Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Some holiday snaps

The misery of having a parent who's a putative travel writer

An unexpected top-of-the-crag moment above Hebden Bridge

The pub which my family used to run in Cambridge

Ontroerend Goed: Internal

Seeing as the secret's out, here's some thoughts, originally written in May 2010, about being immersed in Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed's piece 'Internal' as part of Mayfest in Bristol.

I’ve felt angry, exhilarated, depressed, delirious, panicked, betrayed, exploited, joyous and I haven’t been able to talk or think about much else for more than a week. If you were one of the people who went to Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed’s ‘Internal’ during Mayfest, you’ll probably know what I mean. If you didn’t, here’s what happened...
The ‘show’ (that’s not quite the word but it’ll have to do) only lasted 25 minutes and was for an audience of five. The gist of it was that, via an intense and nerve-wracking line-up, each of the actors paired off with a member of the audience and took their ‘partner’ to a candlelit booth. I was chosen by a very attractive woman called Maria. She poured me a shot of vodka and we talked. I confidently told her that I’ve been with the same partner for 25 years. We discussed the importance of friendship. I said something about being a writer and interested in what other people have to say. It seemed hilariously funny that my favourite town in the world was the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. As a finale, she asked me to close my eyes and take her on an imaginary journey. We ‘went’ to a lake in Slovenia. It seemed innocent enough, even the bit where I conceded that we were touching and “maybe” we were kissing (but not in that way, pervs).
Shortly after, everyone emerged from their respective booths and all ten of us sat in a circle. Actors talked about their partners. The speed date became group therapy. Maria said some very flattering things about me and described our ‘journey’ to Slovenia, ramping up the kissing bit and adding in a sunset. Other encounters hadn’t been so successful, it seemed: one actor confessed to feeling that he’d not been able to “get through” to his partner while in another of the booths there’d been no conversation at all. Someone (an actor) noticed that Maria and I were sitting in identical poses. Another actor asked his partner if she’d “hold” him. She refused, on the entirely reasonable grounds that she’d only just met him and hardly knew him. At some point, the actress from the silent pair, stood up and bared her breasts. “Is this what you wanted to see?” she asked. “No,” said her partner, looking terrified.
After that, I felt faintly relieved. Compared with what happened to the others, my conversation with Maria seemed entirely normal and sane. Then the two of us became the focus of attention. I was asked (by another actor) if I thought that we’d “clicked”. I said “Yes”. Why wouldn’t I? Maria and I had got on. We’d had a chat, shared a laugh, made a toast to friendship. “Prove it!” said the other actor, quite aggressively. I looked blank. How on earth do you do that? Before I could think, Maria had opened her arms and she was kissing me. Warmly. On the lips. Suddenly, I was emotional jelly: euphoric as a 17-year-old who’s just copped off with the best-looking girl in school. Then Maria very matter-of-factly announced to everyone that I’d been with my partner for 25 years. Ouch. Somehow this metaphorical slap across the chops didn’t stop me giving her my address. She wanted, she said, to write me a letter.
And that was it. Or so it seemed. Outside, the audience chatted. We all agreed that it had been a slightly unusual experience and everybody was too polite to mention that I’d just shown myself to be a narcissistic slut by kissing a stranger who’d been nice to me. I went home, joked about having been “seduced by an attractive Belgian” and wrote up my review for Venue. Job done.
Only then the aftershocks started. Not for nothing is the show called ‘Internal’: it doesn’t happen in a theatre, it happens in your head. No matter how often you remind yourself that it really was “just a performance” and that, in my case, Maria was a ‘persona’ who was simply doling out flattery, you can’t escape the niggling thought that, maybe, just maybe, there was the glimmer of something real going on (not sexual, I hasten to add: the kiss, after all, was out of kilter with the rest of our conversation) - or the knowledge that, after 20-odd years of marriage, you’ve got the moral fibre of a pot plant. Hence the need to talk about it, especially with people who’ve been through the same encounter (not everyone got a kiss, it transpires; some got an abrupt and seriously cold cold shoulder), and to read everything about ‘Internal’ on the web, from glowing reviews to excoriating rants about Ontroerend Goed unethically ‘betraying’ their audience.
Even now I’m not sure what I think. On the one hand, I’m exhilarated by the emotions it’s sparked off (“I’ve never seen you so animated about anything - you’re usually so bloody cynical,” said one mate while I bored him to tears with yet another attempt at interpreting what had happened) and I’m impressed by the degree of risk the actors exposed themselves to (there are, let’s not forget, plenty of predatory stalkers out there, as they apparently discovered when they ran the show in Edinburgh). On the other, I’m depressed at discovering the extent of my own gullible cupidity and sporadically angry that some manipulative actors lured me so easily into a tender trap to make what seems to have been a some kind of point about identity theory or sexual politics (men can’t deal with it when they’re not in control maybe).
Either way, I’ve certainly never had this kind of fall-out from a piece of theatre before and while a lot of other art makes big claims about being challenging and life-changing (on the press release at least), none of it has come close to seriously fucking with my head. ‘Internal’ definitely did that, and while it’s obvious that it all hinged on some subtle and not-so-subtle psychological trickery (body language-echoing poses and the like), it’s still niggling away, a worm in my sub-conscious. When, exactly, did everything turn weird and manipulative? How did I let myself become an emotional adolescent? Why the fuck can’t I stop thinking about it?
The answer to that last one at least does now seem fairly obvious: it’s because this play still doesn’t have an ending. Act One was the conversation in the booth; Act Two was the group therapy session. Act Three so far has been all those slightly excruciating moments of frustration, exhilaration, sadness and anxiety, the long conversations with friends and my wife, and, erm, a letter from Maria.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that. It arrived, handwritten, a couple of days ago but doesn’t really clear much up. Its friendly tone seems to be ‘real’ but it’s presumably still part of the ‘show’. For a while it simply puzzled me. Now, though, I realise that as well as being a kind of thank-you note, it’s also an inspired gesture. With a return address scribbled on the back of the envelope, it’s my invitation to write the final scene. Curiously, after reducing me to grade-A twatishness, Ontroerend Goed have handed me the baton. Perhaps that’s why when someone asked me if I regretted getting myself embroiled in this (let’s not forget it) performance, I said: “No, no, not at all. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” Now all I’ve got to do is work out what to say to bring Act Three to a close.

This piece was originally published in Venue magazine, May 2010,

Two New Poems

Making things up

Out of this slicing gale, as we might call it,
blowing in from imaginary wastelands,
ruffled snow and ice patches accumulate
beside disputed parking spaces.
Words have brought me so far –
and then the weather conditions –
I’m almost at a loss for things to say.

In this warmth, then, uncertain reticence
amongst those who would be merely
speaking their minds. What do I know
of ordinary heroism? The late shift?
Awkward emotional tectonics?
I am only ever looking on
at the clarity of arrival.

