Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reading poetry and the effective transference of the sublime in verse through an examination of Romance by W.J Turner

I have stood at the feet of both Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes with the white, equatorial sun reflecting off the snow-capped peaks in brilliant contrast to the cloudless blue/black sky.

What I wondered: does this mean only those who have shared my experience, like the poet Walter J Turner, can truly understand the awesome effect of the sublimity in nature?

What I'm trying to understand - and have been for the last few months - is to what extent does the reader's own personal experience have on the reading, understanding and appreciation of a poem?
Firstly, here's the poem that got my cogs whirring:

ROMANCE by W.J. Turner

WHEN I was but thirteen or so
  I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
  Took me by the hand.
My father died, my brother too,
  They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
  In the sunlight gleams.
I dimly heard the master's voice
  And boys far-off at play,—
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
  Had stolen me away.
I walked in a great golden dream
  To and fro from school—
Shining Popocatapetl
  The dusty streets did rule.
I walked home with a gold dark boy
  And never a word I'd say,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
  Had taken my speech away.
I gazed entranced upon his face
  Fairer than any flower—
O shining Popocatapetl
  It was thy magic hour:
The houses, people, traffic seemed
  Thin fading dreams by day;
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi,
  They had stolen my soul away!

Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador
Triumph racing away from Chimborazo, EcuadorImmediately I could start cutting divisive lines through the readers... For example, separating those who know that Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are Ecuador's two tallest volcanoes from those who don't (the ignorant).

I could compartmentalise the audience further by separating those who have stood at the feet of the mountain (we can call this group the elite) from those who have only read about the volcanoes in an encyclopedia or can recall the names from some misty geography lesson many years earlier (the informed).

Three distinct groups of readers: the ignorant, the elite and the informed.

Three distinct interpretations of the same poem? I'm not so certain and the reason for my doubt is my own reading of another poem nearly 20 years ago.

That poem was Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which I stumbled across when I was reading all of the English romantic poets. Immediately I loved the poem but had no idea who or what Ozymandias was. I probably pronounced his name incorrectly and, quite possibly, had no idea he was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

If you don't know it, here it is again:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said- ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
That lone and level sands stretch far away’.

It was time to rediscover some of the literary theory I'd last studied in 2003 to help me find my answers.

For example, British critic I.A Richards (regarded as the father of new literary criticism) would encourage the reader to disregard any information about the author and his intentions and focus solely on the text itself. To make his point the Cambridge professor took a selection of poems by highly-regarded poets and some by trashy poets. He removed all contextual information and assigned them to his undergraduate students to interpret. Even with this elite audience, who ought to have been educated to detect the quality of the verse, Richards discovered a mountain of confusion and misinterpretation (if indeed there is any such thing). So to follow Richard's theory in our two poems would not only mean forgetting everything that is known about Shelley, but about everything about the Romantic movement, Ozymandias and Egyptian history. In the instance of Turner's Romance - we must disregard everything we know about the author (which is probably very little, considering he was overlooked by all but Yeats) and also Ecuadorian geography.

In theory this ought to produce a more personal, honest and less scholarly reading of the text. However, I'm slightly uncomfortable with this approach. In my opinion, without the understanding of context much of the significance is lost. To give another example, if a reader fails to account for the end of Cromwell’s strict Puritanical regime in England, replaced by the restoration of King Charles fresh from his liberal French sojourn, then the bawdy humour, lewdness and gaiety of Restoration Comedy (such as William Wycherley’s ‘The Country Wife’) cannot be appreciated. The shenanigans and assignations of amoral Horner, London’s most infamous libertine, wit and maker of cuckolds, would exist in a strange vacuum. Only with context, does Horner become the physical manifestation of the backlash against the dry oppression of the past and a symbol for the party spirit of a country once more ‘under the influence’. Satire cannot exist without context.

