Saturday, February 28, 2004

People of every colour marching side by side. Marching across these fields where a million fascists died. You're bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose.

Today's Blog is in honour of the millions of people worldwide who have done their own little bit to protest the war.

I was there when a million people took to the streets of London to protest before the war started. I was there again and marched past Downing Street when Bush paid us a visit earlier this year.

These scenes have been mirrored around the world. The numbers actually fighting the war, and perpetuating the occupation of Iraq are dwarfed by the many many normal people simply praying for peace and trying their hardest to influence less-than-compassionate politicians.

For those of you who are perhaps sympathetic, but are yet to do your bit, I urge you to get involved. For people of my generation, this is our Vietnam.

It's would be very easy to say that we have failed. And yes, we failed to stop the war. But we have mobilised, in the UK at least, the biggest ever protest this country has ever seen. For the people who took part, who day-in, day-out argue their views with less than sympathetic colleagues, the chance to stand among a crowd of like minded people is a truly wondrousus feeling.

It's important to note, and it's not often you can say this when it comes to political arguments, we have been proved right. Iraq was no threat. There were no weapons of mass destruction. What's more, with the on-going arguments over WMD, bugging and the Hutton whitewash, I believe we will bring down Tony Blair and Dubya may yet be kicked out in the next US elections. They may never face the consequences of their actions but we will have stopped them.

However the fight isn't over till the people responsible for killing 10,000 Iraqi civilians are brought to justice.

I was prompted to write this blog as a reaction to reading about the Stop the War Coalition national conference. The other reason was that I have been looking for an excuse to include the two emails below for some time.

The first is a letter sent to Iraqi blogger Riverbend. It was Salam Pax that introduced me to the delights of blogging. But it was the beautiful and emotive jottings of fellow Baghdader Riverbend that really inspired me.

Those of you who believe the politicians, who are now switching their reason for war from WMD to civil rights, should read Riverbend. Before the war she was successful computer programmer. She earned a good wage, and lived and dressed much as any western young woman would. Now, with religious fervour whipped up by the invasion, because she is a women, she has lost her job and her freedom to act, dress and live how she wishes.

When I returned from the George Bush march I was inspired to write to Riverbend. Her stories of life in Baghdad had reduced me to tears on a number of occasions. She was one of the reasons I continued to give my time to the Stop the War movement. However, it was my an icreasing feeling of hopelessness that prompted me to type the email. I was starting to think protesting was useless. The media, which its own agenda, was largely ignoring us and we were failing to influence not only the politicians but also the apathetic.

Below is first my letter to Riverbend and secondly her response. I can only only say the email, like her blog, was a huge inspiration and persuaded me that I was right in my actions and beliefs.


Riverbend,

Yesterday I travelled for six hours from my home in Newcastle upon Tyne to London to protest about George Bush. As futile as it may be it does give me great hope to attend marches - the feeling of being with many thousands of like-minded individuals gives you hope. The event was so big (300,000 say the organisers 100,000 say the Police) that I felt what we were doing has to be noticed all over the world.

And then today, after travelling six hours back last night, I looked at the papers and it was the third or fourth news item. The world instead seemed more interested in the bad news from Turkey, Michael Jackson, even the upcoming Rugby world cup.

I was there when they toppled the statue of George Bush in the middle of Trafalgar Square. There were over 100,000 people right there to see it. The emotion was high. Ron Kovic the Vietnam veteran was there. As he spoke they showed pictures of the Vietnam atrocities. I cried, I spent two months in Vietnam last year and I fell in love with the place and its people. You have never met such beautiful, caring, hard-working, friendly people. How anyone could ever fight these people is beyond me.

Now it's Iraq and I am so sorry for what my country is doing.

I understand that when the statue of Saddam fell and the pictures were shown across the world, there were, in fact, only a couple of hundred Iraqi's present. However, the camera angles made it look like thousands. Yesterday, when George was toppled there was over 100,000 and the TV pictures today made it look like several hundred.

How can the peace movement win hearts and minds when the media doesn't give us the same privilege as the politicians?

