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Saturday, 30 July 2016

376: (North) Wales in a week

Having flown back to England on Friday evening and allowed myself Saturday to unpack and repack we set off for Wales on Sunday heading for a family-run hotel (the Kensington) facing the seafront in the seaside town of Llandudno. It was to be our base for the next 5 nights. Every day, apart from Wednesday, which was a 'free' day, there was a coach ride to different areas of North Wales where heritage railways were running. We were then treated to train rides, with steam locomotives, of differing lengths. On Tuesday there was also a short 45-minute trip on a horse-drawn barge. The tour company organising the holiday is called Rail Discoveries and they laid on an efficient tour manager and a rather loquacious coach driver who, whilst being very knowledgeable about North Wales, 'occasionally'  allowed his remarks to overstep the bounds of what should and should not be said in public - especially with a coach full of people from various backgrounds. One of the passengers halfheartedly suggested a sweepstake to guess how many different ethnic/social groups the driver could offend in one trip.  

A few pictures from the holiday, starting with a map of Wales on the tea towel that I won in a raffle on Thursday night during a charity concert  themed on "the good old days". I almost never win things in raffles (mostly because I never buy any tickets!) and almost forgot to check the numbers. 

Also included in the package was a trip to Portmeirion, the village created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, where the '60s television series The Prisoner was filmed. Whilst there I came across, and helped to demolish, the biggest cheeseboard I have ever seen in my short life. 

All in all, a very enjoyable and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Warsaw. Now two weeks in Scotland and then back to the day job. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

375: Kielce and the centre of patriotic and civic reflection (OMPiO)

I went to Kielce at the weekend, taking the Polski bus down and the (Polski) train back. The disadvantage of Polski bus is that it's a bit cramped for long-legged fellows like me but the advantages are that it is generally cheaper than the train and, this time at any rate, the bus stop was right outside a McDonalds. Lunch! 
The main purpose of going to Kielce was to watch Carmen being performed at the outdoor amphitheatre. I enjoyed the show but wish I had remembered to reacquaint myself with the synopsis. Listening to arias being sung in another language when you have no idea what is being sung about is only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry. But the music was good and the orchestra were sitting in front of the stage rather than in the pit where they are normally to be found in more modern theatres. I've only just discovered that one of the meanings of the word 'orchestra' is actually the semicircular space in front of an ancient Greek theatre stage where the chorus danced and sang

That was Saturday evening taken care of. On Sunday, after breakfast, I set off with no particular focus other than to perhaps visit the Bishop's Palace. On my way to nowhere in particular I was accosted by a beggar. My standard response to these people is to say, in English, something along the lines of "why do you always pick on me". Sometimes, when I say this, they move away and look for another sucker. It didn't work on this occasion as he replied in English to say he was homeless and would like some money towards a meal. I capitulated and gave him a little money. He explained that he was homeless because he had been in hospital for 6 months and had lost his job. He rolled up his trouser legs and showed me his legs and they were certainly in a state. If only mendicants and the like could wear a badge or something to show the difference between the genuine needy and those doing it for a job. 
Shortly after this encounter, and a bit further down the road, or, in this case, up the hill,  I found myself outside the old Kielce prison. It advertised itself as some kind of museum and, for 5 PLN (approx £1), I was allowed in. The theme of the exhibition was repression and incarceration but it was presented in a very high-tech interactive way and I was most impressed with everything I saw. It was divided into 3 parts: The way to Independence, World War II, and Communist Poland. The building stopped operating as a prison only in 1980. 
Then the Bishop's palace hove into view and, especially with free admission on a Sunday, how could I not visit. A typical 'stately home' kind of a place but there were also many portraits hung on the walls. I was struck by how different our lives can be - from the beggar, to the (political) prisoners, through to the aristocracy. 
Back to the hotel for a nice relaxing half an hour in the jacuzzi. 
That's long enough for a blog I think so I'll just finish by adding a video clip showing the exhibition in the prison. The commentary is in Polish but there are English subtitles.
Roll on Wales, next week.


Friday, 8 July 2016

374: A grave occasion

Yesterday was a sad day as my ex Brother-in-Law was laid to rest in Kemnal Park cemetery in South East London.

It was also a very interesting day as I learnt a little about Muslim hospitality and generosity. Dave (known to his Muslim brothers as Daoud) had converted to Islam a few years ago so his burial was in accordance with Muslin practice and traditions. The service took place in the Greenwich Islamic centre in Plumstead. 
Normally men and women pray in separate areas but the Imam was generous enough to allow non-Muslim male and female friends and family to sit at the back of the prayer room and watch the ceremony. One of the Imams made sure that we were comfortable, offered us water, and explained what was going to happen during the ceremony. A coffin, or casket, was wheeled into the room and set to one side while the usual 1 p.m. prayers were being said. After prayers the coffin was moved to the centre and special prayers (salah) and a eulogy were said for David. He had been an active member of the Muslim community and always had a ready smile for his Muslim brothers. He was well liked and respected by them all. At the end of the prayers many of the worshippers came over to offer their condolences. By this I mean the Muslim men shook hands with the men in our group. They would not, of course, shake hands with the women because their religion doesn't allow it. Our party was then led into a side room where the female congregation offered their condolences to the ladies in our group.
From the Mosque we went to the cemetery for the burial. Once more the Imam was kind enough to bend their rules so that females could be at the graveside. We non-Muslims were all amazed how many Muslims were there to pay their last respects. As I have already said Daoud was a popular member of the community. Again everything was explained to us before it happened and once the body had been placed in the grave and arranged to face the Qibla a wooden covering was laid on top of the body. The family were invited to be the first to throw handfuls of soil into the grave. His Muslim brothers then took turns to throw soil, at the same time reciting a Quranic verse in Arabic meaning "we created you from it and return you into it, and from it We will raise you a second time". 
I was struck throughout by the compassion and the friendliness shown to us 'non-believers'. 
Meeting and greeting so many Muslims face-to-face and on such a personal level helped to dispel, in my mind at least, the popular fallacy that all IS are Muslims, therefore all Muslims must be terrorists. We are all people in the eyes of the Lord, whichever God you believe in.  
Rest in Peace Dave.