Friday, 25 February 2011

Where should we go on holiday this year?

Pic: bear with me.

We've been thinking about the summer here at the Palace of Bundance. With a few measly rays of sunshine and the occasional snowdrop, it does actually seem that it's possible we'll get there. Wearing shorts and going sock-less doesn't seem like a crazy fantasy any longer.

And this year, we'd quite like to have a proper go away for a fortnight kind of family holiday. It'll be a first for us. We've done week-long stays here and there but never the whole hog. I just gave a little shudder there, perhaps I'll be back here in September having been reminded of exactly why seven nights is more than enough.

But until I can think of a good reason why not, it's a fortnight for us. But who, where, how, when?

The who is easy, there are five of us:

Boy Three will be two by the summer holidays and, I think unreasonably, for rate-charging purposes, is no longer an infant. Although I've no intention of liberating him from a cot at night until he provides a written application. He has a short attention span and a lust for adventure.

Boy Two will be nine soon. (Nine, can you believe it?) He's got a short attention span but can usually be persuaded to have a go at/look at/taste of most things. He gives good cuddles.

Boy Three is 11 and has Aspergers. It's not really a problem for holidays, but unexpected things can make him a bit anxious and he needs some down time, especially in the early days. He's also not terribly good at eating strange things although he does try. He's excellent at remembering things.

The Panther of News. He's a bit older than me and likes beaches, castles and loafing about. He thinks he wants to go somewhere really hot, but I'm not sure he really does. He also has a short attention span and even after eight years still has the capacity to surprise me (in a good way).

Me. I used to like holidays that were packed with exploration, discovery and, more than likely, hazard. However, now I like to spend time with my family doing something that isn't really annoying or brain-crushingly dull. If I can see some culture or do something new, that'd be a bonus. Oh, and, the PoN says I'm a snob but I think it's just an allergy to sports clothes worn in non-sporting environments.

So there we are, a typical family really. And what kind of holiday should we go for?

I'd like it to be warm enough not to need coats but, if I'm honest, I'm over blistering heat. Besides non of the Boys likes to be gooped with sunblock.

We've self-catered, but I baulk at cooking in a kitchenette (nothing is improved by being the 'ette' version) and going out all the time can be pricey. Plus Boy Three's manners aren't the best so we need somewhere either very family friendly or with shockingly low hygiene standards.

Boys One and Two and the Panther love water parks. I hate them, I can't help thinking how many people have weed in the water. I also don't like being scared and getting friction burns.

Boy Three needs to work on his sense of self preservation. This can make being at large with him something of a challenge.

We like sand dunes, sledging, museums, ice cream, some of us like theme parks and nobody wants to be in a plane, train or car for too long but we all enjoy boats.

So how hard is going to be to find somewhere we like, can get to from Scotland and won't bust our medium-sized budget? Answers on a post card, preferably one that says 'wish you were here...'.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Sperm donor tells his side of the Fertility 1st story

Empty toy cot

I published a post a couple of months ago by my sister about how she chose to conceive a child using donor insemination with the help of a company called Fertility 1st. Subsequently the people behind Fertility 1st were convicted of operating without an HFEA licence.

Here one of Fertility 1st’s sperm donors has agreed to tell his story in his own words:

I was just trying to help!

BEWARE: This article was written by a man who specifically targets vulnerable women... or at least that’s what the HFEA would have you think.

My name is not important, neither is my creed, colour or nationality. What matters is that I as healthy, active man in my mid twenties, counter to all stereotypes, I embraced responsibility and shrugged off the binge-drinking, directionless, overly-expectant attitude of my peers. Seriously thinking about causes and coming to my own conclusions I would in turn do everything possible to put my money where my mouth is. This attitude lead me to voluntary work with handicapped people, into the Territorial Army and finally onto donating sperm.


My desire for donation came at the time when the rules were changing. When a donor child turned 18, shock horror, they could now contact the donor. There were many news articles on how this would massively reduce donor numbers. I didn’t think that was fair. It made sense to me, mainly for medical reasons, that a donor child should be able to contact their biological forebear. Wanting to fill the void and help childless couples I decided to not only side with a belief, but take action to help it.

Like most people my age, four or five years ago if I wanted to find out something there would only be one source of information, the internet. Googling ‘donating sperm’ I was greeted by a plethora of websites and I summarily signed up to one. That website changed hands from time to time and eventually became Fertility 1st.

