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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Seeing out the year

I guess that 2009 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for most of us, it certainly has been for me. I have a visit today to an Opthalmologist to investigate something that has appeared on one of my retina which has to be one of the worst ways to end any year as I have no idea what to expect or how I will respond to it turning out to be bad news. That said, the rest of the year has been a very mixed bag, with going through the selection process for ordination and dropping out at the last hurdle. The struggle to get enough business to keep the bills paid has also been a challenge, one solved by the Tehran contract and which is now apparently in the balance. If the eye doctor comes up with bad news it may be scuppered, and if the Iranians don't solve their internal problems, that could also scupper it. Time will tell I guess.

Still, 2010 is worth looking forward too. The Monk and Mausi have plans. The Monk has sold his flat (Apartment) and will move from these shores in May. He will join Mausi in the Rhinelands and they plan to marry as soon as possible thereafter. So, if I am in a condition to do so tonight, I will be raising the glass to Mausi and looking forward to our future.

Now, where did I put that German lesson.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter holiday


Mausi's end-of-the-year holiday is coming to an end. It's back to the saltmines next Monday. Mausi has enjoyed her quiet time up here very much. Temperatures dropped dramatically and it started to snow almost on the first day of Mausi's holiday. Mausi was very grateful that she didn't have to drive to work for some time. The roads were treacherous at times.
Temperatures dropped to -15 °C for some days. Mausi's rain water barrels had to be whacked open with an axe each day to prevent them from being damaged, which resulted in Mausi taking a shower one morning because the water trapped under an icy cover in one barrel shot out under great pressure. Good thing Mausi could immediately return into the warm house, where the central heating was working overtime.
Anyway it has been fun watching the landscape being decorated by frost and snow to make it look even more beautiful than usual.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The King Wenceslas feeling....

At least the Page's feeling. My long planned trip to the Metropolis to meet my children and enjoy a Christmas and New Year meal with them promises, if I believe the BBC weather reports, to be a marathon journey with snow, sleet and rain to complicate it. Hopefully there will be salted, cleared roads to follow - and an absence of the juggernauts that make motoring in this country a misery these days.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sermon for St John's Day

St John the Evangelist and Apostle.
Festal Eucharist 27th December 2009

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

+May I speak in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

John is certainly one of the most interesting of the people called by Jesus to be a disciple and apostle. We are told that he was the son of Zebedee and brother of James. We are also told that they were “fishermen” but a study of the writing left by John suggests a very well educated one – probably the term used here is a bit like referring to the founder of the Cunard Line a seaman. Certainly the boats recently excavated in Lake Galilee suggest that they were quite expensive vessels, not the sort of thing one could knock up in a backyard with a few planks and some tools. That, in turn, suggests that Zebedee may have been a man of more substantial means than we suppose and his sons probably better connected than we might suspect on a cursory understanding of the scriptures.

The letter and our Gospel readings suggest that John had a deep knowledge not only of the scriptures of the Jewish canon but a deeper understanding of the message he and the others had been entrusted with by Christ. So the “fishermen” become Apostles – from the Greek word meaning messenger. That is the thrust of our Gospel reading for today as well, for two things are happening in that conversation between Jesus and Peter, another of the “fishermen”.
Jesus is calling Peter to be a messenger and in the preceding section to that which we have read today, he cancels Peter’s denials so that the Apostle starts with a clean slate. Looking back Peter sees John following as they talk and asks –

“Lord what about him?”

And Jesus responds –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Now, you may ask, “What is that to me?” The simple answer is that it means a great deal for and to us. For, in addressing Peter, Christ is addressing every one of his disciples and that includes us. It is not for us to know what any individual is called to do in service of the gospels; our concern must be what am I called to do for Christ?

Certainly, as it is now possible to see, each of the apostles had a set of skills, abilities and insights that they were being called to use in our Lord’s service. Some of the Apostles used their talents uncertainly at first and others with more confidence, but they obeyed the call. John had a double task since he was called to be a both an Apostle and to take responsibility for our Lord’s mother as he stood at the foot of the cross. It was not an easy call for any of them to obey, nor is it any easier for us.

Each year it seems our faith comes under ever stronger attack from our governing classes, in the media, in literature and now on bus adverts. It is something I think the apostles would have recognised. The question for us is how do we respond? How do we counter this trend toward a twenty-four hour, seven days a week matrialistic drive to the acquisition of wealth? How do we respond to the powerful voices that seek to portray the Christmas story as a fairy tale? Or which denigrate the message of the Bible by pointing to “discovered” Gnostic texts?

I suggest that, if our faith is to have any meaning, it requires that we respond by seeking to know and understand every aspect of what we believe and why the “alternative” texts and “histories” are false. It is no good simply sitting back and leaving it to the clergy – we are the church and we are just as much disciples as the clergy or the apostles.

I began my sermon by saying that John was one of the most interesting of the disciples. I shall now explain why I say that. John’s gospel was the last to be written, it doesn’t follow the chronology of Christ’s ministry except in general outline. The purpose of it is not to provide, as the Synoptic gospels do, a “history”, but to present to us the wonderful fact that, in Christ, God became human and walked among us; that in dying, he redeemed us in a way that no sacrifice by any human could have done and that in rising from the tomb in which John, Joseph and Nicodemus had laid him, he gave us the greatest gift of all. It is a theological treatise, a history and a refutation of the arguments already arising that Christ was nothing more than another prophet, a great one it is true, but just a very good man. It is the work of a man who has given this more than just thought. It is certainly not the work of a simple fisherman, but of a man who has become an eloquent advocate of the friend, teacher and God he followed around Palestine.
I commend to you a reading of the letters John wrote. Like his gospel they are deeply personal to the writer and instructive in their content for they urge strongly the need to love one another and to work together to ensure that the truth of the gospel is carried to all who would hear it. To John the image of Jesus as “The Light” is a powerful one, one he draws from a solid grounding in the Old Testament. He uses it in his prologue to his Gospel and it occurs in the opening of the letter we read today.

“God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all.”

W e are called to walk in that light, my brothers and sisters, and, like John, we are called to be the messengers of that light. We need to listen carefully for Christ is saying to each of us –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Amen

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A Christmas treat

The Abbey's musicians gave us a real treat yesterday. The choristers sang the service superbly, putting in their hearts and souls and the organists certainly put in a magnificent performance, both Ben and Carleton. No, there wasn't a duet, but there was a change of organ. It is always amusing to see the faces of our visitors when Ben and Carleton pull the switch like this. Normally Carleton conducts the choir and Ben accompanies on a Sunday or Holy Day when the Parish Choir is singing and yesterday was no exception.

So why the surprised looks from the congregation?

It works like this. Immediately after the Blessing and Dismissal, the final hymn begins. Normally the Milton Organ is used to accompany the hymns, but when the organists are ringing the changes so to speak, Carleton launches the hymn from the Grove organ out of sight from the congregation. Ben then switches off the Milton and stands up and leaves the loft in full view of the congregation ....

Those who know the different sound of the two organs quickly guess what is happening, visitors don't.

So we processed from the church accompanied by the growls and snarls of the Glorious Grove trying to keep a straight face as visiting members of the congregation peered at the empty organ loft and tried to figure out how the organ was being played. And it was certainly being played. Carleton's Recessional Voluntary was a stunner. Vierne's Finale to the 1st Symphony.

It has to be heard on the Grove I think to truly appreciate it.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'd like to take this moment to wish everyone who reads this blog a very merry Christmas filled with blessings and joy and a year to come that brings everything you hope for.

May the Peace of the Christ child be with you and remain with you.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Sermon for Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass
Christmas 2009; St Mary Magdalen, Twyning.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

+ May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

The opening paragraphs of St John’s gospel give us a powerful description of the God of creation. It is, in fact, a declaration of the Christian understanding of God. Some time ago I was given a small reproduction of a Byzantine Icon which shows Mary supporting an adult Christ who holds a scroll. The arrangement of Mary’s hands points to Christ and the scroll – this is Mary the Theotokos, the God Bearer and Christ is depicted as the Living Word in her arms.