Another British literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, believes the understanding of any poem is the free and open right of anybody who takes the time and effort to read the poem. This is interpretation through analysis and consideration. Eagleton sees meaning as a tooth waiting to be extracted, with the suggestion there is one universal root. I feel slightly uncomfortable with this suggestion. Surely a polysemia exists within even the simplest scrawlings made on the back of a scrap of paper with a well-chewed Biro as you chat absently on the telephone. The reader is too important a link to the understanding of meaning as the writing itself. Eagleton expects the author to have a concentrated intent in their text. Meaning can be discovered from the clues in both text and context. Eagleton would require the reader not only to study the text, but also to research the author and to consider the contemporary historic and cultural events. I must admit, it's hard to read Romance and not ask the question: "What was this 13-year-old Anglo-Australian boy doing in Ecuador?"

But before I get too carried away with Eagleton, a word of warning. This is the man who believes football is the "opium of the masses" and ought to be banned without delay. It's crime: distracting the working-classes from considered political thought and theory. Crack pot, right?

Of course, I'm speaking from a purely male perspective. How might gender interfere with the reading of the poem? Critic Jonathan Culler asks just this question, and arrives at the conclusion: "Very much". Every reference in Romance is male: the dead father, the dead brother, the master and the gold, dark boy. The poem is devoid of femininity. If we accept context is critical for literary theory then we know the author is called W.J Turner... a bit more context tells us it's W for Walter and not Winifred. A bit more context and we learn both volcanoes are also male (in the Andean cosmovision).

Ozymandias too is an unashamedly male poem - male pride and male power in a male world. Our eponymous hero is the great king with his: “frown” and: “sneer of cold command”. Inescapably too, Shelley is a male poet, recounting a tale told to him by a male traveler about the ancient words of the pharaoh king, Ozymandias. We have another poem as bare of femininity as a winter tree or, better still, as the “boundless and bare” desert sands in the poem.

However, why stop at gender? When there is colonial and racial interpretation to consider. Ecuador had not long been post-colonial at the time the poem was written and even under a new federal independent state the scars of the Spanish conquest and the racial divisions were evident. Who was the gold, dark boy? A mestizo (Indian/Spanish)? An Indian? A Zambo (Indian/black)? The text remains the same yet suddenly interpretations develop. Even today racism persists in Ecuador. It's impossible not to contextualize a poem written a hundred years ago by a white boy arriving from Europe. In terms of Ozymandias did Shelley see in Egypt, that “ancient land”, the crumbling statue of Ozymandias and the irony in his powerful words as the collapse of Africa’s greatest civilisation to the superiority of Western Europe.

Who is reading the text is as important as who has written the text. Poststructuralists want you to decide which comes first, the text or the reader. The text is either passive or active - it is either immovable, carved like hieroglyphs in stone, or else it is just half of a process, void of meaning without the reader to “fill in the blanks” and complete its purpose. Deconstruction appreciates the symbiotic relationship between text and reader... or how the reader completes the text and the text completes the reader. 

Critic Jacques Derrida plays with the French word for reading, ‘lire’, with delirium, suggesting a hallucinatory state is entered when reading. Back to Ozymandias, when the reader confronts lines such as: “An on the pedestal, these words appear” he must ask how these words appear and what makes them do so. The text either appears, as on the monument of Ozymandias, as text presented to the reader as words on a page which are to be read or the text appears in a ghostly sense, an appearance that is created only from reading. The: “passions” of the reader are read by the sculptor and are forged within the poem itself because the reader is forced to speak the words of Ozymandias: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Therefore, the poem is not only about reading but is playing with the reader and forcing him to read as once was read and written. Shelley completes the link between the reader and the text.

I can't say if I understood Romance any better for having witnessed Cotopaxi and Chimborazo personally. However, the experience was the event that led me to discover W.J Turner's poem. It would be just as logical to ask myself: would my experience of first seeing the volcanoes have been any more magnificent had I first read the poem? Everything is a symbol in the world. The sight of the volcano was a symbol that took resonance in the poem. The poem is a symbol and the sight of the volcanoes would resonate in turn. It's only a road, the order in which you come across the roadside symbols can vary - but then that's the nature of experience. Ultimately it's only through the consolidation of an entire journey that true meaning, or significance, can be discovered. And, of course, the journey continues up until the point it is too late to consolidate. When we think we have arrived at meaning we are mistaken (to labour my rocky road metaphor just another kilometre further) we are trying to decipher symbolism while we chomp down a stale burger and soggy chips at the ropey, roadside cafe.