I did check the HFEA website and understand that there was no payment and that only “reasonable expenses” could be paid. It confirmed to me that a donor would remain anonymous until the offspring’s 18th birthday.

I went to a private clinic and had my sperm tested, waiting months for the result of an HIV test. From then onward I had my blood taken by NHS nurses every three months; each time I’d mention I’m a sperm donor and detail the situation. When I begun to donate with Fertility 1st, I was given at first a flat £30 “expenses”, after a year or two this became £50. I assumed that they had worked out a way to stick within the letter of the law but also provide donors with a reasonable, small incentive toward continuing.

In total I completed approx 60 donations across four years. In expenses I gained approximately a maximum of £3,000.

I researched online the best way to keep sperm healthy and used some, although admittedly not all, of the “expenses” on food supplements such as folic acid, selenium and zinc sulphate that have been shown to help improve sperm count.

My experience of Fertility 1st was great, I thought they were responsible and friendly. I never once had contact, nor did I desire it, with the recipient and everything seemed to be going well. Only later did I begin to question when my time would be up, knowing that donors were only allowed a maximum of 10 offspring. I just assumed that there was a fairly high failure rate.

September 2010

Sitting happily at work, during a break I checked the BBC News website. “Fertility 1st sperm website pair named donor.’’

In the words of my irresponsible peers “OMG”.

I was shocked and frightened as I continued to read that Fertility 1st had never been “legal” in the eyes of the HFEA. I rang up the HFEA and explained to them my situation, I was treated with antipathy and told it was my fault for dealing with them.

Later I’d found out that many months earlier they’d taken computers from Fertility 1st’s offices. They could have informed all donors that what they were doing wasn’t giving them the same protection as other “legitimate” donors. They didn’t, instead they and the press vilified us and phrases like “sexual-predator”, “targets vulnerable women” and that we were “exploiting women”.

I have my own family (with my only sexual partner of seven years), this is one reason why anonymity was important to me. Suddenly being informed that none of the legal structures were there to protect me was a horrible, vulnerable feeling. The story of Andy Bathie, a sperm donating firefighter forced to pay maintenance because he wasn’t covered by any legal protection, caused great fear for me.

And Now?

Obviously as soon as I heard Fertility 1st wasn’t legitimate I stopped donating. I didn’t sign up to another website nor did I contact the HFEA to formally sign-up. I no longer donate sperm, and have no intention of ever doing so again.

In the course of Fertility 1st’s court case I found out they had a success rate of 23%, meaning my 60 donations have probably resulted in 14 conceptions. Hopefully all conceptions lead to happy babies and happy families, but I feel sad that these children have no chance of discovering their genetic history.

What if it turns out on my mother’s death bed that she had been a floozy and my father wasn’t whom I thought it was? My whole genetic history would be changed, there could be future illnesses endemic in that genetic tree which could be caught early but will never be known to those children or families. It isn’t fair that these people will never have that knowledge.

I feel that although Fertility 1st weren’t exactly genuine with me, they did provide a function which should be allowed and helped many women. They filled a void for comparatively inexpensive fertilisation. Our government, in its nanny-state ways, refuses to allow people to take known risks. ‘Fresh’ sperm donation, in an anonymous framework, should be allowed. The recipients should be informed that “although all best efforts have been made we cannot confirm 100 per cent that this person will not have HIV etc”. People take these risks every day through promiscuity and lack of protection. With all the information available people should be allowed to make their own decisions

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Meet Dave (the Funky Shoulder Monkey)

I'd like to introduce a new member of our household... it's Dave The Funky Shoulder Monkey.

The other day a very exciting parcel turned up, it contained a new toy for us to try out. Dave The Funky Shoulder Monkey had arrived.

I considered waiting until the big boys were back from visiting their dad, but, nah, some things are too important.

At first glance, Dave was smaller than I imagined, but perfectly formed. He came with a remote and a set of instructions. It was worth a bit of RTFM (read the flippin' manual) to get him to do what you want, otherwise it's all a bit random.

Boy Three was very taken with Dave and high fived him to great cuteness. Then preceded to carry him around giving him huge cuddles. I worried Dave might not be strong enough for this level of affection, but he's made of tough stuff.

