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


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.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Weekend in Tehran

The weather here is definitely changing. The sun was out but the wind had a chilly edge today and the mountains behind us had a misty cloud hovering across their faces. It was a complete contrast to the scene on Thursday when I took this picture - then it was a film of smog that covered the range. It is an interesting set of mountains actually, the geological fault that runs through them is visible as a sort of folded stripe that runs west to east along the range. In the next day or two I'll try to post a picture that shows it clearly.

And now its back to work - Saturday is Monday here. At least Mausi should be home from her trip to Ankara.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Trafalgar Day

Just realised that I missed saying something about Trafalgar Day, the 21st October. OK, so it was 204 years ago, but it marked a truning point for so many different reasons. It shattered the dream cherished by Napoleon of dominating the world because he now knew he could no longer invade Britain or its many far flung colonies. It began the decline of his power in Europe as other nations began to see that resistance wasn't futile, and it saw the beginning of the decline of French power in the Iberian Peninsula.

It was a battle that the British should have lost, but didn't. They were outmatched and outgunned, but they were led by men of determination and vision, chief among them Nelson himself. His leadership inspired others. Yes, he was a vain little man, very sure of himself and no doubt a real pain to have under your command, but he was a leader and a brilliant one. The scene of battle was littered with examples of that leadership, though the British, on the day, seemed to have more of it than anyone else. On the French side the Captain of the Redoubtable showed plenty. It was his ship that grappled the Victory and it was his sharp shooters that killed the Admiral. But it was his inspiring leadership that kept his men fighting hopeless odds (Redoubtable was a "74" matched with the Victory "104" and another British "74" on her other side.) His ship sank under him, her bottom blasted out by Victory's 32 pdr guns but not before he had shown what the French were really capable of if properly led.

On the British side there is the example of the Belleisle, dismasted in "breaking" the Franco-Spanish line, her officers and men manned boats and towed her to where she could still fight her guns. All along the lines of ships there were examples of leadership we can only admire and guess at the cost to the individuals who gave it.

Where are the leaders of today? I look at the politicians I encounter and nowhere do I see anyone that inspire me to follow their example. Our "Pop" culture holds up media hacks who make a name for themselves destroying those who do try to rise above the pack, it holds up Pop stars who drink or drug themselves to death and "sports" stars paid obscene amounts of money to play a game. Not one of them having any "leadership" characteristics, they are nothing but distractions - an opiate for the masses, to misquote Marx.

When I am able to do so, I will certainly raise a glass to Nelson and our forefathers, in memory of their sacrifice so wasted and denigrated by the present crop of "managers" pretending to be leaders. They aren't and never will be.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Value versus cost

The news today that the Royal Mail staff have gone on strike today and tomorrow is saddening. It is something that has troubled me for a very long time - ever since the 1960's in fact and I first heard a Trade Union official demanding that commerce and industry should be compelled by government to create "full employment". The socialist dream that commercial and industrial enterprises can be manipulated to create this Utopian ideal that everyone everywhere can be found a job and it can all be paid for by cutting profits or by raising taxes is a complete nonsense - on a par in my mnd with the idea that someone with no knowledge of an operation can "manage" it.

The Royal Mail is the victim of envy in commerce, Civil Service incompetence and Union ideology. In the first, commercial interests saw a profit in some small parts of the delivery of mail, not all of it, just some parts and lobbied to get their hands on it. The Post Offices have been sold off and privatised, the most lucrative parts of the parcel delivery system went the same way. They don't want the ordinary mail or the ordinary parcels, they wanted the bulk commercial stuff, the bit that actually subsidised the personal and non-profitable bits. So the parcel deliveries were hived off, the bulk post was hived off by a Civil Service ever willing to please their lobbyists and the idiots in Westminster and both parties were too blinded by their own visions and ideology to see it. The Royal Mail was now rendered un-profitable according to the Whitehall "Managers" and the Treasury who now began to demand "Value for Money" which in their incompetent circles means "cheaper".

