Tag Archives: writer

The Colours of Britain

A selection of the works of Jamila Gavin

A selection of the works of Jamila Gavin

To celebrate the first ‘birthday’ of the Cotswold Word Centre – the platform for language, literacy and literature based at Hawkwood College of which I am the volunteer co-ordinator – on World Book Day, we hosted a talk by our patron, Stroud-based writer Jamila Gavin. Jamila was born to a mixed-raced parentage* – an English mother and Indian father, who met as teachers in Iran – raised mainly in India until eleven when her family moved to England for good – and this ‘hybrid’ status has informed everything she has written, making her an important champion for multi-culturalism. Weened on a trunk of her mother’s English classics, which accompanied them on their many travels, Jamila initially trained as a pianist, but was a gifted letter-writer. Her childhood years were spent hopping from country to country, capital to capital – Paris, Berlin, London. This combination – of rounded education, cross-fertilisation of culture and polyglot articulacy – led to her working for the BBC as a Studio Manager. She married and raised her children Stroud where she has lived for forty years. Her first book was published in 1979 – The Magic Orange Tree – a collection of multi-cultural tales; and she has gone on to write an impressive range of children’s books, short stories, autobiography, plays, collections of myths and fairy tales, and contributions to anthologies supporting causes such as Greenpeace, and Human Rights. Her most recent work is a story for an anthology exploring the First World War, and her latest collection of magical tales, Blackberry Blue – a fairy story in the European tradition, but with a female protagonist of colour in the central role (to offer her grand-daughters a positive literary heroine they can relate to). Jamila’s best known work, Coram Boy, was adapted into a stage play by the National Theatre. Her stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio, and she has garnered several awards over her career.

And so we were extremely lucky to have her.

Jamila Gavin by Kevan Manwaring

Jamila Gavin by Kevan Manwaring

Despite the disappointingly low attendance she gave a fascinating talk provocatively titled ‘Why Read? Why Write?’ I managed to record most of it, and it is listenable via the links below. Afterwards, there were some good questions from the small, but engaged audience. I asked if there were any commonalities in her diverse oeuvre – ‘injustice’, she replied, the voices of the marginalised, racism, and a celebration of diversity. A second question of mine was – did her ‘hybrid’ status inform her writing in any way: ‘Absolutely,’ was her reply. I suggested that it gave her, as a writer, a distinct advantage – being able to relate to different traditions, to see beyond the provincial, to be an interlocutor, or, as I put it, a kind of ‘Suez Canal’ (as a child Jamila would travel between India and England by boat, a journey taking two and half weeks, although it would’ve taken a lot longer without the Suez Canal). She has been the bridge to link continents. She is a true transnational writer in the post-colonial tradition, and her work is more important than ever in a time of challenges to multicultural Britain by the likes of the BNP, EDF and UKip – a growing xenophobia fuelled by those wishing to exploit the banking crisis/Austerity-driven discontent. Jamila was gracious, generous and highly articulate – a pleasure to listen to and learn from. Any parent wishing to offer their children a healthy cross-section of fiction would do well to seek out Jamila’s work, as would anyone wishing to have a better understanding of multi-cultural Britain.

*as something of a global mongrel myself, this meti inbetween-ness is something that informs my own writing, especially my current novel project.

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Listen to Jamila’s talks here…. (soon!)

Jamila Gavin author talk 6 March 2015 part 1

Jamila Gavin author talk 6 March 2015 part 2

The Birth of Dragons

Tonight sees the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, published by Compass Books. I’m hosting a Story Supper Special – with a dragon-flavoured theme (‘scaly tales, serpentines poems and wyrm songs’). It should be fun!

The book is based upon my 13 years of teaching creative writing (10 with the Open University); and arose out of a course I ran on ‘Writing for the Imagination’ at the University of Bath back in 2005. Since I wrote the first draft in 2006, it has taken a while to see the light of day – but I believe in ‘staying the distance’, and the book explores strategies for what I call long-distance writing. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s the tortoise who wins in the end!

Here’s a recent review from poet Lorna Smither’s Peneverdant blog

Book Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring

desiring-dragons-compass-books-front-cover Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.

The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.

I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.

The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.

What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.

Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.

The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.

As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.

