A tourist in London

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Charlotte st. It’s 8.12am. It’s weird, I’ve been a tourist, a person completely disconnected with a city’s ways, many times. This time it’s different, I still feel disconnected; but I’m in London.
I arrived yesterday morning. I flew in from 36 degrees in Bucharest and went straight to the cash point, my card didn’t work. I changed some RON to pounds at a crazy rip off rate. I headed to the car hire office miles from Luton Airport. The first two companies had no cars.
Avis had a hair dryer for £97. “But I’m only here for the 36 hours” I said.
She gave me the ‘So why you talking to Avis then’ look.
The last car hire place had an young Indian guy booking in the guy in front. “Sir, just because it’s you, I would like to give you a special upgrade opportunity for you today… only £10a day.”
The bearded 50+ techy type was having none of it.
“Sir, as I want your regular business, I can give you the upgrade for £2?”
I thought this only happened in the mad places I live, the guy is treating him like an idiot. The day so far is not going well.
After several shakes of the head the aging techy finally got it across he just wanted the cheapest car he could get.
“Sir, as it’s you I will give you the upgrade anyway for free”
An English guy appeared in the both and serve me. “What would you like?” he said calmly.
I smiled ” the cheapest for 36 hours”
That’s £75, can I take your card. I was done in 5 mins, techy was still telling the Indian guy he did not need sat nav to get to his office. I got out into the car park looking for my Corsa.
“It’s that one”, my guy said, he had followed me out to help a customer”.He pointed to a car that looked like it should be doing weddings.
“That one?” I asked not believing him. He smiled back and winked at me. I jumped in and gazed at the space ship dashboard and noticed there was no handbrake, ‘It must be one of these buttons on the dash’ I thought. I found teh radio and demister and so planned to find the handbrake later. Techy dove out of the car park in his Corsa behind me looking at me through my rear view mirror as if it was all my fault he got the wrong guy.
I am here to pick up a load of camera equipment. Cut a long story short I spent most of the day at ‘Logistics House’ in Portsmouth. They didn’t like my story of “I’ve come from Romania to pick up these packages, can you check again when the driver will be back here as I need to catch my flight.”
You mention Romania and I swear, people see the fangs start to grow on your teeth and the doggy network of mafosa friends on speed dial on your phone. They check my ID again and stair at my washed out passport just to make sure it’s not a fake. When I’m in Romania I am a rich English businessman, or someone working for M16, or a crazy hippie Lord of the Manner type. In England I am a homeless ‘ what do you mean you don’t have a post code’ dropout who has a gang of Gypsies waiting for me at Dover. I’m doggy and to be avoided.
I didn’t make any plans for where to stay last night, you don’t when you ‘come home’ do you. I collected my equipment around 6.00pm and headed to London in my limousine. I drove through the center, it was raining, I went past the palace of Westminster and saw big Ben gleaming in the rain, the London eye slowly turning in the background. A black cab pulled up next to a red bus. I was in that post card. I’ve not had that feeling of London since bunking off school and seeing it in all its glory when I was 15.
I ended up in the Hawly Arms in Camden. It’s changed since Graham Abbot and me used to have a stall in the market there selling my photographs of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. We used to go in there at lunch time and drink all the profits, unfortunately we drunk all the stock as well. It’s all new in there now, but still has the Camden feel. Madness was playing and…

“Hi” a half attractive woman said to me
“Hi” I smiled back
“Um can you give me a pound so I can buy some cider?”
“Um” I wanted to talk to someone so I said “look I’ll buy you a drink, sit down and join me”
“Ugh, I don’t want to drink in here, I drink in the park, I need a quid, just give me a quid.”
‘Ah’ I thought focused on her a bit more and realised she was probably 20 years younger than the wrinkles on her face would suggest.”I, um, two secs”
She eventually moved on to the next table. I had a nice pint of IPA, that I paid £3.15 for. £3.15. I had no idea if that is the normal price these days or the Hawly Arms had become some trendy place and was charging double to keep the vagabonds at bay. I know exactly what a beer cost in Cairo, in the desert, in Bucharest or way up in the Carpathian mountains, £3.15 for a PINT? That’s got to be expensive no? Or is that just the tourist price?
I moved on to get a burger and think about finding an alleyway to kip for the night. I parked up outside the burger bar next to Camden Town tube. Simon Jacobs rang me and we chatted. I stood in the pouring rain and watched as two police cars turned up across the street to rip a hoody out of the newsagents like he had a bomb in his bag. There as a big cufufal and then calm once again; the next person coming in to buy their fags like nothing had happened.
I walked across the street to the burger bar. I listened to the guys serving to see if they spoke Romanian, they looked Eastern European. It was all pleasant small talk until in a big big black guy came strolling in like John Wayne. The guy at the counter’s smile disappeared. The black guy looked into my eyes as his fist opened up and swallowed the pound coins lying in the tip bowl next to my burger on the counter.
He then turned to the burger man. “So what you gonna do.” he smiled and laughed full or him self ” fukin nuffik, hey”
“You proud of that right?” The eastern European guys said back to him comfortable with the situation. I wasn’t. I left. I walked back across the street to stand under an awning to take in the madness of Camden and observe. A short fat guy was walking along the street with his bike. He took one look at me and suddenly stopped under my awning. He stood there for awhile. I could feel him observing me. I munched on my burger. He slowly undid his padlock and chained his bike. He took out what looked like a telephone bill and started to read it out load, then looked straight at me as if I worked for BT. He started rubbing his long thin saddle like it was his cock, his eyes not moving from mine.
He finally plucked up the courage to talk to me. “You think they let me take my bike on the… ” and pointed to the tube. He obviously didn’t know the English word for underground.
“Yeah absolutely, no problem, but you better be quick because there is a tube strike about to start any minute.” there was, honest.
He slowly unchanged his bike and started to walk off in the direction he had arrived, away from the tube. I walked behind him and got in my car and disappeared.
Sleeping in a side street in Camden seemed like a good idea a few hours ago. I headed to Highgate village and parked up in a private road, it had an en suite puddle for the night, perfect. I sleep amazing well in cars for some reason.
I awoke at six and tried to find somewhere to leave my car as I don’t want to pay crazy parking fees all day and attempt to work out how to pay the congestion charge without getting a £500 fine from the hire company. All those millions on setting up the congestion charges, yet not a single sign, hint, not a word on the radio for over an hour on where the hell you can park your car and avoid the blood thirsty parking regime of the West End. It’s like they want you to drive all the way, just so they can kill you. I finally found a Multi story in Kings Cross after driving around for an hour and half. £30 for 24 hours, only £20 for 12 hours. I can by hundreds of sq meters of land for that amount of money, I can get a great sleeper train 700kms across Romania for less. A few hours in London and I am seduced into feeling happy at paying 30 quid to do what the Mayor of London is encouraging me to do. I walked around St Pancras not recognising anything. It’s all new coffee shops and Euro Star. What happened to the ugly prostitutes and men who wore lipstick on giro day. The open necked suited commuters where in ‘right, I can do this, I’m going walk to work today’. You could see in their faces it was a big deal to beat the tube strike and walk the few kilometers to the office from Kings Cross. They all had their running trainers on, the stilettos and brogues in their ruck sacks. I took some pics which I will add to this blog when I get a cable.
I went to check out these blue bikes I had seen on the internet. Does Boris Karloff or what ever the Mayor of London is called think we’re Amsterdam? I looked at the prices.