Above the Calder

For L. S. Kimberley

The world, it seems, will not have much truck with poets.
Inadvertently taking a path up the crag above Hebden Bridge,
our triangulation points were the Brontës in Haworth,
Ted Hughes in Mytholmroyd and Sylvia Plath in Hepstonstall.

‘The sluttiest sheep in England’ posed for photographs
and there was something on the air which tasted like words.
The whole sky opened up like a chorus: church spires,
industrial behemoths, the impervious valley below.

We were lost amongst blackthorns crowding the ridge
until hen harriers’ fleeting screeches on granite
drew us back to our right of way through pylons,
phone aerials and nestled gardens of the village.

Beyond the remains of a church, across the lane,
the graveyard prickled with crosses, weeds and epitaphs.
Finally, this was hers. And yet here,
while wind scoured hard at what we thought to say,

even here, her own lines were waiting to escape
from silence into meaning. They persist,
and in persisting enter the brimming flow
into which, not far downstream, we’ll cast our own.

Both these poems were written for Imagine Fromeside, a two-day event at a Bristol clinic which also saw the launch of 'Selected Poems' by L S Kimberley, a Trinidadian-born poet published by Stepping Out and Dreamweavers who is currently one of the clinic's residents.

Research on the Tsunami, Phuket

For those of you who may be conducting research into the Tsunami of 2004 in Phuket, Thailand, here are links to documents which include detailed data on issues in the aftermath of the disaster. These have been kindly provided by a Lecturer at Mahidol University International College, Thailand.

Adjustment and Recovery in Thailand Two Years after the Tsunami

Post-tsunami reconstruction and tourism: a second disaster?

Thailand Destination Vulnerability Assessment

Should you require further information on this topic, please contact me.


This report, entitled 'Backing UK Tourism: Destination Recovery,' is published by the British Chambers of Commerce in conjunction with Travelodge. Chapters consider the Current Situation, Problems in the Sector, Areas for Reform and Recommendations for Reform. Statistics and a number of case studies from the tourism sector are included. The Economic Impact of Hub Airports is another report by the BCC which may be of interest to those studying leisure and tourism.

Holiday Events

Ongoing through Dec. 11 – Holiday Craftsman Sale, Pine Camp Arts & Community Center, 4901 Old Brook Rd. – This sale features gift items made by some of the area’s best artists and crafters, and a portion of every sale goes toward funding art classes for city youth. It goes on Tuesdays – Fridays 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Pine Camp, and in the lobby of

Sports Personality 2010

The nominees will be put to a public vote on the night of the live show:

Venue: Birmingham LG Arena 
Date: Sunday, 19th December 
Time: 1900 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 Live & BBC Sport website.

The public will be able to choose who they want to see crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year by telephone and details of the numbers to phone will be given out during the programme, which will be presented by Sue Barker, Gary Lineker and Jake Humphrey.

Before the big event there will be an Inside Sport preview show on Monday 13th December at 2305 GMT. 

Find out more here

The Bulletin - Issue 2


The second issue of 
the UCB Bulletin is out now.
Click here to view.

UCB Students - We Need your Reviews!

University College Birmingham is working with VisitBritain to provide suggestions for its next marketing strategy - a social media website, similar to the concept of Trip Advisor. We are asking students to write reviews on attractions, events and restaurants in Birmingham and the West Midlands region - upload your photos and video clips too.   You can review anything you think tourists might be interested in; all reviews will be linked to VisitBritain’s website and potentially reach tourists worldwide. This is a great opportunity for you learn about how social media influences tourists and could help with your studies.

Spread the word amongst other students at UCB!
Click here to upload a review.  Need some help? Contact Kathryn Bell.

The Staycation: Making a Virtue out of Necessity

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas Festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.

This article by Dr Jim Butcher discusses the arguments for and against 'staycations'; a reduction in holidays abroad in favour of a domestic holiday will hurt  the overseas tourism trade - on the other hand, they undoubtedly benefit the domestic market.

Dr Jim Butcher is a lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, a Fellow of the RSA and author of several books and articles on the politics of travel and tourism.

Here's a link to current debates and the archive.

Destination Slum

A preliminary programme is now available for conference entitled 'Destination Slum', to be held at the University of the West of England from 9-11th December. This conference relates to a recent post on slum tourism.

To register, click here...

Latest on Birmingham

The Birmingham Central blog aims to inform readers of the latest in planning and developments in Birmingham, with a spotlight on the City Centre. 

The Big City Plan appears to be back on the agenda and this post provides links as well as images of how the city centre could look in the future. Similarly, the website, is also designed to keep you abreast of local development news. Register to read the stories in full.

BrumCityCentre and also provide up to the minute news stories on the city.

Britain for Events report

This report is published by the Business Visits & Events Partnership - an organisation that cover the UK meetings and events sector. The Britain for Events report discusses the size and value of Britain's events industry, its characteristics, trends, opportunities and key issues.

Public Meeting on Go Ape Ropes Course Postponed

Due to internal changes, the public meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Carillon on the proposed Go Ape ropes course for Byrd Park has been postponed. A new date and time will be announced when it becomes available.

Youth Football Championship Games set for Nov. 13 at City Stadium

The department will hold its youth football championship games on Saturday, Nov. 13 at City Stadium, previously known as the University of Richmond Stadium, which is located at 601 McCloy St. Three games with players ranging in age from 8-years-old to 15-years-old will be played starting at 10 a.m. to determine the junior, midget and peewee championship teams. The teams represent the

The Witching Hour at BMAG

Art of Ideas, hosted this year by artist, writer and TV broadcaster Matthew Collings, is a major arts events taking place from  11th - 14th November, at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Instigated by Arts Council England West Midlands and led by Arts & Business, it will focus on the cultural life of Birmingham, specifically the idea of contemporary art collecting, collections and collectors.

One of the features of the event will be the 'Witching Hour’ exhibition, (the Waterhall, BMAG) showcasing photography, painting, sculpture, printmaking, film, animation and installation. It will explore darkness and the uncanny in the work of more than 20 artists from, or based in, Birmingham and the West Midlands. For more details click here...

Employability Week , 15th - 19th November

As Hazel Foggin, Head of Careers at UCB, points out, “Now more than ever, it is important to make sure your CV will stand out in a crowd.” To help that CV stand out, students will have the opportunity to pick up valuable skills and take part in a number of activities including workshops, a careers and recruitment fair, volunteers day, employer presentations and short courses.

