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Showing posts from April, 2009

Bloggers Unite for Hunger and Hope

Bloggers Unite for Hunger and Hope, coordinated by BlogCatalog and Heifer International, asks bloggers around the world to take action to combat the poverty and hunger affecting more than 500 million people worldwide and responsible for the deaths of over 15 million children each year. Their blurb said “You can make a difference!“ and I hope we are, where we are. What follows may be a little vague, perhaps even confused, but it’ll be a rare glimpse into some of the things we have to think deeply about.

I honestly don’t know if some of the young people we work with each week are hungry, I haven’t asked them if they are, but it’s quite likely. I suspect this for two reasons. One, I know that some of the team I work with are involved in regular food distribution to poor families. Second, I know some of the young people spend their days either begging or sorting rubbish on the rubbish dump that doubles as their home. The dump I’m thinking of is behind a big wall, with a no-photography sign…

Tagged!

I would never do this on Facebook – although I have indulged in similar memes on YouTube – but on a blog it feels a little more grown up! So thanks to Brits in Bosnia for tagging us; here goes with our answers.

1. What are your current obsessions?
Mine is probably that BBC drama Ashes to Ashes Season 2 is available on iTunes. Rowan’s would be amigurumi. (see previous post)

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear the most often?
My one decent pair of jeans. I need to buy new ones but I haven’t found any at a price I don’t baulk at. I’m probably looking in the wrong places!

3. What's for dinner?
Could be Uncle Ben’s Sweet and Sour chicken – which we can buy from Tuš.

4. Last thing you bought?
The last thing I tried to buy was a new zip top for those (rare) cool moment in the summer. I failed as the one I wanted was only available in XXL!

5. What are you listening to?
The new singles by The Gentlemen. Should I declare an interest or just tell you to check them out on iTunes?

6. If you were…

Meet Amigurumi

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So strange things have been going on in our apartment. First funny flowers started appearing, followed by featureless figurines. Then there was a cactus. Finally this! This, friends, is amigurumi. That is not actually her name, more like her genus, although it could equally be family or species. (Taxonomic ranking is not one of my strong points!)

This, then, is evidence of Rowan’s latest skill; a skill which I’m reliably informed could lead to some kind of fiscal payoff. To that end it is obviously worth encouraging! My only fear is as Rowan is still in the obsessive-compulsive stage of her relationship with creative croqueting we could become buried under a mountain of woollen wonders if suitable homes don’t start to be found for them soon!

Budi Spreman!

If yesterday’s post was about the night before then today’s post is about what I remember I was going to write about yesterday. Confused? So were we when we spotted a strange gathering on people in Spanish Square on our way to Klub in the morning. While negotiating a potentially hazardous left hand turn through oncoming traffic I stole a glace right long enough to notice a group of people in identical baseball caps. Tourist season has arrived and I’ve been on a tour before that handed out headway as a mean of easy identification.

However, in the afternoon, as I went out on a (futile) hunt for a new top, I half discovered what was going on. The large, coordinated masses were local Scouts and Guides. There were boards of photos on display, tents erected and popcorn and candy floss being handed out. A small PA was set up on the permanent stage in the Square. At a small table covered in large trophies sat some official looking adults. Having answers that ‘what?’ question I was still none-t…

Stopped for what?

Rowan and I were out last night with friends. Come the end of the evening and I’m dropping people home. With the last person in the Kombi we have ten minutes to cross town to beat their curfew! We turn left at one of the bigger junctions in Mostar almost to run over one of two police officers who’ve stepped into the road. I indicate and pull over. While you never quite know what to expect in these situations there are two things you can guarantee. You’ll need to show your licence and the papers for the vehicle. I reached for my wallet; my passenger for their seatbelt!