Enter the Unions. The Unions still cling to the idea that Government is about making jobs for everybody and demand that ever more tax money be funnelled into non-jobs and jobs for the boys. Here I have to say that the Postal workers are not among those I would put in this category, though there may well be "Spanish Practices" it must be said that in the main, the postal workers do a damned good job and a hard one very well and for very little in terms of wages. But there comes a point in which every "business" - and the Royal Mail is expected to operate like one by the Treasury - must cut its overheads or raise more money. Here again, Royal Mail is hamstrung, those same Whitehall W*nk*rs that carved out the profitable bits have saddled it with a restriction on how much it can charge. Worse, by insisting on "competition" they have made it almost impossible for the Royal Mail to survive. And the Union's strike action isn't going to help that at all.

The underlying problem here is the Treasury/Whitehall demand for "Value for Money" the mantra every inompetent in the Civil Service constantly chants. They know the cost of everything - or so they would have us believe - yet despite cuts in almost every service in real terms the cost of Whitehall continues to rise exponentially year on year. And its not just "inflation" though that is an element. The real problem is the Civil Service does not understand "value". Some things, like Defence, Fire and Emergency Services, Police, Education and Healthcare and the Royal Mail cannot operate on a "profit" basis. They cost, but the value is that the service is there when you need it and doesn't come as a nasty surprise in terms of a large bill. These things are the core of the problem with Whitehall, they throw money - our money - at arts, minority centres, research into "mulitculturalism", womens rights and the like - and demand that the Defence Budget is cut, that the Fire and Emergency Services operate on "value for money" that the Royal Mail turn a profit. They saddle schools with hugely expensive "Public Private Finance Initiatives" selling off the school buildings to commerce and then renting them back at huge costs. They've done the same all over Whitehall, not one department "owns" the buidings they occupy. Services, like the Royal Mail are like an insurance policy. I pay for it year on year in the hope I will never need to use it, but I wouldn't dream of going without it and though I might get it cheaper, I do have to look at the "value" rather than the cost - and the two are very different!

The people who set upthe Royal Mail in the 1860's recognised the need for a fully subsidised public mail system, a system that would and could deliver a letter anywhere in the UK in a reasonable time. It was never intended to be "profitable" it was and is a public service. It really is time we threw the entire ediface that is Whitehall into the Thames and returned control of our Public Serives to people who understand that they are 1) Public SERVANTS, 2) that they are there to deliver the SERVICES, not destroy them, and 3) that we who pay them, have a right to dismiss them when they screw up our services as they are doing with the Royal Mail.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Weekend Wednesday

Well George and I have survived another week. Our burns in the Fire Investigation units went very well today and the students will have quite a tough time figuring out our "origin and cause" for each scene. But its been a tiring week and the traffic coming back to our apartment was horrendous tonight. Our driver is pretty good (By Tehran standards!) but sometimes succumbs to the urge to join in the general mayhem a little too entusiastically.

I am now convinced that the drivers here are trained by the Kamikaze School of Motoring. What amazed me tonight was that the three near misses we had all involved woman drivers. Most UK women I know are very good drivers, but here they seem to use driving as a means of expressing their contempt for the rules of the society they live in. The most amazing near miss was the lady who sailed into an intersection and then forced her way across four lanes to turn left at the next intersection. She used the car as a battering ram scattering other motorists and several pedestrians had to leap aside as she sailed through.

At least tomorrow we do not have to go out in the traffic in a car. In fact, we don't have to go out. Somehow its an appealing prospect.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Changing weather

The weather is suddenly cooling here in Tehran. Four weeks ago it was decidedly hot, a week ago it was noticeably cooler and this evening its not just cool we are considering putting on sweatshirts. OK, so our apartment is well up the slopes in North Tehran, high enough to have a definite difference in temperature between the lower levels and even the training centre where we are working.

Now the question is, who turns on the heating system for our apartment? It seems to be a common boiler system so presumably it will be the building superviser, assuming he realises it is needed in due course. At present its still fine and comfortable-ish, but another couple of weeks -possibly days in this unknown environment - and it might be a necessity!

Oh well, we shall have to wait and see. Four weeks almost down and counting.

Monday, 19 October 2009

BBQ Iranian style....