In addition, a week of free courses aimed at enterprise and entrepreneurship is taking place, especially useful for those who might be looking to start their own business when they leave college; the following areas will be covered:

  • Monday: 
    • Introduction and Creative Thinking
    • Business Structures, Legislation and Protecting your Ideas
  • Tuesday:
    • Identifying Competitors and Evaluating the Business
    • Identifying and Testing Market Demand
  • Wednesday
    • Sales & Marketing
    • Employment Presentations
  • Thursday:
    • Raising Finance
    • Financial Reporting
  • Friday:
    • Legal Compliance
    • Writing the Business Plan
 If you're interested in taking part, contact Paul Matthews,

Cheerleading Jamboree set for Nov. 10th

The department will showcase its largest athletic program for girls at its Cheerleading Jamboree from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Landmark Theatre. This is the department’s 25th annual cheerleading competition. The high-energy event highlights the cheering squads from department community centers as well as local high school squads and other local cheering talent from the Richmond

Celebrate Veterans' Day at the Carillon

The department will hold a Veterans’ Day ceremony on Thursday, November 11, at 4 p.m. at the World War I Memorial Carillon building in Byrd Park. All veterans and the public are invited to attend. The program will feature a concert on the Carillon bells by carillonneur Lon Mitchell, presentation of colors by the Huguenot High School Color Guard, vocal selections, and the presentation of a

Journal of Tourism Consumption & Practice

The latest edition of this journal is available online; articles are entitled:
  • Researching tourism: reflexive practice and gender
  • Touristing home: muddy fields in native anthropology
  • Single or married? Positioning the anthropologist in tourist research
  • Gender, reflexivity and encounters of Indian-ness in the field
  • Research Notes: Mirroring the Anthropologist: reflex-ions of the self
Also included are book reviews and a summary report on the International Conference on Intangible Heritage.  Click here to access...

World Travel Market - 8-11 Nov 2010

The World Travel Market, taking place at Excel in London, will once again offer a packed programme of seminars, conferences and events . Some of the topics covered will be Adventure Travel, Disabled Travel, Ecotourism, Gay Travel, and Spa and Wellness. View the Programme here.

'Future You' conference will be run by the Institute of Travel & Tourism with seminars, a CV Doctor and Graduate Opportunities. Students can also join Future You on Facebook for information, competitions and giveaways.

Holiday Craftsman Sale Opens Nov. 20th

The department, in conjunction with the Pine Camp Art Program Advisory Council, will open its annual Holiday Craftsman Sale at the Pine Camp Arts and Community Center’s Spotlight Gallery on Nov. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is located at 4901 Old Brook Rd. The sale features the work of some of the area’s best artisans and includes pieces in pottery, glass, and wood as well as paintings
As we enter one of the busiest periods of trading for the tourism industry all the shortlisted businesses should feel proud of this milestone achievement that recognises their business as one of the best in the region’s tourism industry.
Brian Summers, Chairman – Tourism West Midlands

This year, the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards event was hosted by University of Birmingham during a gala dinner in the Great Hall; 53 regional businesses were chosen from several hundred to receive the awards. They will now go forward for the national Enjoy England Awards to represent the West Midlands in early 2011.

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust did particularly well, winning both the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Chairman’s Award for the 2010 most ‘Outstanding Contribution to Tourism’ and Joint Gold Regional Culture Award.

Special movie night set for Oct. 29

Families are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes to the final film in the department’s fall series of free outdoor movies, which will be shown at Dogwood Dell in Byrd Park on Friday, October 29. The department will show Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” from 7 to 9 p.m. “Our movies in the parks have been a huge success," said J.R. Pope, director of the department. "Families from all over

Leisure Opportunities

Leisure Opportunities is a magazine offering the latest news from the leisure, tourism and hospitality industries as well as information on property, jobs and training. In a recent issue of Leisure Opportunities, read the Student Special article 'Jumping into Leisure' which discusses careers in the leisure industry and the range of choices available for students considering a career in this field.  
Pick up your free copy at Summer Row Library.

The latest edition of the the magazine can also be viewed on the website; you may want to sign up for a free e-zine subscription or the digital edition to be sent to you by email.

DCMS Funding Announcement 2011-2015

A Message from Sandie Dawe:

"The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has today outlined our funding settlement for the next four years. The new funding level means that in cash terms our grant in aid will be £26.5 million in 2011/12 reducing to £21.2 million in 2014/15. This compares with the current year’s grant in aid of £28.8 million.

While this is a significant reduction in our funding, it does not change our objectives, which remain sound. These are: inspiring the world to visit and explore Britain, delivering a global network capable of promoting Britain; championing the tourism industry and creating a sustained increase in UK tourism as a result of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Our aim now is to tighten our focus clearly onto the UK’s key markets: ones that are already delivering for us and those emerging markets that are key to our future. We will use new technology including our award-winning suite of multi-lingual websites, social media platforms and international public relations expertise to maintain our global footprint as well as a staffed presence in key locations.

It is less than two years until the eyes of the world will be on the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games. We have a great chance to use the unprecedented level of media exposure that the event will bring to boost Britain’s image abroad.

We are determined to do our utmost, despite this reduced funding, to grasp that opportunity and are already in discussions with Ministers about how to create the strongest possible campaign around the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, working with you to promote this country as the great tourism destination it is."

Special interest tourism

Alternative tours draw travellers to Mexico - This article gives a new twist to slum tourism; meanwhile Fabian Frenzel a researcher from the University of the West of England's Bristol Business School travelled to Brazil this year, to try and answer the question of whether Slum Tourism makes us better people? Pre-disastered destinations are discussed here and good news for dark tourists - the dungeons beneath the Colosseum in Rome have opened to the public. this the solution to get passengers to pay attention whilst flight attendants demo safety procedures?  Forget trying to sleep through this one...

Some of the  articles above came from which offers tourism news, quirky travellers' tales, videos and pictures.


CIRET is an International Centre for research and study on tourism and provides a comprehensive online encyclopedia, which offers lists of journals, publishers, researchers, and research centres relating to tourism. They also encourage researchers to register their details, to be included on the website.
The Guild at University College Birmingham is proud to announce the launch of its new monthly sport magazine – the BULLETIN. This will feature the highs and lows of our HE and FE sportspeople and sports teams, in all their chosen pursuits. The BULLETIN is designed not only to provide an informative insight into UCB teams and players but will also include a range of sport-related issues that may be of interest to other students at UCB. Furthermore, the BULLETIN invites and encourages debate and discussion via the letters page, featured articles and other commentaries. Finally, to celebrate the launch of the BULLETIN, the Guild have teamed-up with Adaptable Travel to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a weekend break for two to Barcelona.

To peruse the BULLETIN and get involved, just log into UCBOnline and scroll down the page to click on the BULLETIN icon.
Providing guidelines for the evaluation of social, economic, environmental and media related impacts associated with staging major sporting and cultural events, the eventIMPACTS toolkit aims to help develop an industry standard in evaluating the impact of events. It has been created by a range of organisations and in particular for event owners, funders, sponsors and event industry employees across the UK.

Seven years after the Gulf

There are words we would rather skirt around.
Every day the sky becomes an excuse,
or appears to consist of an arrangement
of ducks on sloping cobbles,
that thing you talked of last night.

There was nothing to be said, for example,
which might not offend at this table.
We were only hypothesising, weren’t we,
about a society of amputation,
the whole bloody foreign situation?

At the turn of the road – rage
between drivers who, moments ago,
had never encountered each other.
From here, from this angle,
the phrase ‘Everything is wrong’
behaves like a cliché, precisely.
It contains a would-be full stop
and an effortless change of gear:
the bottle reached for from the mat
and fingerprints on the neck
just above the label.

