Category Archives: Travel

The nightmare effect of travelling on too many Thameslink trains – beetroot

I very rarely remember my dreams but I woke up during one this morning.

I was working, freelance, for a TV company and, during the lunch hour, I had to go to hospital where one of the treatments was to put beetroot on my stomach.

Next, I was scheduled to see the oncologist, but I could not remember the name of the person I was working for to phone and tell them I would not be back after lunch and someone had, as a joke, tattooed the bottom half of both my legs while I was asleep during the beetroot treatment.

This is what happens when you have to travel four times on a Sunday during a Bank Holiday weekend on the anarchic rail service Govia Thameslink – as I did yesterday – it turns your head into a gooey mess.

The beetroot was not even edible.

It was a nightmare.

The journeys not the dream.

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‪Happy Thameslink passengers enjoying the relaxed holiday atmosphere on one of the tranquil platforms at St Pancras station in London, untroubled by trains.‬

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Other people’s lives – Boat-based Anna Smith’s bus stops in Vancouver, Canada

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. I have just received this missive from her…


Aquatic dweller Anna Smith travels on buses

I have finally arrived home just now and my boat is bouncing and rocking in a stormlet.

Yesterday, I was on a downtown bus. An insane young man was in conversation with a dog barking in the street.

I stepped off the bus at Main and Hastings, to go to music practice at The Carnegie Center.

Outside The Carnegie Center, individuals sell ‘hard’ drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine etc.

Across the street, against a building, the pavement was lined with lawnchairs (some with umbrellas) and native people, mostly selling ‘Indian Cigarettes’ which are in similar packets to regular cigarettes, but they are a third of the price.

They sell other stuff too, like cannabis, but not so much as there is a ‘compassion club’ (free cannabis distribution center) in the same block.

Whenever I get off at that stop, I have to walk past the crowd and say “No” to the various vendors shouting “Smokes! Smokes!” or saying a bit more quietly “Weed” or almost inaudibly – by nondescript men walking quickly – “Cheese… Cheese”. 

Then I walk to the corner and, while waiting for the lights to change, I scan the lamp post which is always blanketed in posters of missing young people and memorial notices for locals who have died suddenly.

Yesterday, as I stepped off the bus, a large native guy seated amongst the tobacco sellers called out to me: “Are you from Bountiful?”

Only people in British Columbia would get the meaning.

It has to do with a perverted Mormon cult who lived in a secret mountain enclave near the small town of Creston, B.C.

The name of their community is Bountiful.

B.C’s slogan is ‘Beautiful British Columbia‘ but maybe it ought to be Bountiful British Columbia.

For years, Bountiful has been in the headlines here, because the residents practised polygamy. The ‘wives’ of the religious leaders were usually young teenage girls – underage girls. It went on for decades and somehow the police investigators were not able to make arrests, due to the isolated location and claims that marrying underage girls was part of the cult’s religious practice.

Polygamous Mormons in British Columbia shock

Finally the head of the cult was arrested, on charges of transporting the girls across the US/Canada border, in co-operation with similar cults in the United States.

So a stranger asking me, as I stepped off a city bus, whether I was from Bountiful was completely preposterous.

Do I look like a Mormon?

Sure, I was wearing a fake tweed hat, my black military surplus coat, a short skirt and grey leggings…

Most women in that area near the bus stop are a bit more garish, their hair streaked in vivid primary colours, wearing tight bodices, flashing earings, rings on every finger and tattoos abundant; in lace pantyhose and sexy-looking flat black boots. And many have Narcan kits attached to their belts. (Narcan blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.)

Sometimes they just wander around in pyjamas and sandals, with their wigs falling off, even in this blustery storm…

So maybe, at a stretch, I do look like a Mormon in comparison to the locals.

Still I was a bit thrown, being asked that.

I ignored the comment and ploughed ahead and began crossing at the intersection. But, as I crossed the street, I began to laugh, because it was so ridiculous. I looked over at the man who had said it. Who would say such a thing? He was laughing his head off and, when he saw that I was laughing too, he gave me the thumbs up.

The man who had been going around uttering “Cheese… Cheese” was nothing exceptional.

Other people there call out “Steak!… Steak!”

One time, I saw a lady sitting on the sidewalk with an enormous amount of pickled olives for sale, spread out on a piece a plastic.

Surprisingly, the men around there are often well dressed in the latest brand name sportswear because, being freshly stolen, it is sold for next to nothing on the street.