The office said something that was probably: let’s see your licence and your papers. I handed them over anyway. He wandered off – they always do that. I thought we were undoubtedly heading for a curfew busting delay. Surely there’d be questions about if we’d been drinking – we hadn’t – and they couldn’t fail to comment on the sorry state of the kombi. They did neither. Our quiet conversation was interrupted by an ‘izvoli…

For England and St George...and YouTube?!

Today is St George’s Day. For the benefit of our international audience let me clarify, St George is the Patron Saint of England. Ok, so he wasn’t English – and is also Patron Saint of a number of other places – but he is our answer to St Patrick, minus the shamrock and excessive quantities of Guinness! As celebrations go it seems England’s are always muted at best. This morning my brother Tweeted: Happy St George's Day - cue predictable lame TV news coverage of whether or not we should be allowed a bank holiday! That about sums it up.

But then I logged into YouTube and noticed I had an above average number of comments. Sensing something must be causing this spike in traffic I started to investigate only to discover the UK homepage had featured a video I made a year ago today. I'll confess feeling a sense of satisfaction that mine was the only video about this auspicious day given that treatment. Now I’ve probably made over 500 online videos so it’s not surprising I can’t remem…

Let there be light!

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God said “Let there be light” and there was light. For the rest of us it’s not quite so quite so simple! It’s not usual for blokes to tell tales of their DIY failures but in the interests of honest communication that’s what I’m going to do. Over the last two days Ben and I have been trying to install an additional light fitment in Klub. It should have been a five or ten minute job but for several reasons it still remains unfinished. We’ve not been having much success with drilling of late and I hadn’t figured on the ceiling being concrete rather than plasterboard. Then the fitment itself was broken. Knowing that customer service is an undiscovered art returning it to the shop would be pointless. They might offer to send it away for repair. This happened to a cheap heater bought by one of our colleagues in Čapljina. It was mended, but returned after the worst of winter was passed. It took just half an hour of fiddling to find and fix the problem. But the real fun and games came just be…

The Future's Tweet!

I was going to tell a Twitter story today. It was about a Tweet I saw that read: “Today dip your fries in your chocolate shake: make up any words u want to any tune u like and do not colour inside the lines. Dare to Dream.” It sounds pretty good. In my head I was already writing something funny when a better story came along.

Earlier today I took the opportunity to "ASK A FUTURIST" this question over Twitter.
“Seen reports about deteriorating political/economic situation in Balkans. How will EU affect stabilization/growth in region?”

140 characters is a challenge to posing a well structured question but when I got home and logged in tonight I had my reply.

"FUTURIST Q&A": EU and Balkans stability? EXPECT major EU efforts ensure military conflict unthinkable.

The reply included a link to euractiv.com. It’s not a site I’d heard of before but if you’re interested in EU-Western Balkans relations then it’s worth checking it out. The reports we see and hear often very on …

New Vocabluary

I learnt some new vocabulary today. That’s not unusual. We’re learning things all the time. Mondays and Thursdays are the days we usually have language lessons so, this being a Monday, it’s particularly not unusual – if that makes sense! What is unusual is the some of the words we learned. We keen to learn relevant language; words and phrases we’ll actually use. When we have to do exercises it’s good to do them around things we really do rather than hypothetical situations.

For example, in today’s lesson we had to make a sentence starting “in my opinion...” Well, in my opinion it’s easier to ride up a mountain than down one. The speed and possibilities of grisly crashes make down a much more tense experience. (Tense is not helpful to smooth riding!) Explaining all this I went not to recount the fact that I turned round during this afternoon’s ride up a mountain road after hearing two very distinct gunshots!

The shots seemed reasonably close and as I was further up than I’d been before I…

Abba at Oxygen

Abba are arguably one of the world’s most famous four-piece pop acts. Tonight in Mostar we were entertained by a six-piece tribute act to Sweden’s finest export after Ikea and Volvo! The venue was Oxygen, a smart subterranean space. We thought we’d arrived fashionably late only to discover our group was the first to show up; it is a little strange to walk into a completely empty nightclub! We passed a pleasant hour listening to an eclectic playlist from the DJ. Highlights included War of the Worlds, I Should Be so Lucky and Axel F! Finally ‘Abba’ took the stage. The music was a passable approximation of the original but the look was off, way off if we're honest. As the evening wore on the musicians each morphed, at least in our eyes, into a distinct comedy character. I hope they are as funny in type.
The band leader seemed to be the bass player who reminded me of Ravi Shankar, although I don’t know if he actually bore any physical resemblance to him. What I do know is he was wearin…

Quintessential?