So say it, go on: beyond those willows,
how easy it might have been
to dissolve whatever was happening elsewhere
in the drawn-out fade of a sunset.

Tom Phillips 2010

The Value of Sport monitor

The Value of Sport monitor is part of the Sport England site; it provides the latest research providing evidence of the benefits of sport. Topics included are:
  • Crime reduction
  • Economic impact
  • Education
  • Fitness and health
  • Measurement and evaluation
  • Participation
  • Psychological health
  • Social capacity
  • Inclusion criteria

The HE Academy

The Higher Education Academy provides support to the higher education sector by developing and disseminating evidence-informed practice on enhancing the student learning experience.   Their subject centres include:
Each of the subject centres offers a full spectrum of resources such as publications, teaching materials, events, projects, case studies, online magazines and book reviews.

Academy Exchange is their free online magazine which encourages the exchange of views and practices as well as supporting learning and teaching.

Atlas Events

October 14, 2010 :
Tourism Geographies Group meeting
European Regional Perspectives on Tourism Geographies –
Contrasting Research Approaches and Linguistic Traditions
Tarragona, Spain
November 2, 2010 :
The Doctoral Colloquium; Poster Session
Limassol, Cyprus
November 3 - 5, 2010 :
ATLAS annual conference 2010
Mass tourism vs. niche tourism
Limassol, Cyprus

November 14-17, 2010 :
Business Tourism meeting
Advances in Business Tourism Education and Research
Estoril, Portugal
January 27-29, 2011 :
Tourism Geographies Group meeting
The Changing World of Coastal, Island and Tropical Tourism
Martinique, French West Indies
June 6-8, 2011 :
ATLAS Africa conference 2011
Sustainable tourism and environmental education: A natural link
Kampala, Uganda
September 21-23, 2011 :
ATLAS annual conference 2011
Tourism and landscapes
Valmiera, Latvia

For more info on these events, click here...

Department Wins Awards

The department was recognized with four awards at the 56th Annual Conference of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society held at the Hampton Roads Convention Center earlier this month. The society’s statewide awards program honors individuals, agencies and organizations throughout Virginia that have demonstrated excellence in 17 different categories during the previous year.Richmond was

Continuing the Gjirokastra theme

The poem below, 'In The Citadel', refers to one of the odder remnants of the Cold War: a 'captured' USAAF Lockheed jet fighter which is still on display in the citadel of the southern Albanian city of Gjirokastra. There's a picture of it here (not taken by me). There are various conflicting stories about how it got there - these range from it having been shot down by either the Albanian air force or anti-aircraft fire (which would have been difficult, seeing as Albania had no ground-based air defences at the time) to it having landed at Tirana airport following a navigational error by the pilot.
What does seem to be certain is that, in December 1957, the pilot, Howard J Curran, strayed into Albanian airspace twice. According to the American version of the story, he was taking the Lockheed T-33 from Chateauroux airbase in France to Naples in Italy when, thanks to a combination of bad weather and instrument failure, he arrived over Albania by mistake. Running out of fuel, he searched for a nearby airfield and spotted what was, in fact, the as-yet incomplete Tirana International Airport. Once on the ground, he was promptly arrested and taken away for interrogation. In yet another version of the story, his arrival was greeted by a chain-gang cheering political prisoners who were working on the airport's new runway at the time and assumed that the plane heralded a full-scale American invasion of the country and therefore the end of Enver Hoxha's totalitarian regime.
Several accounts of this 'incident' claim that what became of Curran is 'unknown' (the implication being that, rather like Michael Caine in the film version of The Ipcress File, he was held prisoner by the Albanians and brainwashed) but his release and return to the USA via Yugoslavia was reported in Life magazine in January 1958 (see here). His aeroplane, meanwhile, was kept by the Albanians - on the pretext that it had lost a tyre on landing and they couldn't replace it - and taken to Gjirokastra citadel to become part of Hoxha's 'trophy cabinet' of captured military equipment (a selection of Italian howitzers and a tank from the Second World War - all of which are also still on display in the citadel).
Whether Curran really had made some grievous errors or not is a matter of debate. Tirana is a long way from Naples, Curran himself was an extremely experienced pilot - a Second World War and Korean War 'flying ace' - and, of course, America wouldn't have been keen to admit that it was flying reconnaissance missions over Albania at the time. That said, the coasts of Albania and western Italy follow nearly parallel bearings, and if he was flying without instruments, Curran might well have mistaken the one for the other.
Either way, the Lockheed remains at Gjirokastra (although most of its moveable parts had been removed by the time I saw it in 2006), an unlikely memorial to the Cold War.
Howard Curran himself died in August last year and his obituary, including a short version of the Albanian 'interlude', is posted here.
One reason for posting this and the poem below is that Gjirokastra was also the birthplace of Albanian writer Ismail Kadare (see post re: his recent Lerici Pea Prize). Kadare's most famous novel, The General of the Dead Army, was inspired by a statue of 'Mother Albania' in the Military Museum inside Gjirokastra citadel (it shows Albania sending both the Nazis and the Italians packing, their arms weighed down by skulls), while one of his most lyrical, Chronicle in Stone, offers a child's eye view of the city during the Second World War - and, as a results, gives an illuminating insight into the follies and horrors of war in general.
Gjirokastra was also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, and although the plinth where a gigantic statue of the 'heroic leader' once tood now lies empty and looks, from the citadel walls, like a redundant heliport, the house where he was born has been turned into an 'ethnic museum'. The Kadare family house, meanwhile, has yet to be 'museum-ified', possibly because, as the Albanian who took me to Gjirokastra phlegmatically observed, "we won't know what we think of him until he dies".

In the Citadel

Above so much traditional stone housing
squatting into the mountainside,
the football stadium and a hexagonal blank
like a heliport (the emptied plinth
of a statue which surveyed far more
than it would ever command),
we are stepping over shed fuel tanks
to photograph the captured plane.

Downed in the Cold War,
by whatever means, it sits now
on a lawn on the edge of a rampart,
its turbine an empty mouth,
its stripped-out cockpit open.
We take turns to stand
with kids on the wing
while tourists from elsewhere
count medieval cannon.

Not far west of Gjirokaster
lies Hamara, Saranda, the Adriatic,
beyond that the Mediterranean,
and, beyond that, the Atlantic.
Sometime in the 1950s,
a Lockheed strayed off course.

Driving down white marbled streets
where celebratory excuses are enough
for men who shouldered state relics
all the way up to the citadel,
we’re turning out onto the plain,
disputed territory not that long ago,
where old simplicities ended.

