Monday, 23 September 2013

Deserts; why do I keep going back?

At the back of every issue of the fantastic travel magazine Wanderlust there is always a section where they ask three people what they are. Are they a desert, mountain or jungle person?


In truth I love all three but the desert just pips it


There is something pure, clean and simple about a Desert.

The sands sometimes squeak beneath your feet and for as far as your eyes can see the desert around you resembles a sea of sand dunes constantly being shaped by the winds.

I have been fortunate to see some of the World's great deserts.

The Sahara, the Kalahari, the Namib, the White Desert and of course the Great Sandy Desert in Australia.

There are many more that I would love to see.

Each one is different and they all have their uniqueness. From the Gobi in Mongolia to the Patagonian desert and the Antarctic desert.


I have stood in the blazing sun eyes shaded behind sunglasses with the wind battering my face and grains of sand stinging my legs.


With a new friend in the Tunisian Sahara
I have climbed up to the tops of large dunes and peered through binoculars and see the heat haze. Seen what constitutes a mirage and looked in wonder at the people who inhabit these inhospitable environments.



Deserts are places of such beauty and death. They can destroy you if you are not careful but also make the world seem simpler when you stand alone in one with nothing but the noise of the wind.

One such pleasure is slogging up a large dune. Every step you make forward the sand seems to collapse under you and send you back further.

You pump your arms and legs and run as fast as you can and make miniscule progress.

Finally puffing, panting and sweaty you arrive at the crest of a dune and pop on your ipod.

Some songs really suit this landscape and you can be lost in the moment. Time seems irrelevant and at this point in time you are alone with nature and the blazing sun.

Of course some deserts are not sand. Barren, inhospitable areas where nothing or very little grows. Ice and stone for example.

The deserts I have seen have been majestic, beautiful, harsh and mesmerising.

Standing in the Tunisian Sahara gazing out at a rippling mirage that resembles water but in truth is a lie.
Dune 45, Namibia
In Namibia and the red sands of the Namib I came face to face with Dune 45. Not the best of names but this gigantic mountain of sand was irresistible to not climb and when you run down it feet sinking deep into the slopes you feel safe and can jump and land with little impact on the knees.
The red sands in the early evening sun were dramatic and made my trip up this Southern African country en route to Swakopmund.
The more I see of deserts the more I want to explore. Either on the rhythmic movements of a camel; by quad bike; or by a battered old Toyota landcruiser which seems to be the favourite and most easily found source of desert transportation.
Riding along, driving through dunes, over crests and down at ridiculous angles is a great feeling.
Gripping the handrails as your local driver navigates routes that are blind to your un-desert trained eye.
I urge everyone to sample a desert, believe me you will soon become hooked.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Seeing the Dalai Lama

One day back in 2007 I groggily stepped off a night bus from Melbourne to Sydney and came across something that I will never forget.

I had inadvertently stumbled into this bustling city on the very day that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was due to give an open air speech.

This was an opportunity too good to miss and one I needed to go and see.
After depositing my bags off at a hostel I headed off to find out where this was all taking place.

Looking back I remember it being a cold, overcast day with ominous clouds in the sky.

I had left Melbourne the night before and caught the Greyhound bus leaving the rain and storm clouds of Melbourne behind.
Sleeping on buses can sometimes be a hard thing. This bus journey in particular which had stopped off at the capital city Canberra I remember being incredibly long and tedious.
Just as I would drift off I would jerk awake or find that the guy next to me was snoozing on my shoulder and snoring.
The rhythmic movements can send you to sleep however; but never when you want. When I am reading I will fall asleep but not when I want to at 3am as we stop at a backwater cafe for a toilet stop.

It was June 16th 2007 and I was in a large crowd all staring in awe at the stage erected  in front of me..

This was the final day of his Open arms, embracing kindness tour of Australia.

Here I was at the Domain in Sydney surrounded by people all staring in anticipation at the stage.