‘Administration £1 for a day, £5 for a week. £45 a year’. My god! Something that is actually given back to tax payers. They fork out millions I’m sure for the consultants that needed to work out how to use a bike and they actually get something back, cheap transport around London. My eyes moved to the other collum on the meter. 90p half hour, £1 an hour£5 for 150 mins.
How long is 150 mins, I thought ‘How many hours is that… that’s 2 and half hours for a fiver, that’s 5 times as expensive as a taxi in Cairo.’
I decided to keep walking to Tottenham Court Road. I have a all day to kill before my meeting at 5.30pm tonight with a picture agency in the West End. I will spend the day buying a laptop a lens, a camera bag and a blackberry. I have avoided having a blackberry for years now, it’s not exactly hippie is it, a push email account. But I’m not a hippie, OK I live in the desert where the streets have no name, I live up a mountain that is wild to a hill billy. But I still work 7 days a weeks most of the time.

PS. On driving back to Luton last night to catch my flight, I saw something I have never seen in England before. A real werewolf hanging out of a beaten up red Cavalier’s front window in the lane next to me as I pulled off the motorway, waving it’s arms at me like it wanted to kill me; the people in the back seat already victims of his bite. I spent half an hour finding a petrol station in Luton, it’s right next to the car hire place… I spent 5 minutes working out how to open the petrol cap. As I was filling the tank with the nozzle rammed open by sticking the filler cap in the squeeze chamber the car started to role forward due to no hand break. I scream around getting the nozzle out of the tank and then jumping in teh car just before it mashed into the charcoal stand. 15 odd people watching, not saying a word. I got the ‘your not from round here’ look from the customers in the que when paying and promptly left the country.

It was been an interesting 36 hours in the pouring rain being a tourist in my home town. I am back to normal now, well what I call normal anyway.

Runescape and football

“Dad Dad!”
“What Angus?”
“Someone’s hacked my Runescape account?”
“Shit!”.
It used to be that real Dad’s used to teach their kids to play football or watch them at least on Sundays. ‘New Dad’ spends his time understanding, or at least I do – what Runescape is all about. Angus lives in an online world when ever he is allowed. This means if allowed; he would literately live in there except for the odd moments of needing a pee, eating and the annoying fact that he will fall asleep at the screen at some stage. About 4 years ago or so when Angus was about 9, we stayed in a hostel in Brasov Romania I think, and we were going off to bed.
“Dad, I’m just going to check my email, I’ll be up in a mo”. Angus said as I went up to our room and crashed out. I thought nothing off it until I came down for breakfast and dragged Angus out of bed to eat some food. He was fine until he saw this Dutch guy and looked a bit nervous.
“Hey man.” the Dutch guy said to Angus like he knew him holding his fist up in the air in respect.
Angus nodded in recognition once, his expression staying the same.
“How do you know him Angus?” I said ” As I didn’t remember seeing him when we arrived.”
I got the trainee Kevin look from Angus and went back to my toast and triangle of cheese spread.
“Hey, your kids full on man” The Dutch guy said to me. Angus not looking amused. “ You son was on that machine when I arrived at 4.00am. We told him he should go to bed around 5.00am and he went up, kinda not happy about it around 5.30am.” The Dutch guy raised his fist again “He’s full on man!”
Angus looked at me like he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and then glared ever so slightly at the Dutch guy. I had gone to bed around 9.30pm.
Angus has has had his Runescape account since he was 7. There are over 135 million accounts for Runescape, sometimes getting over 6 million new accounts a month. Runescape is aimed at pre teens like Angus. World of Warcraft has even more subscribers aimed at older kids. It doesn’t take to long to work out that there are more people with a Runescape account, than play football on a Sunday at their local club in the UK, maybe all of Europe.
That’s a lot…
Angus has told me over the years of how he has chopped trees, fished for… fish, bought swords that do this and, OK I admit some times I kind of loose track as he explains in great details what the Grand Exchange does and why you need to go there before a major quest. Angus spends as much time as he can, buying and selling, trading and working for money in his online world. Like any trader would in the city, or farmer in a cattle market. He has built his skills, he used to take a week to earn 1000 of what ever they are. When he made his first million he was so proud and showed me his account, before promptly blowing it all on a new cloak that would help his magic skills. He now makes a million in half an hour and is trying to work out how to make 10’s of millions in a day. He’s proud of what he has achieved and today – he got hacked and someone has cheated him and stolen his password.
He’s numb. It’s like building a business for 4 years and you partner sold your shares behind your back. An hour of searching and he has found the ‘stolen account’ section in Jagex, the owners of Runescape. He waits with baited breath to see the outcome but will be able to sleep tonight, only just, as the account has been frozen.
But as Angus says “ If they stole all my gold and magic capes before the account was frozen, I will loose everything”.
I feel for him. To loose all that work to some little shit who is probably going to try and sell Angus’s wealth for real money in the real part of the internet, ie ebay etc.
We shall see. But one thing is for certain. If Angus looses everything, I will stick £100 in an online share account for him and suggest he plays “Real life Runescape” as I call it. He’s ready, he’s 13. He just doesn’t know it. He’s a trader, a wheeler and dealer. I didn’t make him do this, he’s done it all on his own. Be funny if he is making more than we do in a few years time and has a nicer Land Cruiser than we have. We’ll see. But as I said to him tonight, “If you loose it Angus, Real life Runscape is there waiting for you, so all your efforts will have not gone to waist 😉

The oil business

Now the land in Croatia has been sold, the knock on ripple effects (excuse the double pun) of the Tsunami are finally over. The decision to build a house on Vis in Croatia was taken shortly after arriving and finding the planning dept was closed…. a few weeks after arriving in Egypt… and finding the planning dept was closed, a few weeks after finding the planning dept in Arugam Bay had suddenlty relocated 1 mile inland and was also… closed. We decided not to take a risk in Egypt and well, when we arrived in Vis… we did…and it backfired on us.

But now a nice guy called Martin has bought the land on Vis for his ‘mom’ and we move on.

The decisions we now make in our lives are now thought through carefully and because we want to, not made ‘on the run’.

We feel we have made some very sound decisions recently and… if buying 7 tonnes of olives… means I have to eat olive salad covered in lashing of olive oil for the next ten years, I 100% admit, ‘Rodney you plonker’ it seemed like a bloody good idea at the time.

Yes… we can say “we are in the oil business” we started a week ago. We have a stall outside a friends house and we buy olives by the ‘Sa’ ( Siwan measurement for olives around 2 kilo’s). It’s all done the way it’s always been done for 1000’s of years and once we have filled a barrel with 70 kilos we fill it with salty water that has the highly technical check of seeing if an egg floats in it, showing there is enough salt.

We then sell in the high season in the summer… inshala.

I know… I know.

www.somewheredifferent.com is going well. We’re booked from Dec 15th till the end of Jan and have not really got going on the advertising yet. The brochure is on the way and… well we’re busy.

Sasha has had time to think about what she want’s to do, education wise, and where she is going with it all. You can’t take Arabic GCSE courses in England, as there are no Arabic teachers… Sasha has emailed some Professor types at a few Universities in the UK and has seen that learning Arabic and the Siwan language (which is totally different from Arabic) gives her an edge and a real chance in life in terms of getting a good job and allowing a bank to let her get horrendously in dept. … sorry, enable her to buy a flat and her independence etc. Sasha can now read Arabic fluently, she no idea what most of the words mean… but well… it’s a start;). Sasha can have a simple conversation in Arabic and is learning fast. She has decided to go to secondry school for two days a week here in Siwa and is having Aribic and maths lessons 3 times a week, using the rest of the week to prepare for her Aribic, English, Maths, History and Geography GCSE’s.

Claudia is enjoying home schooling and is keen to do two days a week in one of the embroidery work shops set up by the ‘Italian project’ where several Siwan girls are learing to do embroidery. She is reading a lot and doing many ‘projects’.