Two weeks ago I had the fun of a BBQ with some of my students and instructor staff who are working with us. We went out to a "villa", a sort of holiday cottage some distance to the East of Tehran near the town of Pardis. It lay in the lower foothills of the range of mountains that lie to the North of Tehran and we had a great day. Its amazing how much fun these guys can generate without alcohol, perhaps a message in there somewhere. A chess board was produced and we played chess while we ate, we played Whist as well - now here's the fun bit, I haven't played either for years so I'd actually forgotten how enjoyable it was. The food was carefully prepared, the meat pushed onto the long "sword" kebab blades and then carefully tended over the coals. A type of "Barbary Bread" rather like Naran bread in a sense, was used to line a large earthen crock and the cooked meat was placed inside it and the bread folded over it to keep while more chicken and tomatoes were roasted on the coals. Salads, cold drinks, water and yohgurt to mix with the rice, roasted garlic and a range of other things made the meal. Definitely a feast for a king.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Sunday in Tehran

Sunday in Tehran is - well, the equivalent of Tuesday anywhere else. Yesterday we had a shake up with a small earth tremor, today we had a suicide bomber blowing up some Revolutionary Guard bigwigs down South and have just been treated to the Parliament chanting "Death to the USA, death to the UK." I'm not sure why they have decided "we done it" but evidently some "high ranking sources" have the evidence according to the news.

Well, I guess we'll see what tomorrow brings in diplomatic terms, but, frankly, I can't for the life of me see either the Us or the UK government being stupid enough to back any terror group no matter how much they dislike the present regime. And that is saying something since my opinion of the honesty levels in Whitehall or Westminster is that a snake would have trouble getting under it - in fact might get over it without effort. And as for the intelligence levels ....

Anyway, we get on with our work and deal with our students who are bright, switched on and eager to learn. They are great guys and at least one has said privately "don't worry about the politicians - its all for show."

As I write Mausi is heading for Ankara to teach some police there about Fire Investigation. I gather she will have the same deal we have here - lecture in one language to a class listening to an interpreter in another. Look, don't knock it, it works and we get a good response from the students all the way. At least Mausi's course is only a week!

Today being Sunday, I missed my communion and my dose of incense and music. Somehow the daily office just doesn't give the same lift. But it will keep me going until December.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Shaken, not stirred

We had a bit of a bump today in Tehran, late this afternoon the city was shaken by a small quake - it is right next to a major tectonic faultline - which apparently clocked up 4.5 on the Richter scale. It was a sort of double shock where we were, almost what you'd expect from a blasting charge set off in the ground a little way off.

It didn't seem to disrupt much, though we did learn that Tehran gets about 400 of these in any one year. All I can say is that I hope we don't get anything bigger during the next five to six months. After that they can shake, rattle and roll all they like!

Friday, 16 October 2009

More in the Bazaar

This exquisitely decorated vault is one of four in a old part of the Bazaar, sadly the other three are masked by bundles of electric cables of varying age and provenance. Ancient bricks, hand made and quite possibly (from their shape and finish fired in the old manner of piling wood over the dried bricks and firing it. In places these bricks are covered by beautiful tiling as can be seen in the following picture.
All the Mosques are decorated in the most amazing tiles, the colours vibrant and the designs incorporating texts from the Quran, geometric patterns and sometimes decorations that would not look out of place in the Gothic cathedral. The passage in this picture is one leading back to the street bordering the Bazaar and from which it is possible to reach the former "Kings Mosque" which is situated in the middle of the Bazaar. It is now called the "Imam's Mosque" - the term Imam meaning "Leader" and usually having a religious connotation. It is a term they use in relation to the Prophet, Jesus Christ, and the "Hidden" Imam is the one who will be revealed at some future date.

The Bazaar is certainly a place of hidden histories and beauty. For me it brings to life some of the Thousand and one nights stories as well.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bazaar tales ....

The Bazaar in Tehran is huge, it covers over 146 hectares and is a maze of narrow intersecting passageways with shops and stalls on each side. It is piled high with goods for sale and just about anything can be bought here. It is primarliy a wholesale market and much of the structure is very old indeed. In the oldest parts brick vaults soar above you with openings in each vault to allow air circulation. On the pavement pedestrians compete with porters trolleys, motorcycles and even fire appliances. Courtyards dotted throughout the maze are also home to shops and piles of stored goods and in some areas an upper storey has walkway access.
Beneath your feet is a further maze of tunnels and store rooms stuffed with every kind of goods. From a fire prevention point of view a nightmare, from a life safety point it goes beyond nightmare. The potential is horrendous, yet it has been standing for at least two hundred years and some parts for more than that. In the centre is a huge mosque and open square and the interior has some hidden gems of architecture for the keen eye. And then there are the carpet sellers. None of the machine made type here, these are the hand-made variety, exquisite works of art in silk and wool, hand knotted to the woven backing.