All eyes were glued for his Holiness the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

He had been to Australia before and I believe this was his fifth visit. He had met with the then Prime Minister John Howard and by doing so China was kicking up a stink as they always do.

The Dalai Lama is someone I great admire and I would love to go to Lhasa in Tibet to see where he lived and fled in Exile from.

At the time he was 71 years old and still displayed boyish charm and humour as he continues to do today.

The weather became worse and it started to drizzle. I pulled my coat tighter around me and put my hood up. I stood with a girl I had met on the bus and both of us stared at the stage.

All of a sudden something happened. A local celebrity of some kind came out onto stage and welcomed to rapturous applause his Holiness himself.

There was people craning their necks to get a better view and people on tiptoes to see this man who to some is a living God.

The Dalai Lama came out onto the stage in his golden and red robes. The light breeze kept them constantly moving and occasionally he adjusted them to cover an arm that must have been getting cold.

There were some speeches from local dignitaries and then they presented his holiness with an AFL Aussie rules shirt of some local team who play in red and white.

The Dalai Lama draped it around his neck like a scarf and then went about answering questions that had been sent in.

He would laugh and giggle and tell stories. One story he told was how his hotel was near a night club and when he got up to meditate all he could hear was the thumping beat of the music and did quite a good impression of it.

His laughing was infectious and the adoring crowd all had smiles on their faces.

Questions were asked and he answered honestly, candidly and always poetically.

Then came a question that made him giggle.

A lady had written in and asked for the meaning of life.

The Dalai Lama laughed and said that was something he could not answer. He did say that, love, fun, family, peace and respect were keys to life. This answer received a huge ovation from the now dripping audience who had not budged at all since he started to speak.

I stood staring at the stage listening intently to his advice and words. The rain started to run down my neck but I didn’t care. I was lost in this man’s presence and it looked like everyone else there was also lost deep in thought.
There were people from every walk of life here at the Domain. People in suits using newspapers as make shift umbrellas. Nurses, police officers, students and families with young children being gently rocked in their arms. They were all there soaking up the energy coming from the stage.
The crowd was mostly silent apart from hits of giggling and spontaneous applause.
They were as in awe as I was and some people had tears in their eyes and gently dabbed at them with a handkerchief.
He spoke for a long time and no one wanted it to end. His words filled us like wine pouring into a class and I wish I could remember all that he said. Instead only snippets come back and the memory of the rain.
I feel privileged to have seen him from a far. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time and in the right continent far from home.
Not many people I know can say they have seen the 14th Dalai Lama speak. I am happy to say that I can boast that fact and the memory of being in the presence of such a great Nobel prize winning  man will live with me forever.

Date of trip - June 2007
Country - Australia

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Re-discovering a childhood memory

When you re-visit places you have not been since you were a child you can be forgiven having pangs of melancholia.
Something deep in your mind stirs and you think you recognise places, landscapes, buildings and roads.
Certain odd random objects jog your memory and make you think that you may in another life have been here.
That was the feeling I got when I visited the beautiful Devon town of Dartmouth on the River Dart.
I felt I had been here before as I gazed over the Dart estuary and saw a steam train puffing along towards the rows of multi-coloured picturesque houses that were reflected in the waters.
Plumes of smoke puffed into the air and that distinctive and pleasant sound of a steam engine chugging along filled my ears..
Just as the train disappeared behind an array of masts and houses a faint whistle sounded to give the authentic railway experience.
I stood looking out at the boats, their masts jingled in the light breeze and kids on holiday sat with their feet dangling over the water’s edge crabbing.
Every so often a child would pull up a large crab who was clamped onto a piece of bacon and then plop the crustacean carefully into a waiting bucket of water.
Simple things I thought and remembered doing the very same in my childhood.