Turning the Wheel

Turning the Wheel

book launches 25 & 27 November; 1 December

On Friday I launched my latest book, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, with a ‘book launch celebration’ at (what was) first ‘the British School’, then the Five Valleys Foyer in Stroud (it changed its name half-way through my publicity campaign to Open House – ah, truly sensei, the nature of reality is impermanence ;0). With the help of my partner, Jenni, dropped off the wineglasses and books and I set up. A good crowd turned up to watch my slideshow and talk. Josie Felce provided some lovely live harp music and Gabriel Millar, a poem about the month of the dead, talking briefly about Thanksgiving – this lead into an interesting discussion on how we celebrate the turning of the wheel. Tired, but happy afterwards I felt like I had well and truly wetted the baby’s head. Thank you to all those who came along (a couple came from Yeovil)!

Friends view the book

On Sunday I travelled down to Totnes to give a talk on the book to the Wessex Research Group. The attendance was very low – but I had an interesting chat with one chap afterwards, who told me about the ‘Wheel-turners’ in Buddhism. I knew about the Buddhist resonance in the title, but the idea of an actual role intrigued me. Called Chakravartin (S); Chakkavatti(P), literally, “Wheel-turner”, it is defined as: the ideal king who practices, supports and spreads Buddhism (“Turning the Wheel of the Dharma”).

The Dharma Wheel is one of the earliest and most important symbols in Buddhism. The symbol refers to the story in which post the Buddha’s enlightenment, Lord Brahma descended from the heaven and asked Him to teach by offering a Dharmachakra.

The Dharma Wheel is a symbol of the Buddha’s teaching of the path to enlightenment. The Buddha is known as the Wheel turner and as per some Buddhist Schools, He turned the Dharma Wheel few times. The first, to which all the Buddhist agree, was when the Buddha preached the five sages at the Deer Park in Sarnath. The later turning of wheel account are not always same. They vary, however what is concluded from this is that the dharma wheel needs to be turned thrice for a student to understand dharma (De La Soul got it right – three really is the magic number).

The Dharma Chakra has eight spokes that stand for Eight Fold Noble Path. These spokes have sharp edges that are believed to ward off ignorance. The shape of the wheel is round which conveys the completeness and faultlessness of the dharma teaching. The spokes stand for wisdom, the hub for discipline and the rim for concentration. Discipline is extremely important in meditation, similarly concentration is of utmost significance to hold everything together.

I love the idea of the spokes standing for wisdom, the hub for discipline, and the rim for concentration – this could easily be a metaphor for riding a motorbike (one is always conscious of where the wheels and the road connect) and for the Middle Way, of course!

By ‘turning the wheel’ one can literally change one’s luck, or wyrd (to use an Anglo-Saxon concept). The very act of travel can become an act of prayer. Whenever I jump on my bike and go for a blat I feel I ‘shift’ something – even if it is just blowing away the cobwebs. More conscious acts of journeying (ie to sacred sites on pilgrimage) can really enhance one’s karma.

So, as I keep turning the wheel, I send out a prayer: May my luck turn also! And bring good fortune to all those I come into contact with.

I caught the train home the next morning – feeling wiped out by my big ‘push’ to launch the book. All this publicity and promotional stuff can be exhausting, but is unfortunately part of the author’s lot these days. No hiding of light’s under bushels!

Earlier in the week I had conducted interviews for BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Gloucester (a great interview with Faye Hatcher). I got to listen to Phil Rickman’s book review programme Phil the Shelf upon my return – the interview seemed to go well, but was predictably butchered to ‘soundbites’: shame he focused on the salacious side (the aphrodisiac qualities of a certain waterfall in North Wales) and kept getting my name wrong. What I thought was a serious book show turned out to be one that focused on the gimmicky and weird – a kind of ‘odd box’ programme. I was lumped with the weirdoes. Oh well!

Perhaps I can take some consolation in Rickman’s response to the book: ‘Inspiring stuff’. And he said of my Pistyll Rhaeadr account: ‘the kind of incident from which folklore is formed.’ which can’t be all bad…

If anything, this week’s media floozing has just reminded me again what a fickle mistress she is! I felt slightly grubby afterwards – tread softly, for you tread upon my dreams!

