Sunday, 7 March 2010

Officially an Immigrant!

So I am back in Romania and I have my residency permit, I am now officially an immigrant and therefore I will be lazing around doing no work, living off benefits and stealing everybody's jobs. Neo-racism doesn't specify exactly how this is done but no doubt destroying the fine traditions and everything this country stands for will come quite naturally now. 'Immigrant', a word surrounded by dark shadows of twisted meaning, put there by those with a less than generous turn of mind.

But nations are as transient as bubbles on water, they form, join, split, pop and reform, so who is calling who an immigrant anyway? And to say that one bubble is better than another, madness! Its all the same water, its just forming pretty shapes!

Well this is a post of my journey from one bubble to another (bubbles inside bubbles). I apologise now for the quality of some of the photos and the lack of others, I lack the obsession, sorry I mean motivation, that many have towards taking photos. Also in taking photos on a moving coach there were quite a few very interesting pictures to the right of the photo I actually took! (Click on the photos to see large versions)

So, I set off from Birmingham at 9pm on a Tuesday, arriving by coach in London just before midnight. Here was my first challenge, enduring the night in Victoria coach station.

My bags contained many books that I would be needing on the project, solar power and equipment, netbook, and of course clothes, packed so that my two bags would form a reasonably comfortable bed to lie on. I found myself a wall near where others were trying to sleep and made my nest. Not being tired I got out Terry Pratchetts new book from my bag and settled down to read, Pratchett did not disappoint! I needed the toilet though and it was a few hours before they would open them. What a strange phenomenon, being somewhere on my planet where there was likely no legal place for me to perform such a basic bodily function!

At about 1am I was a little surprised to be told to leave the coach station because it was closing for the night, as I had specifically contacted the coach station before to see if it would stay open. I told the man this and was directed to a small room at the other end of the place, there was a toilet near this place too, bliss! So I remade my bed, much to the envy of those practicing contortionism in the metal chairs, and settled down again. Mainly I read, I did try to sleep at times but largely failed, not due to discomfort but mainly I think to the general level of alertness I keep while traveling and possibly to the eternal daytime that seems to exist in places like that.

Daytime came, or rather the buzz increased and the shutters went up (the mechanical sunrise!) and it was time to check in. On the coach I headed straight for the back row and sat roughly in the middle aiming to give out the message that 'yes you can come and sit on the back row, but maybe one of those other empty seats will be just a little bit more convenient for you'! It worked beautifully, aided by the fact that the coach was quite empty anyway. At 8am Wednesday morning we set off, and at 8.30am we returned due to a 'technical error' (half the passengers were missing!).

London, obviously so...
A couple of hours sleep later and the cliffs of Dover...
...where I assume we had missed our boat (and my hoped for hot meal, not of course that I was short for food in my bags), because we then headed down the coast to the channel tunnel. (Other explanations for leaving the ferry port are possible, for instance the driver may have had a phobia of boats, and while he had been psyching himself up for it and thought he could do it panicked at the last moment; or there could have been a giant iceberg floating past, full of thriving polar bears, that the international community of scientists busy conspiring to fake global warming didn't want anyone to see and so diverted all traffic under the sea instead of over it).

Heading down the ramp to get on the train...
A horse on the hill, running away from the trains...
A short nap later and France...
A few sandwiches and an open source story from Cory Doctorow and I am in Belgium...
The last stop in Belgium a father an his two children got on the coach, and their need for three of my five seats was greater than mine so I didn't fight for the space!

Germany passed in darkness, and generally sleep, though there was the odd stop (two euros to use a toilet, well done civilisation!)...
And then dawn, with her fingertips of gray, found us in Austria...
OK, so a point I want to make, for every pretty city center there are a handful of very ugly industrial parks around at best, and at worst vast slums (though not in our bubble at present). In obsessing about beauty and things that are shiny, we create much that is so ugly, and then we hide all the ugly stuff, where it then festers. This I think is true on many levels, physical and otherwise. I don't think it is just within a city that the 'nice' parts necessitate bad parts, the 'developed' world looks and operates how it does by exporting a lot of the ugliness and suffering to the developing world. What is beautiful and ugly seem a bit blurred to me these days however, maybe precisely because of this, for how can a new car or a supermodel be beautiful, when you really see all that is behind them within them? And which is ugly, a fine house with a family in conflict, or a small shack where a community meet as friends? But back to my original point, city centers are a facade, here is Vienna....
With stories, food, music and watching Europe go by I enter Hungary, and success, I am about to arrive without once loosing my coach!
On the journey to Hungary when we stopped on the way you could never be quite sure what language you were meant to speak, not least because with no boarder controls you are never quite sure what country you are in, and the question 'what country is this?' seems up there with 'what year is this?'; not questions I feel inclined to ask even when I need to know! So arriving in Hungary was great, I knew what language I was meant to speak, and even better I could speak at least a few words (I make no claims about having those words understood, but I felt good just being able to say them!).

I left the coach here, caught the subway to the train station (Updated Mark's Subway Ranking 1.Bucharest 2.Paris 3.Hungary 97.London - I don't know what the other 94 subway systems there are ahead of London, but my loathing for London's tubes assures me they must be there), and there after getting my ticket and having a look around I stood resting my back a little before searching for food. My name was called and there appeared one of my hosts from Forest Garden, she was traveling back from Sweden on the same day, a most happy coincidence! So we stashed our bags in left-luggage and went looking for food together. Nearby we found a Chinese restaurant and had a very tasty and long meal chatting away there. It was just what was needed!

When it was time for her train we headed back to the station, she left heading directly to Transylvania, and I settled down to read a bit more Pratchett while waiting for my train to Bucharest. The train I caught was the night train, and so I was in a carriage with six beds. The carriage I was in I was sharing with four friendly Romanians. The train had barely set off before they insisted on sharing their food with me, and wine, and palinca (a spirit made from plums). We only spoke a very very few words in common, and eventually found the best way to communicate was through drawing pictures, which was fun!