The World Cup in Ecuador

The Belgian national anthem finished and the first rumbling bars of the Stars and Stripes struck up. As one, the pub stood with their hands over their hearts and belted out every word. I was the only person not standing because I am officially a Belgian citizen (even though I misplaced my ID card over a year ago).
I was in Finn McCools Irish pub in the centre of Quito and I had just discovered the American expat community in Ecuador outnumbers the Belgian community (if I can count myself as the Belgian community) by about 100 to one.
It's been fun watching the World Cup in South America and a very different atmosphere to back in England.
For a start, the level of hostility and violence in the bars is almost non-existent.
I watched Colombia beat Uruguay and the large Colombian community in Ecuador went absolute crazy, buying bottles of rum and taking over all of the bars in the centre of Marsical, cranking up the salsa and the Carlos Vives on the stereo.
What was incredible is everybody was somewhere on the road to blind drunkenness and not one fight broke out - if this was any city centre in England (but especially one north of London) it would have been a bloody riot.
Unfortunately for Quito's nascent gay community it was the same day as their big Pride celebration. They had arranged bands, dancers, music and parades. I felt bad for them, the gays didn't stand a chance against the army of drunk Colombians. Pretty soon the drag queens were pushed to the periphery of their own party and Lady Gaga's 'Born this Way' was drowned out by 'La Gota Fria'.
In Latin America there is a lot more unity than in Europe. Ecuadorians will support a South American country over any other team and Ecuadorians will support Colombia over any other team because they're neighbours.
In England the closer (geographically) a country is to our little island, the less likely we are to support them. I'm a rare Federalist in an island of Isolationists and will always support the European teams, but with England out of the cup after two matches I plumped for Ecuador.
Ecuador's campaign lasted just one match longer than England's, and a draw against France saw them eliminated.
The standard of Ecuadorian football is pretty poor, with the exception of two players (both called Valencia). The national league is somewhere between Division One and Division Two - it's hardly surprising the players aren't too enthusiastic about performing since most haven't been paid for the last six months.
Ecuador were largely outplayed by France but they showed a spirit and determination that I haven't seen in an England team for so many years. My Valencia (Antonio) was sent off and it was t'other Valencia's turn to take centre stage. He's almost as fast as his namesake and much less likely to see a red-card. I reckon he'll be in the Prem before long.
When Ecuador were sent home by Switzerland most people just shrugged their shoulders, said: "good game" and moved on with their lives. There was none of the soul-searching, inquiries, demands for resignations, or burning Beckham effigies that happens in England. I suppose the Ecuadorians, quite rightly, recognise the World Cup is just a bit of a laugh and there's no reason to bite somebody's ear off over it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Toros de Pueblo

What happens when you get hammered on strong lager, lock an angry bull inside a ring and start pissing it off?
Torros del pueblo, Ecuador
This obviously.

The fiesta experience is almost ineffable - it's a concoction of noise; the childlike, alien nasal song of Indian women; the bang of the bass drum and the brass blast; head-spinning intoxication; insurgent-grade rockets exploding just above head height, tripping over the groaning drunk; getting trampled by a horse; molested by a street dog; more booze; not more booze; then more booze; a cross-dressing man, blacked-up and wielding a screaming baby chases you with his broom; you crash into a drunk Indian man; you spend five minutes trying to explain what England is, he looks confused and gives you more booze; bulls, bulls, and more booze.

I was at the Fiesta de Pesillo, just north of Cayambe. It follows the typical mold of Ecuadorian fiestas, booze, bands, costumes and fireworks... but Pesillo has bulls.

Toros de Pueblo is a simple idea. Lock an angry bull inside a ring in the middle of town and wind it up until somebody gets a good goring. It's astonishing how sobering a horn in the trasero can be.

