Belgrade

My images of Belgrade are chaotic and positive. The city claims to have the best nightlife around and it proved its point. The bars we graced were indeed very cool from street cafes open to whatever hour, to metal bars full of live, sing-a-long Serbian rock to French drinking songs in Tijuana bar. You really don’t need a club when you have this. Serbs also have a reputation for beautiful women and I can confirm this too. The conversation with shiny pants and my horse comment still makes me laugh.

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I was there with Mirella for the first few days seeing the fortress, Zemun old town and various images of its glorious old past and others of the nearer past. Serbia has kept the destroyed TV building as intact as the NATO bombers left it as a symbol of what they perceive to be murder. 43 TV staff died in the blasts. However what was truly memorable were the people. English was widely spoken, food was provided with faultless service and deference and the portions were enormous. We ate well.

The staff at the hostel showed us round, going well beyond advice and actually taking us to events and places. Nikola and Mira were especially helpful and jolly sharing many beers. It was an immediate home from home. Sat on the balcony just down the road from the fortress drinking a few beers in the heat or passing slectrical storm was a simple pleasure.

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Its always great seeing and being with Mirella. We’re just friends but silly our husband and wife routine never wears off. She plays the gentle, passive aggressive role to a T while I buffoon like a man who nevers gets lost. Mirella of course never gives me any credit when we find our way around but never fails to query me along the way!!

I wrote previously on the football and the elections in Belgrade. Other highlights included drinking to late hours in Tijuana bar, laughing with my new mate Jan, eating lunch on a boat with Mirella in Zemun, Mirella buying 8 cans of non-alcoholic beer (which Nik got exchanged the next day), sitting up till morning with Nikola talking music and Japan and wandering through the streets watching the people go by.

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Times are tough in Belgrade. Salaries are low, there is a sense of anger at the Western bombings and the loss of Kosovo. But the future is optimistic too. Serbia will join the EU in the near future. From a distance and through the lense of modern history, this is easy to question. But having being there, met and talked to the people, I’ve been impressed by their intelligence, culture, knowledge and easy sense of humour. A reading of their long history clearly puts them in Europe. Its a matter of the rest of the world taking the time to look.

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1908 v 1948 v 2012

London has staged 3 Olympic Games which must be a record in itself. Recent comparative analysis made me wonder which I’d prefer to go between 1908, 1948 and 2012. I’m going for the former. My reasons are near as facetious as our recent purchase of world darts finals tickets.

The BBC has a short summary of the 3 games here and there is something endearing about 1908. Being there by today’s standards might be disappointing. There were no fireworks, little media coverage and many irregularities. But that doesn’t take much away for me. While an athlete now might lament they’ve worked their whole their for this moment, back then triple gold swimming medallist Henry Taylor went back to run a pub in Oldham.

I love the inclusion of the tug of war, the fact it’s sponsored by oxo, Wyndham Halswelle ran (and naturally won) the men’s 400m by himself after everyone else was disqualified or withdrew or that some athletes individually withdrew on a matter of conscience. The story of Italian marathon runner collapsing on the final straight and being helped across the line by the crowds is heart-warming even if he was later demoted. Derek Redmond’s Dad would probably now be shot as a terrorist. It was run privately by the Olympic committee with no government intervention or financing. .

1948 took place after the Second World War when rationing was still in place. The quirky highlight now must be the medals for painting and sculpture.The games also included Fanny Blankers-Koen, winner of 4 gold medals and named Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Oh and guess what, it made a profit!

I can’t comment on 2012 as it has yet to happen but even now I can say this. Despite years of university courses, books and marketing itself, the marketing industry still has much to learn about making a poster!

The Race That Shocked The World

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The BBC showed an excellent program last week (here) concerned the 100m sprint during the 1980s. It traced the rivalry between 1984 Olympic Champion Carl Lewis and 1988 Olympic champion Ben Johnson. But undermining all the records and medals was the use of drugs. Before the 1984 Olympics, in 1983, the US tested many of their athletes to get an idea of the extent of drug use whch were so dire they chose not to publicise their results. One commentator on the program stated 25 gold medals involved drug taking.