Angus can’t be arsed and has said… “ Dad, I’ll just go to school five days a week, it will be a lot easer.”

Angus and Claudia start Arabic lessons and maths lessons soon and will go to school in Romania when we arrive there in May to start learning the language.

I guess you might have worked it out by now. We not coming back to the UK after going to Romania, we’re coming back here to Siwa for at least another two years. Siwa is now our home and we got a business to run.

Olives man… it’s the future!

We have Simon Jacobs and Abbo turning up in February for a week on the lash and … oh yeah… sorry, a week of allowing their kids to experience the Siwan culture. We are planning to build our forth house in Romania, please… save the planning permission questions… this summer and your all welcome… well maybe not all 133 of you on this email list at the same time.

Romania is my favourate location, anywhere and I’m realy looking forward to it.

We’re not ready…

11/06/2006

We left England in that American camper van on August 1st 2004…around 680 days ago. We explored our heads off for the first five months and planned to chill for the next 19.
As you know the Tsunami changed all that and it never happened.
The plan was always to come home to England this August and slip back into ‘normalness’, but we always had a little clause in the deal… if EVERY one wanted to stay and not go home… well.
On the day that is the equivalent of the American Thanks Giving here in Egypt a few weeks ago we were invited to join Fathi’s family for the ‘big feast’ in the garden. We sat on the edge of the Siwa lake swimming and larking around after having the mother of all biology lessons preparing the goats that arrived on hoof and left in our stomachs.
We had a great time… just chilling and having fun in the water with Fathi’s family, though the women folk who were still covered up were a bit perplexed with my bombing.
Penny and I had to come back to our house in the evening to lock up after the builders had finished and we had a shot or two of the hard stuff. We stood on the roof buzzing, looking out over our wonderful little oasis watching the sunset at the end of a perfect day…and we realised…’ we ain’t ready’!.
We’re not ready for 20 letters of crap to sort through every day and parking tickets, the constant need to earn cash and well… yes… the bloody weather. We promised ourselves a year of chilling on this trip and it hasn’t happened…yet. We had a vote a few days ago, and we’re all coming back to Siwa for one more year.
Penny and I have built our selves a little business here and we want to see it through.

Only 130 sqm’s to go!

Penny often gets very dirty…

The final touches are going into the ‘Shali House’ now.

The house is ready to be covered in a few tonnes of kerchief (mud) tomorrow, to give it that thermal factor and to blend in with the neighbours. And yes… that is the Sahara desert in the background.

The old town of Siwa, west of the Shali. Our house is the one on left.

The view east from the Shali … the famous ‘Oracle’ were Alexandra the Great came to visit to see if he was a God and more recently Prince Charles to see if he would be a king!;)

‘Ah…’ the Ridgley family, I presume?’ Penny, Sasha, Claudia and Angus meeting Charles and Camilla

One of the entrances to the old walled city
Penny is talking of a sand school that leads out into the desert and an Arab… horse.
I’m in the process of getting permission from the General for the ‘Siwa Off Road Club’.

Off roading in Siwa…is the best
Claudia wants to be a model and go to the Cairo modelling agencies.

Claudia and the local lads over coming their camera shyness.

Claudia on the desert road to Matrouh. The camels sit on the road at night to keep warm.
Sasha wants to be a tour guide and set up a back packer camp here in Siwa (Sasha is a teenager now and is never around for any pictures)
and Angus, Angus just wants to ride his donkey… Jack.
I know, he picked the name all on his own.

‘I’m the king of the castle!’

Angus and Claudia on water duty. They say once you have collected your own water for months you never forget… and always appreciate water on tap. It’s bollocks… the kids left the taps running a few days after being on the mains;)
As we are coming back to Siwa for at least another year, the kids want to spend as much time as they can in England this summer with family and friends… so the road trip to Romania has been postponed. Penny, Sasha, Claudia and Angus will fly into the UK in July and will be around until the end of August.

The sunset from the area in Siwa where we will live next year.

The exact location of which… is still being finalised. ‘Verdy sheep…no problem’.
Me… I will stay in Siwa spending the summer building a home for everyone ready for their return in September as the house we have just completed here is now for rent. I will have time to write my book ‘Living Somewhere Different’ and hopefully… finally… pick up where I left off on that beach in Sri Lanka… and start to really chill;)
Cheers
Bill

Half empty…half full

Half empty

The house in the Shali where we are supposed to be living in Siwa needed major work doing to it before we could move in. After Christmas is was really difficult getting any workers to do… anything. The workers had no respect for me and did as they pleased… when they pleased. For weeks no one showed up and progress was painfully slow.
· Penny has one gas ring on the floor of the ‘fitted kitchen’ in the house we are renting and the well dried up in January making her have to go to the stand pipe in town to collect water in a donkey cart to THEN do the laundry by hand.
· Having no jeep due to it breaking down in the desert with my parents, we had to also carry thousands and thousands of bricks by hand in the back of donkey carts…oh yes…
· Sasha had no friends and did not know what to do with her free time after school.
· Claudia could not get a sewing kit… anywhere!
· Angus fell over on to a ‘pine needle’ and had to have gas and air to have it taken out.
· The jeep was finally fixed and on the way to Alexandra to triumphantly pick up much needed supplies… this goes and happens.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the desert
· Due to a small bit of red tape, we had to stop building our house in Croatia last year and so I had to come back to Vis to finish it now in minus 6 degree temperatures.
· On the day of me leaving Siwa at the beginning of February the main sewage system collapsed under the Shali house. Penny had no workers, no idea which century the sewage system had last seen the council come out to do any repairs and the entire village was due to come out of the mosque across the road half and hour after this picture was taken… and she still had to collect the water for washing in plastic barrels from the stand pipe when she got home.
· To just go and finish the house on Vis would have been bad enough. I had to now go to Vis first to collect my ‘criminal record’, the one I had just spent months getting to Vis through the UK ‘system’ and registered post, as I now needed a stamp on it… from London.
· A week in London sorting out ‘the stamp’ I return thinking nothing else can go wrong this year…to find I need… one…more… stamp… which the lawyer said would take one week. But due to Vis recently getting a new Mayor and a new ‘plan for building’ being required due to the change of council… the plan, and therefore the stamp…will not be ready for…wait for it…
…one year.
· We probably have the only house on Vis that has ALL the right permissions and documentation to build a house. I have spent over a year painstakingly getting all the paper work in order. Due to an unknown jealous local who has gone through great lengths to get our project stopped, he (bad guys are never femaleJ) has now finally succeeded. We now have to wait for the ‘arm that lifts the stamp’ to heal in hopefully one year whilst houses that have no permission what so every continue to be built. They say Croatia is a very ‘nationalist’ country. What can I say?
· Our plan was to sell the house here on Vis so we could get the property going in Romania this summer and have enough money for a smooth landing when we come back to the UK in Sept before I go off to develop the next piece of land on Vis allowing me to not have to go back to the 7.45am to Kings Cross.
· Due to not being able to sell the house here until after we get back to the UK has a somewhat mega negative effect on our budgeting and getting a job in the ‘Interactive TV Business’ on my return is definitely not something I am looking forward to.
· After all that blood sweat and tears of buying that land in Romania, (have a look at ‘You thought buying a house in the UK was hard’) we will now have to sell it to cover our costs just before Romania joins the EU and the value of it goes through the roof.
And it’s only February…
Oouughffff.
To all the sceptics on our travel log email list, and you know who you are. You’re sitting there with a bit of a smile on your face and a big ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ going through your head. You probably think we’re having a nightmare and we wish we had stayed in St Albans and never bought all this bloody land.
Well you wrong… your so, so, wrong.
We would not change our lives for anything at the moment. We are very much alive and kicking butt.
We’re buzzing!
Yeah, a shit load has not gone according to plan since Boxing Day 2004.
So…?
Everything above is all true. That IS the situation… but so is this.