Because I have a new phone and forgot to switch off my location, Google has now asked me to write a review of my bus stop, which is called ‘Highway 91 Offramp’. 

It really is nothing exceptional and it strains the imagination to think why it needs to be reviewed.

The Highway 91 Offramp bus stop has nothing exceptional and it strains Anna Smith’s imagination

Bus drivers often ask me: ”Are you sure you want to get off HERE?”

How would I describe Highway 91 Offramp? 

It is a forlorn stretch of highway where much of the traffic is composed of lorries roaring past.

The bus stop didn’t even have a bench until very recently. One time, some builders working nearby built a bench out of stones and boards.

The people who use it are mainly Chinese workers, (ladies from a nearby orange juice factory) and me and the occasional worker at the shipyard whose vehicle is under repair. There is rubbish strewn about – beer cans, candy wrappers and things that fall from garbage trucks.

One day, a chain link fence was put up. The orange juice workers cut a hole in it so we could still use the path to the Highway 91 Offramp bus stop.

A few years ago somebody, most likely a lorry driver, threw a large milk jug with an unknown yellow liquid in it from the offramp and it landed and balanced on top of the chainlink fence near, but not quite on top of, the hole we walk through.

Everybody felt a bit uneasy, walking under the perilously-positioned jug.

For several months it languished there and the yellow liquid changed colour gradually to green and brown. After six months, somebody wrote on it with black marker: JUG O’ PISS.

I told my neighbours about and some of them walked down to see it and take photos. 

One lady, whose husband drives a lorry, marvelled: “Holy shit! That piss could have come all the way from Alabama!”

Nearby, along the path, are a few boulders and some pine trees.

A few weeks ago, a couple of guys set up a tent and were camping there. Within days, piles of junk started appearing around the tent. It was annoying because then I was afraid to use that path at night and I thought it must also be worrisome for the orange juice people.

Accommodation near Highway 91 Offramp: “I thought it must be worrisome for orange juice people”

Public art by Patrick Wong at Anna’s Aberdeen bus stop

I thought I could add that to my review of Highway 91 Offramp… Camping available, sandy soil easily hollowed into sleeping area, near two bus routes, shade, river view, no toilets.

One morning when I was on my way to the Highway 91 Offramp I saw a man standing near the tent. He called out: “Are you looking for Mike?”

What the fuck, I thought, and I answered crossly: “NO. I am NOT looking for Mike. I am going to the bus stop.” 

My other bus stop is called Aberdeen. It is in central Richmond and has two benches, a bus shelter, a pizza parlour and community art. The current art is by Patrick Wong and I like it. It is about migration and the migrants seem to be depicted as aliens.

Rain drops transform the view from the Aberdeen bus stop in Richmond into something glamorous.

 

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My nine days in North Korea in 2012

Changgwang Street, Pyongyang, in 1986


I first visited North Korea in 1986, when the Great Leader Kim Il-sung was still alive. He died in 1994.

I went again in April 2012, shortly after his son and successor the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il died (December 2011).

His son Kim Jong-un had succeeded him and was, at that time, being referred to as the Supreme Leader.

Below are the blogs I wrote in April 2012. I wrote them on paper while in North Korea and kept them in my inside jacket pocket at all times and only posted them once I was back in the UK. I am not that mad.


A North Korean stage production in April 2012


12th April – George Orwell’s pyramid looms over the capital city Pyongyang

13th April – A land of nuclear bombs and satellite launches, but no electricity

14th April – Walter Mitty truth in an anarchic, pedestrian totalitarian state

15th April – North Koreans are not the the mindless brainwashed zombies of US propaganda

16th April – The Leaders’ spectacles

17th April – A beacon of hope for the down-trodden masses of the wide world

18th April – Phallic monuments, war lies, famine and an interview with MI5

19th April – “Confess your crimes against the people of North Korea or you will not be allowed to leave the country tomorrow”

20th April – Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

21st April – My undying admiration for their supreme leader Kim Jung-un

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Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Thameslink – the Third World railway company giving a second rate service

Thameslink phone app

The Thameslink phone app today

If you have a blog, you can whine. Yippee!

Occasionally, this has meant I write a blog whining about the disaster that is Thameslink – franchise-holders for the Bedford-Brighton railway line on which I live. Though I have not burdened blog-readers with the daily chaos.