News re: Albania

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare has won this year's Lerici Pea Poetry prize. This may come as something to a surprise to readers in Britain since, here, he's only really known for novels such as The Successor (which won the Booker Man International Prize), The Siege, The General of the Dead Army, The Ghost Rider etc.
Kadare, however, has published a series of poetry collections in Albanian, including several career-spanning 'selecteds'. Some of these have been translated into French as part of an ongoing translation of his collected works (and, given the origin of this latest prize, some have also presumably been rendered in Italian) but the only samples I can find translated into English are a good but modest group on Robert Elsie's site. These and some very rudimentary readings of his poetry in Albanian suggest that, unsurprisingly, this strand of his work demonstrates similar qualities to his prose - clarity, precision, allusiveness, versatility - and to the poetry of other European late-modernists.
More than anything, perhaps, the awarding of this prize is a reminder that, even though a dozen of his novels have been translated into English, these only represent a tiny proportion of Kadare's work (his novels, poetry, essays etc occupy two whole bookcases in the International Bookshop in Tirana); that the proportion of Albanian literature in general which has been translated into English is even smaller (although again Elsie's site has a good selection, as well as details of other Albanian translations which have been published); and that even when an individual writer or an entire literary culture appears to be well-represented in translation, the translated works rarely represent more than the very tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The other question which this award raises relates to Kadare's prospects as a putative Nobel laureate. His name has been 'connected' with the Nobel Prize on several occasions but the truth is he remains a controversial figure, both in Albania and South Eastern Europe as a whole, largely because of his ambiguous departure from Albania to live in Paris immediately after the end of communism and because of his perspective on Kosovo. You can get a flavour of the controversy at the LRB's website from this letter and my response, originally published three years ago.

New Media Trend Watch

New Media Trend Watch is a service developed by the European Travel Commission for all its member organisations and the wider tourism industry. It monitors data on internet usage in 56 countries across the world, focussing specifically on travel and tourism.

The site is updated once a week and draws together data from over 70 sources and contains  sections for each country on the use of broadband and mobile devices, travel industry developments and demographics.

As well as graphs and statistics, there is an Events Diary, White Papers and research studies available.

Exhibit to Feature Emerging Young Artists

The department will host an art exhibit featuring the works of several of Richmond’s emerging young artists. The exhibit, titled “The Up and Comings,” will open with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. on October 1 at the Spotlight Gallery, which is located at the department’s Pine Camp Arts and Community Center, 4901 Old Brook Rd. “This exhibit is an opportunity for the public to be introduced to these

New publications

The Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC), Australia's tourism scientific and strategic research organisation, recently ceased operations. The website will remain for the next 5 years to continue to offer, amongst other resources, a large number of leisure and tourism research papers that can be downloaded free:
The Tools and Products tab reveals further useful material such as the Tourism Risk Management Guide. Projects currently underway will also be completed and hosted on the site. Future areas of research can be found here.

Historical Reenactment Commissioned

Richmond, VA – In honor of the Joseph Bryan Park 100th anniversary, the Friends of Bryan Park has commissioned local playwright and founder of Richmond’s African-American Repertory Theater Derome Scott-Smith to write and produce an historical reenactment about Gabriel, the slave whose life and death are forever entwined with the park’s history. The play, a one-man show, will be performed for free

Report - Roadmap for Recovery

A new report published by UNWTO entitled Tourism & Travel - a primary vehicle for job creation and economic recovery considers the impact of the global economic crisis on tourism and sustainable tourism in challenging times. The Roadmap for Recovery is a set of strategic guidelines based on three areas: Resilience, Stimulus and the Green Economy which are aimed at world leaders and decision makers to look at solutions to stimulate the global economy. Recommendations are provided and stimulus measures for tourism recovery by country, are also given.

Guns and butter

A couple of music reviews

First - Pere Ubu at Bath's Komedia:

There’s an air of self-fulfilling prophecy about this. Having named Cleveland, Ohio’s original avant-garage band after Alfred Jarry’s monstrous theatrical creation back in 1975, here’s David Thomas ‘playing’ the character of Pere Ubu himself in a Brechtian performance art panto that’s Greil Marcus’s theory about punk having pinched its best ideas from Dada brought to life. In short, it’s quite brilliant - an unlikely music/theatre adventure that veers from the sublime to the ridiculous via spasming dancers, dropped scenes, temper tantrums, theremin-garnished atmospherics, sock puppets, farting and spacey animation from the Brothers Quay. Astonishingly, it manages both to put across the gist of Jarry’s deliriously satirical 1896 play and feature some of the most joyously rebarbative music that Pere Ubu (the band) have made since their ‘Dub Housing’/‘New Picnic Time’ rule-shredding heyday. Sound arrives in slabs and moods, sporadically coalescing into plot-related songs called things like ‘March of Greed’ and ‘Big Sombrero’, while, hip flask in hand, Thomas himself lurches and swaggers (or lies down full length, wearing a nightcap), purring, growling and yelping through dialogue and lyrics alike, a cross between Tom Waits, William Burroughs and that slightly disturbing but twinkly-eyed uncle who grandpa should have kept locked in the basement. When they’re not beating conventional three-chord rock into disorienting new shapes like demented blacksmiths reinventing the horseshoe, his musical ‘minions’ swap instruments for chicken masks and sacks to join in the ‘action’ as everything from Polish peasants to Ubu’s nemesis Captain Ordura (in a fetching frock). It’s funny, garbled, fucked-up, stupid, great - antidotal evidence that, with the appropriate chutzpah and humour, you can do something different with the basic gig format without ending up with Peter Gabriel dressed as a flower. Or with a lecture on rainforests by Sting (subject here to a withering ad hoc caricature). That, for afters, we get ten or so minutes of ‘pure’ Ubu - including an out-of-the-blue, full-on blast through previously-deemed-controversial second ever single ‘Final Solution’ - is merely yer proverbial cake icing. We leave Mr Thomas, perched on the front of the stage, good-humouredly flogging CDs from a cardboard box.

Second - Public Image Ltd at Bristol's O2 Academy

Rumours that J Lydon Esq has mellowed with age (and advertising income) have been greatly exaggerated. There’s nothing remotely mellow – or buttery – about the way PiL tear into savage lament ‘Death Disco’ and messianic diatribe ‘Religion’. Or about a two-hour set which, as well as ticking off ‘Memories’, ‘Flowers of Romance’, ‘Don’t Ask Me’ and the other ‘hits’ (term used advisedly), snares a pugilistic ‘Chant’, a slow-burning, Penetration-esque ‘Psychopath’ and an epic and rancorously mournful ‘Albatross’. True, this version of the band leaves fewer loose ends than the Levene/Wobble-staffed original and only ‘Four Enclosed Walls’ actively threatens to collapse into atonal clatter, but the oh-so-effective combination of lolloping, dubbed-up bass, hard-as-nails drumming and top-end-shredding guitar patented on ‘Metal Box’ is very much in evidence. Even ‘recent’ tracks – i.e. those written 20-odd, rather than 30, years ago – get the treatment and sound all the better for it, the likes of ‘Tie Me to the Length of That’ and ‘USLS1’ given the kind of strung-out spaciness they were begging for. As for Lydon himself, he’s in fine form. He might look like a costive cocktail barista these days but he still sounds like a cross between an irate muezzin and a pregnant teenager, swooping from irritated nasal whine to portentous declamation (“The priests are coming – lock up your children”) in the blink of a chord change. Whatever his off-stage, panto dame-like posturing for the benefit of ‘I’m a Celebrity’, Country Life and the tabloids, when it comes to PiL and these songs of love, rage, terrorism and death, he does, it seems, still mean it (man). A post-ciggy encore sees what Mrs Venue insists on calling ‘the mush pit’ nostalgically pogoing to ‘Public Image’, ‘Rise’ and the discoid whelp of ‘Open Up’ but, for yours truly, it’s the early-on poise and swagger of ‘Poptones’ what done it. Anger and beauty – now there’s a thing.

