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 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.
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…
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…”
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 doblo

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

Posted from Cetinje

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

Balkans weblog #4

Imagine a story written from the point of a view of a huge saguaro cactus high on a trail in the Sonoran Desert. In my novel ANSWER the two main protagonists do exactly this. The idea grew from a desert hike Anne and I took in the desert during a trip to Arizona a couple of winters ago. The same idea came back to me as I sat in an olive grove last week, halfway up a mountain in southern Montenegro.
The saguaro and the olive both stand sentinel over dusty, dry land tracts which have been traversed in different ways by different peoples over long, long periods of time. In the case of the cactus, it may be anything up to two hundred years, and with the tree, up to two thousand. (Don’t worry, this blog post isn’t about to become a history lesson) but just consider what the cactus must have seen as the lives of the native Americans were overcome by Old World settlers, and how this self-same race of settlers toed and fro-ed along the same parched trails bringing new ways in its wake; until even Anne and I walked beneath its magisterial stare. And as for the Montenegrin pathways, just think of the Greeks and Slavs and Turks and all their conquests…right up to the two world wars and not-so-distant Balkans War. And now Anne and I – as with the saguaro before – passing under an impervious arboreal sight.
Okay, so I’m anthropomorphising – but I like the idea of all those hundreds of lives passing and all the changes that occur either slowly or quickly and yet how those plants just go about their business of simply standing their ground in one never-changing place, patiently developing their gnarly shapes and deeply embedded eyes. I’m not kidding. Take a look at one, an old one, saguaro cactus or olive tree. Full of eye-holes.

Take a closer look…

That’s why I was glad to have a close-up of an olive tree on the cover of SOUL JOURNEY – all that development, all that change, in such a short space of time, all under the benign scrutiny of ancient bark. In Abigail’s case, such friendly observation – in contrast to her being deviously spied upon by the technology of GCHQ/MI5 agents – was performed by the beech trees of south Bucks.

It’s as though some things are in constant change and other things hardly alter at all. I sometimes wonder if I prefer the one above the other: the serenity and safety of the passive, the panic and fear contained within its active counterpart. Tree or wind.
Well, in a sense, that’s the kind of backdrop and foreground being drawn up as Anne and I continue with our wandering through these Balkan landscapes…fiat doblo

Actually, while sitting in the olive grove, as cool evening emerged, Anne mentioned the setting reminded her of the Garden of Gethsemane – where we had sat in the burning heat ten years earlier – and now there’s an image: the place where Jesus underwent his one moment of doubt, the occasion and place of his DNS (dark night of the soul), recalled in a moment of utter beauty and tranquillity on a campsite. Because, I have to say, I have never sat in such a beautiful camp setting before: the five-hundred year old olives, the grapevines and the dark Montenegrin mountains looking over all. As evening falls you can see why the country is known as ‘Black Mountain’, since the terrain appears preternaturally dark. So, again, rest versus panic.

I think I know what I don’t want: the middle ground. And since I’ve already had my DNS, I reckon pretty soon I’m gonna want to plump for the easy way. Now I’ve just got to find out the best way of doing so.

We met with our daughter this side of the Albanian border and had a fantastic lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river in Ada Bajana – and then we said goodbye again, not knowing exactly where or when we are going to meet up next time. At any rate, it may not be this year, and it may not be on this continent. It won’t be the Balkans, I don’t suppose. Not on that occasion.
We returned to a beachside campsite a few miles back up the road, got changed, and went to a bar to watch the England game on TV.
There you are again: two patient onlookers at the hopes of two nations being played out on a changing screen. Though only for ninety minutes this time.