Suffice it to say that, in the evening at West Hampstead station, those in the know do not go to the platform the indicators say the train will be arriving at. Because it is often – or even usually – changed to another platform about 30-60 seconds before the train arrives. One evening, there were 31 people on the bridge, ready to run to whichever platform the train actually arrived on. A Dunkirk spirit of camaraderie broke out.

Which brings me to today’s whine.

So, today I went to see comic Martin Soan at home in Nunhead, South London. No problem there, you might think, because it is on a direct line from my home in Borehamwood and, although today is Boxing Day, the trains are running. I checked on the Thameslink app yesterday. And this morning.

So there could be no problem except a late or cancelled train. This is Thameslink we are talking about.

Last night, I checked on the Thameslink app and chose which train to get. And double checked this morning.

I arrived at my local Elstree station which, of course, was open. Well, the main ticket office was closed but that is not uncommon and the side entrance was open. The platform indicators just displayed a generic notice, but I knew there was a train at 11.12am because I had double-checked the Thameslink app yesterday AND this morning.

Although the platform indicators showed no train times, they did say: For train information please listen to Announcement. And, reassuringly, an occasional loudspeaker announcement usefully told us the Overground was not running; the Waterloo & City Line was not running; and there were some sections of the Underground were closed.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

I say We. I had got there early, as had about eight other people, all reassured that the 11.12 was going to arrive. That included two Italians who could speak no English and a Bulgarian who lived in Borehamwood.

My Thameslink app reassured me there was definitely at train due at 11.12 – although another app (presumably using information supplied by Thameslink) said the train was due at 11.38 and yet another app said the train was at 11.48.

It was the Bulgarian who spotted the poster in among other posters halfway along the platform at Elstree which said, about halfway down in among other details that there were no trains running today. No information about this, of course, at the entrance to the station.

The platform indicators remained on. Occasionally, there was the reassuring tannoy announcement that the Overground and Waterloo and City Line were closed – plus helpful details about the Underground, A useful announcement by Thameslink which made no mention of the fact that, in fact, Thameslink itself was not running any trains.

It was the Bulgarian who realised that a scheduled bus (totally unconnected to the Thameslink situation) left Elstree station for Edgware tube station at 11.13.

So we waited (there were about ten of us) until the train did not arrive but the bus did and off we went to Edgware tube station. Well, not all of us.

The Italians who could not speak English had no Oyster travel card and there was nowhere to buy one and the bus driver refused to let them on because, apparently, buses will not accept cash (all they had) any more.

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

As the rest of us left, six more people were arriving at the station.

The day went on like that.

I won’t burden you with the details.

I just had to get it off my chest.

Eventually, I got to Martin Soan’s home in Nunhead/Peckham Rye by bus and tube and bus.

He has a nearby totem pole.

No surprise there.

 

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Govia Thameslink – ISIS duck-billed platypus of UK rail franchise holders

A few of the experienced travellers on the bridge

A few of the more experienced travellers waited on the bridge

I blogged about Govia Thameslink – London’s comedy railway company – a fortnight ago and a week ago. I fear this may turn into a new running thread.

Thameslink is to efficiency and customer service what ISIS is to easy-going agnosticism and strawberries are to wildebeests.

Others waited on the platform but close to the stairs

Some waited on the platform but made sure they were close to the escape stairs

Govia Thameslink have now honed their management style to perfection – if you consider style and perfection to look like a duck-billed platypus wearing a kilt. And I have realised there is mileage in taking notes by sending Tweets.

Tonight I got on the very efficient TfL-run Overground to West Hampstead and then switched over to the Thameslink station. The indicator said the 2255 train would leave from Platform 2 although it almost always switches to Platform 4 with no warning about 10-20 seconds before its due time.

A collection of more experienced passengers (aka past victims) waited on both of the bridges between platforms 2 and 4 to hedge their bets. More passengers huddled at the foot of the stairs on Platform 2, ready to run. Foolish people actually stood on Platform 2.

Some waited on and at the foot of the stairs

Some just awaited their fate on and at the foot of the stairs

A perhaps even more foolhardy Japanese man asked that rarest of all beasts – a visible Thameslink employee – which platform the next train to Elstree would come in on.

“Platform 2,” the equally foolhardy employee said with calm authority, pointing at the indicator board.

30 seconds later, as the train appeared, the Thameslink employee yelled in panic: “It’s coming in on 4! It’s coming in on 4!”