But did I do it here I wondered?
I would not have remembered coming to Dartmouth as a child until I saw the steam train. Something in my mind then opened a dusty filing cabinet at the back of my memory and out popped a slither of reminiscence.
Picking up the phone I dialed my Mum to ask her and yes low and behold once when I was small with cut knees and probably picking my nose I sat on that very harbour side and dangled by crab line into the waters below.
When we went here last we arrived by steam train. My memories started to come back. ‘’Was it the Flying Scotsman?’’ I inquired.
As it transpired it in fact was the famous steam train herself that had brought us into town in the early 1990s.
She was on some tour or something and we did not realise that we were aboard her until it was announced.
Gazing over the River Dart memories flooded back. Only vague snippets of recollection mind. Just signs, boats, buildings. But nothing concrete that I knew where to go in town.
Even if I did it would be a child’s recollections of where the ice cream shop was or where we bought a postcard to send to Nana.

We explored the town and then headed to Dartmouth castle and the beautiful little hidden gem of Salty Cove.

Salty Cove behind the castle and church is down a steep set of steps with a chain rail to grab onto. Once down it is worth every step.

Salty Cove
A small bay welcomes you and the rhythmic sound of waves gently crashing against rock seems calming and relaxing.

All was quiet apart from the sounds of the waters and a few gulls noisily doing gull things.

I stood at the bottom of the man made steps and leaped onto a bolder out in the water. 

The rock stuck out and would later be submerged but at this point it was an island and I was the only inhabitant.

I stood lost in though gazing at the water, the cliffs and the horizon.

Occasionally a boat in the distance would silently move almost ghost like along the water and past the castle.

Soon the peace was shattered by a family of Germans and their kids in Schalke shirts noisily throwing stones into the estuary and shouting Germanic things that sounded rather sinister.

Making my exit I climbed the steps up to the footpath and walked back to the castle.

Built in 1388 Darmouth Castle along with Kingswear Castle guard the entrance to the Dart Estuary.

It is next to St. Petroc's church and lived through a siege during the English civil war and was used in both world wars. Now it is owned by English Heritage and still looks out over the estuary like an old soldier who refuses to retire.

Leaving the castle and heading back into town I wandered the streets in search of a good fish and chip shop. After all there were 4 of us and we were in Devon by the river so why not.

As I chomped into some haddock I read a little information in one of the brochures on the counter side. It shocked me that  Dartmouth was in terms of population so small. It is ranked 28th out of all the towns in Devon with a total population of only 5,512 (2008 census).

What with the Royal Naval College in the town I thought it would be more. In truth this adds to the beauty of the place. The majority of people on the streets were visitors. Either for the day like ourselves or holiday makers staying in local hotels and caravan sites.

The sun was dipping below the yard arm and it was time to head back to where we were staying.

As I walked towards the car Dartmouth threw up one last surprise and one last pang of memory from my childhood.

We arrived on the other side of the estuary and caught the chain ferry across when I was a child. I remember arriving by train but not the ferry.

What I do remember was the Dartmouth engine. Now housed in a tourist office i the car park.

This machine was invented by Thomas Newcomen and was the first atmospheric engine invented. He was born in the town in 1663 and in 1712 he was the first to design and build a practical device to harness the power of steam.

Therefore  this beautiful estuary town can hold the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

I remembered seeing this giant machine moving and hissing and I remembered the smell of oil and grease.
I walked into the tourist office where it is housed and looked up at it like an old friend. I remembered being here; Ii remembered the smell and where I stood last time. Sadly this was all I could remember about this quaint town

As we drove away past the Naval college my childhood memories once again faded and were put back into a box in the far reaches of my cluttered mind.

Who knows when I shall see this town again. Devon after all is an appealing place and one where child hood memories come back to life.

Date - August 2013
Place - Dartmouth, Devon, England

In the tubing!

Way back in 2007 I got drunk and floated down a river in an inner tube and occasionally jumped off a pontoon or swung on a rope swing.

Oh and partied my little tits off!

I am of course talking about the one place in South East Asia that everyone heads to. This is of course Vang Vieng in laos and the infamous tubing down the Nam Song River.