This is the significance of the babe whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow and for the next twelve days. This is how the Word became flesh – the only way that even God could assume human form and flesh – to be born and to grow as we do into adulthood.

Isaiah foretells this in the prophecy we have just heard –

“The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is quoting Isaiah when he writes –

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Our crib shows us the human face of the Christmas story, our Gospel tells us the mystery that underlies it. And here the two most important aspects of this wonderful event meet in a very graphic sense for in becoming human, God has impoverished himself in the spiritual sense. From being the Word spoken at the beginning and to be spoken at the end of all things and all time, he adopted human form at a particular time and place in order to reach out to all mankind and draw us nearer to Himself.

We look and see a stable, hardly a place in which a King who transcends all earthly things and powers would choose to be born, yet that too has its place, for in a crowded Caravanseri there would be no privacy in which the birth could take place. Only in the stable could Mary deliver her child in quiet and without attracting the perhaps unwelcome attention of the other guests.

Today is the celebration of Mary’s delivery of her child, the living Word of God, the Word that was present at the beginning. There is a long road ahead of her now for she must nurture this child and bring him to adulthood so that He may fulfil the destiny He has ordained for himself. But now, on this night, delivered of her baby she may rest, safe and warm in the stall among the animals, her husband Joseph keeping watch over her.

Luke, who’s Gospel gives us a detailed description of the birth and is probably Mary’s own account, tells us that shepherds visited the stable to worship after being told of the birth by angels. Matthew also gives us this witness account and we may be sure that it did not go unnoticed or unmarked.

Of this we may be sure. The birth occurring in a stable in a caravanseri instead of in the home of Joseph’s relatives probably not far distant from the stable, is a part of God’s plan. The babe is recognised by the shepherds as being special and is recognised later by the magi – but passes unnoticed by the rich and powerful.

As John tells us –
“He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him.”
How do we respond to the Babe? Do we come to celebrate his birth simply because it’s a nice story and it’s what we do at Christmas? Or do we come because we, like the shepherds and the magi, recognise in this infant something greater, something awesome and so wonderful it must be told to everyone?

As we celebrate the birth of this child some two thousand years ago we should be struck by the wonder of what that child is. I cannot do better than St John when he writes –
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Amen

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow, ice, sleet, rain.....

We've had the snow, then we got the ice. Freezing rain was followed by sleet - and now we have more rain. Wonder what tomorrow will bring. At l;east the temperature has climbed from -2*C to a balmy 4*C.

A "White Christmas" seems to be off the cards now, though they are saying it will be foggy and grey. Ce la vie, I was getting tired of skating everywhere anyway.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Birthday remembrances

Today would have been my grandmother's 109th birthday. She died in 1977, confined to a wheelchair and all but unable to speak though her mind was still sharp and alert. In many ways she provided my brother and I with the mothering her daughter couldn't as the demands of earning a living and a marriage that needed constant work to keep it together militated against her.

Hector Mary Heron was a woman of great faith and tremendous patience. She never once complained as her disablities increased and the love she gave my brother and I, her husband and her family, was without limit. May she rest in peace.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Snow bound

Ironic isn't it? Everyone has this romantic image of a "white" Christmas, yet when we do get snow the whole country grinds rapidly to a halt. My local council hasn't gritted or dealt with the road and pavement outside my house and probably won't, so the surface is a sheet of ice, treacherous underfoot and all one can hear is cars slipping and sliding on it. Even more stupid is the fact that if I do anything to make the pavement round my fence safer I could be sued if any member of the public were to slip as a result - the exact opposite of the situation in Europe!

Perhaps this demonstrates more clearly than anything else that we are ruled by fools and incompetents and the only beneficiaries are the lawyers.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Famine and now feast

The last twelve weeks have been difficult from a faith perspective. I miss being able to attend Mass at least once a week and twelve weeks without attending congregational worship of any sort has been a bit of a stretch. So today I have had a feast. Deacon at the Said Mass, Deacon at the Parish Eucharist and Sub Deacon for the Sung Mass. All that's left now is the Carol Service.

The last couple of days have been busy as well. Twelve weeks away from home has left a huge pile of letters, bills, cards, statements and the inevitable junk mail has to go through. It has also left a large number of things that need dealing with immediately so I've burned the phone lines and the shoe leather and have managed to shift a number of things fairly quickly. There's still a lot to do, but it's getting there. Christmas shopping is still a problem though as I haven't got a clue as to what I can get for several people on my list and time is short.

And then I got an email today from Tehran setting out the "requirements" for the industrial course we are going back to run. In essence they are demanding a course, specific to a range of conditions that are impossible to fulfil with the equipment and facilities available. Looks like the first three weeks of January will be interesting to say the least.

To the devil with it - I'm going to enjoy the next few days as much as I can.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A thought for the Christmas Season

I subscribe to a site called FanStory, a website where authors of all levels of skill can air their works and get feedback from their peerrs on the quality and effectiveness of their writing. Every now and then one discovers something written by someone who is able to articulate something so effectively you wish it could reach a wider audience. Today I am posting just such a piece here in the hope that its message will reach others and perhaps even those who are responsible for the things mentioned in the article.

The last ever Christmas by Roberta Lee

"Happy Holidays," she said with a smile in her voice. I was on the phone and couldn't see her face, but I wondered if she knew what she was really saying.

"To which holiday are you referring?" I asked her. "I'm a Christian, so I am celebrating Christmas. Do you know about Christmas?"

Her voice tightened and she squeaked out, "We're not allowed to participate in religious discussions . It might be offensive."

"Well, since you are speaking to me, and I certainly won't be offended if you answer my question...will you? Answer my question I mean?"

"I am allowed to say I celebrate Christmas my own way. My children love Santa Claus. And of course the gifts."

"Hmm, do you and your children know what Christmas is? If you aren't a Christian, why do you celebrate Christmas? Why don't you move your gift giving to Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or some other winter celebration day"or better yet, just skip the gift giving altogether? Save your money. This is a very tight economy."

Another change of tone in her voice warned me that I had offended her sense of self as she replied, "We do live in America, and Americans celebrate Christmas."

"OK, fair enough I suppose,capitalism and all that, but Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, are you aware of that? The holiday didn't originate in America. I hope you'll take some time to learn about, and teach your children about Christmas. It really is a Christian holiday. It means something to us other than Santa Clause, hustle and bustle, and seeing who gets what present."

Silence punctuated by heavy breathing and the beep of the recorder letting me know that indeed, "This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes."

"I'll let you go, and thanks so very much for your help. And listen Eileen, (she told me her name at the beginning of our call) you have a wonderful Christmas, I hope it's not your last." She hung up.

I know, that wasn't really fair play. She sounded as if she were young, and most likely her children were very young, "Santa age." She had probably never seen a real Christmas pageant in her life...you know the kind with shepherds, and wise men, and Mary, Joseph, and most importantly the baby in the manger. I bet she never even wondered about the Nativity scenes that dot the shelves during the months from October until after the closeouts in January. She probably thought they were just another action set in old clothes.

My thoughts rumbled around inside my head and heart until they crashed into one another over my own parting, casually offered, smart-alecky remark. What if this was the last ever Christmas? What if the ACLU, our newly elected Muslim president, the nay-sayers and the ignorant succeeded in outlawing the Christmas Holy Day,the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. What if there was no more "Peace on Earth-Good Will Toward Men" allowed? No "Little Town of Bethlehem", no "O Holy Night", no "Silent Night, Holy Night" to soothe the spirit and ease thoughts of powdery snow and twinkling light gently into the dreams of every child? What if the raucous "Jingle Bells" and the nasal cacophony "Mama Got Run Over By a Reindeer" were the only songs resonating over the airways during the month of December.