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead platform changed 15 secs before train arrived. No warnings on signs or tannoys. Daily chaos.

I managed to squeeze into one of the overcrowded carriages because I was the first person onto the platform. Others were not so lucky.

But, as I say, Thameslink have refined their comedy act.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead train fails to stop at next 5 scheduled stations and ends up at St Albans. Daily chaos.

People piled out of the train at St Albans, many trekking over to another platform to return from whence they had passed through but had not stopped.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One of around 30 passengers trying to return from St Albans says: “We can only pray”. Daily chaos.

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One passenger says: “They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Second passenger says: “They wouldn’t find the brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Southbound service from St Albans stops as scheduled at Elstree. Some mistake, surely? Daily chaos…

The train from St Albans to Elstree ran on time.  I receive a Tweet from Trainslate @TLRailGB which said:

How is anyone supposed to know where they stand with trains turning up on time?!

I look up the Twitter account for Thameslink. It says: Currently we are running a good service.

I look up the Trainslate account on Twitter. It says:

Thameslink – a not-fit-for-purpose ‘service’ from Govia. Treating customers with contempt whilst lining shareholder pockets (Go-Ahead/Keolis) #BrokenFranchise

At last. Sanity!

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Why comic Trevor Lock thinks some Third World aid is a holocaust of lies

Trevor Lock is Not Joking... again

Honest… Trevor Lock is Not Joking… again

The Proud Archivist venue in London’s Haggerston is suddenly, definitely trendy. I went to see Trevor Lock’s Not Joking show there last month. And he is performing it there again this Friday.

So I thought we should have a blog chat about it.

We did not.

“What else are you doing?” I asked him.

“Next Wednesday,” he told me, “I’m doing Paul B Edwards’ Crock of Mould at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. It used to be regular, with Al Murray, Harry Hill and…”

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

“Was this last century?” I asked.

“Yes. And now he’s revamping it with me as host, Miles Lloyd, Joz Norris and various people.”

“A regular team?” I asked

“I guess so. We’re doing it up at the Edinburgh Fringe next year.”

“And,” I asked, “after Crock of Mould?”

“I’m flying to the South Americas at the beginning of December.”

“Ah,” I said, “I suspect there are many stories to be told about the South Americas and you have never told me any of them.”

“And I never shall,” said Trevor.

“Why are you flying to the South Americas?” I asked.

“Ah… erm… I don’t know my purpose, but… erm…”

“But you know your destination?”

“Exactly.”

“Colombia?”

“I may go to Colombia.”

“Bolivia?”

“I may go to Bolivia. I’m definitely going to end up in Rio.”

“Rio?” I asked. “It’s full of people with knives who want to rob you.”

“My ex-wife has landed up there.”

“Ah,” I said. “How long are you going for?”

“I don’t know. I will be back in the UK in the summer.”

“You lived in South America, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes. Not for very long. I told you the last time you blogged about me.”

“I only write it,” I said. “I don’t read it.”

Trevor Lock aka Mr Terrier in 2009 - now released

Trevor Lock was Mr Terrier in this 2009 film

“If you did read your own blog, “ said Trevor, “you would know that I made a movie. It was finally released in Peru in August. It was very well received and may come to the London Film Festival next year.”

“Lima was a tad unsafe when I was there in the 1983,” I said. “though not as dangerous as Bogota.”

“I feel safer in Lima than I do at Loughborough Junction in London,” said Trevor.

“But,” I said, “Lima’s a pisshole.”

“I love Lima,” said Trevor.

Children living in mud homes outside Puno in 1983

Children living alone in their mud homes outside Puno, 1983

“Puno was almost as bad,” I said. “Terribly poor. But I was there in 1983. It could now be the richest, most wonderful place on earth. I am feeling very old. When my grandfather was young, he went to Canada and he used to tell me as a kid what Canada was like with its raised wooden sidewalks instead of stone pavements. It wasn’t for ages that I realised what he was describing was not modern cities in the 1960s but 19th century Wild West style towns in the 1910s or whenever he went there. Because he was that old. So I tell people knowledgeably about what Peru and South America are like, but I am actually talking about what they were like when I saw them a third of a century ago in 1983.”

“Yeah,” said Trevor, “and that was before things got really bad. That was just before (the excesses of the Maoist guerrilla group) Sendero Luminoso. Peru was clearly suffering in the 1980s.”