What should be more down-to-earth and satisfying is the next date on my ‘Turning the Wheel Tour’. For a start, this one I can walk to. On Thursday I give a talk in my fab local, the Crown and Sceptre – literally, the end of my lane – precisely one year on from moving to Daisybank. It feels like I am thoroughly ensconced in my community. It is nice to be made to feel so welcome. The friendly pub is run by a biker, Rodda, and has a lovely community feel – serving the patrons of the Horns Road area and beyond. The town seems to have a concentration of creative types, and most of them seem to live along my street! Is there something in the water (or the ale)? I think I need to investigate further…

More talks are coming up …

Turning theWheel Tour

dates confirmed so far…

2011
25 Nov – Five Valleys Foyer, Stroud
27 Nov – Wessex Research Group, Bogan House, Totnes
1 Dec – Crown & Sceptre, Horns Rd, Stroud
3 Dec – Isbourne Holistic Centre, Cheltenham
9 Dec – The Bear, Holwell
10 Dec – Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury
15 Dec – Waterstones, Bath
21 Dec – Midnight Sun, Lansdown Hall, Stroud

2012
5 Jan – Bonn Central Library, Germany!
28 Jan – Swindon Brunel Waterstones
1 Mar – George Hotel, Bridport
29 Mar – New Brewery Arts, Cirencester
21 April – PFNE Conference, York
28 April – Trowbridge Waterstones
7 May – Hawkwood Open Day

Hope to see you on the road – turning the wheel together.

Reaching Ithaka

All you need... Sunrise Celebration with friends

1-9 June

And if you find her poor,
Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
So wise as you will have become,
so full of experience,
you would have understood by then
what these Ithakas mean.

CP Cavafy

With relief I boarded the plane at Hurghada that would take me home – after a lovely send off by my new friends the night before (a soiree at Angelica and Daniel’s place, then one (or two or…) for the road in the Smugglers Inn with the Tropical Gangsters – of which I was made an honorary member) I was leaving Egypt with some good memories, my second draft, and a batch of new poems. It had felt like a long month and I was looking forward to: a long soak and my own bed; British woodland; decent beer, music and books; Marmite; and my friends!

The flight was unexceptional – the usual being-sucked-through-a-tube, crammed-in-like-sardines experience courtesy of your average Queasyjet budget airline. They obviously base the ergonomics of the seating on Oompa Loompas – not longshanks like me. Typical of the British transport system that it took longer to get from Gatwick to Bath than Hurghada to London. My flight arrived in around midnight and I had to hang around in a chilly Paddington until 5.30am to get the first train back. When the coffee shop opened up at 5 I was there first customer – needing a hot drink to thaw out. Yet on the train home I loved seeing the landscape of England unfold in the grey dawn light – verdant, damp and ancient. When I caught sight of the White Horse of Uffington (I always notice it when I’m on the London train) I knew I was finally home, in a landscape whose language I could read.

White Horse of Uffington - the heart of England

from notebook, 1 June: glimpsing the white horse in the damp light of an english dawn…blessed rain – after a month in the desert i feel it on my face, smiling as i walk home

Arriving back home was a blessed relief. After a 16 hour trip I crashed, only emerging later for a lovely homecoming meal with a friend who had been flat-sitting while I was away. Seeing how aching and weary I was from my long journey home, she tried to give me a massage, but it’s somewhat painful when you have sunburn on your back (the result of spending my last day in El Gouna snorkelling in the Red Sea)!

I spent the next few days catching up and de-pressurising (it felt like coming up from a deep sea dive and I had to avoid the ‘bends’). I had a stack of exam marking to do, but my brain was still somewhere over the Med.

Thursday evening went for my first rideout to the Weston Bike Night – a lovely run along Chew Valley in the westering sun. There were hundreds of big shiny bikes there. Even the sands of Weston-Super-Mud looked agreeable in the sunset. I mingled with the crowd. Drank a coffee. Had a Mars bar. Took pics. It was nice to do something normal for a change!

Friday met up with some friends at Green Park Brasserie, watching an Arabic troupe, of all things – more belly dancing! Seeing it back home in Bath, after a month in the desert, made me feel strangely at home. The rock legend happened to be in the audience and I plucked up courage to speak to him – and we chatted for about five minutes about his latest album. He was pleasant – as long as you didn’t act like a complete tit (a friend sidled over as we were chatting and said ‘Can I talk with you?’, and Robert turned around and said, ‘No.’) After, we went to the mirrored splendor of the Speigeltent on the Rec to see another legend – Martin Carthy, the granddaddy of the British folk scene. It was nice to sample some of the delights of the Bath Fringe – eccentric creativity at its best.