Then I texted Boys Two and Three a picture of our new friend. They were delighted and Boy Two didn't want to see anyone but Dave at the airport. Unfortunately for him, Dave's realistic movements don't include driving a car or walking to the arrivals section. And, in any case, he couldn't reach the car park pay machine slot and doesn't have a pocket for the money. Actually a pocket would be a good feature for Dave so he could look after his own remote.

Among other things, Dave laughs, yawns, waves, looks shy and, apparently the funniest is, he farts!

His shoulder strap is a bit of a fiddle to put on and hard to do on your own, but this doesn't stop Dave's progress around the house. We all love our Dave even if he is more of a table monkey.

Disclosure: We were sent a free Dave by to try out he costs around £15 in the shops.

Monday, 21 February 2011

This week I learned about the Big Society, Hitler, puddles, monkeys and a few other things

Hitler was a hypocrite.
Boy One broke wind right there, next to me. It's such a usual occurrence that I ignored it, however, the Panther was in chivalrous mood. Here's the conversation that followed:
Me: "Boy One it's time you learned what hypocritical means."
Panther: "Oh yeah."
Boy One: "What's hypocritical?"
Me: "Well it's when someone tells someone else to do or not do something that they do themselves?"
Panther: "Very funny."
Me talking to Boy One but looking pointedly at the Panther of News: "Can you think of an example?"
Boy One: "Yes. I understand. It's Adolf Hitler."

Dave the Funky Shoulder Monkey is a popular member of the family.
Boys One and Two were away visiting their dad last weekend. On the day of their return I texted Boy Two to express my excitement about his impending return. His reply: "Yeah, just bring the new monkey."

Learning is messy.
You can't make a boy's horizons expand without breaking an egg or two, spilling flour on the floor, pouring maple syrup on the table, getting soot on your face, sitting in a puddle and eating bum cream.

Water finds the shortest route.
When someone steps in a puddle deeper than the top of their wellies the water has to go somewhere. This was a lesson the Panther of New learned when he put Boy Three on his shoulders towards the end of a rainy day walk. That somewhere was the back of his neck.

You can set up your own fundraising page at the Walk The Walk website. Visit mine, if you like. Donate cash, if you like. Please.

The Big Society might have something to do with me, even if it is irritating. I wrote a piece about Big Society and what it might mean - I have to admit I'm such a lightweight I hadn't really thought about it before. Now it's just made me cross - meddling, patronising government.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Is it time to send children out for a walk on the wild side?

How much freedom did you have as kids?

I remember running about fields, climbing about rocks and fallen trees in steep glens, guddling in burns and hiding in woods. Only I'd kind of disregarded it as a foreign land or a distortion of my wishful imagination.

Then, this week, Supersister and I took our Walking Thursday to the village where we went to school. We followed paths up the steep glen, made it to the top of the hill in thick mist, round the back of the castle and back down beside the deep pools and rushing waterfalls.

It's the first time I'd been back since I was a teenager and now I've got a son the same age I was when I first explored the banks of the Burns of Sorrow and Care. Supersister and I recalled the freedom of leaving after breakfast - often equipped with only a packed lunch and a cagoule - and not coming back until supper time, tired, filthy and often smelling of woodsmoke.

We found the deep cold pool where we idled summer afternoons leaping into the breathtaking water. Even the bank where we sunbathed was too steep for my taste now. "Blimey, I wouldn't do that now," said Supersister peering into the inky water, under the rope swing. Me neither.

Oddly, we both - decades on - feel a squirm of fear at the thought of exposing the places where we sneaked off to smoke illicit fags or, possibly, snog boys. If we hadn't had the glorious freedom of the Ochil Hills would we have behaved ourselves? I very much doubt it.

Back then, running about and largely suiting ourselves was the normal, we didn't question it. I think it was part of the reason our parents sent us there.

On the way down, with lunch in our sights, we started talking: "Would you let Baby G do that when he's bigger?" "What about your boys? Boy One is the same age we were..." Interesting. Do we see the dangers - the drops, the water, the slippery and the hidden - more easily now as parents and grown-ups or have judgements of these things changed? It certainly wouldn't be a comfortable decision to let our kids roam at large up there, but, really we'll have to do it. Not, perhaps, there but to adult-free adventures and self reliance.

I remember solving the problems of crossing fast-flowing burns, keeping dry and warm, and finding the best place to spend an afternoon. Was it useful or were we just lucky not to come to grief? I'd like to think my boys would rather look back on a childhood of outside, of dens, rain and imagination than getting to the next level of Supermario. One day, just maybe, they'll thank me.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Hairdressers, you make me curl up and dye.