It’s been a while since we’ve presented a list here. Earlier today I discovered this one on The Times online, nestled under the heading “Top 10 quintessential English foods”. They provided explanatory blurb for each item. I’ve removed it in the interests of brevity.
1. MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIE
2. FISH AND CHIPS
3. BLACK PUDDING
4. KIPPERS
5. PARKIN
6. CORNISH PASTY
7. POTTED SHRIMPS
8. GROUSE
9. TREACLE SPONGE PUDDING
10. CHEDDAR CHEESE
I am now faced with the realisation I am obviously not quintessentially English. Half the list I would never eat; that’s the black pudding, kippers, parkin, shrimps and grouse. Add to that the fact that while I don’t dislike pork pies of Cornish pasties I rarely eat them. Treacle sponge pudding could join that category. I don’t like mature Cheddar, preferring Sainsbury’s cheap cheddar-a-like ‘mild chesse’! But fish and chips – there’s something I actually miss.

Unexpected!

Before we left England it seemed three things dominated the average high street: estate agents, greetings card shops and coffee shops. But despite all the Starbucks, Costas and shameless imitators nothing prepared us for the sheer quantity of cafes in Bosnia Herzegovina. Here in Mostar it seems there is one on every street corner, and they are there merely to bookmark the many more in between. When it comes to a comparing them we’ve barely scraped the surface. However on Friday night we went out for coffee at the Hotel Bristol. I’d long admired their large terrace and it was one of the first evenings of the year warm enough to test it out. We sat up near the water feature on some comfortable chairs and had a very pleasant time of it. No surprise there, perhaps, but there was one in store when we looked at the bill. Here we were sitting outside one of Mostar’s top three hotels and the bill was exactly the same as it would have been in many cafes that could better be described as ‘dive…

For the love of chocolate!

Facebook statuses are without doubt the modern sleeve on which the heart is worn. Cries for help, look-at-me statements and thinly disguised digs – they’re all there. Today I indulged a little. As I write my status reads: Matt Hellyer can't help feeling he's missed out...not a single Creme Egg (or even a Mini Egg) this season! I think I wrote it seriously, although I can’t be completely sure.

Bosnia Herzegovina is not without good chocolate, although the best on sale may not actually be made in this country. We don’t go without, in fact I’ve recently had to make a conscious decision to cut back on Dorina because is almost certainly contributed to my winter weight gain. Nevertheless, I still crave Cadbury’s Dairy Milk; Rowan misses Galaxy.

Easter in England – the commercial celebration, not the religious festival – is about chocolate eggs. There are too many packaging monstrosities; elaborate, expensive wrappings on undernourished contents. I don’t go for purchasing overpriced c…

Pooled Knowledge

Tonight’s post is dedicated to my kid brother, whose slightly sketchy sixth-form attendance record allowed him to pass on an education in pool. I’m no great player but I learned enough not to embarrass myself as a group of us went out tonight. I can pull of the odd astounding shot; if I could only find some consistency to my play I might even become good.

The rules here are definitely different than I remember. No ‘two shots’ for fouls – although sinking the black and white remains a game killing manoeuvre. The black has to go in the same pocket as the last colour you pot. Maybe my English knowledge is out-of-date. I know that’s the case with table-tennis; the last time I studied the rules was at school, twenty years ago. Nevertheless, the satisfaction of a shot well made was still the same, as was the frustration of game-throwing mistakes – of which I made my fair share!

Why the laughter?

