Here’s the rest of my jolly list of ten things that make me pull my hair and scream about silly old Blighty…
6. The Daily Mail
For the non-Brits reading this, I’ll let Uncyclopedia explain what The Daily Mail means to us lot in the UK:
Often referred to as “Fascism with Oven Gloves on” The Daily Wail, also known variously as The Daily Hate, The Daily Heil, The Daily Bile, The Daily Hate Mail and The Daily Fail is a hugely popular British comic for those who believe themselves (usually mistakenly) to be members of the middle classes.
While I have nothing but quiet distain for comic-book newspapers like The Sun and The Star, at least everybody knows they’re comics. The Mail is different, it tries to fob itself off as a serious newspaper while obsessing over celebrities, immigration and Princess Diana like some demented old lady whose sole understanding of the massive cultural shifts of the last 100 years mean that “you can’t even call it a blackboard no more.”
And like that same batty old lady, The Daily Mail supported the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. After over half a million British and Commonwealth citizens lost their lives in the ensuing fight against the forces of fascism, you would think the Mail would show some contrition, some kind of humility, some kind of…
…I don’t know… tact? But I suppose that doesn’t sell too many papers.
But what really gets my goat about the Daily Mail is its — quite frankly — piss-poor science reporting. As may of you know, I’m very much an armchair cheerleader of the sciences, and while it is not my personal forte (I’m much better at roaming the world in search of beer), I do have an ongoing interest in all things science-y. But while my ignorance of the mechanics of the universe is something I actively try to combat, The Mail doesn’t even try. For The Mail, there are no incremental peer-reviewed advances in medicine, only MIRACLE CURES!! There are no interesting asteroids passing within 0.1 AU of the Earth, only DEADLY ASTEROIDS ON COLLISION COURSE!! There are no harmless chemicals in The Mail’s periodic table, only EVIL CHEMICALS THAT WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF AND SLEEP WITH YOUR WIFE!!
I will concede that the Mail did something noble once…
But the emphasis must be placed squarely on the word “once.” The fact that The Daily Mail is the second best-selling newspaper in the UK is just one more reason for me to add it to the list of 10 things I hate about the UK. For a daily update of the incredible lies, half-truths, distortions of reality and painfully uncritical press-release journalism, check out http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/
7. Prince Charles
I’m by no means a republican. I don’t envy the political systems of France or Italy (interestingly listed as ‘flawed democracies’ by the Democracy Index) and I believe that the American system of government is fundamentally flawed and unfixable.
My support for the institution of the British monarchy stems from three things:
1) there’s nothing socially, morally or politically wrong with having a constitutional monarchy (as evidenced by it being the preferred system of 7 of the 10 most democratic nations on the planet).
2) The Queen routinely receives a whopping 80% approval rating. Take THAT, Sarkozy!
3) Cultural identity is important (not important enough to kill for, but I’ll come to that later) and we’ve had these posh twits sitting on the throne for so long that it has become part of what makes Britain, well, Britain. Like Peperami and Doctor Who.
As our head of state (and head of the Commonwealth) the Queen’s job is to smile and nod and keep her gob shut. I like that. I don’t want my country represented around the world by some career politician – one that would no doubt blab his mouth off, own 70% of the nation’s media and slap ladies on the bottom like some kind of 1930s cartoon wolf.
In short, so long as they keep their sticky beaks out of politics, I’m more than happy to have a monarch.
Having said that, I just can’t bring myself to support the concept of a King Charles III. The guy is an idiot, he cheated on his wife (and got caught), he is an active supporter of woo medicine and (most importantly) he can’t just keep his bloody gob shut. So I’m sorry Charlie-boy, you suck. If you cannot muster the same high level of approval as your mum, then that thing wot makes you King has to skip a generation – just bear in mind what happened to Charles I…
Oo-eck, Graham, one minute you’re slagging off the Daily Mail, and then the next you’re jumping on one of their pernicious bandwagons. Before you accuse me of being some kind of double-agent, let me explain. The Daily Mail is anti-immigration. I am not. All that multiculturalism does is confirm all the prejudices that Daily Mail readers have about immigration. “If we hadn’t let them in in the first place this never would have happened” etc. This is because multiculturalism has never, will never and can never work.
When I talk about preserving the monarchy for cultural reasons, it is only because it is harmless. Any culture that causes physical harm or mental anguish is not one that the human race needs to preserve. The Solomon Islanders are much better off now than when they were running about eating each other. The Chinese practice of foot binding has (thankfully) been swept away with the passage of time, as has the fine old game of throw-the-widow-on-the-funeral-pyre that proved popular in medieval India.