The place just oozes history and atmosphere, though how it can be preserved for the future without a major renovation and restoration and some thought to reducing the fire hazard, I'm not sure.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Surpise birthday cake

My students and my colleague in arms on this contract surprised me on my birthday with a cake, party hat and the insistence that we take a break and celebrate the event. It is one of the nicest and most generous birthday surprises I have ever enjoyed. It is typical of the ordinary Iranians as well, they are a generous people who take friendships seriously and welcome guests with a warmth you seldom find elsewhere.

We in the west often have no real information on another people or culture other than the diet of sound bytes we get from the Media who often have the facts wrong or distorted. After all if you want to paint someone as an enemy, you have to make him look backward, evil and scheming. That is the art of propaganda. Yes, the politics here are not like ours, and they are convolluted, confrontational and sometimes just plain difficult. But are our politicians any different? Are't they just as blind, pigheaded and sometimes so ignorant they make us ashamed?

Perhaps we ought to get to know the real people a little better before we judge a nation.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Tehran Traffic

Tehran in the mroning ....

Tehran in the evening ....

'Nuff said.

I think this is the one place on earth where removing ALL road markings, traffic control and road signs would probably improve traffic flow.

Birthday greetings

The Postulant celebrates her birthday today. I won't embarrass her by posting her age or the photo I still carry of her as a small young lady. I will say happy birthday Val, may you celebrate many, many more and may the year to come bring everything you hope for.

I remember all too clearly the first sight I had of her and that first moment of holding the precious little bundle that is a new born child. It is something I treasure for each of my now adult children and, I suspect like many working parents, wish I had been there to see more of their growing up instead of balancing work, career and family.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Today its midweek in Tehran - Mittwoch in German or our equivalent of Wednesdy. Its also almost the end of our first three week course and its gone rather well. Better than my attempts this morning to upload some photos for the blog! The pictures load - and then vanish.

Hey, ho, our transport is here, so its time to pack the MacBook and brave the daily traffic assault course ...

The weekend begins on Thursday.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Fire spread ....

The photographs show the development of a fire in one of our Investigation Scenes. Starting next to the bed head, it soon spread to the acrylic pillow, then to the curtains. From there it leapfrogged to other combustible materials at higher level, then to materials below the plume. Eight minutes later it reached the stage seen in the last photograph.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Back to work ...

Why does Saturday feel like Monday? Mainly because it is in Iran. It's turning into an interesting time, my colleague assisting me in these courses is flat out with a serious dose of the runs. I'm just hoping I can stay clear of it, the last thing I need is a dose of that. Getting treatment for it is entertaining, it involves taking him to a clinic - through traffic that is so choked up to get to the clinic will require longer than the intervals between visits to the thunder jug in the bathroom.....

Add to that, the problem of language and the things that slip between description of symptoms and translation of same. We now have, for a guy with the runs, a bottle of laxative and pills which may also be in the same category. Meantime I'm trying to sort him out and avoid the bug myself. Oh, and teach my classes this week.

Guess I'm earning my corn this time round!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mistakes to regret ...

Two stories in the news have caught my eye in the last couple of days. The first was the Somalian Pirates who attempted to board the French Naval Supply and Command ship. Did they ever pick the wrong ship to attack. The French sailors responded pretty effectively and the pirates eventually surrendered having thrown their arms overboard. They are now "guests of the French Navy" and face trial in a French Court for Piracy.

The French Courts won't mess about with all the liberal touchy-feely "oh you poor pirates, victims of evil ship owners" guff that would obscure a British Court's decision either. These guys will have a long time to contemplate the mistake they made.

The second story was even more hilarious. Two drunken yobs in Cardiff attacked a pair of "transvestites" who turned the tables on them and put both in hospital. The "transvestites" turned out to be "cage fighters" in drag for a friends Stag Night party. The two yobs may have consumed umpteen pints of "brave maker" but they are lucky to have escaped with concussion. And the magistrates let them off lightly despite their having attacked several other people in the course of their drunken spree. A hundred hours of "Community Service".