In 2007 I was backpacking through South East Asia and after Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam I entered Laos.

Laos still a communist country but you would never tell is laid back, relaxing and incredibly beautiful.

It still hold the record for one of the most bombed countries in the world. The bombs being dropped during the Vietnam war and many rural areas you can see huts using old shell cases and fuel tanks from planes as foundations.

I entered on the slow boat which leaves from the Thai border not far from Chiang Mai.

There you cross the river and do the usual passport rigmarole in a small booth that is only open for a very small portion of the day.

Once officially in Loas it was a slow boat chugging along the Mekong River drinking beers and kicking back watching riverside villages pass by and the occasional fisherman staring with disinterest.

Occasionally the boat would run out of Beer Lao and they would pull over to the riverbank. Normally they would moor at an inauspicious looking rural area and send a child off into the undergrowth where he would return within a minute or two with a crate of beer balanced on his head.

One night spent in Pakbeng and it is off to the wonderfully gorgeous world heritage city of Luang Pranang. One of the most dazzling cities I have ever seen.

The night market is enchanting and genuine not like many others found in SE Asia. The monks roam the streets chanting and give the city a tranquil peaceful feel.

The bars are nice and friendly and hiring a bike is one of the best things to do to go and see the sights.

Not forgetting cycling up Phoussi mountain and giggling at the Phoussi Barbers and Phoussi internet shops.

But this story is not about Luang Prabang where I long to go back. This is about Vang Vieng.

The next stop along the backpacker tail in Laos is Vang Vieng en route to the capital city Vientiane.

Vang Vieng was a small backwater town until the tubing started. Now it is almost spoilt. Although I would hazard a guess that it has changed beyond recognition since I was last there.

My brother and his girlfriend went in 2011/12 and their pictures show a vast sprawling town of buildings one almost unrecognizable from when I went in 2007.

The once dusty town is full of bars, pizza joints and restaurants with monged out backpackers watching either re-runs on loop of Family Guy or Friends. While enjoying a 'space' pizza and dribbling.

Vang Vieng could if it is not careful turn into another Khoa San Road and become another backpacking ghetto.

Already when I was there the foundations were built and guesthouses were popping up all around.

The reason this stop has become so famous is that it has become a right of passage in South East Asia. You cannot go to Laos and not go tubing.

The tubing itself is seasonal and has been vilified in the press.

What was once an almost booze cruise on an inner tube has become quite dangerous.

Many travel organisations and websites warn against visits and partaking in the tubing.

I am a silly sod though and when I was there I didn't know of any dangers apart from the obvious deadly mix of alcohol and water.

Therefore I did the tubing twice.

I was lucky and had an excellent time on both occasions. Some others did not enjoy it as much as I did and have blogged about their experiences.

Once when the weather was wet and cloudy and another when the sun was out and each bar went mental.

The first time we completed the route floating down the Nam Song merrily pissed. Each bar was a bit too chilly to hang around in so we poodled along down the river.

But when the sun came out we got to about half way and partied mentally at a bar made of bamboo with dance floor DJs and a high rope swing.

We ended up catching a bus with the inner tubes on the roof back to town all sozzled to carry on drinking.

This is where I can imagine the dangers coming from.

Drunkenness, darkness and disorientation.

Also jumping from a high rope to hit the river bed floor and shattering your spine.

The Lonely Planet website now advises wearing a life jacket. Because not only will it keep you afloat it will enable you to be seen in the dark (hopefully). Although one of the comments on the said website says ''Men will take risks'', which is incredibly true and I sadly fall into that category as I do have moments where I have no regard for my own safety. Although I regard others around me and their safety above my own, which is either a good trait or bloody foolish.

While one news agency reported it as The River of No Return after two Australians drowned in a month.

Basically be sensible. Don't get too drunk and stay with others and if it is the dry season the water level is too low to jump from height into it. 

Of course this advise will fall on deaf ears as once tanked up and smiling you will just literally go with the flow.

