What a (long, strange) trip it’s been

Corn ripening in the sunny Burgundy fields brings about a sense of well-being that can only come through travelling in a landscape of harvested grain and burgeoning orchard fruits. It’s John Keats come early.fiat doblo

When this trip starting in the Balkans began I kind of had the feeling it might lead to some new sense of purposefulness and maybe a place to promote and facilitate that brand new calling. Whereas, it has further strengthened just exactly what I have felt all along regarding the role of the human being in the universe and how society might be made to fit that most important of all aspects. The places we have been to, the experiences we have had, and the people we have met, obviously, have led to this conclusion. Which is the whole point. What is travel for except to have new experiences and develop understanding?

Now I know what I have to do.

Some people may recognise the title of this blog as being borrowed from a celebrated biography of the Grateful Dead (and a line from their song ‘Truckin’). Anne and I are not part of any hippy movement fanning out from Golden Gate Park – although we went to the place on a trip (not an acid one) to southern California a couple of years ago (see my novel Answer) – but I, for one, would dearly love to see some of the thoughts expressed during that period be evoked again in our present time. On this occasion, brought to fruition. The musicians of the sixties and seventies did a great job of expanding people’s consciousness but the artists, writers and thoughtless intellectuals sadly let them down. So here we are living through times of enforced austerity brought about by the connivance of the enervating conservative powers, when we could all be living in prosperity and having unbridled dreams for an even better future.

This is what I have re-learned through our trip to the likes of Albania and Calabria where I discovered that just like with ourselves the old regime has reasserted its previous stranglehold on the present and future well-being of the population.

The eighties and beyond were like being told to expect sunshine only to have a great big rain shower come along and spoil the day.

All that ‘drip down’ economic wealth nonsense, what an insult!

And the outcome of such untruths were plainly laid out in one particular novel – Question. At least the hero of this work had the sense to see what was happening. We are the agents of our own misfortune.

Modern economic movements are making it clearer and clearer where money comes from and how it can be produced and manipulated for the benefit of society as a whole, and in so doing are giving a lie to the politicians and 1% who would have society believe otherwise.

For sure, the Establishment wants people to live in fear of the present and future in order that they can continue to govern and remain in positions of power. They don’t care that people suffer. That is not their remit. Their one and only aim is to somehow sit on the top of the pile – no matter what a heap of shit they maintain and so long as the flies continue buzzing around them.

It can sometimes be very difficult to see the present and future as being different from what they are as a result of events that happened in the past, but it is possible. The political and economic past can be seen for what it was and overcome.

So, hey, here we are sitting in a very comfortable municipal campsite in rural France and can have no complaints of a personal nature. Soon we will be back in Blighty. And the work of my blog and my novels continue.

Posted from Louhans, Borgogne

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

The trip continues…

Perfect hangover weather here, 3000 feet up in the French Alps. After bludgeoning temperatures of over 30 degrees even up high on the plateaux it’s a relief to have them lowered as a result of the rain. Wisps of cloud are clinging to the wooded alpine slopes as they move through the valley before fading away. The rain falls soft and gentle, just like Van Morrison describes it in some of his best songs.fiat doblo

We are hungover because last night Pascale and Lionel invited us over to their place for a nosh up of the most wonderful tartiflette, made from potatoes and onions combined with lardons and Reblochon cheese produced from raw milk by the dairy farmers in the mountains of Savoie, where we are still camping. We began with a rose wine and croutons before ‘changing colour’ to a beauteous red wine which accompanied the main dish. I have never experienced such a matching up of wine and food. There was jambon sec and cornichons to follow with the crispy Batavia lettuce leaves and simple but perfectly proportioned oil-and-vinegar dressing. In the meantime a partly-drunk bottle bearing the hand-written legend poire 2015 had been produced and put on the table. When the Nescafe coffee and sweet fruit tartlets from the local boulangerie appeared so did four small liqueur glasses. As he poured out the pear schnapps from the bottle Lionel explained the label. In the region only certain families are permitted by law to distil alcohol and they are usually approached sometime in the autumn when the fruit is at its ripest to make the different flavoured liqueurs. Before the first tasting Lionel described it as ‘anti-freeze’, which fortunately proved to be a misrepresentation. Though it was obviously pretty pokey. More conversation followed and this led to another bottle of clear liquid being produced; this time we learned it had been flavoured with the ‘mirabelle’ plum, and dated back to 2010. A vote was taken and the second bottle took precedence. What I should say is that the rain had been pelting down since soon after our arrival at their caravan-and-awning and the thunder crashing and the lightning flashing down the mountain valley for hours. Essentially, we were captive. So my glass kept being refilled with plum schnapps as we awaited a break in the weather. By midnight we decided that, rain or not, bed beckoned and for the umpteenth time we made our farewells. This time successfully.