It follows that we should not be falling over ourselves to protect the rights of people to do horrible, stupid, misguided and morally bankrupt things to each other in the name of ‘culture’.
Sharia Law is the most blatant example of this, but what about the Northern Irish and their idiotic marches? What about the Jewish woman forced to sell her home in to pay for the ‘Get’ that will allow her to divorce her husband in the eyes of Goddy? What about the gay kid disowned by his or her parents for making baby Jesus cry (presumably)? What about the unfortunate child of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather let them die than give them a blood transfusion? What about the young girl of North East African descent who is taken home by her parents in the summer holidays to have her genitalia mutilated with a septic blade?
Honour killings, forced marriage, animal cruelty, sexism, racism, homophobia, sadism, slavery: they have all been justified by saying ‘it’s my culture’. This is when culture stops being about delicious food, amazing architecture and fancy dance moves, and becomes something a lot more sinister.
So it follows that attempting to set up a system in which people are told that everybody’s ‘culture’ (however you choose to define that word) is equally valid is obviously never going to work. We’ve got to stop using ‘culture’ as a trump-card that renders all argument moot and brands any dissenters as insensitive, or even more fallaciously, racists.
Just as the British flag has been hijacked by extremists to mean something it shouldn’t, so the word ‘culture’ has been hijacked by every yahoo who wants to defend something that is otherwise pretty damn indefensible. The upshot of which is that now (say) ‘spicy food’ is seen as part of a given culture, but so is some bafflingly cruel custom that nobody in the UK wants or needs. The word ‘culture’ is being used to trump human rights and human dignity.
The basic concept of multiculturalism is that you lump the rough with the smooth and it’ll all work its way out in the wash. The reality is very different. In making my argument, it would be helpful for me to split the word ‘culture’ in two. So let’s say ‘noble culture’, which we can group under headings such as ‘art’ and ‘science’ and let’s have ‘rotten culture’ which we can group under the headings ‘cruelty’ and ‘stupidity’.
There is a fine balance to be struck here, but it’s not that hard to achieve: Welcome to Britain, leave your unwanted baggage at the door, thanks. Of course you can bring your beautiful calligraphy, your ancient texts and your fabulous music, but the bigotry, misogyny and homophobia… well, I’m afraid they’re not welcome here, despite what Richard Littlejohn thinks.
So while I am a massive supporter of ‘noble culture’, I see no intrinsic good coming from ‘rotten culture’. All I see is misery, despair and isolation. And it is these facets that make multiculturalism so divisive and so problematic. By positively encouraging people to make absolutely no effort whatsoever to integrate into the wider community we are doing nothing but contributing to the increasing ghettoisation of the UK.
This cuts both ways: British ex-pats who live their lives in foreign climes for years on end and never bother to learn the local lingo are just as irksome to me as Pakistanis in Bradford who don’t learn English. If anything, it shows a basic lack of respect for the indigenous community in the place you have chosen to live. It doesn’t matter whether the natives are I-Kiribati, Aboriginal or Glaswegian, there can be no cross-community cohesion while we have this Balkanisation of communities… something that is achieved through the exploitation of cultural fault-lines: ie. the rotten stuff.
Kipling was wrong when he said that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. We can all agree that Lamb Rogan Josh is a good thing, that the Taj Mahal is beautiful and that Bollywood films are a bloody good larf. In these cases, East meets West and everyone has a bloody good time.
But when it comes to the Indian caste system, we are faced with a situation in which one community is wrongfully stratified from birth and people are openly discriminated against by other members of their community for obscure and nefarious reasons. We can’t somehow incorporate that into our moral framework, our laws or our society. And the same goes for Sharia: we can’t have a community in the UK which runs itself on laws which ignore the last 200 years of social progress. A two-tier system system of justice and morality is most definitely not what the doctor ordered.
When David Cameron said a few months ago that ‘multiculturalism has failed’, there was hardly a mumble of dissent. As much as I hate to agree with a Tory who looks like the robot from Star Trek, multiculturalism in the UK has been a massive failure: it has led to misery, bitterness, hate crimes, the regrowth of the British Nazi movement.
In short, having a ‘one size fits all’ policy when it comes to cultural matters, we’ve really shot ourselves in the foot. Branding something ‘cultural’ does not automatically make it worthwhile, necessary or good.