Certainly the extravagance, the grandeur we Americans propitiate to during the Christmas season is a poor representation of the True Gift who came a babe, and clothed Himself in a garment of flesh; surrendering Himself for us a ransom. Regardless that our gifts are unable to compare in any way with His, yet we each yearn during that special season of the year to by some means, transcend the mortal and express the ethereal spirit most are unable to explain. There is nothing quotidian about Christmastime. We need to celebrate it. We need to celebrate Him.

I for one do not want to live in a world where the Christmas tree on the White House lawn means nothing, the star on top, an ornament--nothing more significant. Every foundational edict of my America is rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, an ethic that defines our humanity and provides us inspiration to respect one another regardless of race, creed, or yes--religion. Take away the ethic, take away the "Reason for the Season" we celebrate as Christmas and there is nothing remaining that is pure and noble, selfless or eternal. What does remain is the greedy, grasping, nose stuck in one's own navel, hedonistic, egocentric parody of life as it was meant to be...life as He meant it to be.

A spirit of rebellion wells up within me, so unlike the Spirit of the Son of God whom I celebrate. He convicts me of my anger as He reminds me that nothing can remove me from His hand. This sovereign Lord, this King of Kings cannot be debunked or legislated out of existence. "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" No matter that some bitter, wrathful soul, lost in their own ignorance believes that prayer can be removed from schools or "In God We Trust" removed from sight in America. The Spirit of Christ-mas past, present, and future cannot be recanted because He who has promised to "be with us always, even unto the end of time" is faithful. He cannot be eradicated because He existed before time ever began, and He will be Himself throughout eternity.

Some may choose to bastardize "Christmas", some may choose to adulterate the genuine greeting with a weak and vitiated "Happy Holiday" or "Seasons Greetings," but I will greet everyone with the heart of the season. I will celebrate THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, who came to take away the sin of the world...and I will wish everyone a glorious, a joyful, an everlastingly true Christmas.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Home, James ....

Straight through the Park and don't spare the horses!

We are sat on our flight home to Blighty at last. Now we have three weeks to restore ourselves, sort out the accumulated problems and post - and get ready to come back to Tehran in January. Assuming no one does anything politically stupid in the meantime.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Time to go home


One of the feral dogs that has become an eager 'friend' every time we work outside at Salehabad has found a spot out of the rain, wind and snow - for the moment. We haven't the heart to tell her - but this car is scheduled for a burn in the new year. I get the feeling that she is hinting that if we would just get in and start it ...

Anyhow, we are all packed and ready to leave for the airport at 02.30 in the morning. The flight is at 06.35 but we need to be there at 04.00 and its an hours drive if the conditions, traffic-wise, permit. So we're leaving nothing to chance. Especially after having had the journey from hell this morning. We left at our usual time, no problem there, but two days ago a tunnel collapsed in central Tehran - there's no information on the news about it, but its closed a lot of streets. That has pushed all the traffic otwards onto already busy expressways and streets.

The result, this morning, was gridlock around Azadi Square after a truck and trailer overturned....

It took two and a half hours to complete our journey to work, normally 55 minutes, and even then we were, at one point, travelling west away from work in order to get to the motorway that by-passes Tehran completely. Neither of us will be sorry to get home tomorrow. Now, the only question is - are my bags overweight?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Counting the hours

Yes, we are now counting the hours down to getting on that plane home. The last couple of days have been interesting from a traffic point of view. The huge traffic relieving tunnel being built under the centre of the city collapsed suddenly on Monday morning and has caused the closure of several major routes through it. That has pushed everything onto already choked alternatives and the situation isn't looking good for the next few weeks as they sort this out.

Interestingly there has been very little about it on the news.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Mountain views

From the roof of our apartment block the mountains make a magnificent sight behind the city - when you can see them at present as they are frequently hidden in heavy mist or clouds and when they do reveal themselves - the snow has invariably crept that bit closer.

It's now about a mile from us and only about 100 metres above our level. And the wind is cold .....

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Stormy view


Taken on Thursday this shows the snows descending. A few minutes later and it was snowing at the level of our roof - but melting before it hit the road below. Weird to see, the snow vanished pretty quickly but stayed higher up the slope..

Friday, 11 December 2009

Climate Conference scams

So the Climate Change Conartists are now all in the spotlight and we have to endure the BBC News 24 Non-stop blather (With suitable cuts to archive footage of melting glaciers and steaming cooling towers labelled "pollution") by all the PR people who want to convince us that handing them something like $45 trillion (In my money thats 45 million-million) so they can "redistribute" the wealth of the "industrialised" nations to the "developing" nations to stop them cutting down trees and "improve" their industries.

If the "Climate Gate" Scandal has taught us anything it is that we should be very wary of the political motive behind this proposal because it reeks of good old-fashioned communist "soak the rich" and "redistribution" philosophy. What these airheads refuse to recognise, or to admit if they are simply being cleverly devious, is that the "industrialised" world will simply impoverish itself and enrich its competitors in this moronic exrecise. And there will be no change because the root of the problem in all "developing" nations os massive overpopulation. Look about you at the areas we are told are already "feeling the effects of climate change".

The Ganges delta is one such area, but if you massively increase the number of fishermen, you will naturally see the disappearance of entire fish species and a collapse of animal and piscine populations. Likewise the flooding, the delta has always flooded. My father was there in 1943 - 45 and they had to rescue people from floods then - because it is an annual event. Its not new, what is new is the vast number of people now trying to eke a living on it and in it. That is the eco-disaster - not the falsified and distorted numbers crunched by the pseudo-science that is the AGW and IPCC "reports". Take a good look at the posts on "Watts up with that". (Link in the sidebar!) The same can be said of Ethiopia, the land there has been semi-desert since man first appeared. Yes, it has wet years and dry years, what it hasn't had until the 1960s is the massive population now trying to live off it.

Are the Polar Ice-caps melting? The evidence is far from conclusive even at the North Pole. And one of the things the "Climate Scientists" currently raking in the "research" funding from governments complicit in this scam (Presumably so they can tighten control on their taxpayers and play their dangerous social engineering games) consistently ignore and deny even is that the polar ice was considerably less than it is now in the year 1000AD period. Greenland was green then, and vines grew in Newfoundland if the Norse sagas are right. Certainly in modern Maine and Masschusetts. Will we all be submerged? Not unless the entire mass of Antarctic Ice were to melt catastrophically - all six miles thick of it. Sea levels rising? Chertopert! Too many peope living where they can be hit by floods and storm surges. We are talking millimetre rises yes, some of it because the 12,000 year long process of land rising after being pushed down by the weight of the ice in the last Ice Age is causing the South Coast of Britain at any rate to sink! Let's see the Greenstrife activists stop that happening! Preferably at their expense and not mine or my children's!

I am sick to death of the young, ignorant and oh, so focused, PR people I am seeing on the BBC - all spouting complete garbage about CO2 levels - not a shred of evidence for its effect - and all earnestly believing that the now exposed fraud of a climate model based n the rings from twelve trees in Siberia represents the past, the present and the future. I get even angrier when the BBC shows shots of the cooling towers belching steam and burbles about the "power station pumping polluting CO2 into the atmosphere to feed or energy needs." Will someone, somewhere please take them to the Advertising Standards Authority for False Representation!

So the ":Climate/Save the Planet" mob at the UN want $45 trillion of our money. Not out of my pocket. Let's see the colour of your money first, I have no intention of funding the Bank Accounts of the Developing Nations leadership in Switzerland any more than I am doing already.

Here's a solution to all this - ship the entire Climate Change Movement scientists and all their supporters to one of their "at risk" nations. When they can demonstrate that they have reveresed the problems there of corruption, over population and exploitation they always want to blame us for - maybe I'll sit down and listen to the rest of their "Chertopert"!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Final week ....

By this time next Thursday we hope to be sat on our flight home. Its been a long twelve weeks, though we have all seen places and met people that have made it more enjoyable. In fact we can say that we have made quite a few friends here. There is also a sense of unreality in some of the things we have seen and done - like having to evict a nest of puppies from under one of our units before we set fire to it.