Saturday evening I caught up with my friends Marko and Jay. I enjoyed having my first pint of Guiness for some time – and having a heart-to-heart with kindred spirits.

Sunday went to the Sunrise Celebration down near Bruton with Jay and Sally. I’ve been going to festivals since 1989 but haven’t made it to this relatively new festy until this year – it seems to have taken the place of the sadly demised Big Green Gathering, and felt like an early version of it – indeed alot of the stalls, bands, cafes and crew were the same so it’s not surprising. It looked beautiful, had a nice vibe, was easy to walk around and had a positive ethos. For once, it was nice just being a punter and enjoying the whole thing without having to worry about performing somewhere or giving a talk. I saw Tim Hall and friends perform their enchanting harmonies, jigged to Seize the Day, listened to some wacky New Age talk and had the usual random festival experiences, eg dancing with a tree…

Dancing with Treebeard at Sunrise Celebration

Monday I had to get up at ‘stupid o’clock’ to go to Milton Keynes for an OU exam marking meeting – if anything was going to bring me down to earth with a bang, this promised to. But it was a chance to visit Northampton nearby and see my family – which made the whole thing worthwhile. Being back in the ‘dirty old town’ (the Pogues song always rings through my head as I walk by the gas works and Carlsberg back to my folks place) certainly made me feel I had finally ‘landed’. You can’t get more prosaic – but it was nice to catch up with my kin. My nephew was now a strapping young man – he’ll be twenty this month – a veritable Telemachus (I still remember him climbing over my head when he was a terrible toddler). We went to flicks as a pre-birthday treat and I bought him a beer – it felt like I had left when he was a boy and returned when he was a man. Where does all the time go…? To continue the Odyssian conceit – ‘Argus’ was a lively little Scotty called Daisy. And my Mum continues knitting – not quite Penelope with her tapestry, but it’ll do! My sister made it down – it was great to see her as always. My young niece was bemused by my gift of a soft toy camel at first – when squeezed it sang some Arabic ditty – but eventually warmed to it, clinging to it possessively. I showed my holiday snaps – and amazingly no one nodded off.

Tuesday caught the train back home and got stuck back into things – have a mountain of stuff to sort out (marking; book launch; gig on Friday; house; publishing projects…). At least in the desert life is less cluttered! Here, there’s a thousand things clamouring for our attention, a thousand distractions. It’s been great catching up with friends, but I hope I do not lose the clarity and focus of the desert.  Yet … it lingers. As Jay and I agree (we have both spent time writing in Egypt recently) once you have been to the desert, you carry it within you always.