That was last night. Today…

Posted from Petit Bornand les Glières, Haute Savoie

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

 

Point one: The world expanded and then contracted again

The liberal dream becomes a conservative nightmare

Back in the nineteen-sixties when my generation was growing up there was a real feeling that barriers – class, educational, racial, national – were being broken down. In fact that was happening and continued into the early seventies. There is plenty of evidence for this in a variety of cultural analyses, so that I won’t spend time discussing the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Germaine Greer, red-brick universities, labour union rights, anti-war movements etc. And then something happened. The ruling elites – or old-time Establishment – cottoned on and began to get scared that all their power and influence might well slip away from them. All they really had was their wealth and powerful contacts and so they thrashed around in search of a unifying ‘idea’. Eventually they settled on one that had appeared to work in Chile, where a brutal dictatorship had been established against the will of the people by use of force and the introduction of a financial system so fixed that a small group of insiders inevitably grew richer at the expense of the larger population. This ‘idea’ was called ‘monetarism’ and its long-ridiculed advocate was hauled out from obscurity, dusted down, and hailed as an economic messiah. His name was Milton Friedman and the disciples of his dis-credited economic model were known as ‘the Chicago school’. The system had been discredited because it plainly failed to operate in favour of the wider public. This flaw, however, was precisely what the western ruling elites required as they fought in hidden corners to regain their pre-modern ascendency. With such an ‘idea’ in place they were firmly able to quash the modern liberal-thinking upstarts. The first thing they needed to do was to create unemployment and destroy the labour unions. The former was easily initiated by taking out and misspending huge international loans that undermined the national economy; with a lack of proper investment and poor management oversight the industries that had formerly underpinned the whole economy – engineering, public transport, the National Health and educational system etc – were all quickly dismantled. And of course, by use of media manipulation, the blame could all be put squarely on so-called socialist ideas and labour rights. For example, as British Leyland was being undone in the Midlands the national media launched a campaign demonising just one person: a factory-worker they labelled Red Robbo, and somehow with the help of MI5 managed to plant the idea in the national consciousness that this one inconsequential man was responsible for the entire collapse of a massive national car-making industry, as large and as successful as any existing at that time in the industrialised world. The Soviets would have been proud. All they had come up with were supposed saboteurs deliberately harming their nascent industry back in the nineteen-thirties. With regards to labour rights, and following on from what had happened in Chile, the government mobilised the national police force and sections of the British armed forces to brutally attack the miners and their thriving communities, forcing them into near starvation and growing dependence on outside charities until at last their resolve collapsed and they were shame-facedly beaten into submission. This was a British government using British law-enforcers, the British military, the British Broadcasting Corporation and British Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) i.e. the whole state power, against its own people, just as had happened in Chile. Essentially, the British working-class were disempowered and the old Establishment could wheel out its previously ridiculed ‘idea’ of monetarism in order to con the public out of all the national utilities and organisations they had previously owned and in some manner controlled. Privatisation finally left the British people with virtually no national resources and massive debt as big companies creamed off the profits and simply left the public to bail them out after the new owners had taken the money and run. And subsequent governments called this economic model a success.

And so, to the point of this blogpost.

You will recall point one was: the world expanded and then contracted again.

By this I meant that a whole series of social developments were taking place over more than a decade which would have for sure led to an opening out of communications and opportunities between different peoples, both nationally and supra-nationally.  This very opening out of the world threatened the UK ruling class and all its accepted hereditary rights and privileges. Hence the fight-back. Of course, all us liberal-minded citizens had no clue concerning the machinations being carried out which would deny us a brighter future. Not until too late has it become clear with what perverted vision our long-standing rulers have contracted the circumstances which would have enabled the vast majority to flourish in this eminently possible open world.

More to come.

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Posted from somewhere in the Haute-Savoie, France

A bit of a whinge

After driving several thousands of miles and staying on a variety of campsites – some lovely, some not so – in different countries, we have pulled up less than an hour after arriving in France to stay in what is probably the loveliest of them all, in the Savoie Mont Blanc.fiat doblo

Our very first pull-up after getting off the ferry at the Hook of Holland nine weeks ago was in a layby off the autobahn close to Munich, from where we set out early next morning and travelled past black-hatted churches and white-misted forest down into Austria and through the Alps to Slovenia.