Originally published by Venue magazine in Bristol, see ffi

Outdoor movie, costume contest at Forest Hill Park

The department will show the Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” on Friday, August 27, in Forest Hill Park. Forest Hill Park is located at 4021 Forest Hill Ave. The movie is the final installment of the season in the department’s free outdoor family entertainment series, Friday Pictures in the Park. The movie will begin at 8:30 p.m., and will be preceded by a prince and princess costume

A small item of news

From 9-12 November, if you happen to be in Bristol, you can see a new, large-cast play which I've been commissioned to write by Ship & Castle Theatre Company and whose slightly cumbersome title-in-progress is 'The Few (More Than We Expected)' - a title which began as a throwaway joke relating to the size of the cast but has now become, thanks to the wonders of a Facebook page, inscribed in (virtual) stone. For the time being at least.
Based on the stories of thirty-odd people living on and around an airfield 'somewhere in southern England' during the summer of 1940 and the Battle of Britain, it's docu-drama meets all-embracing community theatre meets ENSA touring party. It's also from the same company who produced 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (four stars in Venue, eight/ten in the Evening Post, Rose Bowl award and nominations).
Scenes from the play will also be performed at the Colston Hall on 6 Nov as part of the annual Festival of Remembrance.
Naturally, I haven't finished writing the script yet.
Details of how to book are on the Facebook page:

Richmond Children Can Send a Message to the Future

City children are invited to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bryan Park by writing a letter or sending their artwork to the future.Children who live in the city of Richmond and are in kindergarten through 12th grade can submit a letter or a drawing for possible inclusion in a time capsule that will be buried in Bryan Park on Sept. 25 during the park’s centennial celebration.In their

Bryan Park Centennial Celebration Set for Sept. 25

Join the department and the Friends of Bryan Park in the centennial celebration for Joseph Bryan Park on Saturday, Sept. 25, from noon to 6 p.m. in the park. The celebration will feature food, live music, children’s activities, and a wide variety of vendors and exhibitors, including local artists, non-profit organizations, and environmental groups.Mayor Dwight C. Jones and other dignitaries will

In the City Museum

In the City Museum

The great lunge
of paint across canvas
draws requisite attention
from students, tourists,
connoisseurs etc.

Cage's 4' 33 reiterates
traffic harmonies.
We are impeccable:
expansion of the object
not representing,
development of subject.

*** Well Done!! ***

Congratulations to a UCB team of chef, food service students and of course, their lecturers, who have recently won one of the most prestigious hospitality competitions in the UK - the coveted title of Nestlé Toque d’Or Champions 2010, beating off competition from four other UK catering colleges. Each team served a three-course lunch to 100 paying guests at the BBC Good Food Show held at the NEC in June.

The prize is a trip to Lyon for the team in January as guests of Nestlé Professional and the College receives £4000 worth of catering equipment from the Savoy Trust - fantastic! More...

City Youth to Attend National "Traditions" Golf Tournament

Seven young Richmond golfers will participate in a national tournament in Bloomington, Indiana Aug.7 - Aug.8. They range between the ages of 13 and 15 and are participants in the Department's Challenge Golf League held at The First Tee of Richmond. The Enrichmond Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports parks and recreation programs throughout the city, raised the funds to cover the

Department to Hold Ed Perry Football Camp for Children

Approximately 200 Richmond children will have the opportunity to learn some football and life fundamentals, next week under the instruction of former National Football League (NFL) player Ed Perry. Perry, who was born in Richmond, also played football at Highland Springs High School and James Madison University before being drafted by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 1997.The Department of Parks,

Department to show Michael Jackson movie, hold dance contests

Aug. 5, 2010 - The Department will show Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Friday, Aug. 6, at its Broad Rock Sports Complex as part of its free Friday Pictures in the Park series of outdoor family entertainment. Broad Rock Sports Complex is located at 4801 Old Warwick Rd. The movie, which will begin at 8:30 p.m., will be preceded by a Michael Jackson dance contests for children and teens at 7 p.m.

Olympic Stadium - taking shape

With the Olympics to take place in exactly 2 years today, take a look at progress so far...

Free Park Festival July 18

July 16, 2010 What could be better than spending a Sunday afternoon in the park with family and friends? Mayor Dwight C. Jones, City Council President Kathy Graziano, Friends of Forest Hill Park and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities invite you to do just that on Sunday, July 18, from noon until 4 p.m., in Forest Hill Park at the annual Sunday in the Park with

Theme Park Tickets Available at Reduced Prices

July 16, 2010 The department is selling discounted tickets to Kings Dominion, Water Country USA and Busch Gardens. Prices range from $28 to $54, depending on the park, the date attending and the age of the user. Tickets can be purchased Monday through Friday through September 3, from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 308 of the Landmark Theater at 6 N. Laurel St. Ticket purchasers

Upcoming Events

‘Star Trek’ to Show Friday in Abner Clay Park

July 7, 2010The department will show the 2009 movie, “Star Trek,” Friday, July 9, at 8:30 p.m. in Abner Clay Park as part of its summer Friday Pictures in the Park series.The movies is free to attend, and popcorn, cotton candy and drinks will be given away for as long as they last. Bring a blanket or chair if you plan to attend.In addition, come early dressed as a character from Star Trek to

Destination World

Recent articles include:

Mayor Announces Public Boating on Several City Lakes

July 1, 2010 - Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced today an enhancement to several city parks by allowing non-powered watercraft on three city park lakes. Beginning today, visitors will be allowed to boat on Shields Lake and Swan Lake in William Byrd Park and on Forest Hill Lake in Forest Hill Park.“I believe residents will enjoy boating on these city lakes as it highlights the aesthetic beauty of
Tourism 2023 is a report by nine organisations including ABTA, Thomas Cook and TUI, which gives four scenarios, a vision and a strategy for UK outbound travel and tourism. The four scenarios entitled 'Boom & Bust', 'Divided Disquiet', Price & Privilege' and 'Carbon Clampdown' discuss potential directions that the industry may move towards in the future. The document also contains a pledge signed by the contributing organisations; this is based on six principles which take into account the environment, employees, customers, communities, sustainable infrastructure and business value.