Next time perhaps we should let the French deal with it.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Fun in the sun

Today is the equivalent of Saturday in Iran so my colleague and I are "at home" in our apartment and doing our household chores. Or will be when we have generated sufficient energy. Ironning must be done, washing up and probably a quick whizz round with the vacuum cleaner also on the cards.

Two weeks into our twelve weeks here and the Monk is missing his old cat, Paddy, his books and his home comforts. He brought a few books with him of course, and his drafts of his future books yet to find publication, so he has plenty to do. But its been hard work and the excitement of yesterday hasn't quite gone away yet, it will have a few repercussions for us all over the next few weeks. At least I'll be able to Skype Mausi later and hear how her Druids Convocation in Bad Liebenstein went!

Ce la vie, I'll try to get some worthwhile pictures of things here over the next few days and see what delights I can share via the blog when I do. And now to the chores!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Busy day - but tomorrow is the weekend

Its been a very busy day. Not only looking after our students but taking care of a colleague injured in an accident on the training ground. This turned out to be more serious in injury terms than at first diagnosed and he is tonight recovering in a hospital having had a broken thumb and severed tendon rejoined.

His being hors d'combat for the next few days at least will put a strain on the rest of us as we cover his classes and exercisesuntil he can pick up his part again. Thanks to our principals here, he has had first class care, quite possibly better than he would have got in the UK. And this being a fire service environment, he's already getting a lot of ribbing about the lengths he had to go too to get a bit of TLC and a few days off.

At least tomorrow is the weekend and I, for one, am looking forward to not having to rise at dawn and spend an hour in the daily gridlock.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Keeping up with ourselves

With Mausi in Thuringia attending her Druid Convocation at Bad Liebenstein and me in Tehran trying to cope with visa extensions, traffic jams (perpetual) and eager students, Blogging is a luxury. I hope Getafix has plenty of magic potion to dispense, I think we both need a dose of it at present.

Tehran today was hot and almost windless. That means the smog build up over the city is almost as good as Terry Pratchett's description of the miasma that hovers over the River Ankh in Ankh-Morpork in his discworld novels. It is a thick brown haze that perpetually hangs over the city unless its raining or the wind stors it around and rearranges it to suit the whim of the moment. The traffic here is utterly crazy, not helped by a road netwrok planned, I think, in a computer, probably in an ivory tower somewhere and bearing no relationship at all to where the people need to go, or where the heaviest traffic is likely to accumulate. "Expressways" are long parking garages, two days ago, we took 45 minutes to travel just 500 metres (Roughly 550 yards to those still using Imperial) and any journey in this city is done on a "stop/go" basis.

As for lane discipline, I seriously think that the traffic here would move more smoothly if there were no road signs and no road markings. Missed a turn-off on the Expressway? No problem. Stop, slam it into reverese and back up at speed! Everyone behind simply takes evasive action, horns sound, thumbs are waved (Thumbs up here have a very rude meaning!) and accidents are narrowly avoided. There seems to be a pathological mindset here which insists that if you wish to turn right you must do so from the extreme left lane and vice versa. Yes, I know the denizens of Melbourne have the same system, but they don't do so across moving traffic as far as I am aware. Here you put your indicator on and go for it, juggernauts' brakes scream, buses swerve violently and everyone does it - even the buses and juggernauts.

Ah well, I think Mausi will have fun at her Convention. Wish I was in Thuringia too, I could always offer to stir cauldrons I suppose for any future gatherings.

Monday, 5 October 2009


Mausi's been running around today in small circles trying to get herself organised for a conference she will attend during the next three days. Two presentations needed a finishing touch and some supplementary information had to be collected and packed.

Tomorrow Mausi will drive to Bad Liebenstein in Thuringia where the conference takes place. It's a biennial event and always reminds Mausi of the well-known meeting of the Druids in the Woods of Carnute. It's always a pleasure to meet colleagues from all over Germany, exchange views and experiences and talks shop all day and during the evenings over a glass of wine or two.