I don’t know if I was exactly laughed at but I was certainly exclaimed at when I walked into Klub this morning. The reason, I was told, was I was wearing a white, short-sleeved T-shirt. I thought it was because of the technicolour TV graphic on the front of it but, apparently, it was the sight of my arms!

The weather has changed in the last week, so much so both Rowan and I are starting to get a tan. It’s been the first week since early November when I’ve gone out without wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt. This still doesn’t really adequately explain this morning’s outburst but I’m more than happy that we’re back to T-shirt weather, whether it means I get laughed at or not.

Too fast!

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If I say ‘eating problems’ you’re probably already thinking about not-eating or over-eating or allergies. My problem, if that’s what it really is, is none of the above. It is that I have a bad habit of scoffing my food too quickly. I’ll often catch myself and make some annoyed-sounding noise through an unfinished mouthful. Tonight, as we had dinner with a friend who’s about to embark on a short trip to Scotland, I managed to pace myself. Slightly different from this morning when I bit of more than I could chew – although, admittedly, only metaphorically.

It was a fine morning for mountain biking and I set my sights on the somewhere near the top of one of the mountains around Mostar. As I’ve yet to find a detailed local road map I consulted Google maps to check my options. Even here you have to use the satellite view as they’ve only mapped the one big road through Mostar. There is, however, enough zoom on their images for confident route planning. The terrain view told me I was planning…

The corrupting power of rock'n'roll?!

I’ve been helping people to learn guitar for the better part of ten years. If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked to play that riff from Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana’s generation-defining greatest hit – then I’d be able to bail out investors fallen on hard times since Mr Madoff made off with their money! Like a Ponzi scheme, it’s not a song I view as big or clever; although, as with the best blags, you have to marvel that they’ve got away with it for so long and impressed so many sane people along the way.

Tonight I was meeting with a student to play guitar. Over the past few months we’ve established that his taste lies in latin and jazz – not genres I'm particularly strong in. I like to pigeon-hole myself as a devotee of melodic pop-rock, partly because it’s so desperately uncool but also because that really is the music I enjoy. However, I don’t believe teaching should be used for musical indoctrination so I’m not going to teach what I like, rather help people to pl…

Looking bored...thankfully!

Tonight I saw a very sorry sight as I drove home: dozens of very bored riot police. One imagines that someone who dresses up in body armour, complete with helmet, baton and shield, does so because there’s something about crowd control that appeals to them. How disappointing for them if the only people loitering with intent are their colleagues. Local radio was warning people to stay off the streets after 4pm today. Dnevni List, one the popular dailies in Bosnia Herzegovina, said Mostar was ‘under siege’, ‘bracing itself’ for the local derby that took place today, and the ethnic tensions it was expected to exacerbate. Maybe they were right, but I went about my day as normal and have nothing unusual to report except what you’ve read already. That and I walked past a very drunk man trying to impress three ladies sitting outside a cafe. It was the old-school walkman he was clutching in his right hand – presumably a counterbalance for the large bottle of Sarajevsko in his left – that reall…

Encouraging creativity

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Most days when I write I write and Rowan discovers what’s be posted the next time she’s online. Today, there was some discussion beforehand. We were in Klub and she was showing me some artwork produced by young people on Saturday. Four square canvasses were sat on the side. This one caught my eye.

The young people who come to Klub come from a range of backgrounds. Some are in education and will end up in university. Others are involved in more vocational training. Some have had no education. We’re been providing opportunities for all of them to engage in a range of creative projects. It was not easy at first. From what we can work out, the sort of creative activities that would not be uncommon in UK youth work are very definitely foreign concepts here.

Over the last few months it’s been encouraging to see more of them decide they want to take part. Which brings us to this art. It is mainly the work of a nineteen year old, who was helped out by a thirteen year old – the thirteen year old…

We all scream for...