By 1988 Ben Johnson was the world champion and world record holder, demonstrating a fast start and the power to maintain his speed to the end making him uncatchable. Johnson won the race in 9.79 (present world record is 9.58) but his urine sample showed high levels of anabolic steroids in his system. He was stripped of the title and record and banned for 4 years.

In time, 5 (of 8) who started that race were banned through their career. Lewis was caught taking banned susbstances (at the time) but it was never followed up. Roger Kingdom stated it would be a disaster for US athletics if Lewis didn’t go. While Christie continues to act the douche (see his car crash court case) accusing others of being jealous when they point out his drug failures and saying we should move on. Carl Lewis and Britain’s Linford Christie challenged their usage of drugs to improve their performance. Christie won Olympic gold in 1992 but wouldn’t have been in that position if he hadn’t taken drugs. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding success and hence film career were equalled based on steroids use. This program included interviews with all the men who lined up in the 1988 final in Seoul.

Women’s sprint records are often smirked at. They all date back to the Cold War and in some cases the 1970s. Yet this program showed how rife cheating was and how much political motives intervened. US sprinters Joe DeLoach and Andre Phillips also failed drug tests but were allowed to go to Seoul to win gold medals. Near the end of the program, a drug scientist stated he went back to the 1983 samples and re-tested them with modern methods. After a while he stopped. He said he didn’t want to know.

Available on iPlayer here

Busting a gut on a rye dose of paradise

Life is good, complicated and full of decisions to be made.Work is going well. Feel like I’m stretching myself. I’m fitter and healthier than ever.

Loads to think about but its fun. I’ve to make decisions over work. I even got offered a job with ridiclous money (seriously ridiculous) but I turned down the chance. I wanna be stimulated by culture too.

See facebook for more pics but asap the pictures from the Balkans and the summer will be up and the stories there. Good times with Mirella and new friends made.

Travel plans involve Cardiff with Si, Brighton, Nottingham, Dresden, Switzerland, Leipzig, Finland and St Petersburg with various friends before heading to Asia.

Last weekend had one disappointment where it seems we’ve fallen out permanently with one friend. I’ve never been told to die before! I don’t know if I’ll say more. Its all got pulled out of perspective. Alas dinner and wine with a friend last night warmed my heart.

Need more gigs 🙂

Books Read

The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer

Philosopher Singer discusses how we should give to charity and breaks down the numbers rather than just rationalises. It really costs very little. Though strangely i would have preferred more rationalising as I give monthly anyway to Cancer Research.

The Plundered Planet – Paul Collier

Oxford don Collier delivers cost/benefit analysis of resource extraction taking into account the unknown future as well as the best ways to invest that bonus. Its a good book with solid argument against the exploitation of resources and the rabid talk of some environmental groups. However his anslysis still falls slightly down on the side of big business failing to grasp the all-mighty structural issues involved.

A Concise History of Bulgaria

I saw it in the library and thought why not. Interesting read. Constant revolutions, long Ottoman dominance and a picture of a rural country under constant stress.

The Soccer War – Rychard Kapuscinski

I love Kapuscinski’s cultural and politcial journies throughout the world. This book written when he was the sole Polish foreign correspondent in the 1960s/1070s involves the wars in Somalia, Togo and later Honduras. Not only does he writes with a constant cultural reference, his isnide track, bravery and lyricism conjures up the sweat and fear brilliantly.

Derrida – Key Concepts

Nonsense.

PR: Getting paid to bullshit

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Back in 2009, straight after the Air France jet went down over the Atlantic, the PR machine went into action. By all accounts, the reputation of the airline must be mainatined. Attention must be deflected. Blame sought elsewhere. PR guys earn their bucks by being dishonest. In this example, we were told it was a once-in-a-lifetime storm when in reality it was known mechanical issues and human error.

