guests are okay too. After lounging in and by the pool for an hour, it's now raining cats and dogs but like yesterday. I expect that today's tropical downpour will be over almost as quickly as it began.