It was getting dark at this stage so we made the beds, and I was on one of the top bunks. There I slept soundly, only waking to show passport control my passport as we crossed the boarder into Romania. I woke not long after dawn, who was at that time making her foggy tendrils visible through the forest of the Carpathians. The journey through these mountains was the most beautiful part of the trip...
My traveling companions for the train journey...
A picture of the beast that carried me, finally in Bucharest...

So now I am back with Sophie, here in the capital of Romania, and very nice it is too! Within a week I will be off up into the mountains, to begin the next thing.



Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Good day to you all!

I have just found out about a search engine that donates 80% of its profits to saving the rainforest (working with WWF) and which runs all its servers on renewable energy (servers are hungry and hot beasts to tame). It also, unlike Google, deletes all of your search results in a short space of time and doesn't use them for marketing purposes.

The address is

Pass on the message!


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Consuming Adjectives

One thing I noticed when in Romania was that fruit and vegetables, as long as you didn't buy them from the new supermarkets that are springing up, tasted considerably better than that available here in our oh so wonderfully developed Britain! Even some vegetables I don't normally like were tasty. Interestingly, a UN or WHO report on Romania I read a while ago referred to its agriculture as being underdeveloped and in need of modernisation through the converting of land to large scale industrial farming. Maybe they mean everyone's food should be brightly coloured, shiny and made of plastic, but that doesn't make sense to me! But oh how stupid I am being, they weren't talking about quality in the report, and there was me thinking that they must have been, me with my mentally abnormal bias towards the health and happiness of individuals; they were talking about maximising outputs and profits. (In fairness they think that this will mean there will be more money available for treating illness, which is an interesting approach to take - reducing the healthiness of food to increase the money available for treating ill health).

Anyway, I rant! The point of this blog was an excellent quote from an article (Gazpacho and Coffee) in Resurgence magazine talking about food quality...

"In Armando’s view, his staff, earning £7 a day and growing their own vegetables amongst the coffee, ate better than most British people earning ten times as much. He went on to say, in a bemused way, that our food seemed to be more about consuming adjectives than quality, citing the packaging in supermarkets and the absurdly florid descriptions on restaurant menus"

'Consuming adjectives'! Yes that sums it up nicely! It is another part of the shared delusion we live under, where words, images and associations become more important than reality*. This is exemplified for me by the use of TV to advertise purfume - if you smell your TV while the advert is playing you will find it smells the same as when the advert is not playing (although if the world had a sense of justice the TV would smell more like excrement when the adverts are on)!

Have a nice day!

*The question of what do we class as reality is an interesting one. So much of what we take for real is clouded by our preconceptions, like if someone gives you a red sweet and tells you it is strawberry flavoured how you are more likely to taste strawberry, or if you expect a person not to be nice you will see the negatives more, or how you only see certain details of your environment when they have a relevance to you or you purposely open up to them (the sides of roads to me always used to look like green mess, now I see many different plants all with their own styles and uses). What I am suggesting here is that what we believe absolutely to be real contains much that is subjective (not objectively real), and this might have more and more increasing subtle levels to it, until you start to wonder what is true. If you think this is mere philisophical rambling and has no relation to living life then consider how much of your energy is spent chasing or fighting stuff that isn't real, and how much could be gained if we were to see a little bit more clearly, if we were to have a little more awareness.
A further thought on this is, if so much of our world is subjective, and we purposely shape and create this subjective (as is done in advertising), then are we creating a new reality and a new reality with with its own existence and worth? For example, if you buy perfume based on a stylish advert, others may see you as stylish, and you live in a world of style. However I think a new reality isn't created, rather an existing one is perverted. For instance, the basis for judging someone based on style is maybe linked to judging how well someone can look after themselves, which in itself could have worth. However, the world of style, I would suggest, has become divorced from these roots as image is picked up from mass media and is focused on at the exclusion of much else, and being able to fit in with that image may for some be dependent on credit cards or going along with the status quo, both of which right now seem unsustainable and therefore not necessarily the best way you can look after yourself. What do you think? I welcome a discussion on this, so feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Give a man a fish...

There is a proverb that gets used quite often, especially in relation to charities helping poor countries...

'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime'.

Well for a long time I have disliked that quote, for a start it shows arrogance on the part of the would-be teacher, who seems to be assuming that those that are hungry are so because they are not as cleaver as we. Of course that isn't always the case, and often it is valuable to share skills. But, and this may be the cynic in me, I also dislike it because it doesn't seem to match up well with some of my understanding of how things are and it ignores some fundamental issues. My version of the quote would be...

'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, try and teach him to fish and he will tell you "don't be stupid, I know how to fish, but the fish in the sea have been wiped out due to overfishing by the west, the smaller rivers are drying up due to climate change, and the larger river is polluted because of a factory upstream owned by a western corporation"'

Well today Andy Zaltsman provided me with a new version (on BBC iPlayer currently)...

"Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but lease him a fishing rod and he will feed you cut-price fish for a life time, and that is a competitively priced labour market you have got there! Plus since you own the rod he better fish and fish hard, otherwise you can take his rod away, no rod means no wages and no wages means no imported tinned fish, which is now all he and his family can afford to eat!"

It seems to me that people, globally, often are not poor because of random chance or due to a lack of effort on their own part, rather, that people are poor largely because we have created a world that requires some to be poor so that others can be rich. This does imply a power to be able to create things differently though.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Terry Pratchett has a rather humorous adaptation of this quote 'give a man a fire and he is warm for a day, set a man on fire and he is warm for the rest of his life!'