All of the town's heroes and hard-men stepped into the ring to prove the size of their huevos, with predictably hilarious consequences. Drunk these men were, matadors they were not.

Even the kids get involved - this eight-year-old boy got caught out by the bull's sudden turn of pace and got royally clobbered. Amazingly there were no tears. He got a firm shake, a dust down and was back in the ring for more.

Torros del pueblo, Ecuador Torros del pueblo, Ecuador

I love the toros de pueblo - perhaps a surprising stance for a vegetarian. Sure, it's a blood sport, but the blood is all human not animal.

I was a little drunk and desperate to join in the fun but a firm hand clasped around my elbow prevented me from hurdling the barrier. 'It looks easy,' I reasoned. 'I could outrun that old bull'. Lucy wisely decided to beat a retreat while she still had control, quoting Withnail and I: "A coward you are Tom, an expert on bulls you are not." Also the bamboo stand we were sharing with 500 other people was starting to creak under the strain.
Fruit for the bull's back
The processional pineapple and the snow-capped volcano of Cayambe
It is a fact: at any moment, on any day, somewhere in Ecuador a fiesta is happening. But finding the fiesta is easier said than done. We drove to Cayambe, the main town in the area, hoping to land square into the thick of it but all we found were broken bottles, empty stands and snoozing borrachos. We were 24 hours too late.

We picked up the trail just north of town with the remnants of an all-night fiesta. Five men and women were swigging beer and dancing and singing. They pointed us in the direction of Pesillo and promised us bulls.

It must have been a bit like finding a rave back in the 90s, just march to the sound of the cannons.

On the way to Pesillo we passed this incredible rainbow over the town.
Rainbow over Olmedo town, Ecuador (near Cayambe)
Rainbow over town, looks like a MAC job
Fiestas are crazy places at the best of time and I can never stay sober for long. Trago and beer are poured down my throat, occasionally I'll contribute a dollar for the vaca. The cow is like a rolling collection fund to make sure there's always booze flowing. There is no concept of ownership at an Ecuadorian fiesta, your booze is their booze and their booze is your booze. It's the Communist ideal in practice and it works... if working means an entire town gets utterly rat-arsed for five days straight.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A week in Moraspungo

The land of Moraspungo is a deep, red clay. When it rains, and it always rains, the earth churns into a viscous patty that swallows Wellies whole and covers every car, bus and bike in a triple coat of terracotta mud.

The red earth is set against a thousand shades of green - banana leaves, cacao, wild strawberries or the eponymous blackberries in Moraspungo's name.

A fog drifts across the jungle. We are 1,000 metres above the sea, already leaving the Andes for the coast. The heat and the humidity quickly glistens the skin with a cool sweat. Ten minutes after your shower you feel dirty again.

It reminds me of marshland - that strange coexistence of decay and the abundance of life... not to mention the ravenous mosquitoes. My hairy arms were enough to dissuade the mosquitoes of the coast but in the jungle they simply nestle themselves in like a feathered bed and settle down for the feast. I left Moraspungo pock-marked and driven to distraction by the intensity of the itching.

I was filming for the Fundacion Alli Causai, who are building water tanks for the town and its surrounding community. It's hard to believe so many people are drinking and bathing in dirty water everyday, but they are.

Life without clean water is unpleasant. Brushing your teeth can make you sick. Fruit and vegetables are washed in dirty water and can make you sick. Unsurprisingly I did get sick, but fortunately not until I was back in Quito.
Lugging bags of cement 

Filling the tank
We were teaching local schoolchildren how to wash their hands after going to the toilet and the importance of good personal hygiene. The children proudly demonstrated their new-found talent for my camera.

A few months back I drew illustrations for a pamphlet teaching the children good hygiene. I thought it was a wind up when I was asked to draw a shit in the shower but apparently it had been quite a problem.
Washing hands
We were also visiting patients in the remote jungle communities. Washington and Ivan, from FAC, wanted to check-in on an 18-month old child and asked if I wanted to join them. Of course, I did.