Today, George Bush was in Tony Blair's constituency, Sedgefield, only half an hour from my house. It made my flesh crawl to think of him so close. He ate a traditional English lunch in a British pub. But of course, it wasn't really a traditional English meal because only his American chef is allowed to cook for him. The pub visitors were also hand picked by Blair - so not really a pub atmosphere either. And what's the point of visiting a pub if you don't have a beer - except as a reformed alcoholic he couldn't even do that.

In the words of Michael Moore "these are fictitious times". The above, and the trip to the UK was all stage managed to get pictures for his upcoming election. They achieved those by blocking out real people entirely. So where is this free speech that he says is so wonderful?

The region I live in is not a rich one by British standards but his pub lunch cost us millions of pounds. Normal tax and rate payers forking out for a millionaire oil man to eat fish and chips made by the same chef that cooks for him at home. Ludicrous.

After the buzz of yesterday the reality has set in again today - for the first time I am not sure he can be stopped.

It is a very frightening thought.

Stay safe and well

BykerSink


Dear BykerSink,

You people have already won 'hearts and minds'... no news crew or network
can belittle what was done in London. It was just amazing! We were watching
it here and waiting to see Bush toppled! It was incredible- people here were
laughing, clapping and whistling. We were there- but in spirit.

In my eyes, it looked like a million people were out there We were
watching the demonstrations from the day before yesterday and waiting to
see Bush and Blair's reactions to the whole thing. It was so much fun...
and it looked like everyone was out there enjoying their time, joined
together in a common cause. CNN didn't cover it well AT ALL, but Al-Jazeera
and Al-Arabiyah were covering it live during the best parts.

Congratulations, it was wonderful and worth it. People here are
much more concerned with demonstrations then Michael Jackson, at this point
(though it may shock the world!).

Thank you for writing to me and telling me about it... and never think it
went un-noticed- it was lovely.

Regards,
R.

Love, light and peace,

BykerSink

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

colonelkurtz02@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Everyone knows that there's no place like home. But I'm just seeking refuge in a world full of storms. Washed up on a distant shore. Can't go home anymore.

I've just had some brilliant news.

I've been accepted by VSO.

It may take a while, but in the not too distant future, I will be working abroad. Hopefully I will be using my skills to make people's lives better rather then just making rich people richer.

As you can imagine, I'm dead chuffed. But there's also a sense of enormity as to what I am about to undertake. Making rich people richer is one thing - but soon people could be relying on me to help them make money simply to feed themselves and their families.

We all have doubts as to our own abilities. And just as I know where my strengths lie, I can also perceive a few weaknesses. Can I afford to have weaknesses in such a critical situation?

Of course, however, these concerns are more than diluted with the feeling of exhilaration. The chances are I will end up in Africa or Eastern Europe. Might I be tucking into a supper of sheep's eyeballs in Mongolia while wearing everything I own to fight off the -40 degree cold?

Or will I be sharing a mud hut with a family of six? Right now, sitting in my lovely Newcastle home it seems almost absurd, but I am sure I can do it.

Most of all I would love to go back to Asia. As anyone who has read Space Hardware before will know - I love Vietnam. To live there for two years would be a dream come true. Then there's the other stops on my South East Asia tour - Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Near neighbours Indonesia would be fantastic too. If you ever get the chance read what John Pilger has to say on Indonesia - it is a fascinating country, albeit yet another entry on the list of countries that the West needs to apologise to.

I have recently read Slow Boats to China and its author Gavin Young makes the Philippines sound like a fantastic place. In addition, I have always had a hankering to visit Sri Lanka. India, like Africa, scares me a little but Sri Lanka has an air of "India Lite". In other words, if the guidebooks are to be believed, it has the mysticism, the sunshine and the views (not to mention curries) without the overcrowding and squalor.

Of course though Sri Lanka has its own "war on terror" with the Tamil Tigers. There's a group of freedom fighters/terrorists that need a brand makeover. "Tamil Tigers" makes them sound like a crap rugby league team.