I watched the Air France spokesman at the time do all this and wrote about this it the day of the accident. And sadly its all come true. It takes no genius to see and understand what happens. In a mid-Atlantic disaster the facts are rarely clear. I just wish they weren’t further obscured by the need to protect reputation before the facts and ultimately money over truth. I wondered at the time where the PR guy would be when the truth finally came out. That really is irrevelant. What sticks is he’ll be congratulated for his work.

Bunch of Films Seen

Shame – overrated premise (man is constantly horny but really lonely) but well-made and great soundtrack. 4/5

The Iron Lady – Thatcher biopic. Its well-acted but kind of oddly written and focused. 3/5

Albert Nobbs – Glenn Close plays a woman who pretends to be a man in 19th century. 3/5

400 Blows – classic French film about society, education and kids. Its funny. 4/5

Haywire – if you know MMA, you know how ridiculous this is. Gina Carana can’t act much but doesn’t really have to here. Full-on action. 3/5

The International – Clive Owen as someone chasing something about arms but with a few class set-pieces. 3/5

Young Adult – Charlie Therzon returns home to find despite being someone, she isn’t happy. Awkward. 3/5

The Muppets – classic endearment. 4/5

Leatherheads – kind of entertaining Clooney 1920s football comedy. 3/5

The Avengers – good action and yet a conversation between Thor and Hulk is…whatever. 3/5

Prometheus – ummm well its tough when you know the end. Looks great, good pacing and decent action but no classic. 3/5

Iron Sky – Nazis on the dark side of moon return to Earth to infiltrate the US Government in a knowing B-movie with decent special effects and acting. 3/5

The Dictator – Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat in the Middle East with more plot and that makes it worse. However it has enough decent jibes to entertain. 3/5

The Chernobyl Diaries – garbage. 1/5

Salzburg

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So Salzburg, home of Mozart, sat in the mountains and decked with some damn fine buildings. Like Vienna, Salzburg’s architecture impresses on the large side. Huge, imposing edifices dominate the town centre. Narrow streets throng with American tourists in caps and sunglasses gawking or eat ice cream next to the fountains. The castle on the hill sits over the city rather like Potala Palace in Lhasa except slightly less mystically! It was commendable and hot. We ate ice cream.

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That brings me to the better part of the day. In Salzburg, I met up with Jacqueline, a fellow student from Nottingham who not only gave me an awesome, whistle-stop guided tour of the city (I provided the ice cream as a thank you) but then we drove out to the lake district area 30 minutes outside the city and her favourite restaurant nearby called The Tube. Built like a wooden tube, we sat outside, drank some beers and ate a fantastic dinner in the sun facing the Alps . This town of Mondsee was where they filmed The Sound of Music, a fact given substance by the tour buses in the town car park. Weirdly Austrians are never really heard of the film.

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The Austrians are a quirky bunch. More relaxed than their Germanic neighbours, they sit quietly in the middle of the continent, militarily neutral and therefore quaintly letting the world take care of itself as they drink their beers, play in the snow or hike round and over the Alps.

Apart from Vienna, Austria is rarely thought about. And Austrians are rarely met. There are only 8 million of them. I travelled with one in South America for a few months. We visited the Austrian embassy in Bolivia and found it, two rooms above a bank, one with the secretary and the other the ambassador. He welcomed us in like lost travellers but considering the long conversation, I think he was glad for the company.

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The cost of travel in Austria is well-known and Vienna has a reputation for being dull at night but yet a country with lakes and rangy mountains, lederhosens and good beers simply added to my Germanic Alpine experience. It’s a gorgeous area. The landscape is littered with antiquated barns and unmarked grassy fields carpeted with daisies. Its culture is heart-warming and traditional, with all the modern world at hand and yet somewhat sleepy for a biggish city. Tucked up here in the mountains, it’s not for me but I’ll definitely be back for another summer beer.

Thanks Jacqui!