the peace of the desert - you carry it with you always

My Day

My Day

I wake up every day as the light of the sun diffuses my room (I sleep with the curtains drawn back). I am in a clean, neat, tastefully-decorated room. I make myself a cup of tea and step out onto the balcony to greet the day – looking out over a perfectly manicured desert landscape. It is always sunny. The phone rings, it’s my morning call (I always awake before it, in the same way I wake up before the alarm clock rings back home). I maybe flick on the news (CNN seems the only one available in English), or read some. Most days I go for a dip in the lagoon, but today I’m feeling a bit weak after being unable to hold anything down for 24 hours. I shower and venture to the restaurant, hoping I can manage something. I bump into the guy who cleans the room and he greets me in a friendly fashion. I try to tell him my room needs cleaning while I’m out, but he always wants to come around when I’m in (the first time, when he arrived I was in the middle of writing. I opened the door and the wind-tunnel effect whipped away papers from my desk. He clattered about in the bathroom and his mobile phone went off twice with a trendy ring tone – leading to long conversations in lively Arabic, echoing into my room from the corridor. I took to hanging the Do Not Disturb sign on my door – but he would ring up, asking if I want my room cleaned). I walk along the well-designed colonnades to the main restaurant. As I pass through the security dolmen I greet the guards with ‘Sabah el Kheir’. I cause a bleep. At Fairways I find a discreet table for two then go to help myself to the buffet – which offers me several kinds of bread, jam, pastries, salad, fruit, eggs, cheese, cold meats, waffles, pancakes, and smoothies. A nice man brings me over a whole silver cafetiere of coffee, which I never finish. The hotel newsletter wishes me a nice day again and reports that the weather remains sunny. It’s ‘editorial’ is an article on Egypt being divided into Red Lands and Black Lands – the latter being the fertile areas bordering the Nile, made black with silt. This is repeated from a fortnight ago. I read something edifying over breakfast – limbering up my brain for the day. I say hello to my fellow writers, but don’t sit with them, since I’m struggling to hold down my breakfast and find eating, let alone conversation, difficult. One notices my green man t-shirt – ‘well, I’m green around the gills’, I joke. I return to my room and begin work. A chapter a day. Occasionally I step out onto the balcony to clear my head and feel a bit of sunlight and wind on my skin. It overlooks the pool, where lean tanned bodies sun themselves. Some of the women are topless – despite the polite notices – and I feel a little uncomfortable, as all I want to do is catch the light, but where do I look? (it’s all a matter of context – I’m no prude and like burlesque but when you’re just trying to catch some photons…). I don’t want them to think I’m a voyeur, so I go back into the shady coolness of my room. The air conditioner is on its lowest setting – sixteen degrees – but still it’s stuffy. At lunch I take a walk to the water and eat a handful of pretzels and an apple. The old security guy waves and comes over to shake my hand. He talks in an animated fashion in his own tongue. I smile and nod but can’t understand him. I apologise – but he probably doesn’t understand me. I return to my room and carry on my work. I have been marking OU papers in the afternoon – preserving the mornings for my own writing. I write my blog. Around five I like to go for an hour’s swimming and sunbathing by on the lagoon beach, then catch the ferry boat across to the Wellness and Health Club (I’m still not sure about the difference) to do a gym circuit if I’m feeling fat, or to soak in the sauna and steam rooms if feeling languid.  I lose  In the evening I usually go for a meal in the restaurant, or sometimes use the Dine Around scheme. Today I look longingly at the 5 Star buffet and hope I can imbibe some essential vitamins and minerals through just browsing, because nothing would stay in my stomach. Cuts down on the calories. I ask for a beer and get the same brand every time – Luxor. The other night I shared a meal with an attractive German lady – refreshingly brunette in a resort of blondes – just arrived from Munich. She is spending the week diving. She’s in Human Resources for a trucking company. I didn’t catch her name. I never see her again and wonder if she was a hallucination. The German guests here seem pleasant, decent folk, and I wish I could speak their language more. I like their directness, diet, orderliness and green sensibilities. I walk back to my room, enjoying the pleasant temperature and light breeze. I switch on the TV, fail to find anything worth watching, squish mosquitoes, read a bit, and fall asleep.

I wake up every day as the light of the sun diffuses my room (I sleep with the curtains drawn back). I am in a clean, neat, tastefully-decorated room…

Finding Common Ground

Saturday 15 May

‘In a world turned to desert, we thirsted for comradeship’
Antoine de St Exupery

Things are looking up – after starting the day with a bad head (a hangover is not recommended when it’s 37 degrees). I moved rooms to the first floor – after my request was finally acted upon. So now I have a bit of elevation and a view – which feels nice after living downstairs in the ‘gloom’. I live in a basement flat at home, so when you come away, you want to experience something different, don’t you? I quickly packed (in pleasant anticipation of my final departure) and with the help of a member of staff, shifted my stuff upstairs – it felt good to have a change of scene after two weeks – symbolically marking the half way point of the residency. I didn’t leave my literal baggage behind – let’s hope I’ve left the other kind though!

After settling in I worked on my book – making slow but steady progress – and caught up with my blog. However much I grumble I have to count my blessings – and remind myself that I’m enjoying an £8000 ‘holiday’ – staying in a £250-a-night room, all meals laid on… Though there’s no such thing as a free lunch, it’s hardly hard work – even putting up with people … at the end of the day, it’s all material. The writer should always consider – how can I turn this into fiction?

After mid-afternoon, it was just about bearable in the heat, so I went to the lagoon beach again and enjoyed a swim, a read and a nap before heading off for a workout and a sauna. I’ve never been so healthy.