GLYN F RIDGLEY novels available on Amazon

Posted from a site near Lake Skadar, Montenegro

Balkans weblog #3

I have surprised myself.
By becoming enamoured with our Tito-era campsite and the bombed-out Adriatic coastal resort nearby, I have learned to settle down for a while and experience the Mediterranean feel emanating from this part of southern Croatia. And in so doing, have broken the habit of a lifetime.
Let me explain.Soul_Journey_Cover_for_Kindle
This time last year I had gathered together all my novels and issued them on Valley Independent Publishing. The effort nearly killed me. I can barely recall the succeeding summer. Off to teach in the mornings before coming back and vanishing for the remainder of the day. Around autumn my symptoms included a diminished appetite, nausea and a metallic taste affecting the mouth. Blood tests showed that nothing horrible was growing inside me but that I had become anaemic while an overload of iron was contaminating the liver. Haemochromatosis was mentioned for the first time. Usually an hereditary condition, often known as the ‘Irish disease’, the most effective treatment involves the medieval-sounding practice of blood-letting; about a pint a time for an extended intensive season, until enough new blood with a lower iron content starts flowing around the body. A truly enervating procedure.
That didn’t sound right to me, so I cut out alcohol and began taking turmeric and milk thistle capsules. Then I initiated a short course of acupuncture with a local practitioner. Best of all, my good old mum treated me to a week-long holiday in Gran Canaria as an xmas present. So that by early spring of this year I was beginning to feel normal again. Also, I had cut out the teaching and taken on a role with the social activities programme at my school instead. This created time and space for me to relax and think. As a result, I was able to publish SOUL JOURNEY, a politico-mystical thriller far more radical than anything by Dan Brown, which I’d been working on throughout this period of time.

The Essenes in their desert hideaway more than two centuries ago evinced through their writings a contempt for the ‘lovers of smooth things’ and I have for a long time imposed this teaching in application to myself. And, indeed, there is a lot to be said for a willingness to embrace hardship and experience denial in one’s daily habits. Especially if such procedures are aimed at achieving particular ends. As a matter of fact, certain results are only made possible in this manner. Those of a spiritual nature, for example. Similarly, the acquisition of long-term goals invariably requires some kind of personal sacrifice.
That said, simplicity really is a wonderful virtue in itself and needn’t incorporate any type of suffering. In regard to writing, Solzhenitsyn, in his auto-biographical ‘The Calf and the Oak’, recounts the time he spent living in a little riverside hut which regularly part-flooded and froze on early autumn mornings, and provided only elementary accommodation, but which generated within him such a freshness of being after his incarceration within the Soviet gulag system, that it helped fortify him for the task of completing his most important writings. Once again, following exile from his beloved Russia, he set up his new life in a spartan compound in chilly Vermont. No Florida excesses for him. Incidentally, you get a similar feeling concerning poor old Ernest Hemingway in his ‘Big Two-hearted River’ stories, whereby it seems a simplified existence would fit him perfectly, if only he could truly adopt it and not be frightened by what lies on ‘the other side’. And if only the burned-out Jack Kerouac could have attained this feeling of serenity achieved through self-denial during his failed attempt at Big Sur, who knows how he might have turned out. Mind you, expecting such a transformation from the author of ‘Desolation Angels’ was always going to be bit of an ask. Still, this is the kind of simplicity Gee Ward yearns and strives for after his release from prison in ON RELEASE, despite all the setbacks which seem to make such an outcome beyond reach.
fiat doblo
When Anne and began to wonder how we might go about re-shaping our extant lives we knew that some form of simplicity had to be factored in. Our lives weren’t terribly complicated or our living conditions especially sophisticated. Nevertheless, a further paring down seemed preferable. For a start, we would use our van for the initial getaway. This little fourteen-year old Fiat Doblo high-top is about as basic a form of travelling around as you can imagine, with some cooking facilities and fold-down double bed it is essentially a form of glamping on wheels. By fitting curtains and removing the rear seat for this trip we have added storage space and made bedding down even simpler. So far, so good. Touch wood.
While we are away we will be looking at the possibility of acquiring some sort of old dwelling we can occupy with a parcel of land to beautify and produce our own food. Who knows, that may or may not happen. But, certainly, you gotta get out there to see if it’s possible – or, in fact, even suitable. Time and miles covered will tell. Certainly, from now on in we seek to make the trip easier rather than more difficult, mainly by better forward-planning. Normally, when we embark on a project or a journey of some kind, we are straight out the traps and then up-and-running until after the finishing line has been crossed. This time round things really need to be a little different if we are to achieve what we currently can only imagine in the abstract. Some kind of adjustment will be required in our outlook. Already, some ideas are brewing…
But right now, just to be here on the campsite surrounded by cloud-topped mountains and shaded among the pines, palms, planes and oleander, alongside the bombed-out ex-Yugoslav army resort complex by the sea at Kupari, I, at least, am able to start feeling the slowly unfolding impact of not being driven almost entirely from the waves of anxiety released by my earlier undertakings. That’s some surprise.

