(… with apologies to Sebastian Faulks).
One day in November 2011. Two views of the City of London.
1) St Paul’s Cathedral, from the top floor of a major European bank;
2) The Occupy London protest. Down to Earth, in St Paul’s Churchyard.
Truly, we live in interesting, fascinating times. When distance and detail each yields its own perspective.
Posted in 2011, economics, heroes, history, London, politics, winter
Tagged London, November, occupy, protest, St Paul's Cathedral
It was always tense at the Libyan border.
It took a couple of hours to get through the melée at the best of times. All humanity was there. Migrant workers, goat herds, farmers, businessmen. And secret police, too.
Once, on the way in, we were questioned by a mysterious officer with Carlos the Jackal sunglasses and a pistol beneath his leather jacket.
It was hard to feel comfortable under interrogation with $5,000 in cash stashed secretly inside my socks — the only way to pay a Tripoli hotel bill back then, in those days of the UN embargo.
Another time across the frontier at Ras Ajdir, the driver went the wrong way around an oil drum and we had to go right back to the start of the queue and start our two hour wait all over again.
And getting into the country was just the beginnning. The five hour drive from Tunisia to Tripoli was easily the most dangerous trip I ever made.
I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further:
… In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.
— US President John F. Kennedy: 24th October, 1963
Daybreak, 210 km from Havana.
It’s dawn. The rainforest stands still etched in grey, the air dank and humid with half-forgotten warmth.
The sky is dimly promising a future brightening through blue, already revealing white-topped clouds in the firmament above.
Behind me, the friendly valley calls. The massive limestone mogotes above Viñales rise to frame a monochrome outline of last night’s perfect Cuban sunset. I turn the other way and run towards the sunrise.
The track is damp from unseen rain fallen in the night. The air is heavy, silent, folded thick amongst the trees and scrub lurking close around the path.
The Cuban Revolution started somewhere like this, in the Sierra Maestra above Santiago. The 82 men who sailed from Mexico in December 1956 on the yacht Granma were swiftly cut down to twelve when they landed on Cuba’s swampy southeastern shores.
The survivors, among them a charismatic Argentinian doctor named Che Guevara, fled for the refuge of the mountains where they could regroup and recruit fresh rebels for their cause.
The March sun was warming the first Spring evening in London just a few hours ago, but it’s a winter’s tail that tells of Scandinavia now. Thirty centimetres of snow drape the train tracks in the station.
I fumble my way outside, and pull my coat around me. A mile of dark, uncertain streets leads past the midnight girls and drug dealers (who thought this city knew such things?) to my hastily-booked hotel.
No alarm call needed, as morning brings the sounds of a building site next door. The day is lightening outside my window, and pretty soon I’m running beneath a chill grey sky as deserted shopping streets lead me towards the Cathedral.
I take a short diversion to reconnoitre the address for my meeting, and then my mental map of Oslo runs out. Five circular minutes later I’m slithering across white snowy gardens around the Akershus Fortress, and then on to reach the waterfront.
The Oslofjord lies black and still before me, the quaysides completely empty. Five minutes of quiet is the time I need to clear my mind and think.
Things have been slow around here, for a little while now, and in more ways than one.
I’ve had less time for running, and less still for writing. I’ve been unfit, distracted and slow.
And yet — there’s been real progress, too, hidden not far beneath the surface.
Our 95,000 visitors this year may have found only 22 new posts to read, but it’s been a momentous year of change, both in London and abroad.
The great crash formed the backdrop to the year, but it was in America that destiny was decided.
A changing political landscape marked the 2008 US election and the new opportunities that brings, for America and the whole world beyond.
Posted in 2009, Cuba, economics, geology, history, London, music, peak oil, politics, Shakespeare Country, Spain, Surrey and Sussex
Picture a beautiful country of fertile green plains and lush, forested mountains.
A country washed by warm tropical seas, blessed with the finest beaches in the world.
A nation with a proud history extending across three millennia and more. A land coveted by great empires and fought over for centuries — where the fate of our planet was decided, many times more than once.
Think of a country rich in art and architecture, with nine World Heritage Sites for culture and nature.
Wander streets at the cradle of music and dance, listening to rhythms echoing all around the world.
Dream of stunning cities, beautiful towns and remote villages, set across a landscape unblighted by shanty towns or ghettoes. A land where men, women and children of all different colours live side by side, and where racism is confined to the past.
Envisage a country with excellent health care which is free and accessible to all. A society where life expectancy rates equal those in the United States, and where infant mortality rates are significantly lower.