Half Full

About a year and a half before we left the UK, Penny was nervous about quoting a few sq meters of tiling on someone’s kitchen floor. After all most tilers where men, what would the woman she was visiting think when she found out she was a woman? Getting back to her own goals in life and working was hard after years of focusing on raising kids. Penny has always had a dream of ‘going off to Africa when the kids are grown up to help some little village somewhere dig a well or something and give something back’. That dream, Penny has always thought… would always be, just a dream.
I left Penny a few weeks ago with no workers and a collapsed main sewage system that affected our whole corner of the village. In Siwa a lot of men shake my hand and ignore Penny, as they don’t know how to greet women. Their wives live a very different life to St Albans and have no communication with men outside there close family.
In the last two weeks Penny has…
· Fixed the sewage system under our house and where it collapsed in front of the mosque.
· Built a team of fifteen workers who turn up everyday and do as they are told.
· Gone off to Alexandra 500 km’s away to source the stone she wants to tile the 130sq meters of floor space on the ground floor. The five tonne truck she booked… was not big enough and she had to get a bigger one.
· Built the kitchen and a 3-meter high wall around the garden.
· Had a guy carve the hand washbasin and shower tray in the bathroom out of two big pieces of solid stone and negotiated the price down from £35 to…£30.
· Designed a 15 foot long dinning room table and had it made out of olive wood with 7 high backed chairs and an imitation mud bench.
· Covered the concrete ceiling with palm trees
· Learnt how to make ‘stained glass’ windows out of salt blocks.
· Become involved in a local initiative to help local women improve their lives and realise they can do more…
· Taken the kids swimming every day
· Basically built us a four-bed house that will be in our ‘desert family home’ for ever.
· Lived her dream… a bit earlier than planned. Apparently the locals are very grateful for the reduced ‘smell’ outside the mosque.

The roof of the house as it was when I left

The bathroom and chimney as I left it two weeks ago.
I have never heard her so happy on the phone or felt more proud of what she is doing. She has a real sense of achievement and has won the respect of the local trades men due to her knowledge and skill of building… and they haven’t seen her tile yet!

Penny buzzing after steaming down a sand dune in a buggy.
And as for the water problems in the house… it’s simple, the kids go swimming and we just HUMMMMM…

The kids swimming on a day off in our house keepers garden.
Sasha… Sasha had the tuff task of ‘herding’ the donkey cart boys into going down to the pile of bricks on the edge of town and managing the whole process of buying thousands of bricks and getting them back to the house. She would then be responsible for getting the boys food and drink after the work was finished. They are all about 16, they loon around town, they all speak English and walk on the wild side a bit.
Sasha is a grown up 13 year old now and went from ‘Mum, can I watch a video’ to ‘Mum what time do I have to back?’ in a matter of days.
The teenager switch has been flicked.

Sasha chatting with Mustafa the house keeper… looking like she’s getting a ticking off.
She goes off every day after school with her new friends and is having the time of her life. We don’t know what she is getting up to. All I do know is Sasha has turned out to be a very responsible and nice kid and is very capable of taking care of her self.
Claudia found her sewing kit…started making bags… and has been ‘discovered’ by Ali who is now buying bags off her and selling them in his shop. I spoke to Claudia on the phone yesterday.
‘Claudia, are you happy?’
‘YES DADDY!’ and explained the whole deal with Ali and how her and Angus are only allowed a certain amount of mixed concrete for their moulds for the shop they are building on the roof of the house.
‘Other wise Daddy the builders will just be mixing the cement for us and the house will NEVER get done!’
She’s happy and feeling good about her self.

Claudia at a ‘cut the heart of the palm’ party.
When Angus came back from hospital, the WHOLE town asked him how he was. When your eight years old, to be asked by a village elder, how you were, and be able to pull a whopper of a palm needle out of your pocket to show him ‘JUST HOW BIG IT REALLY WAS!’
… is cool.
Angus is fixed on the sand boarding and is really keen to get out into the desert more and learn. He walks out of the house where we live and if there is not a game of football going on where he would just join in… there would be one starting in a few minutes… now he was there.

Angus doing what he loves best, sandboarding!
Sasha and Angus go to football training once a week with Siwa United. I’m sure they aren’t called United, a better name would be like Siwa Inshali. They haven’t had an away match yet. That should be interesting as the next town is 300km’s across the desert.

Me… all this shit with the house on Vis?
I look at it this way…
Wizz Air has just announced they are running flights into Split this summer, it’s the big one we have been waiting for… and this will have a major effect. You can get here in June for £4 plus taxes. Don’t forget Croatia is also joining the EU in a year or so.
Due to local politics I have no choice but to moth ball our investment and do nothing with it for a year or so. I am so chuffed to be going home and not staying here working out in the cold every day away from my family. I can finally sit in the palm trees and not feel I should be doing something else. I can’t… the next four months are MINE!
The house is currently valued at €400,000… yes €400,000. I hope you sceptics are still reading. A year of brits flying in and buying up everything the year before Croatia joins the EU is likely to have a fairly major effect on the value.
When the house is all done and finally sold I want to go and find the ‘jealous one’ and buy him a drink.
‘Thanks for stopping me sell the house mate. It went up a €100,000 in one year!’
He’ll be gutted!
I had a week’s holiday in the UK meeting up with everyone and had a great time. Pitty it was a total waist of time business wise, but it was a great holiday.
Not being able to sell the house does screw us financially. We have put a deposit on a great piece of land here on Vis and may well not be able to pay the remaining €30,000 in time loosing our deposit and a great investment that is now worth more…
…then you have to take stock and look at the bigger picture.
I worked my balls off for 25 years and still didn’t ‘own’ my own house in the UK when I left. The building society owns it like 95% of the people I know under the age of 50.
We own… as in have the Title deeds to:
· 56 acres of prime lakeside land on the edge of Siwa
· A 130 sqm town house in the Shali in Siwa that has a 130sqm terrace on the roof.
· Two more houses and a donkey shed in Siwa.
· An acre of beach and 29 tsunami proof coconut trees that are all still there on the best surfing beach in the world. The surf is better than ever and the town’s spirit is very much alive and kicking.
· Two acres of vineyard with a four-bed stone house on it, first to a private sandy beach, two hours from London on a plane that now costs £4!
· A 70 sqm house on another sandy beach on the island on Vis with half an acre of land.
· Another acre of land up the valley a bit on Vis covered in trees.
· Six acres of land in Romania that we will get permission to build three houses on this summer.