These are the one's who haven't been quietly "adopted" by the students, workers and farmers round here, there were originally twelve of them....

Another indicator I guess of the different approach to life is the builder's accomodation on building sites and the training centre is no exception. I have no doubt that this is the same as it was in the time of Darius or even probably Cyrus. The first thing to happen on any site is the building, with mud bricks and scraps of iron, timber and roofing sheets, of a simple "house" divided into several small rooms all accessed from outside. A small enclosure on one end provides an ablution space (Bucket of water that can be poured over you in the privacy of the enclosure) and cooking is done on an open fire or a small portable stove in front of this in fine weather or indoors in wet and cold. Furniture seems to be optional and usually homemade or salvaged. When the work is completed, the bricks are taken down and carted off to the next site ...

Having one of these next to our burn units has been educational. Here we are furnishing rooms that are better built and better furnished than our builders enjoy - and then we burn them. On a couple of occassions some of "our" furniture has vanished overnight. Yes, its annoying, but we can hardly begrudge its use (most of it is pretty awful anyway) to a bunch of guys who have nothing and little hope of improving their lot.

Living here and observing the lives of such a broad range of people and their hopes, fears and ambitions certainly gives a wider perspective to the Biblical story that we mark at this season.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hey, baby, it's cold outside!

Well the snowline has descended to our apartment block's level which means the streets higher up have even more. We seem to be right on the boundary between the snow and the rain and its alternating between the two. The mountains are now blanketed in the white stuff and I'm glad I can spend the next two days in doors without having to face the traffic (Still horrendous but now more so!) and take some time out to catch up on several things.

Only seven more days before we fly home, my only concern is the amount of tasks awaiting me and the shortness of the time I will have to deal with it all! This is going to be tight.

Meantime, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. As long as the flights still run next Thursday at 06.35....

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Descending snow line ....

No, I haven't go a picture, its a bit too misty and the view is obscured - but the snowline is now down to just above the level of the highest apartments up the slope behind us. The last two days have been heavily overcast and the rain at our level is snow higher up. Hills that were not snow covered at the beginning of the week are now. And the wind is definitely colder. As soon as there is a clear day I want to try and get a picture, but it isn't likely to be before Thursday at present appearances.

The dry ground is now muddy here and the farmer opposite the Training Centre is busy harvesting the turnip crop. Crop rotation is obviously something deeply ingrained here, as he has ploughed, harrowed and planted a winter crop already - presumably one that that likes the snow and needs the water that is available in winter.

And the good news for us is that it is now nine days to our flight home. Personally I can't wait. Its been fun in some ways, and its certainly paying the bills for the moment. But I'm also conscious of the very large number of things now urgently requiring my attention at home. Not to mention my beloved old Paddy Cat who has probably given me up for lost.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Tense in Tehran

For the moment we still have the internet and the phone, although there is reportedly a large anti-government demo in progress. We did have a lot of warning about it and last night there were people standing on the rooftops chanting, the traditional form of protest here. That said, where we are accomodated and where we are working we have seen and heard absolutely nothing further.

BBC news reports from Turkey are interesting, but there is nothing live to go by.

Watch this space, I'll post of there is more.

Meantime we are looking forward to getting home in just on ten more days. The folk we are working with are super, we couldn't ask for nicer people to work alongside. Even the people on the street are warm and friendly, its not unusual to be stopped in a shop and asked where you are from and then engaged in friendly conversation, albeit in broken English. But, lets face it, home is home. Twelve weeks away from it is a long time.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Happy St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas of Smyrna, now in modern Turkey, was bishop there in the early history of the church. It is his example of giving gifts to those who needed help that is the model for our gift giving at Christmas and other times. He is also the model of Santa Claus - more propery Sinta Klaus, the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas - and some of our traditions.

The traditional red coat may be a confusion of traditions as well, since it is the colour used by the church to depict a martyrdom and Nicholas was not in Western tradition, a martyr.

Today is the day in Holland that "Struwel Pieter", a rather scary figure, visits homes and checks on which children deserve presents. In some traditions as well, it is this day that gifts are exchanged and not on the 25th. Whichever tradition you follow, remember Nicholas, and remember who he was following in his generosity to others. It is an example we do well to follow.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

More from Karsan




More pictures from Karsan and the stunning heritage of the "great houses" that are preserved there. The sense of history as one surveys this country is almost overwhelming. The pictures show some of the vault decoration in the Merchant's House. It is original and unrestored - stunning to think it is more than 200 years old.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Blogging from Tehran

Is fraught with interruptions and to be honest we are working so hard that it is sometimes difficult to remember to post something. For one thing we do not have internet access at work. This was promised weeks ago, but using a MacBook has its disadvantages, especially when the host has a system that requires the installation of a Microslosh program in order to access their systems login .... The MacBook simply refuses to even consider it. Probably rightly.

Some of the other guys have access, but it is slow and erratic, so I don't bother while I'm at the office. Besides we have enough to do just to run the courses anyway as we have some support, but it is usually restricted by language barriers. Much easier to just do it yourself.

It is interesting to see what is reported here and how it is reported. I am strongly reminded of political science lectures from my distant past in which it was pointed out that a common tactic for a government unpopular at home and in trouble to "invent" all sorts of external "enemies" and to play up external threats. So the vote in Switzerland, hardly what I would term a typical example of the west, as "Islamaphobia" and "proof" that Islam is under attack in, and by, the west. I am constantly told here that "freedom of worship" is practiced, yet Christian Churches, and there are quite a number, are generally run down, locked and well hidden. Mosques, on the other hand, are everywhere being built, renovated, or enriched - all with a "Mosque Tax" imposed and collected centrally and available only to the Mosque committees. The people here are told that this is the way the western democracies fund the promotion of Christianity and the "war" on Islam.

Likewise the seizure and freeing of the yacht and its crew in this week is "spun" in the same way our Labour Government "spins" and filters the news at home. No wonder people everywhere are losing faith in their governments and politicians have lost everyone's trust.

Yet, one cannot but be aware of the pride of the people in the street in their heritage and their hopes, not dissimilar from our own, in a bright and free future for themselves and their children. It is surely not such a far fetched ambition? Perhaps if we could actually get a media that is free of political bias, interested in telling the truth and not in spinning the bad for political and financial gain we might begin to understand one another better.

But that is probably far too much to wish for!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Decoration


Some of the decorated walls in the Merchant's House in Karsan. Considering the house has stood open to the elements for the last 140 years it is a tribute to the original craftsmen that these are still visible.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Karsan


The symetry of the buildings is amazing, they are grand, they are designed to impress - and they are several hundred years old. This picture was take in the reception hall of the house built by the family who collected the tax for travel to Esfahan from Karsan. The position was a hereditary one and the house reflected the "perks" of a tax collector at this time.

Nice post - if you can get it.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Mustafa Kemal

One of the things Mausi found a bit astonishing in Ankara was the almost total absence of women with headscarves. There were some of course, but not nearly as much as Mausi had expected. The women in Ankara looked liked the ones in any other European Capital regarding clothes and hair styles. Thanks to their interpreter Mausi learnt a bit more about the history of modern Turkey.

After the Turks had unfortunately sided with the Germans in WW I they took a lot of punishment when the war was lost. Neighbouring states and also those from farther away like Britain occupied those parts of the country that had something to offer. Like oil wells in the south of Anatolia. Between 1919 and 1922 the occupants were driven out by force thanks to a young officer named Mustafa Kemal Pascha, who had been elected Head of the Great National Assembly in 1920. After the peace of Lausanne in 1923 he dismissed the Sultan and tried to transform Turkey into modern state of western European style. He wanted to turn Turkey into a Republic for his people, although he had to use dictatorial means to achieve this.