We had to leave the 4x4, their house was only accessible down a steep muddy bank and over a raging river. The bridge was constructed with two trunks of bamboo which flexed and swayed. I had to cross carrying my camera and if I'd slipped and fallen around £4,000 of gear would have gone floating away down the rapids of the Rio Moras.
Crossing the river
Standing on the bamboo bridge in the depths of the Ecuadorian jungle I had a sort of Naked Lunch moment. I don't think London has ever felt so distant.

The family - twelve of them - were living in a wooden shack on the bank of the stream. They had evidently chosen this spot to access the water, which is vital in producing trago (the local sugar cane spirit I discovered a taste for back in November).

Chickens, dogs, pigs and donkeys all live side-by-side with the family. A fire smokes all day long and on top a great pan bubbles away with some chicken broth. Everybody is filthy and caked in mud. After the dogs have finished barking at us they soon retreat to their dark corners to sleep, occasionally shaking the flies off their ears.

The family is pleased to see FAC. Not because there is anything wrong with the child, but just because it is a recognition that they exist. These people have fallen through the system and are no longer citizens. The rights and access to the Ecuadorian government's commendable free healthcare policy has well and truly bypassed this community.
Hanging from the rafters, he was not a happy bunny
Lucy and I were staying in Quinsaloma. A small town close to Moraspungo. It's the only town with a hotel in the area, but not a hotel in the sense of hot water in the shower or breakfast in the morning.
The hotel is just out of town, opposite the brothel. All night long the buzz of Suzuki AX100s, loaded sometimes with up to three horny banana pickers, drifted in and out of the brothel's discrete car park. Images of white women in bikinis with great mops of blonde hair advertise the brothel's offerings. But it's fantasy. Inside are only impoverished Indian girls from distant communities who were once burnt by the shame and guilt they had lied to their parents - who think they are in Quito washing clothes or cleaning apartments - but now are numbed and, eventually, diseased.

We ate breakfast in a small restaurant owned by a friendly man from Quito who had sought his fortune in Italy, before returning to Ecuador to invest his winnings in a business of his own. He took great pride in showing Lucy his Bialetti machine when she asked if he served "real" coffee. Despite lying slap bang in the middle of ten thousand acres of coffee plantations, the local restaurants take great pride in serving instant Nescafe Gold Blend - it's seemingly cosmopolitan and chic.

Breakfast in Ecuador looks like a hearty dinner in the rest of the world. It can be a saucy slab of grisly pork or chicken served on a mountain of rice with fried banana at the side and a bolon (fried plantain ball) as a side-order. It is washed down with a jugo - maracuya or mora if I'm lucky, tomate de arbol or  papaya if I'm not.

The bananas in Moraspungo taste like no other banana I've ever eaten, intense and almost juicy. A head of bananas here (that's around 100 fruit) costs just two dollars. The local oranges, which are piled in dumps by the side of the road, are sold for 50 oranges a dollar. You feel like a criminal carrying away a back-breaking sack of fruit for the price of an apple in Sainsbury's.

The people of this community are immigrants. The towns are new. Impoverished communities in the highlands - like Simiatug - were forced down from the fresh air and sun of the Andes and into the jungle. When the first people arrived, less than 70 years ago, the jungle had to be hacked back with machetes to make room for their houses.

I can never get my head around the disparity between the fertility of the land and the poverty of those who live on it. There is sunshine, there is rain and there are mountains of delicious fruit. Something went very wrong somewhere.
It's really rather beautiful here

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wish You Were Here? La Mana edition

The Pyramid Paradise in La Mana fails to live up to its name... well the paradise part at least.

Imagine Butlins with pyramids. Now imagine Butlins with pyramids 28 days after the zombie apocalypse first struck Skegness. Welcome to Pyramid Paradise.

Whoever built this leisure park had lofty ambitions. There are four swimming pools, three water slides, poolside bars, volley ball courts, reception centres and a restaurant. The trouble is, the jungle wants its land back and nobody cares to argue.

Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Pyramid accommodation... this doesn't look so bad

Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
You'll get a sore arse sliding down this chipped concrete water slide
Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Why wouldn't there be a knackered petrol pump outside the women's toilets?
Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Not in the least bit creepy
Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Relax in the lounge with a cool cerveza and watch the plaster peel away before your eyes
Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Just shift the calculator, the hat stand and the pram and recline on the soft mattress in the bedroom
Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Butlins after the zombie apocalypse

La Mana is the largest town in the midst of thousands upon thousands of acres of banana plantations. Bananas grow here because the heat is suffocating and the rain is torrential. Bananas are big business, particularly for the export market. Check the label in Sainsburys next time you visit, your banana probably came from La Mana.

Bananas need a lot of TLC; plantations need to be kept clear of the encroaching jungle, the bananas need to be wrapped in plastic bags for protection, and picking the heads of heavy fruit is hard work. As a result there is a huge influx of labour to the area.

The owners of Pyramid Paradise probably imagined thousands of happy families arriving to town, all looking for some weekend diversion to escape the scorching sun.

Unfortunately the picture is rather different. Young, single men came, looking to make a quick buck to send home to their families. With the cool breeze and sunshine of the sierra just an hour away, why would anybody want to stay in La Mana unless they had to? Instead of happy families there are brothels everywhere and HIV is rife. So is tuberculosis, which will probably kill you first.

In La Mana everything rots under the rain and the sticky heat. Watch closely and you can follow the inexorable creep of the mildew tide and the plaster peel. 

Inside the crowded medical centre of La Mana it's a depressing scene. Living in Quito it's easy to forget the other side of Ecuador, but lots of the people in La Mana are in desperate poverty.

I met a 50-year-old man with HIV who is recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. The aid agency I was working for had found him living under plastic bags at the back of his niece's house. He had no other family. He did not understand the nature of his illness and would surely have died. The agency bought materials and the community built him a more permanent shelter in the village. His favourite things are cerveza and fiestas... so we've really got quite a lot in common.

He knows when the agency is in town and always turns up to get a free lunch. Once he arrived and broke down in tears at the dinner table. He had just begun to understand the nature of HIV and wanted reassurance that everything was going to be all right for him. His tears were uncontrollable, he knew full well the truth but wanted somebody to lie to him. 

I met another woman, just a year older than I am. She too had tuberculosis and HIV. She had contracted it from her husband, who later died of tuberculosis. She has two young children, who luckily escaped contraction, and is living in poverty in a remote village 20km from La Mana. She was stoic and found solace in religion but, despite new found evangelicalism, her's was not a happy lot.

Back to Pyramid Paradise for a spot of lunch. The chipped dustbin head of Micky Mouse grins back at me. The mosquitoes are eating me alive and I'm glad to be leaving for Moraspungo... but that's because I don't know what it's like in Moraspungo. There I would see what real poverty looked like and how short is the reach of Ecuador's impressive public health system.

Pyramid Paradise Park, Ecuador
Wish you were here?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wind and Oil

My local village (in Cambridgeshire) is locked in heated debate about the installation of a new wind farm. 

Opponents, deftly skirting the elephant in the room of their house prices, are horrified by the monstrous eyesore soon to be erected on this flat, featureless expanse of windswept bog. 

The opposition website provides a neat illustration of the size and impact of the wind farm, placing the looming silhouettes of doom next to Thorney's historic abbey and a Bedford cottage. In case you've missed the subtle message, apparently a wind turbine is much larger than a 19th Century farmer's cottage. I can't argue with the author's firm grasp of scale, however, their understanding of relativity is woefully askew. I don't think anybody ever proposed building a wind turbine ten feet away from the Abbey.

I didn't think point number two could be topped... until I reached point number six - public footpaths. The wind farm development will have a "negative impact" on our "unspoilt" bridleways. They're unspoilt because nobody uses them, only the Ordnance Survey knows they exist. I'd bet if I wanted to take a pleasant afternoon stroll down one of these idyllic lanes I'd probably get shown both barrels by one of the charming, local farmers who seem to have mistaken the Fens for Zimbabwe. 