When I went there I happily was pulled by a long pole from the riverbank into a bar where if you bought a beer you got a free shot of Lao Lao rice whiskey. 

All the makeshift tumbledown hastily erected bars offer the same and before long the wincing as you take the first sip eases and you rather end up enjoying the taste.

Some bars and rope swings are shoddily erected but fun nonetheless.

The bars themselves are works of art. 

How do these bamboo structures stand up and some bars are little more than an old lady in a dingy selling beers from a  cool box as she is anchored in the middle of the river.

The entire town seems to have set up shop along the riverbanks and tiny insignificant bars offering face paints sit next to giant bamboo semi permanent constructions.

I did hear a rumour about the tubing being banned because of the death toll. 

However I have heard that it never was banned and has re-opened and has also closed again. Basically I think it still operates as I have not mat anyone who said they went there and it was not running.

I also heard that the bars get washed away each yeah in the wet season and are rebuilt. This I am sure has more truth to it.

Safety measure have been described on the river as non-existent and the influx of tourism and backpackers has been life changing to the local community; not always in a positive way. As the more people come locals are driven out as they cannot afford to live there and sell their land to developers who wish to captalise on the backpacker trail and the important right of passage that is Vang Vieng.

Rambling bridges to bars
Brett Dakin, the author of Another Quiet American, a story of two years in Laos working for the tourist authority, said, "Each time a young Australian woman strolls down the street in a bikini, a bearded American smokes a joint on a guesthouse terrace, or a group of Koreans tumbles drunkenly out of a restaurant, it saps a little more of the essence of a town like Vang Vieng." 

His interview with the Telegraph can be found here.

What I noticed when I floated down the river was the amount of people who relaxed in their inner tubes and accidentally let the river water sip into their beer bottle. 

Unawares they then drank from that bottle and what with all the piss and shit in the river got a stomach infection and were normally found vomiting later on. 

Apparently eye infections are common and open founds that enter the river can become infected as well.

I loved Vang Vieng. I loved the hedonistic lifestyle and the backpacker way of life. In truth at the time I paid little or no attention to the problems which this activity of tubing was causing. I was drunk from travelling and living the dream.

Only now do I see with open eyes what has happened to this sleepy town.

The truth is people will always travel to Loas and seek out tubing and buy the obligatory 'In the tubing' vest. The lure of the backpacker pound, dollar, ruble or Laos Kip will keep this place thriving.

I just hope it does not lose its soul and does not claim anymore lives.

Me back in 2007
Would I do it all again; hell yeah!

Date - May 2007
Place - Vang Vieng, Laos

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Gym pet hates

Being an avid gym user of many years I have seen a fair few things come and go inside the mirrored walls.

Some strange, some odd and many downright dangerous.

When you are a fitness nut like me and spend a lot of your spare time doing anything sporting or active you find yourself in gyms and you notice all that goes on around you.

The following is a list of my absolute gym pet hates. I feel I can comment on techniques etc because unlike many gym users I have all my personal training qualifications plus a load of other sporting coaching badges and levels and such and so forth.

Here are a list of my gym pet hates.

The gimp

The gym gimp is someone who wanders into the gym and has little or no idea what he or she is doing at all.

They watch other people which really is disconcerting when you see their pale and clammy face staring aimlessly at you.

They watch like a filthy voyeur and see what you are doing. Once you have moved off they try and copy what you did but getting everything wrong in the process.

The poser
Everyone knows one of these wankers.
They can be found usually in one of those stupid vests where you can see their nipples and wearing grey tracksuit bottoms to hide the fact that they never do any leg work and therefore their legs are so skinny and pathetic.

They stand in front of the mirror repeatedly doing bicep curls. Normally swinging their shoulders and not doing the curl correctly which infuriates me.

They hog machines and never do any cardio vascular work.
These are some of my worst gym wankers!