All bought and paid for ( apart from the €30,000 we still owe). This has all been achieved whilst writing a book and playing pool with my kids in various different bars around the world.
We have a bigger mortgage than when we left, about the same as most of our peers… but if we (could) sell the lot now we could pay our mortgage off and still have one or two acres left over.
Seriously.
We will package our land up in Romania to sell this summer that is now worth twice what we paid for it to bank roll the ‘year the stamp would not fall’ and… well we’ll just have to find go and find another piece of land in Romania when we sell the house on Vis for €500,000.
Bummer
Getting a job in the interactive TV business would be very hard when I come home. That’s because Sky TV wanted to control the whole thing and has screwed the whole industry. Good thing I got out!
I’m not sure what I’ll do in my ‘year of the stamp’ back home but… I have designed and built three houses now, a wooden beach house in Norfolk, a stone house on Vis and a ‘mud looking’ concrete house in Siwa . I can manage a team of Bosnian or Croatian workers who don’t speak ANY English… as I now know enough Croatian to talk to them in their own language. I know how build foundations reinforced with concrete so you could put five stories on top of it ne problema! I know how to build walls out of wood, stone, blocks, concrete and yes… mud mixed with salt. I can design a house and produce the drawings for each skill set. I am fit, physically and I know a very very… fit… tiler;)
…and we’re not booked all winter… yet.
We have no HP or credit card bills and come Sept…we’ll be Maya Maya. (100% in Arabic).
The 7.45 to Kings Cross has no chance.
I’m looking forward to coming home and doing building work in the UK working with ex Yugoslavian builders and my wife and spinning a lamb or two Croatian style…when we get the roof on…
…why not?
Oh yeah… and the jeep… it’s gone through major open heart surgery, took two weeks and cost £70 in labour. Whilst they had it’s heart out they fixed the four-wheel drive. I’ve got nothing to do here on Vis now so I’m flying home on Monday.
YES!
I’ll pick up the jeep and be home by Wednesday. On Friday we’ll pack up our sand boards that are bringing in a nice little income from renting and head out into the mother of all sand pits for a spot of sand boarding and the downing of a bottle of cheap vodka around the campfire.

Another night round the fire out in the desert.
See you all soon.

So put me on a Highway Part 2

We entered Bulgaria hoping to leave behind the corrupt policemen we met in Serbia who would ‘negotiate’ your fine for anything they could think of.
We started driving around the Sofia ring road and… ‘WOOOOOWWWWWOOOOOOO’
A red light pulled the teachers van and our jeep over to the side of the road. One policeman went over to Tim and the other appeared at my window.
‘Hello…wish countre ?’
‘English’
‘Ah… very good… you speak English? ‘
‘Yeeeeeeeeeeeeees’
‘Can you come please’
It was freezing outside, I walked back over to the police car were he had got back into the back seat and left me standing in the fog.
‘Papers…’
I gave him all the papers he needed, insurance etc and…
‘Your lights on the trailer… they do not work… You will take your car to the next parking area and come with us to the police station in the city to pay a €300 fine. This will take about three hours…’
He left his words hanging in the air, staring straight back at me from the warmth of his car.
‘€300 for a broken tail light? That is too much!’
‘Come… we go see inspector and he will tell you…’
He had me by the balls, the taillight did work… it just wasn’t bloody connected!
Rule no. one, never offer a bribe… they don’t like that… you just need to get them in the situation that they are doing you the favor of taking cash for nothing.
‘This will take three hours?’
‘Yes’
‘I have three young children in the car and my wife… they will freeze out here…’ with my best ‘poor little kids’ face on ‘and I only have €50 in cash…’
‘You have €50 euros in cash?’
‘Yes’ all smiles…
The three coppers had a chat whilst I shivered on the road.
‘Look… for sake of children… go and talk to your wife and come back with something for us…’I walked over to Penny.
‘Penny, what is the smallest euro notes you have?’
‘Fifties’
‘Bollocks… nothing smaller?’
I walked back and the fifty euro note slipped into the warm air of the back seat with a ‘Jesus, he’s given us all his money, nice one’ look… seconds later they were gone.
Tim had been told he had been trapped by radar for speeding and that they were not wearing safety belts. On demanding to see the radar machine the copper hassling them gave up and asked for no money.
On feeling rather peeved about the whole thing and still rather freezing, the kids thought the sign for the car park were I was supposed to leave the jeep was rather amusing and demanded I have my picture taken next to it.

Yes… I did the entire meeting with the coppers wearing that hat. I know… I know…
We made good time in Bulgaria and were through in one day without the need for staying over and changing money.
The next day we arrived in Istanbul. It was getting a bit warmer and sunnier and we felt we were on our way.
Claudia wanted a belly-dancing outfit.
‘Dad, when we meet Grandma in Egypt I want to be able to do a show for her in my belly dancing out fit. Can I get one on the journey?’
Claudia asked me this in October… and had not stopped mentioning it. There were no Belly dancing outfits in Croatia, she looked in Serbia for one… didn’t take long… but now we were in the Orient and…

When the going get’s tuff…

The tuff goes shopping!
£45 for a very average piece of tourist junk… I looked at the guy who thought he had me cornered by Claudia’s batting eyes.
‘Claudia… this stuff is not as half as good as the ones you can buy in Egypt and they will be more than half the price.’
We left him gutted.
Claudia knew I was right… and agreed with me afterwards the sales guy in the Istanbul bizarre was very slimly.
We had a whole day off in Istanbul; we had not stopped for five days and were still only settling into personal territories in the back of the jeep and game boy charging rotas etc.
The drive should now become more interesting as heading for the Syrian boarder was new territory for me and Penny…the kids… well, they didn’t really give a monkeys.
The middle of Turkey is big… and dull… and cost a quid a litre to travel through… but turning off the main raid for Cappadocia made up for it.

The town in Cappadocia were we stayed for the night

We slept in a room carved out of the stone, which was very warm and cosy.

Sasha on ‘rad’ duty and Penny packing.
We headed off from Cappadocia early in the morning and entered Syria around 9.00pm
Syria… is great.
The people are wonderful and diesel is like… free.
Damascus was interesting and cheap… which was good. Angus found a nice guy who made him an army blanket and opened his shop up especially to sow the seams down.
‘Dad… I’ve never had anyone open their shop up just for me before…’ He was chuffed and so was the shopkeeper with his 50p tip.

Angus and Claudia making the ‘army blanket’ in Damascus

We would do anything to keep the cost of a room down!

Another 5.00am start, but with a Banana milkshake this time.
We drove through Syria in two days and spent one day in Jordan. We could have spent weeks here, but Christmas was coming and our guests were on their way.
We stopped and stayed in a Crusader castle in Jordan. It is massive, sitting on top a hill over looking the Dead Sea. The Lonely Planets tells you about a nasty ruler who used to put a wooden box around peoples heads before he flung them off the castle wall so they would still be conscious when they hit the bottom
Nice bloke…

Angus and Tim looking for where the prisoners would be hurdled off

As big as the grand canyon,

yet not a tourist in sight

Angus and Claudia putting together the ‘if we pass a McDonalds’ plan
We headed for the Egyptian border and caught a ferry across the Aqaba sea to Nuweiba. The customs took two and a half hours, but was painless and… well we forgot to mention the two whacking great big solar panels buried in the trailer;)

Angus on the ‘mother of all border crossings’ in Egypt

Penny with ‘Land Cruiser’ envy in customs

The next day at breakfast, Day shar voo on the Aqaba sea in Nuweiba with Angus.

Sasha on the beach at Nuweiba

Tim leading the way through the Sinai desert

A rare sight in the Sinai… somewhere private to have a pee!

One for the album…
We reached Cairo late in the evening on our second night in Egypt. We were going to stay near the Suez Canal but the kids remembered the Chinese restaurant next to the Windsor hotel and… nothing was going to change their mind. The next day Grandma arrived and was not too sure about Cairo and going out… but Claudia funnily enough was having none of it and told Grandma she was going shopping.

Sasha remembering her Arabic numbers whilst haggling in the Kala Kali in Cairo

Grandma keeping a low profile on the streets of Cairo

Goal!

After three hours of choosing… Claudia found her outfit and performed to Grandma!
We had a three day rest in Cairo showing my parents the Pyramids and enjoying not getting up at 5.00am. On the fourth day we left for Siwa, a mere 700km, we felt like we were home.