Bad Liebenstein is close to Eisenach and the famous Warburg, where Luther spent several years translating the Bible into German. This time the Druids will go on an excursion and visit the Burg themselves, which reminds Mausi she must not forget to take her camera...

As Mausi will not have access to the internet during the next three days - she's been to that hotel deep in the Uberwaldish Woods before - she hopes the Monk will not be too busy to take over the blog. Anyways, there'll be pictures from Thuringia at the end of the week.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Iranian culture

The country of Iran or Persia is an ancient one. This is the home of the Persian Empire, the land of the Parthians, whose culture has outlived Alexander the Great and Rome's armies. The language of the people is Farsi, but it has regional variations as distinct as those encountered in England, but in a much larger country. This is a melting pot of races and peoples who are as diverse as they can be. The pictures shows some of the regional costumes one may encounter in travelling. They range from something similar to the Pakistani mode of dress from that border region to the distinctive dress of the North in Bactria, Kurdistan and the borders of Azerbijan. If you want to see multi-cultural, this is it.

Islam dominates the nation's thinking and is the majority faith, yet roughly 40% of the populace are Christian, Zoraostrian or something else. But all are proud to be Persian and proud of the long and distinguished history of their people and nation. The Persian Empire lasted longer than any other bar the Chinese. It certainly lasted longer than Rome, the Empire of Alexander or of the British and even the invading Arab and Mongol peoples have been absorbed to create the new Persia.

The colourful costumes are now produced only for special occassions, but they are a reminder of the diversity and pride of this ancient people whatever we may think of the present political arrangements.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


Today is a National Holiday in Germany - we celebrate the reunification between East and West Germany which took place about 20 years ago. In the last week of September 1989 East Germans who had fled to the West German Embassy in Prague were allowed to travel onwards to West Germany. German diplomats, namely the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had worked very hard behind the scenes to obtain the consent and support of the USA, Russia for this move. From then on the whole process was unstoppable. The Berlin wall finally came down on November 9, 1989, and the formal treaty between the two former German states was signed on October 3, 1990.

Undoubtedly East and West have grown together over the years but not as much as one might have expected over a period of almost 20 years. There is quite a number of people who'd rather have the wall back. Obviously they still feel unsure and unsettled in today's world. One reason might be that both German states were so very different with regard to political systems and personal lifestyle. In East Germany more than 90% of the wifes had a job whereas in West Germany until 1958 husbands could forbid their wifes to take on a job if the wifes neglected their household chores.

All people were supposed to be equal in East Germany. But as always in political system like that some people are more equal than others. The government people lived in villas in Berlin, had access to western goods and cars. The ordinary people didn't. Erich Honecker, head of the East German state for many years, used to spend his summer vacation on an island in the Baltic Sea. Each morning a driver had to bring him fresh rolls (!) from Berlin - a drive of 300 km. And he insisted on West German honey on his rolls, something his people could only get if a relative from West Germany sent them some.

Looks like it might take at least another generation to overcome this trauma of German history.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Happy Birthday!

Yes, it's the Monk's birthday today and Mausi hopes you will all join her in sending the Monk all the best wishes for this special day! At least, the Monk will have a quiet day to himself which he can spend as he likes as Friday is the Iranian equivalent of our Sunday.

Have fun, Monk, and very many happy returns of this day!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Saturday on Thursday

My colleague and I are resting today, it being the equivalent of Saturday. This evening we went to the supermarket and bought in some essentials as at the weekends we are virtually housebound. The current advice is that we should only go out in company and under the escort of our hosts. Makes sense I guess, feeling here is best described as "touchy" in regard to the West's vilification of Iran and Iranians.

Checking the blog today I have discovered to my amusement that Da Goddess is one of the blogs that is "banned" and blocked by the Iranian internet provider and so is Practical Penumbra and On the Third Hand. Its a pity really as I can't respond to awhole range of things.

Still, tomorrow is Friday, a day of rest here, so we will b able to relax, get ourselves set up for Saturday (Monday equivalent!) and week 2 of our stay.

This is a fascinating country, a people as diverse as they possibly can be and not all are Muslim, though Islam (Shia) is the dominant faith. I have met and am working with Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians - and they are fantastic. Hard working, determined and generous to a fault. I hope to be able to post something on the whole culture here while I am here.