Comrade Artemio and Shining Path guerrillas

Comrade Artemio and Sendero Luminoso Maorist guerrillas

“If ever anywhere deserved Sendero Luminoso,” I said, “it was Peru. There was no middle class. The poor were never ever going to get out of the shit. There was nothing to aspire to. Miraflores in Lima was all private tennis courts and Mercedes Benz cars and everywhere else was a shambolic nightmare of abject poverty.”

“Yes,” said Trevor, “that was basically my experience when I went there for the first time. I saw the poorest people I had ever seen and I met the richest people I had ever met. It was just absurd. Utterly absurd.”

“In the countryside,” I said, “you could see the way the Incas used to successfully farm the hills in terraces and yet, when I was there, people were starving at the bottom of the hills with cows with ribs which stuck out. Lima was absolute shit. It deserved to be nuked. But you like it.”

“I love it,” said Trevor. “What I like is the overlap of different classes and cultures.”

“But there is no overlap is there?” I asked.

“Well, there is,” said Trevor.

These are the rich. Those are the poor,” I said. “Ne’er the twain shall meet.”

An ordinary street in Lima in 1983

Street in 1983 Lima – either earthquake-hit or just run down

“They are completely intertwined,” argued Trevor. “You can’t have rich without poor. You can’t have poor without rich. And, being an alien, being a gringo, I can pass between these worlds. In a sense, you are right that they can’t mix. But the most obscenely richest people in Peru are all nursed and brought up by the poor. You go into the parks of the rich neighbourhoods and you see all these little white babies being pushed around by their much darker mothers. But, of course, they’re not their mothers – they are indiginous employees – wet-nurses, maids, household staff. The parents have played a very little role in the upbringing of their children.”

“Much like the English upper classes,” I said.

“It’s incredible,” said Trevor. “Amazing. It is really, really fascinating to see even quite old children who are not with their parents. My friend is from Spain – he’s got a little kid. He drops his kid off at school every morning and he is the only parent – the only blood relative – dropping a child off at school in the morning. Everyone else is being dropped off by their nannies.”

“It would have been like that when I was there,” I said.

Trevor Lock may go to a variety of counties in South America

Trevor Lock surely knows more about modern Peru than I do

“It’s changed since the 1980s, though,” said Trevor. “For a while, it was the fastest-growing economy in the world, though it’s slowed-down considerably now. They called it the Abu Dhabi of South America.”

“And you like it,” I said.

“You see the industrial, Western civilisation stripped naked,” said Trevor. “Like most of South America and much of Africa, compulsory schooling has destroyed the culture. The poor in the countryside have been sold the bullshit that, if you have a better education, you can have a better life in the cities. The subsistence farming that worked for centuries has been destroyed.”

“So,” I said, “good news and bad news for Peru.”

“Well,” said Trevor, “up in the remote places there are still communities that do live from the land, but most of the places are mono-cultural agriculture growing one crop for some money and then they have to buy shitty food from a shop. Their children now have to go to school and they have to be sent off at the beginning of term and travel three days to the nearest school and come home at the end. It’s horrific. But that’s progress. And some pricks over here go over there and facilitate it.

“I’m regularly asked to perform at benefit gigs to raise money to build schools in Third World countries.”

“And what,” I asked, “do you say?”

“Well,” said Trevor, “if it feels like they might have an open mind, I will explain and, if not, I will just politely decline.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s a holocaust. It’s holocaust of lies. You’ve seen the slums of the major towns. You’ve seen it.”

“What’s the way round it?” I asked.

TrevorLock_Soho_Flowers

Trevor Lock: “I think a  lot of people have a religious instinct”

“There is no way round it,” said Trevor. “I don’t know what the answer is… I dunno… I think a lot of people have a religious instinct and, when you don’t have a church to go to – as many people now don’t – you have to get into something else. So you get into ‘helping’ developing countries and ‘saving’ the poor. You can’t export your religion any more, because you don’t have one. But you can export your values and your politics. You can export your world view.

“So you tell them: Stop growing all these different kind of vegetables, just grow this one kind of vegetable and I will give you all this money and then you can send your children to school and, in 20 years time, they can be lawyers and estate agents in the city. Brilliant.”

“When,” I said, “Japan managed to have a nuclear disaster AND a tidal wave, I was amazed people were donating money to them. Japan is one of the richest countries in the world.”

“It’s a religion,” said Trevor.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Charity, Peru, Poverty, Third World, Travel