I still don’t know why Sasha asked me to stop to take this picture…

The sign we had been waiting for

The 300km drive from the Mediterranean to Siwa is through open flat dessert.
When we reached Matrouh, we had half a tank of diesel and could not find anywhere to fill up. We thought we would be OK… and… well we ran out of diesel just outside of Siwa… 5,000 kilometres without a single hitch… until the last 15k.
DOH!
If it had been our first time in the desert we would have freaked, (and we would have made sure we had filled up!) but we were coming home, and on seeing someone we knew, Penny got a lift into Siwa to get some diesel and we rolled into town an hour later

A long way to come for a game of football, but it was worth it…
We’ve been here a couple of weeks now. Dotty, Ali and Stu have come back for more.

Stu pretending to listen to yet another one of my big ideas…
Christmas day was spent in a very nice hotel called Taziry on the edge of the desert.
Before dinner my parents went off for a spot of off roading in the desert

‘Did we really just come down there?’

Everything was laid on and no one had to wash up!

Granddad smoking Shesha after dinner…
Everything went well until I took my parents to Alexandra a few days later. The radiator finally gave up big time with the fan falling off taking chucks of the radiator out with it in the middle of nowhere.
Broken down with my parents on board… 100 km’s from the nearest… anything…
5000km’s of trouble free driving and… I break down big time right out in the desert with my parents!
One could say that I was a tadge unlucky with this interruption, but then… 366 days ago we had a massive interruption to our journey… and as my hero, Ted Simon who wrote Jupiter’s Travels and got me into travelling always says…
‘The interruptions ARE the journey.’
It has been one hell of ride and it aint over yet.
Have a good new year and we’ll see all of you in September.
Bill

So put me on a Highway, and show me a sign

D Day…December 2nd, 3.30am… Three continents, eight countries, 5,000 kilometres, and several breakdowns to cross by 20th December.
The grease was still clean on the jeep as the front wheel bearings and new brake callipers had only been fitted the day before. The new engine and diff oil would not make all the difference… but it would help.
The radiator still leaked and the main beam and rear t lights on the trailer where still not working. Croatian mechanics answer for fixing old rads and old electrical systems after nine months of begging was still a simple… ‘No’. Once the cruiser had made it to Egypt… the ‘can do’ attitude will have the jeep all fixed up and as good as new.
It was now… just a case of getting there.
We drove up the hill from Komiza, like we had done a hundred times before. Only this would maybe be the last time we would do this drive all together. We all felt a bit sad leaving our home…and leaving Sooty and Jessie, the two strays who had five stared it with us for the last nine months.
We drove in silence, thinking of what we were leaving behind… and what was to come.
In Bosnia, there was still a lot of snow on the mountains from the week before and… well you can’t drive past a ski resort covered in snow…
‘Can you Dad… I mean… we won’t see snow again for a wholes year Dad and oh pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassssse Dad, can we go up to the Ski resort and play in the snow…?

Happiness is a snowball fight…

with your mates.
We stayed in the Bjelasnica National Park ski resort where we are keen to make a somewhere different destination sometime in the future.
‘Dad! Dad! Film me and Angus!’
On standing outside the main entrance to the 50 odd roomed hotel, I pointed my video camera up to Claudia and Angus to film them all smiles and woolly hats… only to find that they had set an ambush for me and threw two massive chunks of ice off the roof patio smashing all over the pavement area in front of the smiling receptionists.
‘Nice little children’
We pushed on and headed for Serbia. The weather turned shite and once on the other side of Sarajevo the quality of the roads deteriorated somewhat. The tunnels have no lights in them and are just carved out of the rock with no ceilings. The roads surfaces are ancient cobbled stones mixed with a patchwork of potholes, tarmac and concrete.
Due to no full beam, when we met a ‘train’ of lorries coming the other way in a half kilometre long tunnel full of potholes the driving conditions became, how should we say… unusual.
Through our research we hoped this would be the worst part of the journey in terms of weather and road conditions.
The going was slow and needed 100% concentrations. Game boy batteries were fully charged and every one seemed OK.
We’d be fine as long as the radiator and new wheel bearings held up. Breaking down in one of these tunnels was not an option.
After crossing the Serbian border where Angus and me had been stuck in no mans land a few months before, we set out to find a hotel.
As far as I am aware, there is no Lonely Planet guide book to Serbia… yet they have one for Antarctica… that’s probably because more tourist go to Antarctica, than come here.
We found the ‘hotel’ in town.
It was five stories high, 70’s communist concrete style, faded brown walls and 50 keys sitting in fifty little boxes behind the receptionist desk.
‘Do you have any rooms?’ Looking at all the keys….
‘Yes’
‘We are two adult… three children, we want one room’
‘No room… five people must have two double’
‘For the same price?’
‘No, double price’
‘Too expensive for us, two doubles… if you can not do both rooms for same price we go motel on highway’
‘…OK’ still no expression in his face.
We were probably the first customers to walk into his hotel for day’s… maybe years… and yet he was happy to not budge an inch on the price and let us walk out.
‘Maybe he knew the sign for the motel… was only a sign now and that it had closed down ten years ago…’
‘Do you have a treble room?’
‘Yes’
‘Is it OK two small children sleep on floor?’
‘Yes… you pay for two doubles…’
This guy had nerves of steel…
‘OK’.
It cost €32 for a room that had not been slept in… probably since the war.
The room lights did not work… not toilet seat on the toilet, it was on the forth floor.
50 rooms and this was the best he had to offer.
‘Were can we get some food…’
‘No… restaurant closed’
‘No, you don’t say… you do surprise me’
‘Any were in town open?’
‘No’
‘OK thank you for your help…’

Claudia and Angus ‘camping’ in the empty hotel in Serbia.
We strolled into town in search of tucker. The border town we were in was not exactly rocking…We split up in search of somewhere to eat and would rendezvous in half an hour.There were a few places… but the working men’s club… type place, actually had some people in it and it looked like someone had ordered some food that day…
We went in hungry and desperate for a drink.
‘You have food?’
‘Yes’
‘What you have?’
‘Chicken, meat, soup’
‘Pomme frittes?
‘Yes’
‘Beer?’
‘Yes’
‘DOBRO!’

The moment it was confirmed that chips were on the menu
We ate like Kings… the food as very good and the beer and wine flowed. The bill… a tenner.
In Serbia, the roads and hotels are shite… but the food it great!
Only 615 kilometres to go to our first stop!