Posted from Kupari campsite, near Dubrovnik


Balkans weblog #2

We arrived in Dubrovnik yesterday, having driven the length of Bosnia-Herzegovina north to south…fiat doblo
After surviving the worst electrical storm in living memory inside our camper van amongst the north Croatian hills, we settled down to living in the woods alongside Ingrid’s working homestead. This included making the half-hour drive into Karlovac where we saw yet more remaining evidence of the nineties’ Balkans conflict. Communist countries of the late twentieth century had a penchant for erecting bow-shaped walls twelve-feet high and covering them with murals depicting workers in all their industrious glory accompanied by state slogans of the ‘onward to a better future’ kind. Croatia was no exception. Today the Karlovac wall is pock-marked with bullet holes and whitewashed all over, while bearing the inscription ‘Britney bitch’ in black spray. With such precise emblems has the early twenty-first century zeitgeist supplanted the intended socialist ideal.
Having learned previously how with satellite technology a straightforward forty-five minute drive could become a six-hour odyssey of near-despair along country roads, we used our atlas map to take us out to the border at Dvor. Departing Croatia was easy enough, entering Bosnia predictably awkward. “Green card,” asks the officious border guard. “Don’t need one.” “Huh? Documents!” Yes, documents, always bloody documents in these little tinpot bureau-states. He takes our passports to the guard-hut, shows them to another official, scratches his head, walks back, hands them over, tells us to be on our way. What a palaver! There is confusion about where we can park in the border town without paying so while I stand guard Anne goes off to spend any leftover kuna on food and drink. Now we are hopeful the Prijedo-Banja Luka road will offer up plenty of camping opportunities. Ur, no. Soviet-hangovers and sinister conflict associations are about all we see. Thankfully, someone at a petrol station points us in the direction of the gorge at Krupa na Vrbasu so we follow the river south and fetch up on a disused camping ground there. In that odd manner some out-of-the-way communities have of quickly exchanging information, within ten minutes a car pulls up, the washhouse is partly-opened, and our passports are requested; money changes hands, and we are permitted to stay overnight. Best of all, we have access to a small supermarket and the Cric Cric bar – where my last post concluded…
At that point, we were headed easterly for Sarajevo, but now refreshed and learning from our mistakes about which roads to take, we make the decision to drop more directly south on the gorge road towards Mostar. With the help of an internet connection we have pinpointed a little campsite not far from the famed Islamic town. That afternoon, we pull into the site alongside the fast-flowing river Buna, say hello to the half-dozen Hungarian bikers relaxing in the shade from the hot sun, and set up in the furthest corner snugly beside the river.
Bosnia-Herzegovina does not fill with me joy. Everywhere are reminders of the most recent conflict and tensions existing between the various communities, most notably the Islamic and Christian. How I would love to see the end of all established religions. They breed so much hatred. In Mostar we see the replacement for the old bridge so infamously destroyed by the Croatians in full view of the TV cameras, then head to the war museum where a series of displays, artifacts and photographs aid us in re-living the terrible torments meted out and undergone under the guise of achieving freedom and independence, but which in actuality had the sole purpose of gaining perceived lost territories and the settling of old scores. Names of places cropped up: Prijedor, Banja Luka, Visegrad… The book I brought with me, Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel ‘The Bridge over the Drina’, tells of the bridge built by an Ottoman vezir – himself a kidnapped blood sacrifice as a ten year old from a Christian Serbian village – and the years of pain and toil it cost to erect over the Drina…and now in the Mostar museum five centuries later I am reading on the walls how Christians and Muslims have continued to torture and murder one another on that same bridge , before throwing the dead and mutilated bodies into the flowing Drina below. Heraclitus says you cannot stand in the same river twice – well, these guys seem able to stand in the self-same place thousands and thousands of times over. So who is telling it like it is, who is enacting out reality: the Hellenic philosopher or the brutal murderers..? You can judge. That is why this country does not fill me with joy, but anguish and dismay. Travelling is troublesome, as much as anything.
Coupled with the above, is the seemingly obsessively remaining sense of state control. Driving through country roads you are prepared around every corner to be pulled over by some hillbilly, dolled-up police officer, who waves you down with his little fluorescent paddle and asks to see your documents, always with that dour expression and the threat of some unpleasant outcome should he feel so inclined.
No, I have had enough of over-zealous guardians of authority pulling me over and demanding to know who I am, what do I have upon my person, where am I going and where have I been. In future, maybe I can refer them to this weblog. This familiar scenario – and I mean familiar even from teenage years in the UK (see in particular DEATH AND THE DEAD – is theatrically enacted four times over during the final two hours of our drive out from BIH: by the policjia, Republika Srpska cross-country patrol and then again at the southern border back into Croatia.
“Green card.”
“We don’t need one.”