Overcoming our inherent tribalism while still retaining the ‘noble culture’ of our tribe (and learning from the ‘noble culture’ of others) is something that all of us should strive to achieve: whether we’re a native or an immigrant. After all, it’s a lot more difficult to say you hate any given minority when your best friends come from that very minority.
I’m very much a believer in the ‘melting pot’ society: schools that are separated by individual strengths, not by race, religion or creed. Communities that are encouraged to work together, not tear each other apart. Politicians that represent the aspirations of the country, not just their own narrow agenda. A UK where being intolerant, impolite and thuggish is seen as an affront to all our ‘noble culture’: a place where if I see a bunch of angry skinheads marching along the street shouting racist obscenities and I can gather my friends from all over the world and say “oh dear, how desperately un-British.”
9. The Film “Industry”
This deserves a post all of its own, but I’ll try and keep this brief: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein… if we were to put the money that these BRITISH creations have made for HOLLYWOOD together, we would enough wonga to buy the moon.
Of the top 20 box office hits of all time, 10 were British inventions (I’m including the Titanic in that!), and 13 feature a British main character – sometimes even a Yank pretending to be British.
All eight Harry Potter films were filmed in the UK, with a British cast, British crew, British producer, and based on the books by a British writer. The last five films were all directed by Brits.
Deathly Hallows Parts I and II have (so far) taken a whopping $2,300,000,000 worldwide – just at the box-office. That’s not taking into account DVDs, downloads, spin-offs, merchandise, the World of Harry Potter or the fact Dumbledore is now the gay icon of the age. Put the entire series together and we are talking MEGAbucks, more than the annual GDP of some countries.
And where does all this money go?
Why? Because British people are stupid. Oh yeah, look at us producing a decent sit-com at a rate of about one per decade – aren’t we great? Occasionally we get enough money together to make a feature film, but instead of setting the box-office alight with our tried-and-tested intellectual property, we decide what the world REALLY NEEDS is another dreary period drama set in a swamp. Or a gangster film.
We’re useless, aren’t we? Too busy watching soap-operas instead of spinning our best ideas into box-office gold. Would it really have made ANY difference AT ALL if a British studio had paid to make the Harry Potter films? No. We had the tools, we had the talent. All we are missing is ANY LIVING BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR with a brain and a pair of balls. Somebody willing to invest 100 million quid, not on some god-awful building that they’ll demolish in 30 years, but on a safe bet that they will make over a BILLION POUNDS OF PURE PROFIT at the box-office.
EIGHT TIMES OVER!!
Do me a favour, the next time you’re at a party and some pretentious Brit says that “all Americas are thick”, punch them in the cock and scream “Tell that to Harry Potter!!”
10. The Weather
Ah yes. The weather. This is what the British do when the sun comes out:
I was a kid in the eighties. I grew up with the distinct possibility that at any moment the Russians might take a dislike to the latest Madness single or something and destroy the entire world. Films like Red Dawn and When The Wind Blows didn’t help. My brother Alex and I would waste entire summers digging fallout shelters (which invariably ended up as two foot deep puddles of mud) and learning to fend for ourselves in the field across the road, seeing if we could live off ‘rations’ of sugar and ketchup sachets stolen from Little Chef, you know: just in case.
And then one night, suddenly and unexpectedly, the Berlin Wall collapsed. All that fear, all the paranoia and all the neuroses that the Cold War had instilled in my and my parents’ generation had gone. The sword of Damocles that had dangled menacingly above my head throughout my formative years vanished. Whoosh, kaput, hooray.
Soon afterwards I turned 11 years old. The nineties had begun. From then until the age of 22 I lived life free of that horrible feeling, the feeling that everything and everyone I know and love might be taken away at any time with the push of a button. The feeling that somebody who I don’t know, who doesn’t know me, might well murder me and my family for no other reason than madness, utter madness.
All I needed to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Life rarely gives many certainties, except death and taxes, but as the IRA dwindled away, the possibility of me being senselessly blown to Smithereens by a faceless menace seemed to diminish as the years went on.
From November 1989 to September 2001, things got better and better. The more I learned about history and politics the more I became convinced that, in the words of Bill and Ted, the best place to be is here… and the best time to be is now.
Compared with the adolescence of anyone born before 1900 (why are all 14 of my siblings dead?), anyone during WWI (why are all my friends dead?), anyone during WWII (why are all my people dead?), any one of the Baby Boomers (why is every living thing on the planet dead?) or any of the Generation X-ers (imagine being a teenager in the eighties – ack! The humanity!).