Most of all though, on a day when our Prime Minister has once again embarrassed us in front of the world with his hilarious bugging antics, I am just glad to be getting out of the UK.

I am enormously proud to be a Geordie, I am enormously proud of Newcastle. I think regional pride works. But for some reason nationalism amongst British people just manifests itself as racism and imperialist behaviour.

I'm tired of the tabloid rants against asylum seekers, I am tired of our toadying to the USA and I'm tired of this country's inability to get itself steamed up enough to boot out a PM who has behaved deplorably. From "sexing up" to bugging - it's the kind of behaviour you would expect from Nixon, Kissinger or Bush (junior or senior) not from a country that is supposed to pride itself on fair play. Then again, perhaps our illusion of fair play is just a mental tool we use to justify the bad behaviour to ourselves.

So, I'm not off yet. However when I go my plan is to carry on the blog - an Internet connection willing.

And just you wait, the very second I leave this country Newcastle United will finally win something.

Love, light and peace,

BykerSink

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

colonelkurtz02@hotmail.com

Friday, February 20, 2004

You woke up my neighbourhood. Things are pretty quiet round here now.

In the words of the late, and very very great Bill Hicks:

"Here's the deal, folks. You do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll call. For ever. End of story. You're another fuckin' corporate shill... Everything you say is suspect, everything that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink."

I was prompted to Google-search for that quote after seeing the latest Pepsi advert in which we see Britney, Pink and Beyonce becoming amphitheatre gladiators in the name of advertising. What I wanted to actually discuss was why celebrities do adverts.

Surely, however huge the sums of money involved, there must be non-financial reasons for doing these adverts? If you don't think so, then why did Madonna do the Gap advert? Surely her status, and bank balance are such that she's beholden to no one. Surely she has what Frank Sinatra used to call "fuck you" money. She doesn't have to say yes to anyone she doesn't want to.

In addition, in Madonna's case longevity has somehow meant that over the years she has gained in credibility. Surely this kind of credibility can only be harmed by appearing in an advert.

So why does she do it?

Well I guess she gets to appear with Missy Elliott and that provides a certain level of credibility in itself. See how the kids are impressed with Madge hanging with home girl Missy. Then there's the undoubted exposure that big-brand advertising gets. Then I guess there's the column inches too.

So is this really it - are pop stars appearing in adverts because people now think that celebrity endorsement is cool? What's next Robbie Williams doing infomercials for abdominisers?

What kind of a celebrity obsessed culture do we live in where flogging pop, of the fizzy variety, is seen as cool? Maybe this is how it works. Chris Martin from Coldplay rattles on about Fair Trade. Bono wants Governments to drop the debt and Britney, Christina and all get to sell their services to the highest (and coolest) corporate bidder.

It's all about credibility. Chris and Bono get to look like radicals while paying lip service to semi-political organisations and the pop crowd get to wear nice outfits and flash the flesh in commercials. These are off-the-peg, ready-to-wear personas. Coldplay and U2 get to be darlings of the chattering glasses while the likes of Timberlake, with his McDonalds contract, get to impress the young teens who know no better.

Talking of Fair Trade and Drop the Debt, while both are extremely admirable in their pursuit, have you ever met anyone who doesn't believe in either of these causes? Surely these have to be the safest rock stair choices for the politically inclined. It's not exactly sitting on picket lines or backing Palestinians against Israelis, is it?

The trouble is this cult of celebrity endorsement is getting out of hand. In the last couple of weeks I have heard the music of two of my most favourite bands the Cure and the Stone Roses as background music on adverts. I don't know, maybe they are both getting short of money in their old ages. I can't believe either have exactly been raking in the cash, but it does some how sour their memory for me, not to mention the allure of their entire back catalogue.

I remember discovering Ryan Adams for the first time. I loved his Gold album. It sounded real. Gritty but with beautiful tunes. In his interviews he came across as a tortured soul - just like all artistes should.

Then he went and did a Gap advert.

I haven't bought another one of his albums. I'm not sure his output has lived up to Gold, but either way I can't view his music and his personna as I did before.