Hawkers: a story

Hawkers built his own bungalow. Or rather he got his ‘lads’ to do it. It was about the only thing he didn’t buy out of a catalogue. Instead, at the end of every working day, he loaded half-a-dozen Poles from his casual payroll into a van and drove them out to the village where they put in four hours of what he described as ‘bonus time’. They didn’t seem to mind; they worked weekends, too. He paid them in cash and they set about putting up walls, laying down floors, tiling roofs and installing pipes and wiring. When they’d finished, Hawkers brought in a crate of beer and the Polish guys paraded around their boss’s new six-bedroom home, wondering at its magnificence. Outside, the garden seemed a veritable paradise which stretched gently down towards a river. Opening fresh cans of own-brand lager, they stood on the pile of rubble which would one day become a patio and admired the muddy quagmire which would one day become a lawn. “Good enough for croquet,” said Hawkers, although he didn’t really know much about croquet, except that it was a game you played on lawns.
The village was less impressed with Hawkers’ mansion. In the saloon bar of the Pheasant, it was referred to as “the monstrosity” and its lion’s head gate posts and array of faux marble Venuses were described as “impossibly vulgar”. Hawkers was surprised, not so much by the fact that they didn’t appreciate his good taste as by their willingness to repeat these calumnies while he was in earshot. Hawkers had always understood that people in villages were too polite to voice an opinion. And yet here he was, the self-made man, the mansion builder, the recipient of grotesque slurs.
He should have expected it, of course. He knew that his kind of money was slightly different from the kind of money which had bought his neighbours’ tastefully converted barns and renovated cottages. They weren’t gentry, by any stretch of the imagination, but his ‘new’ money was even newer than theirs and so could be frowned on from the relative safety of a £150,000-a-year salary from an ‘old’ city firm or law company. The ‘old’ money lived on but only in the half-ruined manor house which, as Hawkers was never to know, would be snapped up by a developer and turned into six luxury apartments for rent to corporate high-flyers.
Clearly, Hawkers was not ‘one of them’. He’d grown up on an estate at the fraying margins of the city, in a block of flats ringed with bypasses where the only signs of economic activity were the teenage boys lurking on the staircases hissing ‘wananysmack?’. His only assets hadn’t been a degree from Cambridge and a portfolio of low-risk equities but stubbornness, stamina and a naivety which bordered on stupidity. Early in his career, this combination meant that, of all the labourers on the city’s building sites, he was the one who readily volunteered for the jobs that nobody else wanted and applied himself with a vigour that couldn’t escape the foreman’s notice. He was both as dumb and as strong as the proverbial ox and was always the last to be kicked off a site when the work was coming to an end. Being stupid also meant that he didn’t know how to spend money and he soon built up a tidy sum.
It was his father who told him what to do: “Get off your arse and set yourself up in business.” It was the only time Hawkers did anything remotely intelligent. As a self-employed builder, he was even more successful than before and he could soon afford to take on his own labourers and rent an office where, instead of lugging hods and hurling scaff poles around, he sat on the end of a phone securing ever more lucrative contracts. In short, he turned himself into Hawkers, the self-made man and mansion builder, and his firm was regularly hired for prestige jobs in the city centre.
He deserved, he felt, his own place in the country. The bungalow was his reward and to hell with the neighbours. Let them criticise his lion’s head gate posts! Let them pour scorn on his faux marble Venuses! He had more than a dozen men who called him ‘boss’, ‘chief’ and – his own personal favourite – ‘captain’, and a car which outperformed all the others in the village (except in terms of fuel consumption).
And so, whether it was because he genuinely didn’t care any more or because he cared more than he knew, Hawkers began to buy things. He wasn’t very good at it. The only things he’d ever really bought before were either to do with the building trade – bricks, sand, joists, tiles – or his hardly extensive leisure activities – the occasional Queen CD or a copy of Busty Babes. Going into shops made him feel dizzy and sick. But what did that matter? He could order just about anything from a catalogue or the internet. Within weeks, he was running up the biggest bills the manager of Argos had ever seen. Every morning Hawkers was woken by the high-pitched bleat of a truck reversing into his drive. And it wasn’t just from Argos. As his confidence grew, he branched out, calling in massive orders to Ikea, Comet and even Habitat and John Lewis. He took delivery of widescreen, high-definition televisions, state-of-the-art washing machines, gas cookers, microwaves, beds, carpets, dining tables, armchairs, sofas…. All chosen on the strength of the tiny photographs printed in catalogues or posted on a website. Sometimes his choices clashed a little but, on the whole, Hawkers was very pleased with his purchases. Naturally, waiting in every day for deliveries and then having to find places to put them once they’d arrived meant that he had less time to spend at the office but that didn’t seem to matter. The money still rolled in from the big city-centre developers. In the evenings, Hawkers checked his online bank account and then wandered through his mansion, noting down each new purchase on his domestic inventory.
Then – and Hawkers was never sure why this happened – he stopped. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any more space: the bungalow had so many rooms his spree could have gone for months. It wasn’t that he was satisfied, glutted with new possessions like a man who’s just finished a seven-course banquet. On the contrary, in fact, and to his immense surprise, Hawkers found himself feeling less satisfied, less happy. What was missing? Not being someone for lengthy reflection, he rapidly came to the conclusion that what he needed now was a wife. What’s more, this need, too, could be met by catalogues, admittedly not the sort you picked up in Argos or Ikea, but the ones you could find on the internet at helpfully blatant addresses like Russian Brides or Macedonian Virgins.
Unlike his other purchases – some of which had been injudicious; the giant pasta making machine which now filled half his walk-in kitchen cupboard, for example – Hawkers decided this was one he wouldn’t rush. He dedicated an entire weekend, in fact, to examining numerous thumbprint photographs. For a while, he toyed with the idea of a Thai bride. They, after all, were renowned for their obedience and athleticism. But Hawkers went off the idea when he imagined what the villagers would think if he turned up with a diminutive Thai woman on his arm. They would know he had bought her off the internet, and even though he professed not to give a damn about what they thought, he did draw the line at giving them the opportunity for sexual mockery. Instead, he turned to eastern Europe and, more specifically, Poland. He’d always got on with the Poles and, he reasoned, if he got on with the ones who worked for him, he was sure to get on with their female equivalent. Poland was also part of the EU and that would cut out a lot of irritating paperwork. By Sunday night, he’d sent a tentative email to a woman called Suzanna who lived in Krakow. According to her ‘notes’, she was seven years younger than Hawkers, liked birdwatching (an unlikely hobby, Hawkers thought, but never mind) and was a devoted follower of “your English ‘Big Brother’”. Judging from the slightly blurred photo on the website, she also had enormous breasts. Hawkers was amazed when she replied within the hour to say that she had always dreamt of marrying a successful English businessman and that, yes, she would come for “a visit”. As it happened, her brother was driving to England soon and would bring her to the “very beautiful English village where you reside”. She had, she added, no concerns about marrying someone she had never met because she knew that all English gentlemen were generous, considerate and “not particularly demanding in the bedroom department”. If this last comment gave Hawkers any concern whatsoever, it was rapidly dispelled by the thought that he was possibly going to marry a handsomely endowed twenty-six-year-old whose only vice appeared to be ornithology.