The screamer
The screamer strikes suddenly and without warning.
Even if you have your ear phones on and are pottering about your zone is fractured by a ridiculous scream from somewhere in the gym.
The person normally is over on the bench press and is letting out some sort of primeval cry for help.

All quietens down and you get back to your own business and turn your ipod volume up until it happens again and again and each time it gets increasingly louder.

The inappropriate attire person
This is mostly aimed at men. Especially the ones who think it is k to go topless in the gym, wear plimsoll or jeans. Or even worse wear sandals in the free weights area.
Normally any good gym will stamp down on this but unfortunately there is a breed of just got my level 2 gimps working in gyms who have no life experience, the body of a 12 year old and cannot look anyone in the eye. Therefore they have no authority to stamp down any rule and hide behind a desk playing angry birds.

If you are going to a gym please wear the appropriate clothing.

The useless personal trainer
So many people seem to have got some sort of personal training qualifications these days.
Some personal trainers look the part; they seem fit, healthy, dressed correctly and do not jst carry round a clip board. They get down and demonstrate or even better do all the exercises, reps, routines etc with you.
These are the good ones.
Then you have the clipboard wielding, I can't get sweaty knobs.
These ones seem to be everywhere. They are always really loud and annoying as always get so close to you.
Many of these are perverts who letch over female clients, especially when they do assisted stretching which I am sure you can do fine without doing some sort of groin rub.

Older personal trainers I think look odd. Normally they have failed relationships and a life full of disappointment. I can name quite a few of them who are just plain odd, have no friends and really put off gym customers.
There are a few around the Brentwood and Ongar area that I would love to name and shame.

The think I know it all
These tossers are the ones who come up to others and try and coach them. They give advice on technique, posture and spinal alignment etc and look like utter donkeys themselves. If you cannot do it yourself stop trying to coach others.
Now piss off and do some more cardio!

The running sweat river
I sweat a lot because I work hard. Although some people cannot help it I hate it when a human sweat machine has slobbered all over a machine and left it looking like it was hit by a tsunami.
Please wipe down the machines after use you ignorant toss wipe.
The whooper

The ridiculous pacer
The ridiculous pacer is someoneis gets ona  treatmill and will jog for maybe 3 to 4 minutes. Then they whack up the pseed to full tilt and sprint for maybe 7 seconds before jumping off and looking around to see if they have impressed anyone.
I would be more impressed if you lst yur footing and flew off into a mirror where you cut your self to ribbons.

The social club members
Since when did gyms become a place where people gathered around and chatted and did not attempt to use anything or do anything but hog all the space.
Sometimes they chatter away with one hand holding maybe say a cable fromt he crossover machine and when you ask to use it they reply that they are using it.
No you are not! You have nattered about bloody spot cream and how you want to lose your virginity for the last ten minutes. Let the adults play you knob!

I believe kids should be in the gym. It promotes motor skills and development. But keep out of the free weights if you have no idea what you are doing. Especially when there is a school group in and they have one teacher who is off in another room as a chaperon.
As soon as they teacher is done they try and lift the heaviest weight which inevitably drops to the floor narrowly missing a foot.
Then they try and turn up the speed on machines that other kids are on and are genuinely a bloody nuisance.

The injury waiting to happen

Normally the injury waiting to happen is the deluded I have no idea what I am doing or the poser.
The poser will only work on upper body and will swing his shoulders when doing a bicep curl.
The I have no idea what I am doing is like a ticking time bomb anything could happen.
These watchers who scan the room for someone doing something else and watch them then can be found choking under a barbell with legs flailing .
It's true. I have had to pull the bar from the smith machine off someones throat as they though 'I can lift that' and clearly couldn't.

Lack of personal hygiene man

This person makes me feel sick. They have been sweating it out in the gym either on a treadmill or huffing and puffing in the free weights area.
Then after they leave the gym and enter the changing rooms they ignore those most cleansing of things; namely  the showers.
They quickly towel off their sweat ad put a suit or jeans back on and go about their daily business.
Do these people have no sense of smell or comprehension of hygiene. 
It is utterly disgusting.