He abolished for example Arabic characters in books and newspapers and exchanged them for Latin ones. He abolished Islamic law and introduced laicism, the separation of religion and state. He was probaly too far ahead of his people in the 1920's because Mausi has a feeling that his ideas have not really rooted themselves firmly in the Turkish society. Sadly, he died in 1938 at the age of 57. Nonetheless he is still much admired and held in high esteem everywhere. One cannot walk through Ankara without seeing his portrait everywhere and his Mausoleum cannot be overlooked either.



The mausoleum and adjoining museums occupy one of the many hills in Ankara. From up there one probably has the best view over the whole city, in all directions. The museum contains several wax figures of the Kemal Ataturk (Father of all Turks) himself and every bit of his personal or state possession the museum people could get their hands on. It makes a very interesting collection indeed. Still, Mausi was not most impressed by the jewellery nor the porcelain or the state cars but by Kemal's library. There were books about philosophy, history, natural sciences, sociology and encyclopedias in several European languages.

Still, Mausi can't help the feeling that the pendulum is swinging back, despite the western looking women in Ankara. In the country it is quite a different matter and Laicism seems not to be that popular anymore. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next few years, especially as Turkey wants to become part of the European Union.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The "Traditional" House, Karsan

This house is built around seven courtyards. Built around 1600 in our calendar (This year is 1388 in the Shia Calendar), the house was the home of the family who controlled the road to Esfahan from Karsan Each courtyard had a function, the entrance one is the grand approach intended to impress visitors. It is flanked by two more, one on each side dedicated to trade and commerce. At right angles to these and to the central core of the house are two more, one for the women to relaxe and the other for the males to entertain their friends. Behind the house are still others which provide a kitchen garden and kitchen area surrounded by storerooms and accomodation for servants. The other provided space for the bath house and accomodation for minor members of the household. Wind towers channel cool air into the interior - Mark 2 airconditioning. Ducts and airpassages allow the air to circulate throughout the house and in winter wooden shutters can be closed in the towers and in the ducts to stop the flow of cold air and allow fires to heat the rooms. Not bad for 400 year old technology ...



The picture shows the facade that faces the Western courtyard. It is almost impossible to get a picture of the whole house as it is tightly surrounded by buildings. The "tower' is one of the six "wind towers" serving the structure. The central portion of this building is three storeys and a basement. The rooms are large, magnificently decorated and beautifully restored.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Fingarden Palace, Karsan


The well spring at Fingarden pours upward from the great cenral hole in this pool and in three others. The force of the water rising is tremendous and one can only marvel at the engineering feat that the taming of these springs represents. One marvels even more that it is still, after a little over 400 years, still functioning so beautifully.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Fingarden Palace


Built around 1580, this wonderful palace was a summer residence for the Shah and his court. It is laid out within high walls and has formal gardens cut by walkways and the pools, fountains and baths are fed by a natural spring. The detailed decoration on the ceilings and walls is best described as stunning and the state of preservation is a tribute both to the builders and to those who now care for it so lovingly. Located some 150 km South of Tehran it is on the outskirts of the City of Karsan.

The main part of the palace sits across the southern wall of the enclosure and the springs rise from the pools in front of it and beneath its wing pavilions. At this time there was nothing as splendid as this in Northern or Western Europe and even the Southern Europeans were not enjoying this degree of expertise except where they interacted with the craftsmen of the East.

The stunningly decorated vaulting of the eastern pool pavilion.

The interior of the large plunge pool in the Bath House of the complex. This has a number of rooms and includes a hot pool, a tepidarium, toilets (waterborne flush) changing rooms and a massage room. All courtiers were expected to bathe regularly, a marked contrast to European Courts of the time. James I of England (VI of Scotland) is reputed to have never done more than wipe his face and hands with a damp cloth.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cyrus' Castle


Located above the town of Abyaneh, this castle was continuously occupied, extended and "modernised" for over two thousand years. It was fnally abandoned around 200 years ago.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Abyaneh Shrine

Exploring some history


Iran/Persia is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. It is also one of the oldest "nation states" with a history stretching back to around 1500 BC. Yes, it has seen invasions and conquerors, the last being the Seljuk Turks who brought Islam to the Persians, converting them from Zoroastrianism. Traditions die hard and some of their buildings and building techniques are still the same as they were when Xerxes invaded Greece or Alexander marched his conquering army across this landscape. Last Friday I had the interesting experience of visiting a town, once a city, founded before Cyrus the Great was born. That puts its founding at around 1000 BC. Abyaneh is a fascinating place, the buildings, all of them, constructed of mud and timber and literally clinging to a mountainside. Atop the mountain is the ruin of a castle built by Cyrus the Great and the town is home to a small Holy Shrine, the tomb of the son of one of the great Shia "Imams".

The pictures I wanted to include won't upload for some reason, but I'll keep posting them one at a time to show some of the streets, narrow winding alleys, paved with stone and having a central drain. The houses are all more than one storey, though some are no longer occupied. The ability to build these structures is still very much alive and well in this land of contrasts and proud people. I have also included pictures in the shrine and wish I could have taken some of the Great Mosque (It being Friday it was in use) which boasts what is probably an ancient Christian Altar table dated to pre-Islam and is certainly not Zoroastrian despite the signs!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hiatus

We have had a problem with our internet access for the last few days. Its back now, so posting on a regularly irregular basis may resume. Assuming there are no more disruptions to internet services at this end of the world.

Watch this space.

Friday, 20 November 2009

St Martin's summer

Germany is experiencing a spell of St Martin's summer at the moment, i.e. an unusually warm period at the end of autumn. It's been blue sky and warm sunshine all day where Mausi lives. Temperatures were about 15 degrees which made it quite pleasant to do some light gardening work. Yesterday they even had 20 degrees in Munich and people were taking sunbaths in November.

Legend has it that when the Roman officer Martin gave half his coat to the shivering beggar the snow storm suddenly stopped, the clouds vanished and the sun came out. Another story, though, says that when St Martin's coffin was shipped down the Loire the riverbanks suddenly turned green and plants burst into blossom. They certainly do in Mausi's garden: the snapdragons and roses are enjoying their fifth season...

Funny, when you think that what was regarded as a miracle at the time of St Martin's death nowadays is just seen as a meterological whim. Whatever, it's a nice spell before darkness and cold finally descend on us...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Lost?

The story of an elderly Australian motorist who managed to drive 370 miles after taking a wrong turn in New South Wales and wound up in Victoria near Geelong while out to buy a newspaper is amusing in one sense, espaecially as the old buffer has all his marbles and simply decided that, as he was lost, he might as well enjoy the drive.

If only one could say that of the State Opening of Parliament yesterday. If ever anyone was lost and without a GPS, roadmap or any other useful navigation tool it is Gordon Brown's government. Right from the farce of the Minister of Justice (formerly resident in the Lords and known as The Lord Chancellor) Jack Straw, tarted up in robes he obviously doesn't suit, through the rudeness and plain bad manners of the Commons parasites jabbering noisely in the lobby behind their respective "leaders" it was a pantomime. The "Queens Speech" lasted all of six minutes and contained nothing of any substance. In fact it was a classic example of Labour New Speak, nothing but hot air and vacuous slogans. Makes one wonder why the Queen bothered to get dressed for it and why the Lords even bothered to get out the vermin - sorry - ermine robes.

Lets face facts, this government lost its way after the first term, in fact probably during it. Their cronism and ideological claptrap is now come home to roost big time and as usual it is the tax payers who must foot the bills. The country is bust, the capital and underpinning wealth left during Blair's first term of office and it won't be coming back. So yesterday's little bit of panto is really just the admission that Gordo and his coterie of sycophants, ideologues and social inadequates are lost. No map, no compass and no GPS - and probably no clue as to how to use any of those aids to finding one's way.

I suppose we can hope that Blair or Brown gets elected as EU President. After all why should we be the only people to suffer under these morons ....

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Change in the weather

We are currently having torrential rain here in Tehran, but higher up the mountains behind us it is snowing. And now we have thunder and lightning as well. From the way the rain is slashing down I expect there will be some flooding in lower lying areas and some of the expressways.