It took Suzanna somewhat longer than expected to arrive. Several months passed, in fact, before the long-awaited announcement came: “My brother and I leave tomorrow.” In the meantime, Hawkers had been able to get to know Suzanna a little better. She was, her emails informed him, a former student of economics, had had a bad experience with one of her lecturers, was an enthusiastic, though not necessarily always successful cook, wanted to learn more about English manners and could play “one simple piece by our Chopin” on the piano. Hawkers also received a new photograph which he found engaging, albeit unnerving. The shaved head of a middle-aged man was reflected in the mirror behind Suzanna’s half-naked body. Perhaps her father had been keen to help her cement her new relationship.
Again unexpectedly, it took Suzanna and her brother another three weeks to reach England from Krakow. They arrived without any warning in the middle of the night. The village’s canine population set up a fearful howling as a knackered Fiat coughed and spluttered into Hawkers’ drive. Lights went on in the neighbouring cottages and accountants tutted at the sight of the half-dressed Suzanna and her thuggish-looking brother advancing on Hawkers’ front door. Word that Hawkers’ money had come from dealings with Russian gangsters started spreading as soon as it was light.
Hawkers greeted Suzanna with an enthusiastic hug which, he noticed, didn’t seem to go down particularly well with her brother, who, he was surprised to learn, would be staying while his sister “settled in”. Not wishing to upset his putative bride the instant she came through the door, Hawkers agreed to this arrangement and set about showing Suzanna the house. She seemed favourably impressed but, pleading fatigue, wondered if he wouldn’t mind if she slept on her own this first night. Hawkers showed Suzanna to one of the spare rooms and her brother to another.
“We go ‘good night’ now,” said Suzanna, dryly, and she disappeared into her room. The brother stayed out in the corridor with Hawkers. He seemed unusually concerned with his sister’s wellbeing.
“You fuck her up,” he menaced, “and I fuck you up, OK?”
Given that the brother looked as if he could readily deliver a very nasty fucking up, Hawkers nodded and retreated to his room. He decided that this wasn’t the raving of a demented psychopath but merely an example of the Polish way of doing things. This allowed him to sleep deeply enough not to be disturbed by the faint knocking sound coming from the far end of the corridor.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, Suzanna was a different person in the morning. The brother seemed exhausted. The rigours of the journey must have finally caught up with him. Suzanna, meanwhile, insisted on a proper tour of the house and dished out a steady stream of ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at the many pieces of limited edition furniture and expensive hi-tech gadgetry. Naturally, Hawkers also took the opportunity to appraise his bride-to-be and decided that she was, indeed, precisely the kind of woman he was looking for. She was practical, enthusiastic and, above all, curvaceous. In short, when the brother asked whether what he rather disconcertingly referred to as “the deal” was on, Hawkers said that it most certainly was and agreed to hand over five hundred pounds as a contribution towards the expenses incurred during the journey to England. The brother pocketed the money and, contrary to his earlier suggestion that he stay, immediately got into the Fiat and noisily departed.
These were to be the happiest weeks of Hawkers’ life. Suzanna brought numerous improvements to his existence – breakfast in bed, ushering him off to work on time, greeting him with a cheery grin when he came home and solicitously helping with his paperwork in the evenings. Sexually, perhaps, Hawkers was a little disappointed but Suzanna explained her reluctance to go beyond some perfunctory mutual masturbation as being the result of her innate shyness, the bad experience with her university lecturer and her disorientation at having moved so rapidly from Krakow to the beauty and tranquillity of the English countryside.
Eventually, the time came for Hawkers to formalise the wedding arrangements. Suzanna seemed uninterested in the details and allowed him to carry on without voicing any kind of opinion, apart from on the subject of the honeymoon. Hawkers opted for a quick registry office job followed by a fortnight in Spain. He had been thinking about an on-the-beach wedding in the Caribbean but Suzanna said that that was too far and it would be better if they stayed in Europe, specifically the European Union.
When the big day came, Suzanna climbed into the taxi with Hawkers. She was wearing an off-the-peg dress from Primark and clutching an unexpectedly small ‘going away’ bag. Hawkers had bought a new suit which, he thought, made him look rakish. Suzanna stared out of the car window all the way to the registry office.
Witnessed by a couple of Poles Hawkers had dragged off the building site (with whom Suzanna refused to converse on the grounds that they were “mere workmen”), the ceremony didn’t take long and they emerged into the drizzle a few minutes later, a married couple. Suzanna and Hawkers marked the occasion with vodkas in the nearest pub before heading for the airport and their flight to Alicante.
The honeymoon passed conventionally enough. Hawkers was pleased to discover that the effects of the bad experience with the university lecturer seemed to have worn off. He spent large amounts of time sleeping on the beach while Suzanna, dressed in the new, skimpy bikini she got him to buy her in the hotel boutique, sat at the beach bar, talking to the clean-cut lads who, she claimed, were war heroes from Iraq. On their final night in Spain, Hawkers was vaguely shocked when she didn’t reappear in their room until four in the morning.
When they arrived back home and were turning into his drive, Hawkers noticed two things: the absence of one of his lion’s head gate posts and the presence of the knackered-looking Fiat. Suzanna’s brother had returned.
“He looks after house while we’re away,” said Suzanna. “Kind, yes?”
Hawkers agreed that it was, indeed, kind but something about the missing gate post worried him. He opened the front door and found the brother heaving a large – and very expensive – Welsh dresser along the hall towards the back garden. Plates tumbled from it and smashed on the floor. The dresser appeared to be one of the few remaining items of furniture in the bungalow.
“What the hell….?”
It was the one but last phrase that Hawkers was to utter. The very final one came a few seconds later, after he had been walloped on the head by a large piece of masonry and heard the brother shout “Give it to him again, Sue” in a decidedly English accent: “So you’re not even fucking Polish!”
Hawkers died with the lion’s head gate post embedded in his skull.
“Bollocks, I must have hit him too hard,” said Sue, formerly Suzanna, now also resorting to her native accent.
“He’s dead?”
“As a fucking doornail.”
Pat, formerly the brother, took decisive action. Abandoning the dresser, he dragged Hawkers out into the back garden, propped him against a large pile of catalogue furniture he’d spent several days constructing, poured petrol over the lot and set fire to it. Hawkers slowly blistered, charred and blackened.
“What the fuck are you doing, Pat?” shouted Sue through the kitchen window when she noticed the twenty-foot flames.
“Burning the bastard. Got to get rid of him somehow. You can say he just disappeared in Spain. Left you in the lurch.”
“But I thought we were going to sell that lot?” said Sue, pointing at the blazing furniture.
“That? That’s the stuff I couldn’t get rid of. That’s just crap from catalogues.”
By the following morning, Hawkers, the self-made man, the mansion builder, was a small cloud of ash blowing gently across his garden and speckling the surface of the river below.

Tom Phillips 2008-10