When I was a child I used to wonder why you paid a hairdresser when essentially you gave them your hair. They swept it up and, as far as I could fathom, kept it.

My understanding of crimpery hasn't got any better over the years. Put it this way, I can't work out why perms were such a bad thing. I liked mine - it meant I didn't need to faff about with it. Just wash n go like the ad. I live quietly in hope that they'll come back.

I don't get the hair straightener thing at all. I've got straight hair, why would I want to? The few times I've had it done my hair sort of just hangs all bleugh.

A few pounds (OK, stones) ago I had short spiky hair. I liked this a lot - dry upside down and put stuff in it to make it stick up. The only time this came unstuck was hillwalking in the rain. Here I learned just how much 'product' stings.

On the subject, what's with 'product'? What happened to 'some products', 'items to style your hair' or 'things produced to glue your do'?

And I really, really don't understand why the aforementioned product must be offered to me in all its overpriced glory at the point I'm shelling out quite enough, thank you. I don't want to buy mousse, wax (wet or dry), gel, lotion, serum or anything else of that nature when it costs the same as a new car tyre.

Product and I haven't historically got along. I had a go at home-colouring a while back. It was during a short-lived half marathon campaign. There I was newly daubed aubergine/plumb/reddybrown and jogging gently through the drizzle. Quite pleased with myself actually, until I passed my friend. "Oh my gosh, Ellen, what have you done? Are you OK?" She grabbed my arm.
My fresh paint job was not so permanent as the packet suggested and was bleeding dramatically down my head.

My current barnet maintenance emporium is a reasonably nice place to spend a couple of hours (although girls, please stop smoking downstairs, in fact, just stop smoking). I turned a corner with it when I discovered their broadband connection - have netbook will be able to ignore fatuous holiday-based questions and get some work done. However, they got a new hub and can't find/get/remember the password so now I'm netless which is much less satisfactory.

Today my relationship with the whole getting the hair done experience hit a new low. I got a tilty-headed, sharp intake of breath from the 'stylist'. And I flippin' well felt guilty about it. It's my head, surely I can do what I like to it and then just continue to pay the plenty to get them to fix it when it goes horribly wrong. In this case though, it hadn't gone even slightly wrong. I quite liked it.

A couple of weeks ago, I coloured it myself. Screwing my courage to the sticking point and ignoring my previous colouring humiliation. Persuaded by sponsorship, I had another go. This time it was really easy and the colour looked fine... until I got in front of the mirror today. Could someone please explain exactly what's wrong with dying your own hair from time to time?

Pic: self portrait with hair.

Moonwalking: no we haven't given up yet

In the interests of keeping you up to date, it's time for the Moonwalk moment.

My partner in this lunacy, Lady Blahblahs learned a few things on her first training walk. I'm a little awed by the sheer shininess of her trainers.

Meanwhile, I had a go at Zumba, I Zumbaed, I did Zumba-y exercise and I moved in a Zumbaly manner. (Look, if Google can become a verb, it's open season for gramatical newcomers.) And I went for a splendid evening walk with Fionaoutdoors during which we covered a great many subjects.

Ah, and, to important matters. I now have a fundraising page so you can sponsor me. I'd recommend getting in early before the, ah, rush...

Pic: any resemblence these snails may have to any Moonwalkers is entirely co-incidental.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Dear So and So,

Dear So and So...

Over at the 3 Bedroom Bungalow blog, there's a regular feature called Dear So and So. This week, with a couple of things to get off my chest, it took my fancy.

Dear Face,
You're letting me know I owe you an apology, I can see that now.
For so long, we rubbed along very well. I mostly ignored you and you were always there for me. I didn't cover you with too much makeup, mostly because I didn't know how, and I thought things were fine.
Now though I see they're not.
So, I'm sorry for taking you out, unprotected, into the sun. The good natured way you mostly didn't burn fooled me into thinking things were smooth (ha ha).
I'm sorry for my bad habits - drinking too much, not hydrating enough, smoking and going to bed without cleansing, toning and moisturising. I really am.
So now you can see how contrite I am, you can take back the lines, freckles and dark spots.

The Woman Who Keeps Getting A Surprise When She Looks In The Mirror And Not A Nice One Either.