I love the ferry taxi that takes me over to the Wellness and Health Club. Today, my ferryman,  one of the Steigenberger Egyptian staff,  greeted me with ‘Hey, Mr Writer!’ It seems they know of me here. ‘…from Ingerland!’ As we crossed the lagoon I joked that one side – the health club – was ‘keep fit’, the other – the Fairways restaurant, was ‘keep fat’. One side, you put on weight; the other, you try to burn it off. Fatness/Fitness. I liked the balance of this – a diurnal symmetry, as clear cut as an Egyptian night and day. The sauna and spa is shaped like a recumbent sow offering its teat-like domes to guests to suckle from. The interior – soothing music, lapping waters, essential oils – is a kind of womb; a feminine, nurturing space where boundaries are softened and we go to be ‘reborn’ every day. Oh, for one on my doorstep back in Bath (that didn’t cost the Earth). The local civic Sports Centre – reeking of chlorine – doesn’t have quite the same ambience. I left feeling relaxed – if only we had our writers’ meetings in the sauna, I think it would break down alot of barriers. Mmm, Writers-in-Sauna…?

Savouring such casual luxuries, I wished my family, my friends could be enjoying them too. My sister and nephew would love it. It would be great to hang out in the steam room with the guys – a kind of Men’s Sweat Lodge. I thought of my friend Marko, who was having one of his legendary birthday parties tonight – I haven’t missed one for thirteen years. They’re always a merry occasion – with one helluva Irish session. I imagined sinking a cold pint of Guiness with him – here’s to you: have a good craic, my man!

Tuk tuk - will take you anywhere in El Gouna for 5 LE

After a late dinner – a fabulous Indian buffet – I jumped into a tuk tuk with 3 Belgians (I sat next to the driver in the front – I tried to imagine taking 5 on my old 125… yet it still managed to hurtle along dangerously, a metal mosquito bloated on European blood) and headed down to Abu Tig Marina, to have a bevvy in the Smugglers Inn, El Gouna’s British pub. Tucked away in the backstreets, it was a tiny place – but for once felt like the real thing, with traditional dark wood interior, beer towels, horse brasses, broken clock, etc. All that was missing was any real British beer – only the usual generic lagers were on offer (licensed premises are only allowed to sell Egyptian beer, wine and spirits). But it had the atmosphere of a quiet back street boozer – with a handful of ‘local characters’ propping up the bar. Georgina, the busty blonde from Guildford, was behind the bar, doing a good Bet Lynch impression ;0) There was lean tanned Bill in the corner – just arrived but a regular visitor to El Gouna, who loves the sun and wears shorts all the year round, even in an English winter; Dave and Sue, the London couple (the wife turned out to be a pagan); the token drunk in the corner – Hector, a Scotsman who drawled and slurred like Macbeth’s porter, (insisting I go to Abu Simbel); and an Egyptian-Armenian guy, (Pierre) who didn’t say a word, but seemed to enjoy the ambience. There was no TV blaring away, or even any music. It could have been bleak if not for the general boozy bonhomie; it was an almost Becket-like scenario – the actors waited on a minimalist stage for ‘something to happen’. A wind had whipped up and before long a dust-storm was blowing outside, making the painted wooden pub sign sway like something out of Treasure Island. I half expected Long John Silver to walk in – it was a classic ‘dark and stormy night…’ Well, we certainly shared a few tales – the usual collection of pub randomness (Morris Dancing; flushing toilets on ships; buying furniture from Ikea – I was even asked about my writing). We mostly avoided politics (although at one point somebody went all ‘UKIP’). I didn’t feel like having a confrontation – we were all getting along so well – so I bit my tongue. Sometimes it is better to find common ground – and after a couple of weeks of being a stranger in paradise, it was nice to relax with some of my fellow countrymen and women. Back home, I probably wouldn’t end up chatting with them (though they’re nice enough, ‘salt of the earth’ types – no pretensions) but there’s something about being abroad that makes you draw together with your own kind, however briefly – as a temporary respite from the alienation. Of course, one can find a connection with anyone – as I’ve tried to do with the various tuk tuk and taxi drivers, hotel staff and guides that have crossed my path so far. Our common humanity – uniting us all, whatever our nationality or ethnicity, belief system, education or level of wealth.