Mr. No legs

Last but by means not least this is my personal favorite gym pet hate.
The person who has skinny legs.
Not a genuinely skinny person, just a person who never trains them and looks top heavy and wears skinny jeans.
I cannot wear skinny jeans, one because my legs are too big but also because they make you look like an effeminate wimp.
I know it is the fashionable thing of the moment but you do look like a twat. Meggings, now these are the worse but I wont go there.

This obsession with upper body perplexes me. The legs are our foundation of strength along with our core. Why do people neglect them.
These same people also wander round sipping on protein shakes all the time and popping pills!

Sorry about this gym rant but I have just about had enough and want to scream and shout at people when I am in the gym.
Luckily my gym has just been renovated and I have new things to play with.

So before a doo is in anyway furthered. I am off to the gym (in correct attire of course).

Monday, 16 September 2013

London, best served sunny

The sun has disappeared and been replaced by dark clouds and typically British lashings of rain.
Our al fresco summer activities have returned to the indoor and chat about the bad weather has intensified.
Moods drop and people seem less talkative as the country turns a darker shade of grey.
Summer has ended, autumn has appeared to have been skipped and it looks like we have jumped right into winter as today the clouds covered the sky and everyone donned coats, hat and shivered as they walked briskly with hands firmly shoved deep into their pockets.
However the summer we just had was one to remember. The weather was glorious and it made us come out of our homes in droves to see our beautiful country basking in glorious light.

Luckily this year was the first time in many a moon that I decided to take a few days away in this country. I was greeted with fantastic weather as I entered the World Orange Chasing Championship  and visited Stonehenge and Avebury.

The weather was at its peak and it made the experience a whole lot more pleasant as I took a trip down a childhood holiday memory lane in Devon and Somerset.
Of course at times it threatened to be terribly British. As was the case when I visited  Bath and the heavens opened and soaked us to the skin. We didn’t mind as by the time our hair was wet we were well and truly wrapped up in our beer coats at the rugby.
When the sun shines and you live in Essex and you seek a spot of outdoor adventure there is only one place to go.
The view from Primrose Hill never fails to impress
Of course this is London town.
On our doorstep the greatest city in the world by a mile.
London offers everything from the bustling city to the fruity aromas of Camden Lock Market.
Museums, theatres, outdoor shows, festivals, music, history and culture. You name it London has it to offer.

London has that knack of looking good whatever the weather but this summer she shone brightly and made the city dwellers removed their jackets and un-button their top button and loosen their ties.
London dazzled and everyone seemed in fine spirits.
You could walk the Thames path and the crowds would surge as you reached Gabriel’s Wharf and further. You could climb Primrose Hill and see people basking on the grass like seals on a beach.

Hyde Park and other green spaces became makeshift outdoor tanning salons where flesh turned pink rather quickly and what’s more people smiled.
Not as much as when the Olympics and Paralympics were in town, but a year later a vibe and feel good factor certainly hit the capital.

Go into London no matter what the weather and go someplace you have never been before.

Try it, whats not to like; who knows what you may find?

London can offer something for everyone and the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson that were spoken so long ago are still true to this day.

‘‘Sir, when a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’’.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The most original stag doo ever

Stag doo's have become commonplace wherever you tend to go these days.


It doesn’t matter where you jet off to or what town you visit there will always be a stag doo in an inebriated state.
Normally they are all in matching t shirts and the stag will be in a comedy costume they have purchased from a fancy dress shop. Sometimes they will all be wearing novelty hats.