Balkans weblog #1

fiat doblo

are travelogue fiction which pretty much started out as blog posts. But I did say this weblog would become ‘old skool’ for the duration of our Balkans trip, and so that is how it will begin.
DAY ONE: The drive to Harwich and the ferry to the Hook of Holland were simplicity itself. TomTom and the crew did all the hard work. I simply drove and slept.
DAY TWO: We made the mistake of thinking it would be easy enough to drive through the Netherlands to Germany and the Mosel region of France, stopping on the way, as we rumbled down to the Austria/Slovenia border. Hah! Getting out through the motorway system which makes up the middle-west of that country is a nightmare – almost as bad as the escape route from LA’s Hollywood Hills out to the 10 we made in a frightening thunderstorm after a Todd Rundgren gig a couple of winters ago.
In the end, we opted for the original route, cutting across to the A61, going south down past Koblenz and Heidelberg, hitting the good southern sunshine en route.
By the end of Day Two we were sitting in a layby twenty kilometres short of Munich, eating vegetarian chilli and drinking a couple of bottles of German beer. Sleep was vaguely disturbed by the sound from a refridgerated lorry parked alongside, but utterly refreshing all the same.
DAY THREE: starts with coffee and a bowl of cereal before continuing south beyond Munich and into Slovenia by way of the Austrian Alps (replete with a sing-a-long rendition of remembered songs from the ‘Sound of Music’).
In Bled we were directed to a campsite full of Dutch and German oldies in their coach-built campervans (plus a good smattering of Brits) and although we disliked the smugly suburban feel of the place – stayed; dog-tired. After sleep we traversed the lake, purchased poor Slovenian beer and sauerkraut, but ate okay – and put up the bed…
DAY FOUR: Head for Novo Mesto on the good, EU-funded dual-carriageway. We found a lovely, old castle which is now a hotel set on an island in the river Krka, but didn’t feel like paying top-dollar to camp in a field next to a privately-owned leisure complex. All of which, perhaps, sums up modern-day, post-Communist Slovenia.
That meant searching for another place to sleep, which we did in a dozy campground by the river Kupa.
DAY FIVE: I get attacked by a dog as I make my way back from the washhouse. Completely minding my own business, toilet bag and towel in hand, thoughts elsewhere, I feel a set of sharp teeth snapping into my football shorts and digging into my thigh. The collie growls and bites for no apparent reason as I start hitting out and shouting. The owner runs up, looking horrified, and pulls the mad beast away.
‘Were you walking slowly?’ the owner asks.
‘Normal,’ I reply.
Anne and I placate the dog-owner but I am seething as he offers me money. Later, he comes over with a bottle of wine as compensation and an offer of good will, which I refuse, but he leaves behind anyway. I don’t want his money or wine but to be left alone as I walk along the path to my old campervan. I let him know about this, but he is at a loss about how to make amends. So we let the matter go. I apply antiseptic to the wound, pack the van, and we leave the campsite, as arranged.
A forty-five minute journey down into Croatia then turns into a six-hour, sometimes frightening, odyssey. First, TomTom gets us hopelessly lost in the alien Slovenian countryside until we, at length, stumble unexpectedly upon a Croatian border crossing where two very unsmiling officers let us through, and we enter their country by way of an old bridge surrounded with razor-wire. Immediately, you are reminded this area was a war zone less than 30 years earlier. On the Croatian side, the houses look more dilapidated and are built from wood, not rendered brick. We locate the motorway to Karlovac – the last sort of driving we want to undertake – and, by chance, have sufficient Croatian change (given to us by someone on the last campsite) and pass through the toll station.
Already forlorn, rather than drive into the town centre, we head for a site previously marked out on our road atlas. And again TomTom gets us completely lost. We drive to and fro, spooked out, along summer country lanes dotted with abandoned white-washed dwellings still showing the bullet holes from the previous conflict in their remaining walls. Using our most basic idiot-Slavic, we ask a labourer gathering hay, how to reach our destination. He points up a non-laid track which TomTom had already pointed to and I had rejected. The hay-gatherer assures me the route is safe: “Bezopastnii”. Okay. Except a kilometre in as it begins to rise sharply the surface becomes horribly rutted – fine for tractors – and I am fearful we will lose the car’s exhaust system. Near panic results in our managing to turn around and reversing the route back to the asphalt road. The friendly hay-maker is still smiling at us as we explain our decision to go all the way back to Karlovac. At least to a junction where we can head south east to the small town of Voijic where we know a friendly campsite awaits …