That night we stayed in what was probably the worst of all the sites; marred by a suburbia of plasticated motor-homes replete with self-satisfied retirees from the north idling away their time and pensions in a back-slapping display of utter mundanity. So much for the wisdom of old age. Slovenia has apparently succumbed to the mind-sapping influence and affluence of nearby Austria. Take away people’s money worries, it seems, and what’s left is an air-hole between the ears. And that pertains to any background, royal or proletarian. So you can’t accuse me of any bias.

Well, good luck to Slovenia. We stayed in the country for about forty-eight hours.

Croatia had a different feel despite it, too, having been invaded by the northern pensioner hordes. Actually, we made a point of avoiding the county’s touristic coast and wandered inland; but even then we ended up staying on a plot of land bought by a Dutch family soon after the Balkans war when land there was still very cheaply obtained. An old, state-owned campsite dating back to the Tito years provided the only refuge; while in a friendly nearby bar we watched their football team dismantle Uruguay in the football world cup group stage, and England scramble a last-gasp win against Tunisia (not realising the two teams would meet up in the semi-final…).

Following Croatia, entering Bosnia-Herzegovina was like returning to an old Soviet state. The campsites were either non-existent or pretty dire – and dear. Ten euros to camp in an abandoned field, and fifteen to remain on a scruffy patch of grass next to a freezing cold river only good for trout-fishermen. For want of a decent place to stay we crossed back into Croatia, and from there on into Montenegro.

While the country is really rather beautiful and the people apparently laid-back and having a typically Mediterranean outlook, the Montenegrin campsites usually failed to meet our rather modest needs. Again, they were far too expensive for what they offered. On one, we had to park the van on a space outside the gate beyond which lay the amenities, and yet still had to pay twenty euros for the privilege (a figure that just seemed to be made up on our arrival). Up north a similar figure applied for staying in a large field.

So, we with our intended daily budget of thirty euros weren’t doing all that well. Wild camping wasn’t an option because we couldn’t find any decent spots and were reliant on the internet to keep in touch with family members who were either ill, preparing to leave for abroad or simply in the throes of purchasing their first property.

And the problem – if that’s what you can call it – as we see it is this. Camping used to mean getting out into the countryside and living in nature, often under canvas. To do this required an element of ‘roughing it’, but part of the pleasure was indeed getting away from everyday domestic comforts. Plus, because amenities were basic they didn’t cost much. Now that has altered. Everybody wants to bring their home comforts with them. And by purchasing a big plasticated box built on a wheeled chassis and powered by a modern gas-guzzling engine there is no reason to leave anything behind. You really can bring the kitchen sink (quite why you would want to do so is a different matter entirely). Not only the kitchen sink, but a motorbike or a hitched-up car, too. Just to make life really, really easy. Why forgo anything that alleviates any type of inconvenience?

And, of course, one can see the pleasure in this – the logic, even. You escape your everyday environment and don’t have to suffer any discomfort or apparent consequences. The ‘snowbirds’ of the northern USA have got this down to a fine art as they live in their comfy homes for the summer months and take their polluting high-spec RVs down south immediately the thermometer shows a dip in temperature. Arguably, the wealthy and privileged have always done this. Only last week we visited the site where Hadrian had built his exclusive country getaway. Certainly northern Europeans are beginning to follow this pattern in their droves, so that even far-flung Islamic Morocco is considered a desirable winter destination.

But, anyway, my gripe is not the fact that people like to travel in comfort – why shouldn’t they, since they have every right to? It’s that because the affluent north European pensioners are spending their time hitting the roads of the south and spending their money in places that traditionally have not seen the touristic euro/dollar, an over-inflated sense of what they – the campsite-owners – have to offer i.e. sunshine and warmth, has led them to understand that north European prices are somehow compatible with south European standards. What’s more, they naively imagine every north European must be wealthy. (We met with the same scenario in newly-opened Myanmar a short while back.)

In Albania, because we felt rather imprisoned, we got off the campsite which had been privately developed on the northern border, and really did achieve Germanic standards and prices, and walked up to the local shop and bar. We ordered local food and local drinks at local prices and got talking to the English-speaking daughter of the owner. She repeated what we had been told by the Italian-speaking care-worker in the mountains concerning how much the average Albanian could expect to earn right now and also about how many Albanians had made or were intending to make their way to London. These stories are rife and no bones are made about the advantages of doing so. We were told them everywhere we stopped and talked.