When my mum met my dad he was, she says, the first person she had met who ate ice cream in the winter. A little over forty years later he is still a dedicated year-round consumer. During their recent visit I felt quite the killjoy explaining that, no, he couldn’t have ice cream; most Slastičarnica’s put it away for winter. But that was then. Now, with temperatures up into the twenties it’s time to wheel out those counters and lure in the passers-by.

Which is why we stopped, barely five minutes from our apartment, to test out one of these new arrivals. The large tubs of scooped up, Italian-style, ice cream looked good. It proved a winning experience on two counts. Our modest, single scoop, cones cost about 35p each and the ice cream was probably the best we’ve tasted yet. However, tonight our language teacher said that the best ice cream is to be found in the same place we think the best cakes are served. So I know where we’ll be off to when we get a free minute; it’s only right that we…

A Minor Domestic Disaster.

So we had a minor domestic disaster today, but I don’t want to overplay it. Fellow Brits in Bosnia have experienced much worse – bizarrely both incidents happening in the bathroom! They woke at 3.30am to the sound on their hot water tank detaching itself from the wall. ‘It made the most almighty crashing noise. [We] shot out of bed, and into panic. We couldn't find where to turn the water off. We couldn't find the right fuse to stop the flow of electricity into the tank.’ We, on the other hand strolled back into our apartment on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon to be mildly bemused by the strange sight that greeted us. Showing great presence of mind I reached for my camera and can proudly this video of what followed!

Paint the town red!

Rowan read that Mostar police had to use tear gas to disperse revellers after the football on Wednesday night. They could have been celebrating Bosnia Herzegovina’s win or Croatia’s. You could have followed either game here depending on which cafe bar you chose. That sort of painting the town is achievable with a lot more spontaneity than the literal kind. This we discovered today when we went shopping for paint.

Back in the UK we’ve been buying pre-mixed paint for as long as I can remember. You’d go a pick up your Dulux colour card and browse the brochure of impossibly neat rooms pictured in conveniently complementary Dulux colours. Matching the picture to the swatch you’d return to the shop to purchase a can of ‘luscious lilac’, or whatever it was that had taken your fancy. Then DIY stores started installing fancy machines where you could get literally any colour you wanted mixed up, obviously for an extra cost. If you want ‘luscious lilac with lime’ it’s all yours, although it doesn…

Screws and staples

Rowan is more qualified than I am, however, despite all her education, she still refers to all earth or soil as ‘mud’ and all pointy pieces of metal used for joining wood together as a ‘nail’ even if the object in question is unquestionably a screw! It is this second offence that relates to today’s story. While Rowan may call something by the wrong name it seems the person responsible for the construction of the sofas at Klub is guilty of putting nails to completely the wrong use. And let’s not even get started on the staple overkill.

Ben and I were trying our hand, again, at furniture repair. Our first attempt had failed but we are not easily beaten. Perhaps it’s just blokish optimism in our own DIY skills; needless to say we have no education or experience to burn in this area. Until now. After it successfully survived this evening we can declare the sofa fixed. (I won’t bore you with the details of what was wrong other than to say one end of its seat had collapsed.) Were a real repa…

Winning ways

Some footballers suffer what you could call ‘the curse of the classic goal’. What do I mean by that? They score a goal so timely and technically superb it sets a standard they will never again equal; it becomes a monument in whose shadow they play out the rest of their career. Tonight I’m reminded of David Platt and his stroke of brilliance in the last minute of extra time for England against Belgium back Italia 90. It’s fair to say he probably never matched that moment. I’m reminded by the blaring horns, revving engines and enthusiastic singing and chanting outside that undoubtedly means Bosnia Herzegovina have beaten Belgium twice within the last week, on what could quite possibly be the road to their first Fifa World Cup.

Tonight’s 2-1 triumph added to a 4-2 victory on Saturday would itself provide a comfortable goal difference but given that they dispatched Estonia 7-0 they share the same goal difference as Spain, who top the group, although Bosnia Herzegovina have scored five more…