The forecast says that we can expect the temperatures to afll dramatically overnight and the weather seems set to deteriorate from now onwards. If this is a foretaste, I think I'll bring out the wellies and the waterproofs.

Tomorrow our plan is to go shopping in the main Bazaar. Should be entertaining if nothing else, the Bazaar is an interesting place to say the least.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Relax - everything is under control ...

My colleague in Tehran has been helping some of our other colleagues with their course. I took the opportunity to see what they were up to in the fire boxes. Unlike the one's George and I use, there is no pretence of making them look like a room The object of the exercise is to show fire fighters how to control the heated gases which develop rapidly at ceiling level. It is also an opportunity to show them things like the "neutral"plane which is the lowest level to which superheated gas and smoke will settle inside a compartment. George, having lit the fires in preparation for the student exercise, was in playful mood as I tried to photograph the fire development. Note the absence of George in the second picture as the fire spreads across the ceiling in the smoke plume and the neutral plane begins to form - thats the thin layer of white-ish smoke you can see around half the height of the unit from the floor.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Fire training

We are hard at it on our third round of students for fire investigation. I took a number of pictures during our burns for their practical investigation exercises. I've been doing this for a little over ten years now - and it still surprises me. The fire has both a beauty and a darkness, it is one of our most useful and yet most destructive forces. I hope this picture make you think about your own safety from this threat.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Citadel

Mausi was lucky enought during her stay in Ankara that her work load still left a little bit of time for sightseeing. A touristic must certainly is the Citadel on one of the hills that are dispersed throughout Ankara.


Apparently the foundations were laid by the Romans and the Byzantines built onto them. Today it looks like a very small, fortified village, very much in the Western European tradition of the Middle Ages.


This was supposed to be place where court was held in Roman times. The defendant was stood in the pit with the court sat in the gallery above him. If he was found guilty the lions were let into the pit...


Anyways, the citadel is well worth a visit. The view from up there is splendid and it is good fun walking along on the top of the walls...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Civil Service parasites

My blood boiled today. I received a copy of a UK newspaper a day or so old. Yes, you've probably guessed. It was the headline coupled with the date that had me speechless with fury. The Civil Servants in the Ministry of Defence have been paid out £47 million pounds in bonuses for "efficiency"..........

OK, now I'm having to carefully control my heart rate, my blood pressure and take some serious anger management exercise. This bunch of insufferable incompetents have been awarded BONUSES? For EFFICIENCY? Do they seriously think the rest of us are blind, half-witted idiots? We have our soldiers and sailors on such low wages that they need to draw "Income Allowance" benefits from the Department of Social Security to keep their families in the basics. And the Mandarins in their comfy offices (Refurbished at the cost of a new Type 45 Destroyer!) award themselves bonuses that would have seen all our fighting services given a decent pay rise!

This same bunch of utter incompetents can't manage any contract on budget and on time - in fact the doubling of the cost of replacing the Trident system is entirely the fault of these incompetents, and the spiralling cost of the new aircraft carriers is down to the same bunch of morons. And they give themselves £47 million in bonuses for EFFICIENCY?

Its not just a disgrace. Its a full blown scandal and its time that other bunch of parasites in the Palace of Westminster stamped on them and cut the Civil Service down to size. Its long past time for the Civil Service to be slashed and reduced to a fraction of its size. But it won't happen anytime soon - the Westminster W*nk*rs are so deeply embroiled in this disgraceful theft of the Taxpayers money they can't afford to do anything about it.

OK, OK, I'm going to go and lie down for a bit.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Friday musings

It seems that there is the potential for a number of other jobs here in Tehran/Iran for the team currently engaged in training. Some of it will be quite intense if it is awarded to us and will involve a great deal of survey work for fire safety. While it is encouraging it is also a daunting prospect as there is more than just abricks and mortar/legislation thing to be achieved here. There is a whole cultural sea-change required.

For one thing this country has an unusual electrical supply system. Most countries use Three Phase Thre or Four Wire systems. That is, they have two "live" wires and one or two "neutral" wires with an "earth". The system here is Three Phase, Three wire - with all three wires being "live" and the "earth" acting as the "neutral". In essence this means many of the safety devices we use in Europe or the US simply don't work on this system. And then there is the approach to actually installing and installation or extending it. Spaghetti is the term that springs most readily to mind.

Stoarge practice, working practice even displays will all have to be addressed in the places it is proposed we advise on. And those are not simply a case of "show and tell" - this is going to be a battle for hearts and minds and to convince people that it is not the "Will of G-d" that fires happen or people die in them. They have done business this way for centuries, why change now? Just because some westerners tell you to? Not likely.

Coupled with that I'm not at all sure I really want to spend months at a time here dealing with this.

I think, as Fagan famously says, "I t'ink I better t'ink it out again!"

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Remembrance

Remembrance Day always brings out a sense of loss and of thankfulness for the sacrifice made on our behalf by so many in so many wars. It seems the human psyche is just incapable of learning from it all, we constantly find new excuses to be at each other's throats or at least our politicians do.

Peace is a relative thing, and it depends on being prepared to stand up for what you believe in and for what you believe to be right. Wras erupt when people are persuaded by their leaders, by media bias and by propaganda, that they are threatened by some other group. Sadly, nothing has changed in the thousands of years of human "civilisation" to change that.

As I recalled the sacrifice of so many lives yesterday, I also said a prayer for those who survived. They too were marked by their experiences and we should remember that.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Five to go ...

Only another five weeks and I'll be sat on the flight home for a short break. I must say, pleasant as the people are here, I miss having my own things around me and being able to set my own task ist daily.

And I miss Madam Paddy Cat.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Winter chills

This evening huge clouds appeared over the mountains here and then covered them. By the time we had fought our usual battle - or our driver had - through the traffic, it was evident that the mountains have a new layer of snow and the city has had a dump of rain. The wind is presently from the north east and is bringing the chill of the snow down to us.

The mountains look fabulous, the snow pristine and the stark rock strata stand out here and there. Lower down, the cooler air and the recent rain has brought the grass and shrubs to a late greeness, but the cooler air has trapped the smog. I guess you win some and you lose others. If I get a chance and a clear shot, I'll try for a picture of the new snow, but for now, we'll have to figure out how to deal with burning the scenes for our course if its snowing ...

Tomorrow is "Friday on Wednesday" and we can at least look forward to the weekend. It was suggested we go to the mountains earlier today for an outing on Thursday. Weather forecasts suggest it might not be an option!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Family enlargement ....

At the centre we are working in, there is a small collection of "feral" dogs. It is not customary for the Iranians to keep pets so we also have a collection of feral cats. Most of them seem to do quite well food-wise, but are very wary of people. The dog in the picture has recently welped, delivering eight puppies of her own and managing to keep another five from somewhere else as well. Between the feral cats and the feral dogs we hav to take care that none have taken up residence in any of our fire scenes when we fire them up.

The picture shows "mum" with a large part of her brood. Our students and the staff here regularly feed them on left-overs from their own meals and even ensure they have adequate water. It is, we are told, illegal to keep a dog or cat as a pet here since the revolution which probably explains the number of feral cats around our apartment block and the equally large number of dogs around the centre which is on the southernmost edge of Tehran and bordered by farmland.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Over the hump ...

We "celebrated" passing the midpoint in our stay here in Tehran yesterday. I meant to post something then about it, but, frankly, the day passed in a blur of work with our new course starting and today has been busy too. We have a new group of students and its tricky getting to know them, getting the characters identified and defining where the boundaries are.

But, starting yesterday we are counting down towards our return home for Christmas and a bit of our own homes. It will be a relief to be able to deal with a number of things at home and to have my own things around me for a while. Even just to be able to walk to town and the shops and be able to speak to the shop assistant/keepr without the need of an interpreter. As I have several times stated, the Iranians are friendly, hospitable people. Their culture is an ancient one, though their religion is younger than mine, it is based on Gnosticism and much of their Holy Book is taken from Gnostic texts rejected by the Councils of Nicea and Trent in the 300's. For the record, it is the year 1388 (1423 in Sunni calendars) here and Islam is roughly where the Catholic Church was in the equivalent period in the Christian calendar.