We (nearly) did it

It’s 5.30am and I’m on the ferry going to Split. I’ve done this trip probably twenty times this summer. Today the ferry is not the usual one… it’s the little one they bring out for winter, I’m the only foreigner on board. All the Europeans and Americans on the island have gone home for Christmas… the forecast for today is snow… Time to fly south
I’ve been thinking about the title for our last travel log on the island this year. At the beginning of the year I thought it would be a simple ‘We did it’… and have a picture of the house all done.
‘Oughffff’ followed by an impersonation of a gold fish mouth’… as they say on Vis.
It would have been finished… honest… but we had an inspection from the employment Dept… They rocked up with two armed cops and their clipboards. They were looking for illegal Bosnians working on Vis. I told them they’d probably all gone to Engleski.
They didn’t laugh…
They also didn’t find any illegal Bosnians on our site. All the guys we had that day (except Angus) were legit. They checked all my papers and went through my building permission docs and looked somewhat disappointed they couldn’t nail anything on me.
‘You have all your papers in order. This is good’ The inspector said slightly peeved with wasting two and half hours on the ferry to get here.
‘ I just need to see your business permit and we will leave’
‘Sorry’
‘Your business permit’
‘What’s that?’
The inspector gave me that… ‘You go through all this trouble to get your building permission in order, your employ all these guys correctly… and didn’t do the easiest bit and get a BUSINESS PERMIT’ look.
‘You don’t have a business permit?’
Mile,one of the ‘masters’ working on the site was by now doing impersonations of me being hand cuffed behind the inspectors back with the coppers trying not to laugh.
‘Dad… will they be real guns?’
‘Yes Angus…Sorry, I don’t know if I have a business permit, no one has mentioned to me about this’ In Croatia, if you don’t ask, they don’t tell you, even one-way streets…
A £300 fine and all building stopped until the permit has been obtained later… the inspector apologised for Croatian bureaucracy and told me that it would unfortunately be one or two days before we could get the permit and start work again.
‘ You have to fill in lots of forms and get them signed at the police station, it is just a formality.
‘I can handle that’ I thought, if this was England… it would be weeks.
‘You also need a copy of your criminal record from England and that’s it’
‘Oh shit’
On arriving home I called St Albans Police station.
‘ Hi, I’m a calling from Croatia and I need to get proof I am not a mass murderer to apply for a business permit’
‘Yes we can help you with that’
‘ Oh right…OK… that was easy…what do I need to do’
‘ I will send you a form to fill in and you then need to send it back to me with a cheque for ten pounds’
‘Can’t I pay by switch and do it all online’
‘No… we only except cheques’
‘I will loose 15 days’
‘Sorry’
‘OK, once you get the cheque then what?’
‘Once your cheque has cleared… we then apply for your record from Scotland yard’
‘How long does that take’
‘ You are guaranteed to get it within 40 days’
‘Your joking right?’
‘No’
‘Oughffff’
In Croatia they do everything by hand, everything is not on a central computer network… like the ‘National Police Computer’.
In Croatia it takes one hour to get a copy of your record.
The Croatian inspector apologised for the bureaucracy and the length of time it would take. The guy at St Albans police station was trying to sell me the ‘ don’t worry, you will defiantly get it within 40 days’.
Screwed by UK bureaucracy in Croatia…
I rang the inspector and told them that I would not have my record for approximately 60 days. I told him that the house had no roof on and asked if it would be OK if we covered the house with plastic so the inside didn’t get wet.
’60 days?’
‘Yes’
‘I’m sorry about that… really, yes, you can cover your house. Make sure your are finished by Sunday evening.’ We do not inspect at the weekends.’
‘Thanks’
It was Thursday… we had three days.
The ‘O’ team pulled their finger out and by Saturday evening we had completely finished the walls and… roof…all fully insulated and ready for the tiles.

Penny and Angus squeezing in a bit of homework on site.
In Croatia when you finish a house and put the roof on, you roast a whole lamb… get fairly ‘arseholed’ and put a flag up to show the world you have finished and what nationality you are to your neighbours.
A Croatian, Bosnian,. Serbian, English and French flag (Karine is French) was suggested…
We roasted the lamb…
We had ‘puno pivo’s’
Angus and Zdenko put one large Croatian flag on the roof.

We have sort of… kind of… finished it.

The house and Penny on the water tank.
If your interested, you can down load a power point with loads of pictures of the house here.
www.somewheredifferent.com/smokova-house-plan.ppt
Tim and Karin the kid’s teachers… are excellent. They are enjoying life in Komiza and have quickly settled into the school routine. Angus rebelled for a few days wanting to continue working with me on the land… but when Tim started to design the battleground Angus needed to make on a big piece of cardboard he was hooked. Claudia has been asking for double maths homework and Sasha is advancing well with her French… Ok, so she has a private French, French teacher… who cares… she’s doing well at it and she is feeling good about her self.

Karine, the kids French teacher multi tasking;)
The day Tim and Karine arrived Penny started full time on the site with the beer swilling, swearing ‘O’ team from Komiza and me. ‘ Essy boo boo’ (did you score last night;) Penny is asked on an hourly basis with roars of laughter no matter what the answer is.
With no swimming and Penny and me being flat out with the house the kids have become a bit bored and are ready for Egypt.
We leave…hopefully on Thursday Dec 1st providing the new brake pads arrive from Vienna on Monday. We wanted to go the Libyan route, but the £1,000 cost for a ‘tourist policeman’ AND a ‘tour guide’ that had to travel with us… put us right off.
The thought of having to hold our farts in for days on end… or worse, having to share theirs!
Going the Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syrian, Jordan, and Egypt route is logistically a lot easer and before you all ask… there are no ferries to Egypt from Europe. All you need is a valid Syrian visa in your passport and a carnet for each vehicle and the rest you buy on the borders (well…that’s what we think anyway).
We estimate the trip is around 5,000km from Croatia to Siwa, which is on the far side of Egypt from Jordan.
The route

Below is our plan for the route and timings
Leave Croatia 1st Dec
Sarajevo 2nd
Serbia 3rd
Bulgaria 4th
Western Turkey 5th
Istanbul 6th
Istanbul to Cappadocia 7th to 8th
Cappadocia 9th
Syrian border 10th
Syria 11th and 12th (providing there is no problem with the American, sorry UN sanctions due to possibly start on the 15th)
Jordan 13th – 14th
Ferry to Egypt 15th
Cairo 16th
Alexandra 17th
Siwa 18th Dec till April 2006.
When I asked Sasha what she thought about the Itinery she said it looked great apart from the fact that I should have added in ten days for when the Land Cruiser breaks down… hence my trip to Split today for final checks and oil changes on the jeep before we go.
If anyone would like to know that our trip is going OK and that we move through the countries as planned, when ever I get to an internet café, I will update our contacts page www.somewheredifferent.com/contact.asp to say were and how we are. We will not have mobile phones and will only be contactable by email and instant messenger. My MSN instant messenger is duncanridgley (then) @hotmail.com.
I believe lighting does not strike a family twice… and our journey to our new home and Christmas this year will be very different from the last. I had a bad feeling about leaving for Sri Lanka this time last year… I have a good feeling about this trip.
My Mum and Dad, Dottie, Ali and Stu Pearson (yes I know… interesting combination) will all be sharing Christmas with us this year and… well… Inshala.
I’ve arrived in Split, there is snow on the mountains, time to go… so have a good Christmas and if any one wants to come out to Siwa for the full eclipse of the moon that passes right above us on March 29th, we should have a bed or two spare by then to put you up!
Cheers Duncan
PS there is a follow up documentary to the fist Tsunami programme we did in January last year on Channel 5, Dec 20th. During filming on the island, Claudia goes into one of how I baffed up sand and diesel all over the floor at Colombo airport, like she was telling a joke… should make interesting TV.

Pomalo Pomalo – Island life

They have a saying here on Vis… ‘Pomalo Pomalo’… little by little.They say you need to do things in this way on the island… or they don’t happen at all.
We arrived in April… and this week we laid the first brick on our house… six months of Pomalo bloody Pomoloing and it’s now all beginning to happen.

Team at the beginning of June

at the end of August

Beginning of September

Middle of September

End of September ( there are 11 in the team now and they don’t even stop for team groups any more!)

What we’re aiming for
It’s a bit annoying, for if it hadn’t been for our difficult neighbour in Norfolk who held up the sale of our beach house (ten weeks in the end), the house would be done(ish) now at a much lower cost,and we would be scarily on target to leave for Egypt.
Teresa our teacher resigned in June… well Komiza is not Arugam Bay… and she didn’t want to return to Egypt this winter (its not everyone’s cup of tea!)
Penny and the kids went swimming everyday…for months this summer and…well…

It’s been great.
All this sun and sea was getting too much for us. We needed a holiday… so when Stu Pearson arrived at the beginning of August to spend some time on the beach… he was a bit thrown when we dragged him off to Bosnia for a spot of land fishing. Sasha who knew what was coming and was smart, went off to England for her summer holidays instead.
The first time we went to Bosnia we were all concerned, this time we just grabbed our passports and off we went to have some fun.