 No matter where you go stag doos will follow. Some places are almost ruined because of the massive influx of them.
Amsterdam, Prague, Brighton and almost anywhere in coastal Spain can at night become crawling with drunk stags doo goers in their matching t shirts with their names on their backs.
Therefore when we got the chance to organise one we wanted to make it more individual and much more fun. We didn’t want to follow suit and do what everyone else does. We wanted to have some originality and do something that many would not dare or have the gumption to undertake.
Enter the stag.
My friend Adam Babbs was getting married to his long term fiancé Chelsey. His best man was my mate JP and then there was the motley crew of Alistair, Ben, Dave (Babbs' brother in law to be) and myself.
JP being an army officer wanted to run this operation with military precision.
Therefore we divided ourselves up in individual teams.
JP was on location. Another was on flights, another accommodation and so on.
 I was lucky and got costumes and activities.
This was a job I would relish as I did not have to run about chasing people for moneys. Although this group of friends have known each other for years and are pretty good with things like that.
JP looked at destinations and we exiled to the pub to discuss the idea further. Originally an idea mooted was to Fly to Malta and then catch the ferry over to Sicily and fly home after a few days. This stag we would call 'Babbs across borders'. Unfortunately the flight prices were ridiculous so we started to look further afield.
Then it hit us.
Babbs as a stag should be out of his comfort zone. Not in the sense that he is naked in public tied to a lamppost, oh no. Out of his comfort zone in terms of going to an area of the world where he has never been and something that will freak him out.
Therefore due to budgetary requirements of the group we settled on Morocco.
Cheap flights and accommodation and plenty to do and see.



The morning came and Babbs was waiting at his house near Winchester. An inconspicuous taxi arrived and he got in.

Thinking he was going to Stansted airport he was a little put off when the driver dropped him off at Gatwick and told him that another cab would be along shortly.
He waited and waited; then it started to drizzle.

All the time we were in the Gatwick South terminal bar.

Eventually we text him to come inside and he did so.
Somehow we managed to befriend two American girls and sent them off to find Babbs. They gave him loads of false info and he almost cried.
His poor face was one of utter bemusement.
He had no idea where he was going and was told to pack for a cold country.
Eventually we jumped out and took him to the bar. But not before we dressed him in his 'travelling attire'.
This costume must be worn at all times while travelling. We also had his night-time attire and his sporting attire hidden in our bags.
His face dropped when he saw what I had found by rummaging around in charity shops.
Babbs looked resplendent, if a little unhappy in his new attire. He wore a pink visor and sunglasses to match; accompanied by a green shirt with a nice red bow tie and stripy socks.
But the best part was that he had a suit that I had altered the lengths of the sleeves and the legs. In other words he looked stunning.
Oh and to top it off he had a garden Gnome around his neck on some string that the American girls christened George Kinki!
The fun didn’t stop there. At this point he was still clutching his bag full of cold weather clothing and had no idea where we were off to.
Once through passport control we queued up at the gate for the Alicante flight. His face dropped as he had been there so many times.

Then as we reached the gate we scooted off leaving him baffled and queued up for a Thomas Cook Tunisian holiday line.

Now he was sure that we were not off to Tunisia but we stood in line all the same.

Then at the last minute we marched off to the Marrakesh line and his face dropped.

His bottom lip quivered and he uttered one word of exasperation. ‘Africa’! He whimpered.

As if all his worst night mares had come true.

Poor Babbs. He was shocked and seemed to shrink within himself. His shoulders dropped and his demeanour became reclusive and sullen.
Little did he know he was in for the stag doo of his life and would shed tears of joy later on.
Little did he know that we would end up being beaten to an inch of our lives by an old man in ill-fitting pants in a hammam.
He didn’t know that Alistair would end up in hospital after cutting his head open stand up paddle boarding.

He didn’t know that we would take Essaouria by storm and his night time attire would be very appreciated by the locals and that Marrakesh would hold one of the most drunken nights out ever.

All he knew at this moment was terror.
But soon he would be walking through the back streets of the coastal city of Essaouria dressed in a white jelebah and white fez with the locals beckoning him into shops.

The white jelabah robes symbolised marriage but the fez was meant for a newly circumcised boy.

The locals loved him for this.

And so the fun started……………..

Date May 2012
Place Morocco