OK, so I'm rambling. Its been a long day. 'Nuff said.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Palace views

The last Shah's palace stands lower down the hill than the Green Palace and is known as the Whiet Palace. This huge Parthian Archers stands at the entrance to the building which is on a more monumental scale than the older Green Palace. The entrance hall is vast, designed to impress, and occupies the central volume of the building. The Waiting Room is equally monumental and occupies one side of the front facade. The photograph shows about two thirds of the room and its furnishings which are, of course, French, 18th Century and lavish. Adjoining this is a small formal dining room for twenty people and next to that, toward the rear of the "public" half of the building, is the Shah's Office. This, again, is on a generous scale, but not as generous as some I have seen.And that concludes the Ground Floor for the moment!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A bit of history

Today we visited the former Shah's Palace in North Tehran. It stands in extensive grounds and is, in fact six or seven "palaces". It is now home to several museums all open to the public on payment of a small fee. From the entrance gate it is quite a steep climb up the roads to the Green Palace, the facade of which is shown in the first picture here. It is called the Green Palace as the stone used to build it in 1922 for Reza Shah (the last Shah's father) has a greenish tinge.
Inside is something else, the main reception hall is entirely covered in small mirror tiles and silver. The effect is amazing a can be seen from the picture here. The "palace" is quite small but is decorated in a lavish style. The rooms are grandly proportioned and the decorations include silk wall coverings, damask of course, original oil paintings from France and the UK of 18th and 19th Century vintage - in the "small" dining room I think I saw two Constables on the walls (see the picture) - and the furniture is French Empire period with some 18th Century as well. The Shah's bedroom is, like the reception room, decorated with silver and the mirror tiles. Hell to sleep in I should think.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Time flies when you're having ..... Fun?

First, apologies for the hiatus in posting, I do try to post everyday, but the last couple have been hectic. And last night we had a spectacular storm, lightning, lashing rain, hail, wind to rattle the building - the lot. Even a local lightning strike which knocked out phones and some TV channels - mind you, that last is always difficult to gauge. It may have been turned off deliberately.

Anyway, today we celevrate the half way stage in our sojourn, six weeks down, six to go and then we can come home for three weeks before returning for the final eight week haul.

Today dawned bright and clear after our "dark and stormy night" and, as you can see from the photograph taken at 07.30 from the Expressway junction immediately in front of our apartment (Its actually behind the building with the sail-like feature adorning its facade) the mountains now have avout a metre of snow down to around the 2,000 metre level and a dusting below that. Yup, its definitely cooling down around here.

The whole range that runs Eastward from Tehran is covered in a blanket of snow and we are told that the area North of the mountains themselves is under a metre to a metre and a half of snow already. Anyway, we're reasonably comfortable in our flat, a bit restricted as we are remote from anywhere we could wander round to have a look at, but tomorrow we have an outing to the former Shah's Palace, now a museum, to look forward to. And lunch, at The Blue Duck, possibly Tehran's best eatery.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints, the living, the departed and those yet to be. All Christians are called to be "saints", in the Celtic Church sense a "sain" is anyone who lives a Christian life and it is a distinction I like. Every Christian has a ministry to those around them and we should remind ourselves of this regularly.

Today has seemed rather strange, a major feast day and I am not able to keep it properly. Still, I have managed to find some quiet time to remember those saints I knew and who are no longer with us. May the all rest in peace and rise in glory.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween ...

The eve of All Saints and I'm stuck in Tehran. Never mind, I'm sure they will be celebrating it properly at the Abbey and certainly will be celebrating the glorious Requiem for all our friends and relatives now joined with the saints in heaven.

For us, the snow has capped the mountains to the north with a thick blanket and the lower slopes and the city is getting some rain. It is interesting to note that all the UK Instructors with me are wandering around in Shirt-sleeve Order still remarking on how pleasant it is to have a bit of rain and the cooler weather - it dropped to 16*C today - while our students are already putting on jumpers and jackets and turning up the heating.

Ah well, I guess its a case of what you're acclimatised to and our summers definitely aren't as warm as those in Tehran.

And now to bed, but first and little time out to think of All the Saints I knw, living and departed.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Bazaar views

Sleeping on the job....

Mk 1 Computer in use.

Stunning vaults

Jewelry for sale

Porters waiting ...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Principles come at a price

For some little time I have been pondering the gap between ideals, ideology, principles and the realities of the world. To listen to those in the UK currently holding influence, no price is too high if one's principles are at stake. The media too is very quick to defend "prinicples" yet show a remarkable inability to adhere to these same ideals when there is a good story to be got by devious practices. A recent BBC Hardtalk programme displayed this dichotomy quite nicely, when those who wanted the PanAm bomber to die in jail were accused of being "no better than the regime he served" and failing to apply "Christian principles". The latter was a bit rich coming from a presenter who doesn't hold to Christianity anyway. But the mantra that we must show "compassion" to murderers, criminals and those who cause untold heartbreak and heartache is always quickly trotted out to stifle any counter argument that "compassion" for the victims and for society at large requires that criminals and those who insist on breaking the law should be punished and kept where they cannot harm society or their victims is completely ignored.

All too often the brutal prison regimes and the blatantly unjust sentencing of past centuries is held up as the "alternative" to the soft and "forgiving" justice the liberal left wants imposed. But any visit to a country this same liberal left wants isolated and "punished" for its failure to recognise the "benefits" of following the left-socialist-secularist-humanist ideology and you soon realise that Britain in particular is busy isolating itself from the world in spectacular fashion - and at huge cost to its own economy and working classes.

I am currently in Iran, a country with huge problems and a legacy that will take several generations to resolve. The Shah's regime was brutal, oppressive and as corrupt as it could be. But the Shah was a "friend" to the West and a buffer againts the Soviet Union in the Cold War so we swallowed our principles and dealt with the devil. Then came the Revolution and I am sure that many who supported that hoped, not for thr Theocracy they now have, but for a freer, less corrupt and oppressive regime. Unfortunately, revolutions seldom produce that sort of outcome. Look about you - look at the French Revolution, look at the century that followed it and in particular look at the countries established by violence and revolution in the twentieth century. The ideologies and the realities are so far apart that it makes one want to weep.

I look around me in Iran, conscious of the public condemnation poured on this nation and this people by my own government and of the daily diet of negative imagery in our media both in the UK and in the US. Surprising as it may seem to most of those who stumble across this blog, Iran is an importer of petrolem and oil, their major export is natural gas and many of their vehicles have been converted to run on it. They want nuclear power because their natural energy needs can't be met by hydro-schemes, wind turbines or oil. Yes, the West is probably right to be afraid of the creation of nuclear weapons, but we could achieve a great deal more by being far less confrontational. After all, this nation was a huge empire before the Greeks invented democracy. This nation is as old, if not older than that in the Nile valley, it has seen conquests, it has seen nations rise and fall and it has survived. Around me as I write are the descendents of a civilisation that measures its existence in thousands, not hundreds of years. They do not share our driving ambition to amass wealth - at least not all of them - and they are devout in their observance of their faith which is a great deal more than can be said for the denizens of Whitehall and Westminster who pour scorn on this people and patronise them.

Our French, German, Italian and Central European partners in the EU are far more pragmatic about the differences between ideology and reality. While I see nothing with a "Made in Britain" label here, the markets are full of French, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese goods. The UK Government officially discourages trade with any regime (And the Iranians are just one of several) they disapprove of. The argument is that we in the UK have to show a lead in the application of our "principles". But there is a cost. And it is a huge cost in jobs, in incomes, and ultimately in lost business which will never return to the UK. Remarkable isn't it, that those who argue for these sanctions and defend these "principles" never have to pay the price. Their incomes come from those of us who have to actually get out there and do business, who have to struggle with the strictures and restrictions created by the politicians and bureaucrats whose "principles" we are bound by, and from trust funds, share holdings and other sources with money invested in companies and industries they have driven out of Britain at a huge cost in jobs lost. Nor are they helping the legitimate ambitions of those in places like Iran who aspire to improving their own nations image and political spectra.