As a matter of fact, everything we heard and discovered in the Balkan states is exactly as we found during our winter sojourn in Greece nearly three decades ago as the northern Europeans flocked into the country to take advantage of relatively cheap property prices and the Greek way of living. In some parts of town – the nice parts – you’d only hear German or Dutch and the only Greeks around were the cleaners and unemployed. The one campsite we stayed on during this trip had a similar distribution of nationalities.

Italy was a different proposition altogether. There you pay high prices because the average users of campsites are entire families who expect to be provided with swimming-pools, shops and some kind of entertainment: a ‘camping village’, in fact.

Ciro was not like other campsite-owners. I would say he had the perfect set up and ideal philosophy. Inheriting a piece of Calabrian land from his nonna which had been used to grown corn, he gave up his humiliating and enervating job as a bagnino catering to the beach-needs of wealthy northern Italians, and planted it with all manner of trees to provide a hospitable environment for campers. He also grows vegetables and fruit (which he gave away freely), while his brother keeps bee-hives in the adjoining olive grove, and his father continues to look after some naturally-fed sheep and pigs and lives in the big, old family house. Ciro’s place was an absolute haven (excepting the arrival of a clearly dysfunctional Italian family in their big white camper…) We also lucked-out by finding an inexpensive state-run site in the pine woods by Lago Arva in the Sila mountain range. A find that was countered by being ripped off for basic food purchases in the nearby village (and perhaps the subject for a future gripe about travelling around in the van).

And so after driving up through Italy on its expensive autostrada in the aggravating heat – losing our exhaust and waiting to have a new one fitted outside Florence – and staying overnight on its expensive campsites, crossing the border into France by way of the Monte Blanc tunnel and heading immediately for a municipal campsite up in the mountains has come as a relief. The municipal campsites came about from the desire of the French people to have access to their own land at prices the average person can readily afford. They are usually set in natural beauty spots and provide just the right level of amenities. The site staff are universally friendly and give the camper a feeling that it is a shared experience living for a time out in the country, rather than one where the campsite-owner charges the highest price they think the poor, miserable saps in their diminished circumstances will be prepared to pay.

Happy Holidays!

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY are available at Amazon and bookstores worldwide

The trip so far…

Birdsong. Cow-bells. Cool pine-shade. A mirror lake. Time to take stock of our trip so far.

Eight weeks in and five-thousand feet up in the Sila Grande mountains and our little vancar has stood up excellently to the four-thousand miles already covered on sometimes parlous roads down through the Balkans and across the Adriatic Sea on a ferry to Italy. fiat dobloBy dropping into Calabria and visiting the remains of the temple of Hera on the outskirts of Crotone we have been as far out south and east as we intend to travel on an irregular six-thousand mile loop with diversions that will return us to our starting point in the UK. These largely-unknown Calabrian mountains are the quietest and loveliest resting-place we have camped in over the whole trip*. The looming Montenegrin peaks in all their cragginess were probably more awesome but the pine-covered slopes falling down to the lake here offer more serenity. The countryside of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was too steeped in recent violent history to contain any real sense of peace. The same was true of Albania and its Accursed Mountains. Northern Greece was just too barren beyond its olive groves. Of course, we have been following the Adriatic coastline for the most part and that first hit of southern warmth still lingers in our northern veins. We have swum in the sea and rivers and lakes and such cooling water has been absolutely necessary as we have endeavoured to remain comfortable in sometimes overwhelming temperatures. Insects have been an issue and only in Cetinje, Montenegro did we find a solution when we bought a cheap mosquito net at a hardware store and adapted it to fit round the back-doors of our van. Food has been adequate, mostly preparing meals for ourselves and only eating out occasionally as it has suited. The best meal of all was with our daughter at a fish restaurant in Ada Bojan; while the best beer was the stuff made at a brewery in Niksic, Montenegro and sold chilled in bottles from the supermarkets throughout the region. (Alpha beer in Greece is pretty good, too. Can’t complain about the Peroni here in Italy either… I only wish there was a fridge in the van…) The red wine from the Ciro vineyards here in Calabria is just perfect, as is the food!

Right now, Anne is finding out where the best mountain trails are located and whether it is possible to easily walk into the nearest village for provisions. A car has just arrived from a local farm with a couple of women selling cheese and fresh vegetables…

The temperature is a perfect twenty-five degrees. We will most likely spend at least a few days here camping by the lakeside before considering our options as the mass August holiday gets underway and millions of Europeans take to the roads for their annual summer break. Ideally, we will make our way back in a zig-zag through the German Black Forest and Moselle and Alsace regions of northern France that were denied us on the way down on account of the gloomy northern spring climes and unexpected onrush of belligerent traffic. We would have liked to visit friends in Switzerland but that now looks unlikely this time round.