Dear Twitter,
I know we haven't known each other long, but it feels so much like the real thing. Oh yes. I yearn for you, my fingers itch to get to the keyboard.
My Twitter chums are all divine, available, entertaining and they don't care that I look like a badly dressed sit-com bag lady. They make me feel good.
I can trust you, can't I? Facebook and Linked-in pale in comparison, you are my dear one.

Ellen (Taking the Fail Whale personally)

Dear iTunes,
All the cool kids think you're great and my sons adore you, but I think you're rubbish. Why do you make it so hard for me to spend my money on you?
A Frustrated Mummy

Dear Advertising and Marketing Industry,
I know what February 14th is all about. It's been coming around with nauseating regularity year after year. I do have to thank you, though. You inspired me to suggest that in order to love the one we're with a little better, we should show some love to ourselves.
There's no way lacy pants, B-list celeb perfumes or overpriced roses will make a difference to me and the Panther. Stop talking to us like we're all hormone-crazed teenagers, go away and think about offering me something I do want.

Someone Who Doesn't Want Heart-shaped Tat.

Dear Grown Women Who Should Know Better,
Please can I refer you to my previous letter. Valentine's Day is bunk, it lacks imagination and largely serves to fill the pockets of the recipients of my previous missive.
If your man's a keeper, then you don't need him to buy you all that stuff. Oh, and don't think about withholding, ahem, favours if he doesn't come up with the goods. Like I say, if you love him, s**g him anyway, even if he forgot to book you the special, unique, lovers' deal at Nandos/Pizza Express/Wagamama.
Someone Who Doesn't Want Heart-shaped Tat again.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Please understand the dudgeon merchants of the Daily Mail

There can hardly be an internet-surfing tweeter/tweep/whatever in Britain who wasn't sent a link yesterday to a story by the Daily Mail's Jan Moir. Ooooh outrage.

Before you run off to google it, I'll tell you what she was on about. She was pouring bile on celebs who tweeted their sympathy for Amanda Holden at the loss of her baby at seven months. Did you read it and gasp with outrage before passing it on to all the right-thinking people you know?

Do you think she's the loathesome embodiment of all the screwed-up values the Daily Mail stands for? For repressed women, guilty mothers, exploitation and anyone who isn't like them. Have you been equally scornful of the output of her colleagues Melanie Philips, Sandra Parsons and the rest? And pinged them on to your pals so they can be furious too.

Did you also read a story call A True Story of Daily Mail Lies in a much-shared blog post? Shocking, wasn't it? Actually I was taken aback. I know a lot of journalists and in the main they're OK. Maybe they drink too much and swear a bit, but they tend to write the truth as they find it - or, in some cases, as their editors would prefer them to find it. Either way, it's still generally recognisable as fact.

So, you don't buy the Daily Mail and I'll bet you think you don't have anything to do with paying the salary of Ms Moir and her chums. How can you possibly have anything to do with the purchase of a yacht or a ski chalet by one of the directors?

Well that's where you're wrong. Every outraged click and forwarding racks up more traffic for the Daily Mail and points-make-prizes style that means more ad revenue. They don't employ Moir, Philips et al for the benefit of their loyal readership, they have them for you. Yes, you. Every one of you who will read, get cross and share.

Newspapers - or any other current information organisation - are businesses, pure and simple. The point of them is to make money. Their product is news - for information or, more often, for entertainment. So they are going to have the headline most likely to make you want to read by buying - or clicking in a fit of pique.

The best way to deal with opinions that make you growl with rage is to ignore them. As you would the idiot in the pub. If you read them, they will make you cross. Of course they will, they're written by some of the best dudgeon-mongers in the business. Give them what-for by not playing.

And if you must share, this one was doing the rounds today: "Every time a person believes a Daily Mail headline, a real journalist dies."

Disclosure: I have worked for the Daily Mail and I have friends who still do.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Asperger's - my biggest challenge this week

One of my kids has Asperger's - he's a sunny, loving boy who has just moved from Lego to Airfix.

But I'm having a bit of a struggle with him at the mo - it's my problem, not his. He's fine. You know I'm generally one for merciless positivity, regardless of the size of the cloud, but it struck me that getting this 'out there' might help.

The thing is, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to listen to him. He talks, a lot, and much of it I've either heard before or is about something I neither understand nor care about.