Stu and Angus above Sarajevo

Some one coming to see ‘who du hell’ we were, up in the mountains

Me and Angus looking for that perfect spot in the middle of nowhere… in the soon to be Bjelasnica National Park near Sarajevo.
About an hour after the picture above was taken we drove into a village whilst the road was being tarmaced. Instead of being turned back… they told us to just pull over and built the road past us. We had to wait until the tarmac cooled enough so it wouldn’t blow the tires and carried on ( you’ll have to waite for the ‘home movie’ for that one:).
We had a great time in Bosnia; we definitely want to get a place there one day. We found a wonderful half an acre plot for sale right near the new ski resort on Bjelasnica Mountain for 4,500 euros… tempting… next year…
We came back to Vis and Stu managed to get on the beach in the end. Dorothy ‘Dotty’ and her niece Ali came out for a couple of weeks and everyone seemed to get on really well.
As Stu, Ally and Dotty left…Emma arrived to stay for two weeks and no way was she going to bloody BOSNIA!
There are lots of nice things to see on Vis

The vineyards are everywhere

Rush hour
But Emma was having none of it.
The military ‘don’t film here’ locations and the ‘dodgy dentist’ house was where she wanted to be. She had heard the rumour about Sasha’s dentist and the dolls heads… and that was it…she had to see for her self.

Emma RIGHT outside the dentists house
Thank you for your sending us some of your holiday snaps Emma, which I have included below.

Holiday snap no. 1

Holiday snap no. 2

Holiday snap no. 3

Holiday snap no. 4
As everyone left… live got back to normal.

Penny’s been ‘drivin all the old men… crazy!’

and gossiping on the grape vine

I’ve been getting locked out of the house…

…whilst Claudia’s been telling Grandma ALL about it.
We finally got some money through, I got the jeep fixed and I started full time on the house around the middle of August.
Due to the design of the house using large stones, the walls are over 40 centimetres thick and up to 60 centimetres in some places. Because of this the foundations are… quite substantial. Me and the ‘O’ team, Momo, Yanko, Zvonco, Zstanko, Guso (Angus) and Blagi (he’s from out of town) have mixed up and chucked in the ground, over 50 tonnes of concrete along with literally tonnes of iron.

They build houses to last for EVER here. Something the Romans taught them.

Yes… they had to put another plank down when I started to pour the concrete
Well… I think I can finally say I have lost my ‘builders cherry’. We’re not sort of building a house here or are just playing at it. We are half way through building a full-blown, highly complicated 150-sqm meter house out of stone. It has a 140,000-litre water tank and… you kind of have to get the walls right. We have dug down over 1 meter into solid limestone with our ‘Bugger’ (Croatian word for digger) using a massive jackhammer.
The Bugger got ‘buggered’ a few times which the kids thought was highly amusing.
Building a house with five guys that do not speak English is far easer and more rewarding than working in London….
For me…
Maybe not every ones idea of an alternative life style, but I get to work with my son every day…
It’s hard work but often fun…

The Friday afternoon ‘grill’ sessions with many Pivos!
and I get most afternoons off after I have had an hour or two’s kip….
I have learnt …
How to mix a ‘mix’ of baton (concrete).
How to get a sales person in the builders’ yards on the main land to not just say… ‘No’ and walk away. ·
Why the two plastic water tanks for the concrete were leaking every day until Angus pointed out that they were leaking down to the exact level of where the donkey’s mouth could reach.
How to manage a team of guys who don’t speak English.
How to make wine.
How to build a stone house on a remote island in Croatia
and basically… how to take life a bit easer.

Sasha has finally broken into the ‘it’ gang of Komiza and is now happy roller blading along the Riva in the evenings with her friends and is enjoying their company. Sasha’s 13th birthday party was in the Kavana Hum and a good time was had by all.

I’m in control and I will blow out all 13 candles… ne problema

The Komizain way of saying happy birthday.
Claudia has been in the UK for two weeks visiting Grandma and is enjoying the new art classes they all go to twice a week. The two stray cats that now live with us and the donkey at the bottom of the garden are keeping her busy.

Sooty and Jessie, the luckiest stray cats in Komiza

Claudia and Angus in training for Egypt
Angus comes to work with me most days whilst school is out and is building his own ‘mini me’ house on the land. He is watching how we do it for real and then copies using the same materials.

Angus on his ‘work experience summer’

Angus ‘mixing’ the mix
He beamed up at me the other day shouting
‘DAD, DAD, I’VE FINISHED THE WALLS!’
‘That’s great Angus, how did you do the windows?’
‘Oh shit!’
And off he went to take some stones out of his walls before the concrete set. We haven’t put the windows in the house yet. Ordered them yesterday.

Angus loves working on the land
Penny wanted a long hot summer on the beach. It was supposed to be in Sri Lanka, but it was still long and very hot. Penny is keen to join the ‘O’ team when Tim the new teacher arrives next week, and get fully stuck into the work.
I used to get odd looks when I told people my wife ‘Is a tiler’. People would say
‘What, like putting them on the roof and stuff ?’
‘No…Mosaics and different designs in kitchens and bath rooms, you know…’
‘ Oh… I see, sorry’
With that ‘still bet she is some well ard bird who’s knuckles drag on the ground’ look staring back at you.
I need to choose my words carefully when returning to England…

Penny plastering the water tank walls
‘What does your wife do?’
‘She is a tiler and lays stone walls’
Na
‘She is a tiler and works with stone’
May be I just tell them and then quickly show them a picture of her before their imagination gets to Neanderthal woman.
Penny is learning how to make walls…. out of massive lumps of limestone.

Close up of the walls of our new house
Why not…
Where as for me…
I used to me the MD of an interactive TV advertising agency… nobody understood that… now it’s easy, I’m just plain old Bill the builder.

Bill the builder on his way to work… I know… I know…
Tim, the kids new teacher arrives in Vis on Oct 14th and back to school they go with vengeance. The plan is for Tim and his girlfriend Karen to travel to Egypt with us for the seven months we will be there and the two or three months we will spend in Romania before coming home.
It’s been an interesting summer and, well it’s not over yet.
The house is nowhere near finished, the rain here on Vis this week is stopping us from building… and we leave in less than eight weeks for Egypt.
For me, when we arrive in Egypt it will replace what we lost in Sri Lanka… one very cheap, hot and interesting place to explore with the nicest people you could meet. Somewhere really diferent to live and experience a way of living that is still based on trust and family life, not credit ratings and MTV;)
We are still pondering our route…

Go through Libya and it’s a £1000 for visa’s + one guide and one ‘tourist policeman’ sitting in your jeep the whole way.We’d have to hold our farts in for hours. Or maybe worse!
Go the other way… and it’s a bloody long way. But it would be a great journey, eastern Turkey, Syria, Jordan and all that… which is after all, what we are here for.

My parents are coming to visit us in Siwa for Christmas, which I’m really chuffed about. Simon Jacobs is ‘definitely definitely’ coming out just after Christmas and it is rumoured the Stu, Dotty and Ali trio may rock up on the 20th of Dec. There are over twenty mosques in Siwa and… no churches…should be interesting!
I will then come back to Vis in January after the ‘mint tea levels’ in my blood stream have dropped enough to finish off the house here with the ‘O’ team so we can sell the house and keep going!
Hope you are well and see you soon.
Duncan…
I know… I go by two names… I know.