So much time, and so much travel, all bound up in one neat paragraph… Never mind, I’m saving the real meaty stuff for the novel!

*A walk into the village revealed a place where people are struggling to get by, with closed-down restaurants and dilapidated hotel buildings, while a long chat with the Ukrainian owner of the grocery store – who had left his home country after his parents and friends were killed in a series of shootings by state thugs following the collapse of the USSR – revealed that the Calabria mafia still holds sway in this region, squeezing locals and holding back any economic progress. He has put his business on the market but surely no one will make the purchase. We felt too embarrassed to ask what he and his family would do next or where they might go.

Posted from beside Lago Arvo, in the Sila Grande mountains

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Balkans weblog #9

The first thing I’ve got to say in this post is that I am sorry to be missing the big Ridgley family get-together in south Bucks this weekend. As ever, it is being held on private land that used to belong to the artist Eric Gill, where generations of our family have both worked and lived.chiltern-hills A walk through the local woods quickly yields evidence of sawpits dug by family members generations previously. For a time, as a boy my grandfather officiated over the pigsty, which still stands proudly close by the main house. Nick, present owner of the property, clearly has a soft spot for the Ridgleys owing to their association with the area. I could write a book about it…oh, hang on, I have already done just that. Several of them. For nearly all the work I have written is based in some way either on the family or the south Bucks locale; very often directly on both. In doing so, I have tried to reproduce and further develop the spiritual dignity (and occasional degradation) present in the everyday lives of apparently very ordinary people going about their business over many decades – and even centuries – in this little corner of the world, one that I know so intimately well.

My next novel will be no exception…it is already started and its writing will be in some way connected with the blogspot for some time to come (see new sub-title). As will further explication concerning my broader family and its relations – past and present – to the south Bucks area.

Right now…

We are in northern Greece on a site right next to the blue Ionian Sea…the water’s edge is lapping right by my feet…oh, there goes a German splashing his way into the water…even apparently perfect locations provide the occasional blip…and green-crested mountains rise a quarter-mile away across the bay…from my place beneath a pair of olive trees I can see the cypresses on the far water’s edge, blue-misted mountains receding beyond them…a perfect spot for writing, in fact…

What a shame to leave it…as we intend tomorrow lunchtime, bound on a ferry taking us to the Puglia region on the Italian heel… fiat doblo

With any luck, we will find a spot where we can spend the autumn and I can write my novel…

In the meantime, our little girl is heading to another continent with a view to continue her already wonderful life amongst new and interesting people – and we are going to miss her big time (as we are right now) even though we know that what she is doing is absolutely the right and brave choice at this moment in time.

As for our boy…what wonderful promises his future holds…!!! (‘nuff said)

I know they are going to be with their broader family over the weekend (along with their nanny and grandad), meeting relations they didn’t know existed.

What a great way to embark on new beginnings – and bringing it all together: past, present and future

Posted from within an olive grove, Greece

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available on Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Balkans weblog #8

Time not mattering, money è non importante, life – limitless. That’s what good writing is about, what my books are written to convey…like VdGG and seventies’ rock or a Brueghel painting…

And that is what Albania has reminded me of.

Peering out the side door of the van at a line of grass in Vlorё is the same as peering out the tent opening in Peter Tavy many years ago.

(This is not about re-capturing a bygone moment of time but rather of picking up where that moment left off…)

I used to think freedom was a car and the open road but after having driven thousands of miles over the past few weeks I’m beginning to have second thoughts. For a start, everyone has a car now and all the roads that go somewhere – and a few more besides – are choc-a-bloc with vehicles. Fuel consumption, for sure, is going to destroy the world if war doesn’t do so in the meantime.fiat doblo

Now I am starting to think that maybe freedom is settling down in a dwelling with an olive grove and learning a foreign language…

Freedom always seems to be the opposite of what you’ve got (we ain’t missing our home/house btw).

As a matter of fact, humans are patently not really meant to occupy this planet for long at all. A few enlightening incarnations (following maybe thousands of  unenlightening ones) and then – enough! Moving on to a more spiritual plane. (See Key of Love as outlined by the characters in the novels.)

Anyhow, human beings are currently destroying the planet day by day. It soon won’t matter whether you agree with the above statements or not.