It seems to be happening again and again. I've loved Counting Crows for 10 years now and was gutted to find on their website the facility to download their appearance in a soft drink commercial.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the shallow one. Why should what they endorse make their records sound any different? But then again, I can't see Timberlake jeopardizing the possibility of more McDonald's adverts by putting out a new CD of angry anti-government punk songs.

So what they record, is in many ways, limited by the demands of commercial businesses. Maybe even as much as their desire to keep their fan base and to keep selling the records.

What it does do is make you look again at the people who don't do ads. I wasn't sure about Eminem at the beginning but, correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think I have seen him flogging anything. You can say what you like about the laddishness of the Gallaghers but I don't recall any of their tunes being used to market nippy hatchbacks.

And don't get fooled by this whole event sponsorship thing either. When a tour has a sponsor it doesn't, as is claimed, keep tickets prices down. It just ensures maximum profits, that's all.

So is all of this a fad? Will advertising sugary water eventually become so unfashionable that the Christinas and Britneys of this world decide to give it a body swerve? Or will the big businesses of corporate America, and elsewhere, continue to have these stars under their thumbs ensuring that their image, their records, their public utterances and the like remain well and truly regulated.

Ladies and gentlemen you decide. But for me, as Bill said, the every word of Christina, Pink, Britney, Madonna, Justin and Missy, from here on in, is like a turd falling into my drink.

Waiter, I think I need a fresh glass.

Love, light and peace,

BykerSink

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

colonelkurtz02@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Oh Nicaragua you are even sweeter than the honey from Tamagas.

I think one of the problems of writing a regular blog is you soon run out of things to say.

While I want to make this a reflection of my life I don't want to make it too much of a diary. I hate those blogs that says "got up, went to work, got bollocked by the boss, came home and watched Eastenders".

I don't see the point.

Then again, I don't want to make it too introverted either. If I sat and wrote about all my worst fears, personal thoughts and bad moods then I would come across as whiney and self centered. I remember reading arguably the greatest diary writer of the 20th centuary - Anne Frank and she annoyed me so much. It was only later that I realised that being cooped up with a load of others in a secret shoebox probably meant more navel gazing then is normal. So sorry for that Anne.

What I do do is rant. As you may have noticed I rant a lot. I do it in real life too. I get annoyed by everything from international politics to GMTV. Actually I get annoyed more by GMTV and bloody Lorraine Kelly than I ever do by George Bush and co. It's the sort of programme that could follow a report on anorexia with details of the very latest lettuce leaf diet.

Anyway, before I resort to another rant I wanted to make this entry about the things that make me smile. I don't know if it is just me but I reckon I can calibrate my life with what I call "dopey grin moments" (DGMs).

I guess when you are much younger you have too many to keep track of. Naivete and innocence conspire to make everyday look pretty good. However I can pretty much remember them all post the age of 18.

There was the moment after my parents dropped me off in Manchester when I started Poly there. The feeling of this big city, being alone, being my own boss and all those new people and new experiences that awaited me.

Probably the next couple were alcohol induced. I was a regular at the much-missed and much-lauded Hacienda night club. Suddenly this small town boy was smack in the middle of Madchester, at the time, the coolest city in Europe. I was loving it.

Then I recall at the very end of my college term being invited down to London for an 21st birthday party on the Thames. I had also just been offered a job and I was about to move to my beloved Newcastle. I can remember sitting out on the top of the boat - beer in one hand - fag in the other - and thinking life was pretty much sorted.

Through my first job the DGMs were still pretty regular. I worked in a fast-paced industry. I worked stupid hours, but my colleagues were young and wild too and we were all fired up, ambitious and unquestioning of how much we were being exploited. This all happened around the same time as Britpop too. Suddenly there was a new Labour government, the Gallaghers were everywhere and the whole country was gaining in confidence.

It fizzled out a bit after that. The high pressure became less fun and became more like, well, high pressure. The fact that I was doing it for so little money soon started to nag too. So I jumped ship while my sanity was intact and joined the service industry.