What I've found is that as soon as he starts, and I can tell by the verbal ticks and sing-song intonation that it's probably going to be a lengthy one, so I just switch off. I try to make myself hear what he's trying to tell me, but I just can't.

I don't care what the new additions to the Airfix catalogue feature, the injustice of the fate of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, exactly what he's going to put in his bag for the school trip in five months, how many ways his brother is the personification of evil, what the thrilling twists in the Wii game are or which cabin we are to stay in should we go to Centre Parcs (we're not planning to).

Mostly full attention isn't necessary, really, he didn't used to notice that I was only hmmm-ing and yesdear-ing. In fact, full attention would mean that nothing else ever got done at the Palace of Bundance. No journey would be completed, no meal prepared, no laundry done and no money earned.

Occasionally, now he notices. I hear his voice slow down and I say something encouraging "yes, so, tell me about the Airfix do-dah" or "why do you say you're sure something lives on Saturn?".

Then he says: "Ah, never mind."

And I feel dreadful. I try to set one-to-one time for him. He's an absolute sweetheart with his baby brother and I'm so proud of what he manages to achieve. Did I mention that he stood up and sang a song at his class's Burns supper?

But I just can't listen to what he says properly. His sentences meander and stall, he repeats himself. I try to direct what he's saying and that doesn't work either. He doesn't like to answer my questions unless they are along the lines of what he's already going on about.

I know being heard is crucial to self esteem and, although he seems generally chipper, I do worry about his. If his mother can't bear to listen to him, what chance has he in the wider world?

Can I teach him to be a more engaging speaker, to answer questions, or is that fruitless? Should I try harder and, if so, how?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Impressions of Egypt

It's the strangest thing. I can sit at my quiet desk, in the still corner of a peaceful village and watch live footage of Egypt unravelling. It's not a distant conflict, a vague upset in a far-off field. It's people getting shot at in the middle of Cairo.

I'm not going to begin to pretend that I'm qualified to comment on the political situation in what seems like a tinderbox of a country, however, the unsettling scenes on the little screen in front of me turn my thoughts to a week in 2008.

Egypt, with its Red Sea package holidays, had, to me, seemed safe and stable. Hardly even out of Europe with its Mediterranean shore. Then a Scottish friend and colleague met and, in short order, married an Egyptian man. The Panther of News and I would visit.

Much as I'd like to think I am, I'm not well travelled at all. Sure, I've crossed Europe, paddled around the Caribbean, honeymooned in Sri Lanka and dipped my toe into the US, but I haven't even crossed the Equator. I'm not sure what I expected from this Arab nation wedged, as it is, between Africa and Europe. These are some of the impressions I'm left with.

Children rushed into the water at Alexandria's town beach and fled the waves dripping and squealing. They dashed into the arms of their mothers. Nearby a toddler was held tight while he dabbled astounded in the shallows, possibly for the first time. The difference was the women were cloaked in burqas. They paddled, only the sand couldn't get between their black sock-clad feet. I tried not to be fascinated, but I wondered how the tots knew which was their mum.

Enjoying the cool of the air-conditioned shopping malls, families browsed. Racks of little girls' swimming costumes were on display, every garment with long sleeves and cloth to the ankle.

Yet, young women dazzle, their slender limbs sheathed in tight, colourful fabric, lithe waists slung with belts above hipster jeans. These beautiful creatures clearly have their bejewelled and polished finger on the pulse of Western fashion yet don't literally break the rules.

A local holiday saw families take to the streets in crowds setting up encampments all folding chairs and bags bulging with feasts. Long into the dark, chirping night tots waddled, women talked and men shouted. Their voices were drowned by the rattle and honk of the gridlocked traffic - four abreast across two lanes. This endless tide of Egyptian humanity has been cruelly echoed in the past weeks' events.

In silence and well-kept ranks, the pale graves of El Alamein provided a profoundly moving memorial. Knowing the facts about World War II doesn't change the shock of evidence of so much potential wasted.

The Sphinx sat smugly, sneering at the encroaching city of Cairo. Buses disgorged barely dressed Western tourists who've day-tripped from Sharm El Shiekh. It's no wonder the local men can't tear their eyes away.

And as we took our leave from this bewildering and energetic place, a last early morning visit to the ladies at the airport saw me sneaking past the attendant asleep on the floor and trying to drop some coins in her dish as quietly as possible...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tree shape gallery picture

Tara suggested shapes this week and I love the shape the hole in this tree makes.
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