Making things nice and simple (presumably because that's the easiest way to avoid getting bogged down in logic) the opposition has written a six point plan of their concerns - in essence, it's a less ambitious version of US President Woodrow Wilson's post war reconstruction plan.

Point number two is a corker - the noise. Apparently if the wind is blowing in the right direction (that's a prevailing south westerly, if you're interested) and you turn the television off, and prick an ear to the breeze you might actually be able to hear the sound of the turbines. Of course, it's more likely that you'll hear the sound of the A47 bypass, or a dog barking, or a human voice, or any of the other millions of things in this world that make noise.

The six point plan is so flimsy and surreal that I began to wonder if it was not, in fact, a work of masterful satire (like when Defoe suggested eating the poor in his 'Modest Proposal'). 

What has any of this got to do with Ecuador?

Well, while the great environmental debate of the modern age is raging in Cambridgeshire... meanwhile, the Ecuadorian government has signed permits for oil drilling to commence in the Yasuni National Park (just 150 miles from where I now live) - a single hectare of which is home to a richer mix of trees, birds, amphibians, and reptiles than the US and Canada put together. 

What biodiversity has a hectare at Gore's Farm got to offer apart from a couple of labradors and a dead crow?

We can at least be reassured by promises from the Chinese drilling companies that they will take good care of this UNESCO reserve. 

So, let's soak thousands of acres of the most biologically diverse land on the planet in viscous, black filth and spare fair East Anglia from the irrecoverable plague of green energy.

Why not be more honest, Thorney? Replace the six point plan with the slogan "Sustainable energy at Gores Farm might have a slight impact on my house price thus making me slightly poorer as a result... I'm not against green energy, in fact, I offset the carbon footprint of my trans-Atlantic flights with tree planting projects in the Amazon." It's just a shame the Chinese are about the swamp your Amazonian saplings in black gold.

The Yasuni

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pakistani cricket ambassadors in Quito

I was jogging through Parque Carolina yesterday when I spotted a game of cricket in progress.

I presumed they'd be rubbish (read: my standard) and wondered if I could worm my way in to hit those Latino chumps with a few of my famous fast deliveries (Max Rayner will know what I'm talking about).

When I finished my run I headed back to the cricket pitch and discovered about 100 spectators crowded around the action. At first I thought cricket was about to take Ecuador by storm, but as I jostled my way to the front I discovered the truth.

The game was being contested by two teams from Quito's Pakistani community. A decision had gone against the batsman and rather than walking slowly back to the pavilion (a Chinese temple folly with a gong in it) he went medieval with the willow.
Like this... only nobody was smiling
I've witnessed a few fights in my life but I've never heard such a vocal confrontation involving so many people and with so few punches thrown. The commotion was unbelievable and since the argument was being conducted in Urdu (probably) I have absolutely no idea what was the cause of contention. My guess is an LBW, that's always a bit of a loose rule.

The fight consisted of lots of squaring up and posturing. At one stage somebody took away the wickets in a sulk, only to return them a minute later. The ring leaders were the batsman and the bowler on the opposite side, who looked a bit like a fat version of Shoaib Akhtar.

The indigenous Indian family stood next to me looked very concerned by it all. The father explained to his daughter: “The Arabs are having a fight about their baseball game.”

One of the Pakistani players in the outfield sulked-away, radiating shame. He stood near me and I shook my head at him regretfully. “No es cricket,” I said.

Amazingly, after 15 minutes of bitter fighting the game restarted as suddenly as it had stopped. I didn't hang around to see the inevitable second round. I would not have umpired that match for all the money in the world.

I couldn't decide if the Pakistanis had been good or bad ambassadors for South American cricket. They certainly made cricket seem like the most exciting and important game in the world.

I decided not to volunteer my arm for a few of those famous fast bowls and went to eat a pizza instead.

Surprisingly Quito has a thriving Pakistani community. In fact, so many arrived in the 1990s that Pakistan is now one of the only countries in the world requiring a Visa to enter Ecuador – joining North Korea, Iran, Palestine and Iraq.