But I've soon come to realise that when you sacrifice the lows you often lose the highs too. Get rid of the adrenalin and the ups and down smooth out.

It was after another five years of this, and nearly 12 years working in all, that I decided to go traveling. That was then the DGMs started to come thick and fast.

Can you imagine what it's like starting your trip by driving into Hanoi in a clapped out taxi? Thousands of mopeds part in front of you and, on either side, women in conical hats work in the fields. It was like a dream - a totally different world.

A couple of days in I was swimming off a boat in the middle of the South China Sea. DGM 2.

The biggest DGM of those first few weeks was arriving in a bar in beach town Nha Trang. I was on my own, feeling a little lonely, and wondering if I could really hack the life of a lone traveler. Then all of a sudden this Irish guy, probably guessing my mood, invited me over to join his group.

They all introduced themselves. There were Dutch, Germans, Americans, Irish, Aussies, French, Kiwis etc etc. And suddenly I was in the middle of this pack, downing beers, talking about my travel plans, comparing notes on hotels and train prices. Then the music was switched on in this beautiful beach bar and we were all up and dancing and every tune sounded like the best song I had ever heard.

I had intended to stay for three days in Nha Trang. I ended up staying nearly three weeks. By the time I left people from the shops and cafes used to say hello to me in the streets or bring their kids out to wave at me. Looking back, Nha Trang was one big DGM.

Soon after I left Nha Trang I was traveling up the Mekon Delta on the back of a boat on my way to Cambodia. The sun was going down, the kids were waving from their stilt huts and I felt humbled, happy and content like I never had before.

In truth the DGMs continued to follow me right the way through my travels. I remember feeling so alive buzzing around the temples and jungles of Ankor Watt on the back of a motor bike, dodging stray monkeys along the way. Then there was the arrival at the beautiful island of Koh Chaing in Thailand with a new group of travelers I had met on the way.

Weeks later I was diving in Malaysia followed by a peace rally in San Francisco and I still miss the community of travelers iI met in Anitgua Guatemala.

That was also where I met London girl. And for a couple of months we became something of a serious item. We even talked about moving in together on our return. And although it fizzled out back in the UK, I remember leaving Antigua in a car with her asleep on my shoulder and thinking that life really doesn't get much better than this.

We were on our way to Hacienda Tijax a beautiful spot on Rio Dulce where we stayed in these amazing little cabins. They were on stilts above a stream that was home to turtles, Jesus Christ lizards and an absolute cauldron of fish. In all honesty we didn't leave that cabin much except to go and get the occasional meal and bring it back to bed. Mindful of ants we threw any left overs to the fish and with so much activity it looked like the water was boiling below us.

We traveled a while together. I had a lot of fun. But I was aware that the DGMs were getting less and less frequent. Soon there was fewer of them than there had been when I had traveled on my own.

Still, I was sad to say goodbye when she flew out of San Salvador. I hung around a couple of days before getting a bus right across Honduras and into Nicaragua. Before long I found myself on the fresh water island of Ometepe, watching the sun go down every night.

We used to all go right to the end of this dilapidated old pier and sit out with a beer or two while the women who owned the hostel made this huge buffet meal.

The sunset was quite the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Orange, pink, purples and blues mixed together and a hush fell over this fantastic group of travelers as the sun slowly slipped away. Almost without noticing it, it was soon totally dark and when you turned around to walk back along the pier, hundreds of little fire flies lit up the side of the lake.

I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about it. The place was one long DGM.

I had another three stops on my travels but within a couple of weeks or so I was back in Newcastle. I got the DGM I always used to get when climbing the steps to my seat in the stands at St James's Park. It kicks in when you first get sight of the pitch. I had the meeting up with old friends for the first time in a while DGM.

But they've fizzled out again and I've learnt that if you want to measure the success of your life then the DGM-count is as suitable a barometer as any other.

That's why I want to go and do voluntary work abroad. I've had my interview, collated my references and had my police checks. Now I just need the okay and to know that I have been accepted. The next step is to find out where to? Africa or Eastern Europe is likely but I fantasize that it'll be Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia or (please please please) Vietnam again.