Discussing the World Cup and finding out the widespread support for Croatia this way (Montenegro and possibly Serbia being an exception) because they are all part of the Balkans, makes you comprehend how a real sense of a shared identity exists in what is an otherwise somewhat nebulous area. Working on the assumption that northern Greece is the most southerly tip of the Balkans region, arriving there will mark the end of this part of the trip. Before that however, we intend to work our way up through the south-eastern part of Albania, and from there cross the border into Macedonia (though even this may change as Anne is poring over the atlas ere I write…)

Posted from beside the Ionian Sea, Albania

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Balkans weblog #7

Waking up in our van high in the mountains of the Mak region in Albania as the sun casts its rays from above the far eastern ridge is undoubtedly special. In the cornfields the labourers are using their hoes to hack at the weeds between the rows of six-feet tall plants, calling out and chatting to one another. A man from the nearby village leads a donkey in a harness followed by two consumptive-looking pale-brown cows as they head for the pasture at the top of the lane. Our dog raises himself onto his haunches and yawns lazily before shifting a couple of yards into further shade as it ebbs away across the courtyard. The church stands stone-fresh and gaunt as an Italian nun enters its wooden doors before attending morning prayers.

And yet all this bucolic bliss comes at a price – not for us, but the Albanian people living here.

albania sunriseOwing to Anne’s fluency in the Italian language we have learned how the Roman Catholic church set up a project here in 2002 in order to help the local children overcome some of the social problems that have beset the community since the death of Hoxha and the collapse of the totalitarian system he put in place as Albania was proclaimed the world’s first atheistic state. Most of the priests were shot dead or imprisoned. People were forbidden to pray to God. Wives hid their religious faith from their husbands for fear of reprisal.

Along with these repressions, and more particularly following the end of communism, the mountain people of northern Albania still retain their custom of ‘Kanun’ – similar to the old Italian code of vendetta – whereby murders committed by male members of a family lead to ‘blood feuds’ that may end in the killings of all the men in the family. The code extends to relations between men and women and the nuns told of how they have been required to hide local people so as to protect them from some form of ghastly revenge.

Gent, the young man from the village who has been involved in the various projects, confirmed all this and added some personal details of his own; for example, explaining how his entire family acquired a ‘negative’ name when an uncle fell foul of the communist regime, were thenceforth unable to access any state privileges, and his father spent a lifetime working in the local chrome mine (for which he now receives a state pension of €150 a month).

(Not even King Zog, Hoxha’s predecessor, was exempted from the Kanun and required police protection when he jilted the daughter of a respectable family after promising to marry her. In his novel ‘Broken April’, Ismail Kadare relates graphically how the centuries old codified rule system operates in practice – as I have tried to show in my work ‘Question’ what can happen in terms of revenge killing when the law fails to protect the population from economic exploitation.)

So, yes, the surrounding mountains are beautiful to look at – but their appeal has been costly in human terms.

Well, after watching the England football team lose to Croatia in the semi-final of the World Cup it was time to head back out along the mountain road up to Burrel and follow the river Mak out towards the Adriatic coast road. The roads in Albania are the worst I have ever come upon; the potholes aren’t so bad because they are at least usually visible in advance; no, the worst danger is subsidence, which you can’t actually see until you are pretty much on top of it. So far, the old car has coped admirably – so much so that there is a danger we will anthropomorphise it and add it as a family member (subject to vendetta and all!).fiat doblo

We were only able to locate an apparently abandoned campsite at our intended next destination of Krujё, where the tourists are now being lured and parking spaces openly touted, so continued on the coastal road southwards to the port town of Durres, where we thought we might take a hotel room for the night, but following a second glance at the developments fronting the sea decided to press on for a further couple of hours through the burning heat of the afternoon instead.

Travelling through Albania, we really are made aware of being in a foreign country. Anne is pretty handy with European languages, we can both read Cyrillic and understand Slavic languages to some degree, but Albanian offers us no clues whatsoever and even the signs and hoardings are almost indecipherable. Somehow we manage, and the kindly patience of the people we meet mitigates any real confusion. Add to this the really intense heat and rolling, dusty countryside in the lower reaches, and I would hardly guess that we were anywhere in Europe at all.

So, ‘travelling’, what is its appeal? Self-discovery, might best sum up the passion it instills. As a tourist, you are directed to particular pre-arranged destinations over which you have little or no say: you remain the passive partner. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that; on the contrary, such an arrangement is often the perfect antidote to the daily demands of life. But as a traveller you choose where you are to go and when, what you are to see, and with whom you are to communicate: you become the active partner. As a result, you expose yourself to various dangers, disasters and misunderstandings, it is true, but the pay-off is that you become responsible for the enterprise and make any discoveries personally.

