Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Dangers Of A Comfortable Life

There is certainly something to be said for the life on the road: seeing new places, meeting new people, learning about different cultures and history, tasting new foods an the general, constant adrenaline rush of the unexpected. It wouldn't, however, be generally seen as a particularly safe way of life. In hindsight my 3 years on the road contained many incidents and adventures that, in the cold light of day, sound like I was just asking for trouble: being caught and interrogated by secret police in Karabagh, being detained by police for a couple of days in Djibouti, riding on the roofs of buses and trucks along some very hair-raising roads, hitching in strange places (talking of which, it's very sad for me to see that the Swat valley, one of the nicest places in Pakistan, has descended into sectarian violence recently) and living off food of questionable provenance and prepared under conditions of dubious hygiene. And yet, notwithstanding all these potential risks, everything seemed to fall conveniently into place, problems were resolved or opened up new, unexpected and exciting opportunities. Even when I did get ill (invariably a case of the runs) it generally wasn't too bad and didn't last more than a day or so (only three times was I ill for more than a couple of days) and not once did I have an injury (though I did try and make up with blisters and stiff muscles after overdoing it whilst hiking).

Now, in the year that I have been back I have been out of action due to injury and illness more often than on the entire trip. My latest incident was the most embarrassing of all. I managed to badly jar my foot just kicking a football, and so this past week I've been hobbling round the house alternately wincing in pain and cursing my clumsiness. But all's well that ends well and I am now back in the saddle (literally) and will resume my cycling to work from next week.

On a totally unrelated note, and only tenuously linked to the preceding paragraph, things aren't going well in Georgia - it's been hard seeing such a beautiful place being inexorably torn apart by a conflict which, in theory is extremely local, but is in fact part of a larger global power-play. Unfortunately it is a situation that has looked inevitable for some time, especially since the Kosovan independence (see my previous post) that set a dangerous precedent coupled with the rising assertiveness of Russia. It'll be interesting to see how things pan out, standing up to a powerful Russia will take a lot more balls and nous than beating up weak international pariahs like Iraq and Serbia. Of course it's easy to criticise from the sidelines, but I think that the West ought to put a lot more effort into resolving so-called "Frozen Conflicts" - where opposing sides are not fighting, but the status quo of separation, hate and mistrust deepens daily - before they turn round and bite us in the ass when we least expect it. Because in today's interconnected world every conflict affects us, though often in ways we fail to realise at the time, and a resolution which reinforces the primacy of force is a huge step backwards for everyone.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Hi everyone. I apologise for being useless at keeping up my blog. My only excuse (and it's a poor one at that) is that with a routine life you get somewhat stuck in a rut need to force yourself so much more to get out of it. My jolt that brought me back to my blog was the news, earlier this week, that my cousin's partner, who I had met for the first time exactly a year ago at our family reunion in Prague (fourth from left in this picture), died in a freak accident falling down the stairs at home at the tragic age of 38 (the details are still a bit unclear, but it goes to show that the "little known fact" that more people are killed by stairs than shark attacks is quite true). I can't claim to have known Nancy well, but in the short time I spent with her she came across as a warm, curious person in the prime of her life. I was also very much hoping on visiting her and my cousin (who I have still not met in person yet) sometime soon as they had just recently moved closer to us (upstate New York, as opposed to Hawaii where they had been previously). I suppose, along with the feelings of shock and grief there is a great feeling of unjustness - that this shouldn't have happened. I can easily see how people, when faced with such events, that make no sense and seem cosmically unfair, find solace in explaining them away with notions of fate, kismet or some higher power with some ineffable, but ultimately rewarding and benign, plan. But for me it just shows the arbitrary nature of life and our existence. There is no meaning. There is no purpose (only that which you decide to give yourself). And, as the hackneyed saying goes, life is unfair.

That very same day dealt one of those karmic coincidences that people love to interpret on some higher level. I received a card from a friend of mine in France informing me of the birth of her (first) baby boy. It is certainly poetic and shows how all tragedies are personal and are occuring everywhere and yet the world just keeps on going regardless, no matter what those of us who are affected may think.

But, apart from that, what have I been doing over this past month (more actually) that I have neglected my blogging. Well, not a great deal, at least not a great deal that I would deem newsworthy of my blog (when it's not work then it generally involves going down the pub with friends or playing football with colleagues from work, which I have just started doing), but here's the lowdown. After your deluge of interest (thanks for asking Rook) I am pleased to say that my abscess has gone and the only trace of its passing is a slight little dimple in the back of my neck (at least I no longer look as if I had just escaped the Matrix). I've also said goodbye to a couple of friends (John and Emma) whom I met whilst travelling in South America (as did they) and who are now off on an eight-month round-the-world jaunt of their own starting with Beijing and the Olympics and taking in a dozen or so countries. Otherwise Summer is still undecided as to whether it wants to show itself here in London - not that I mind that much as people often spend 9 months out of the year complaining about how cold it is and then when Summer finally does come they switch to moaning about the heat and humidity - and I have begun planning my next trip. Not a big one mind you, although I do hope to be able to take all my holiday entitlement in one go so that I can hopefully see something of the countries I want to visit.