Except …
Having bought provisions, and obtained directions in the centre, can we find the trail “past the timber yard”? No, we cannot. We drive and we drive and we drive, and we look and we look and we look, and we ask and we ask and we ask, but still we can’t find it. TomTom is useless. Worse than useless – it can not only get us lost in unknown territory but it can take us along routes that threaten the safety of the vehicle, and thereby us, its inhabitants. At length, we find a signal and a tiny blue dot on Google Maps leads us to our cunningly concealed destination, high up in the north Croatian hills. Our host is welcoming and leads us to a spot in the woods near her house.
And then the thunder begins to rumble amongst the surrounding hills and valleys as the grey clouds gather. Forked lightning appears in the darkening sky many miles away. We erect the makeshift cover of a tarp over the van’s rear doors I had assembled but not tried out before leaving, in order to cook and eat our dinner in the dry.
As we clear away, the wind picks up, the tarp flaps wildly, we tie down the strings more tightly around the pegs already driven into the ground. A piece of ice falls out of the sky near my feet, spooking Anne. But then we climb inside the van and feel romantic as the thunder roars and lightning flashes all around us. Then the hail begins, big lumps of ice the size of ping-pong balls ricocheting noisily off the van roof. The lightning is blinding, literally. We have to look away. The wind howls in the trees and the thunder roars across the skies, Wotan in all his fury. I slam the rear doors shut, but water seeps in. Damn. Some material got caught in the hinge. I remove it. The door lock has been damaged, but it does at least pull up as the rain falls thicker than the curtains. Lightning flashes but we cannot see more than a yard beyond the van’s windows. I am panicking inwardly (not for the for the first time today) and can see us being frazzled by a bolt of electricity hitting our metallic vehicle, can feel the jolt of electricity passing through me as I am about to die in the car, or at least be chronically disabled and lying in a hospital bed for several months, all bandaged up like the Invisible Man, wondering what on earth Anne and I were thinking of as we sat in our comfortable, five-bedroom townhouse making plans for our year-long getaway from the safety and mundanity of everyday lives…posted from the Cric Cric Gril bar on the road to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina


Speaking aloud allowed

Speaking to a Ukrainian student today, I was told that in the Balkans everybody will be perfectly happy to speak with us in Russian. No surprise, really. Just nice to hear – living as I do in the UK 2018. At the same time I was informed by a group of German students they are undergoing the same anti-Russia media propaganda programme as that being foisted upon us map What is going on? It seemed so certain just a few years ago that the current generation would be in the vanguard of creating a harmonious globalised world – only to have it undermined and snatched away from them and us by a bunch of old-time conservative dotards stuck in their warlike way, intent on destroying the fragile integrity of a new collective spirit. Quite obviously, these war-mongers who want to destroy the planet have deep-seated psychological problems and need to be called out. What’s more, this is happening. Information is still being spread, despite the conservatives’ efforts at censorship – whether this be the attempted muzzling of information channels such as Wikileaks or further governmental legislation to make their own unlawful acts publicly known. Starting locally and spreading universally, people all over are communicating with one another, listening to one another, supporting one another. The fightback is happening. People are choosing knowledge over ignorance, so that no matter what language is being spoken a common humanity is being realised.


Novels are available locally and universally