We located the campsite close to Berat which we intended to use at some stage of the journey and after a meal prepared for us by the site-owners settled down for the night behind the mosquito net we just installed. I was still driving in my sleep and barely succumbed to full unconsciousness (not as bad as after driving along the hairpin roads of Montenegro where for nights afterwards it felt like I was laying in a boat out on the ocean…).

This morning we awoke to hot early sunshine – and a group of youngsters from Flemish-speaking Belgium who had appeared overnight and were sleeping off their journey in pod-like single tents.

I have had to wait until the campsite emptied during mid-morning before embarking on this – seventh – Balkans weblog.

In the perfect mountain silence and seclusion of the Suc church compound, it felt like you were waiting for God to speak (…now that Hoxha and his henchmen were out the way). As though some personal revelation were forthcoming. I don’t know if atheists ever experience this or any similar feeling. As for the peace it instilled – that is, the feeling of peace – it is surely not a human condition, not one that humans can realise by themselves. Peace is a holy, cosmic disposition only available through spiritual means. Peace must be actively sought, and only then can it be found.

Posted in the shade, near Berat

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available from Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Balkans weblog #6

Albania – where we now are – not only sounds like California (give or take a syllable) but looks and feels like it too: hot, dusty, mountainous, with a long coastline.
albania
Set in the 1930s, in the opening of his anti-totalitarian and nostalgically British novel ‘Coming Up for Air’, George Orwell has his hero contemplating the likelihood of war as he drives his car and ruminates on the life and motives of the self-proclaimed King Zog of Albania…
Albanians…heh!?
albania flag
Growing up, Albania was the epitome of a secret surveillance society, but not even Albanians could have dreamed of the manner in which the CIA and Facebook would be using Silicone Valley technology to spy on and try to control its own population. And then blame the Russians for its – the state’s and private business concern’s – failure to do so.

In much the same way, the Soviets were blamed for Albania’s woes back in the second half of the twentieth century, when in fact it was the UK-supported White forces under General Wrangel which put the people under the imperialist heel, thereby setting up the conditions that would eventually lead to Hoxha’s paranoid and totalitarian control.
Albania and the old Soviet bloc were so conveniently othered for such extended periods when it suited over the past one hundred years that it has virtually entered the western democratic rulers’ DNA to blame someone from eastern Europe when something goes against their wishes and they risk losing control of the narrative. For example, when the west’s politicians are found out attempting to manipulate voters’ behaviour patterns through the likes of outrageously-expensive hireling companies like Bell Pottinger or Cambridge Analytica, they immediately set up false flags and blame these ‘others’ for the events. Their friends in the media get on board and there you have it: the perfect cover up and excuse for utter failure.
They wish. Like my old mum used to keep telling me when I was young (my older sister, too, for some peculiar reason that I won’t go into right now), “Be sure your lies will find you out.”
Or as the mystic John would have it, ‘You are the father of lies, for in you is no truth…’
Beware all you would-be World Rulers, when it comes to all your secret shenanigans at home and abroad. “Be sure…”
Communists…heh!?
Russians…heh!?
Never the western democracies.

(As an aside, just after despatching my last blogpost from Cetinje, Montenegro, I received a FB message from a Russian friend who just happened to be staying down the road with her family…)

And so, to the football World Cup. At its first inception the region we’ve been travelling through was represented by the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia, yug = south). That king was deposed by the Yugoslavian people, led by Tito (whose May, 1943 hideout from the fascists we visited at Black Lake in Durmitor), just as the Albanians got rid of their so-called king around the same time. An interesting point: the most recent claimant to the Serbian throne was born in Claridges, London, with Queen Elizabeth II his godmother; while the deposed King Zog immediately headed for the Ritz, London after war broke out (settling for a time with his retinue near my home village). So don’t be fooled by any propagandist bullshit which tries to create divisions between the east and west. The ruling families and big business don’t believe it, or care about it, and neither should anybody else. Which is to say, the ruling elites are all in cahoots.

Ah, yes, the Jules Rimet trophy… What a pity the host nation was knocked out on penalties: England playing Russia in Moscow would have been a great embarrassment to all those propagandists. So far, we have watched England get through the group stage on TV screens in bars around Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, then saw them win their first game of the knock-out stage against Colombia and quarter-final versus Sweden in Montenegro. Now we hope to see them progress further in the semi-final against Croatia at a bar here in Albania.
If the tea leaves of this trip have any meaning, then England will be meeting Belgium once again – this time in the final (we met a group of Belgians straight after the 1-0 defeat, and watched Belgium defeat Brazil alongside a couple of Belgians in Zabljiak.) No French.
fiat doblo
So far we have only seen one British car registration plate since one was spotted on the ferry across the river in southern Montenegro, as its inhabitants headed for Crete. It appears that we are the country’s sole representatives of our national football team currently travelling on the roads through eastern Montenegro and this part of of Albania…
Right now, we are resting up on a campsite not far from the border, planning to maybe take another ferry up the river into Albania’s alpine region for some good hiking, and certainly make the most of our time here before heading into neighbouring Macedonia.