They never feel the price of their "principles". They never face the threat of losing their jobs because their "rpinciples" have closed a company, or caused its Board to move it to a part of the world with less restrictions on trade. It is sad to reflect that none of the jobs sacrificed in the UK to these Ideologues "principles" will ever return or be replaced and the country now faces an ever declining spiral of shrinking job markets, reducing industrial output and GNP, with the wealth going ever upward into the hands of those who, as in Iran and those other countries we "don't do business with on principle" can afford to shift their capital offshore and into companies and countries less run by Ideology and more pragmatic and practical.

The Left/Liberal/Socialist Principles come at quite a price. Industrial decline (Lost markets), Commercial shrinkage (We may currently be the "Banking Centre" but for how long if the idiots in Westminster push the tax take up?), and resrictions on trade that mean even smaller businesses struggle to make ends meet or to address market needs. The rise in Joblessness over the past decade has been a severe indictment of the UK's insistence in politics and the media, to apply "principle" rather than dialogue - 2.5 million out of work and rising and it certainly isn't all down to the recession. Though a lot of THAT may well be down to "principle" applied to the exclusion of commone sense.

It is an enormous price - but it isn't being paid by those whose "principles" are so important that "any price is not too high" for it to be paid. As long as its by someone else.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Another week down

It takes a while to settle into a week that starts on Saturday and ends on a Wednesday, but I guess we're into the rhythmn now. Weve even renamed Monday as Mittwoch much to the confusion of the students. It started to rain this afternoon, nothing dranatic, just a steady gentle rain that brought the scent of wet, warm earth into the air. It also seems to have brought every car, truck, van and LDV in Tehran onto the roads. Our drive home this evening started at 15.30 and we got home at 17.15. Our driver had to make several detours as well - the roads were completely choked in places.

The rain is steady and soft at present, though the run-off on some of the steeper roads is quite swift, the bulk of it seems to be settling and sinking into the parched ground around here. I expect we will see a sort of late flourish of green replacing the browns and yellows that contrast with the reddish browns, greys and off-white of the soils around us. The stark browns, greys and blue/grens of the mountains have softened as the rain washes them into brighter shades and I suspect that they will also give us some greens and perhaps flowers before the frosts and the snows return. At least, for the next two days, there is no need to face the traffic and I can relax and get some work done without stirring out of the immediate environs.

Ah well, the satellite TV has gone down as well, probably water in a joint somewhere. But that's a problem for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Cold snap

Its great to have Mausi back from her jaunt to Ankara, but I am still stuck in Tehran and the cold seems to be arriving rather suddenly. For the last few days there have been heavy clouds building to the north of the city, behind and above the mountains that form a crescent from east through north to west of this city of some 12 million people. The mountains serve to trap the daily smog raised by the horrendous traffic and to block the rain that would come from the north and west where the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea serve to provide water that can be turned into clouds.

Finally, today, the huge cumulus clouds spilled over the mountains and Tehran, at least the Northern and Eastern suburbs and the city centre, got a downpour. But, as the clouds swept away to the east, they revealed that the tallest of the mountains behind us now has a coating of snow. What is more, it has settled to quite a low level. OK, so there is another mountain and a deep valley between us and the snow, but guess which way the wind is blowing. Right. From the snow.

Well, I guess it was to be expected. Tehran is quite high above sea level and we have enjoyed a long warm autumn, but nw the country around us is ready for some rain and probably for some cold weather as well. The question on our mnds tonight is "Who turns on the heating round here?" It is a joint heating system for the whole apartment block and the controls may well be in the supervisors apartment. We just hope he feels the cold before we do!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Ankara

Mausi is back from her week in Ankara. It has been a most interesting week in many respects. Ankara is a HUGE city in the middle of the Anatolian part of Turkey. The current population is estimated to be about 3 million people. The first settlements in this place stem from Hittite times when Ankara was the crossing of several important caravan routes. Ankara is spreading out inside a giant bowl, probably a caldera. There is still a lake at the outskirts of the city that fills an old crater hole.



The Turks like to build their houses close to each other, very close indeed. The old one-family-houses - which can be seen in the photograph above - are now pulled down everywhere and replaced by modern high-rise buildings. Not always an improvement in Mausi's eyes. There are said to be some parks in the city but the ones Mausi has seen were very small indeed. The biggest green areas belong to the military who obviously has enough money and people to keep them beautifully.

The traffic is bad of course despite many newly built roads. But the number of cars is just mind boggling and traffic regulations obviously only apply somewhere else. Still the number of accidents seems to be surprisingly low. Maybe everyone expects some mad behaviour from their fellow drivers. Mausi was glad that most of the time she travelled in a big bus. She felt quite safe inside.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Freedom of speech?

The Anti-Fascist League's (Communist in all but name) demonstration and stone throwing violence in their attempt to stop the appearance on a BBC Chat Show of the leader of the BNP says a great deal about what is currently wrong in Socialist Britain. This is a nation that still thinks it is the home of "freedom", of "fairness" and of "fredom of expression", but it is not. Today you can be hounded from your job for belonging to a "party" the current dictats of Whitehall/Westminster and their pressure groups disapprove of. You can be barred from the Bench, the Police Service or the Fire Service for being a Free Mason. Even being a teacher is difficult if you share certai views with any such organisation - but express extreme left wing views and espouse the ideals of the extreme left and you're fine.

Since Blair and the NuLabour shower took power the country has lurched so far to the left that anything which does not conform to the current "moral" thinking (Read Labour/Socialist/Communist Prejudice for Moralism) is immediately branded Neo-Fascist and the witch hunting begins. We are no longer alowed to bear weapons or to use them in our own defence. Why? Because the Labour voting criminal classes turned them on each other. The result, all weapons are now in crimnal hands and the incidence of their use has shot through the roof. Before the ban on owning a hand gun the incidence of their use in crime was low, now it is almost a given that a gun will be used by a criminal in a crime. He knows no one else has one. Ergo, he's safe, and God help the law-abiding.

The campaign against the BNP is the result of fear on the Left who see this shower of idiots as a threat to their Socialist Utopia. They lose sight of the fact that such parties are always a response to their own excesses. And in Blair's Cool Britannia we lost the right to say what we think - because it might have offended some minority group beloved of the left. The rise of the BNP is a direct response to the Left's attempts to curtail our freedoms and to impose their "targets" for redistributing jobs to those they see as "victims" of the selection processes previously employed. Now jobs are given not on ability or knowledge but on ability to sing the Labour Mantras, skin colour, gender and orientation. And its Labour's Laws that have done it. And they wonder why the BNP has managed to move from being a fringe party to having MEPs and a growing following among disaffected white working class males.....

What the demonstration showed very clearly was that we no longer live in a country which believes in hearing what all sides have to say. Blair and now Brown want to dictate what we may think, what we may say and even who we may vote for. And they call this democracy. From what little I saw of the show, the BNP Leader managed to make a complete ass of himself. Probably the best reason anyone could have for letting him speak on a public platform.

As for the Anti-Fascist League - they are the very reason many people now feel that our freedom of speech and expression is under threat. Abhorrent though the BNP's policies, utterances and beliefs are, they are gaining ground precisely because the Left are trying to restrict our ancient and treasured freedoms. The young working class men who now support the BNP are there because the Left offers them nothing except joblesness and exclusion so that the Left's "victims of oppression by white males" can be given everything on a platter.

For democracy to work, we have to allow both the extreme left and the extreme right to say their pieces. Only in that way can the majority see for themselves just how stupid these positions are.