My fingers are still crossed. And I'm still waiting to be accepted.

I think two years working for VSO might mean as many hardships and tears as DGMs, but I reckon it would be well and truly worth it. I have learnt that highs and lows are better than boredom.


Love, light and peace,

BykerSink


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

colonelkurtz02@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Never saw a meaningful TV advert. I don't think shopping is a metaphor for life. Don't waste my time at the gym in the morning. Try to keep trim by living my life

There are some things in life that you have no intention of changing but you still feel compelled to apologise for.

For me Friends is one of those.

It doesn't fit in with my idea of good TV. It's not exactly ethically sound. In many ways it's the American dream in all its most glossy superficialness.

I think I first got into it about a year after it kicked off. A new flatmate had a couple of episodes she'd videoed and on a bored Saturday evening when I was stuck in (skint) I watched them.

Then I watched the next televised episode. Then I was taping the televised episodes. Then I was buying the boxsets of the episodes I'd missed. Tragic.

Tonight, all these years later, I was rather embarrassingly excited because the first episode of the last ever series was shown. It was the usual - about four giggles all told. All the characters have moved from cardboard cutouts to parodies of themselves and the laugh track is still too loud.

But yet again it was great.

I don't have a Friends obsession. Let me state that quite clearly. I have long since stopped taping them and the boxed sets were left at a friend's house years ago and I didn't care enough to ask for them back. But, yes, it is true that somewhere over the years it has embedded itself into my viewing habits.

I have satellite. This means hundreds of channels but still usually very little on. I try to veer towards something intelligent while my flatmate thinks Malcom in the Middle is, apparently, well-observed. He will also gladly watch the same surf movies over and over again. However, we agree on Friends and when on those winter evenings when we can't (unbelievably) find anything to watch, we'll switch to a Friends re-run.

I am sure that I have watched every episode screened to date. However, I still kid myself that there might be a lost episode that I somehow conspired to miss first time around, or forgot to video or never caught the repeat.

Occasionally I'll start watching an episode and I'll exclaim: "I haven't seen this one". Then within five minutes I realise I have. There are other episodes like the pilot edition that I have seen more times than I care to remember and it wasn't even that funny in the first place. Then there are the classics like the two episodes concerned with Chandler peeing on Monica's leg and Joey having "dug me a hole".

As with my flatmate and myself, I found when traveling, that Friends is also the backpacker's TV compromise of choice. You don't get to see that much TV but I can recall watching an episode in San Salvador with an Argentinian and a Swede and all three of us giggled our four times. Later I got drunk with the Argentinian and we dismissed the Falklands with a "what was all that about" shrug and he slagged off Galtieri while I bad-mouthed Thatcher.

But back to Friends. There is a negative side to it. Ross now has a black girlfriend but I'm still struggling to think of a black central character up to this point. And just how does a waitress afford a Manhattan loft apartment? Also, can we blame the whole Starbucks phenomenon on the coffee drinking culture of the Friend's crew?

They live in a bubble. Nothing really effects them. What's worse the show effects everyone. The haircuts, the language, the speech patterns and the catch phrases have all become over-used around the world.

In the same way that bunking off from school, and watching Neighbours, introduced barbie, tinnie and dag to the British vocabulary you are now likely to hear your own friends say: "how you doin", "could I BE...." or any other sentence with the word "dude" in it.

Mind, I suppose that you can't blame the show itself for that. And while it has enriched my life it has only annoyed me in much smaller measures. I'll be sad when it ends and I've promised myself that when it does I won't watch anymore re-runs.

So there's a dozen or so shows left till the final curtain. Then again, if I'm on my travels by the time the spin-off series Joey starts then I can look forward to coming home and having a catch-up-box-set-extravaganza.

And while we're making admitting embarrassing likes - I'm addicted to Big Brother too. And I am very very sorry.

Love, light and peace,

BykerSink

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

colonelkurtz02@hotmail.com