By which time, we hope, England will be FIFA World Cup Champions.

Can it really be true that one country – even the largest country presently on the planet – is responsible for all the world’s troubles? Maybe it is. Most likely it’s not. Maybe it is the capitalist elites. Or maybe it is down to David Icke’s lizards.

How about individual countries taking responsibility for their own societies?

Posted from a spot beside Lake Shkodar, Albania

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available at Amazon and bookstores worldwide

Balkans weblog #5

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, as everybody knows. Still, sometimes it is necessary to look back at the past with some affection if one is to move forward in a positive spirit.

This notion was kind of forced upon me here in Montenegro this week. Photos on FB reminded me that I had turned down the offer of a ticket to see Iggy Pop at Finsbury Park because I knew this Balkans trip was imminent. Finsbury Park is where Anne and I married! And Iggy Pop was THE iconoclastic rock idol of choice for me and my friends back in the day. It was just one of those friends who had offered me the ticket. So then I only had the photos of the sunny day in London to enjoy.

Coincidentally, listening to music on YouTube at the camp site in Virpazar, ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ by Led Zeppelin came up on the feed, replete with accompanying images. There was the little stone cottage in rural Wales, nestled in that typically green, misty Welsh setting. There was the little track leading up to the building. There was the band hanging out in the garden, all long hair and denim flares. Magic!bryn-yr-aur
As a boy, I spent many holidays in Ireland and Wales and Scotland and the west country, and those little Celtic stone cottages tucked away amongst the grass hillocks and sparse woodland have been indelibly linked in my mind with images of freedom and rural tranquillity all my life. (Such a scene and accompanying emotions have been referred to in a previous Balkans blog, discussing ideas of simplicity and liberation.) At sixteen, my friends and I hitchhiked down to Peter Tavy in Cornwall and this trip of adventure, too, has stayed with me as an emblem of freedom and discovery.

In fact, I was reminded how in the summer of ’76, unable to obtain a grant and start a college course in London, I set out for Cornwall once again immediately after seeing the Rolling Stones and Todd Rundgren at a festival with those self-same friends. Once again, the Celtic coasts and moorland drew me away from the now inevitable drudgery of paid labour, enticing my wild spirit to rebel.

Anne and I moved to the west country soon after our marriage. But that’s another story.

Nostalgia, too, is incredibly linked in my mind with melancholia. That is not really so surprising since at the age of three my eleven year old sister drowned off the Dorset coast and I spent long, long days waiting for her to return home. Which, of course, couldn’t happen. So that melancholia, as a deep-seated emotion, became deeply embedded within my way of thinking. Probably the most famous rendition of this feeling is the woodcut of the same name by Albrecht Durer.melancholia Melancholia can be overwhelmingly powerful – and destructive – in its allure, but at the same time it creates an added depth and meaning to the nostalgic impulse. Every so often as a grown-up the melancholy desire threatened to carry me away completely so that I had to take active measures in removing it from my emotional library.
My own children growing up provided an anchor which helped me access solid ground and helped settle the wild emotions that promised to engulf my soul completely. Then my understanding was also aided and grew to the extent that I am now aware of how and when my poor departed sister was reincarnated. If you want to know how this happens, I will happily explain if and when you join my mystic society.

Nostalgia and melancholy draw us deep into the past and deep into our minds but are to be resisted if they become too strong when we wish to re-create the world anew from the inside out. The beauty of both is that they make us aware of how much joy and desire is actually available for us to work with.

durmidorBack in the now of Montenegro, we visited the history museum (more past stuff!) in the old capital of Cetinje and were given a good sense of how this country has been created from its own wild, mountainous past. We opted to rent a cheap apartment in order to visit the surrounding towns using public transport, but we miss the summery outdoors and are quickly getting back into our little campervan so that we can explore the north of the country, which includes the last remnants of rain forest in Europe.fiat doblo

‘Onwards!’ – as the Soviets used to say.

Posted from Cetinje

Novels by GLYN F RIDGLEY available at Amazon and good book stores