Compared to that lot, my (MTV) generation had it made: great music, great films, great video games, satellite TV, the INTERNET… we were still some distance from World Peace Day, but for me, getting drunk and annoying girls in Liverpool, everything was peachy.
And then 19 psychos, armed only with airline tickets and box cutters, changed the world.
Like millions of others, I had stood on the roof of the World Trade Centre before it was destroyed. But unlike millions of others, I was in Ahmedabad just days before the 2002 massacre. When I visited Bali later that same year, I spent every night in the Sari Club. A few months later it was gone. As was the Casa de España in Casablanca, a place that me and my friend Dan frequented on our trip to that city.
I had been to the wrong places, just not at the wrong time.
I travel a lot, it’s statistically highly likely that stuff like this is going to happen, but what really bothered me was that same creeping dread I experienced as a child – the faceless horror that could take everything from me – was returning… and then the bombings in Madrid and London brought it home that, like in the 1980s, nowhere was safe.
Anybody who has been following my progress over the last couple of years can imagine my response to that feeling. I, like the good people of NY who swept the streets after 9/11 and the noble Londoners who continued taking the tube to work after 7/7, refuse to be terrorised. I refuse to retreat back into childhood, start jumping at shadows or freaking out every time I see an Arab with a backpack. In a battle of wills between me and Osama Bin Laden, you know what? I won. He and his group of murderous idiots and psychopathic zealots didn’t stop me travelling the world. They didn’t even stop me visiting Afghanistan.
But there are people out there who are suitably terrorised and freaked out. For the last ten years they’ve been fighting a losing battle against the forces of reason, attempting to push a square peg into a round hole, getting the hammer out because the pieces of the jigsaw don’t fit. Like the mother watching her son in the parade and wondering why everybody else is marching out of step with her Johnny, they suffer from tunnel vision, only see what they want to see and ignore all the evidence to the contrary.
They are the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
I find them an annoyance, but not a particularly dangerous one: unlike climate change conspiracy theorists who are doing real-world damage to my only planet. So I’ve not really talked about the 9/11 ‘truthers’ or their crazy notions on my blog. I didn’t really want to give their lunatic views a public airing, not least because they’ve got the entire internet to write up their crackpot theories (mysterious how nobody stops them eh?) and I can’t be bothered vetting all the abusive comments I would (not doubt) receive.
But sometimes people bring the fight to you, and you know I’m more than happy to defend my corner.
So, grab your popcorn and adjust your reading specs, here we go…
On the 25th August 2011, “Joe” wrote:
For the most part you’re spot on, but how do you deny the 9/11 truthers? Buildings don’t pancake unless they are demolished with explosives, building 7 didn’t get hit but it dropped perfectly into it’s own footprint. There was NO plane in the pentagon or on the ground in the Virginia field. You do understand the first law of thermodynamics right? Planes don’t vanish on impact. America went to Afghanistan within a month, no trial, no discussion, nothing. Since when does anyone KNOW who committed a crime with no ACTUAL evidence. The invasion of Iraq was completely based on lies, and no one denies it. We have been fighting a boogie man for over 10 years now, for what?? Do you really believe this al-queda (which is a known CIA asset, as well as bin Laden) outfit is so powerful that EVERY rich and powerful nation on earth can’t stop them in a DECADE! It only took four years to stop Hitler! We find bin laden, the very REASON we have blown trillions of dollars and ended hundreds of thousands of lives, and we KILL him without questioning him!!? Then show NO proof and within a day throw him into the FUCKING ocean!! What kind of protocol is that!? I think you are a very smart and experienced person, so how could you possibly believe any of this? You admit that the powers that be lie all the time in your blogs, so why would you believe any of this crap when it’s so blatantly obvious?
To which I replied:
I “deny” the 9/11 truthers for the same reason I “deny” mother goose: because it’s absolute hogwash!!
The world is run by inept, ignorant and barely-qualified politicians… NOT moustache-twiddling James Bond-villain-esque criminal masterminds. Then again, I don’t know which proposition is scarier…!
Which stirred up the hornet’s nest. Joe wrote:
So you think a ballsy gang of ubermuslims are the real supervillians? outwitting the world, always a step ahead of the intelligence agencies, able to run a commercial airliner into the pentagon (the most heavily fortified building on earth with the capability of shooting rockets out of the sky) and make it vanish upon impact. These James Bomb esque baddies are so well organized they don’t even need banks or money (the CIA is capable of freezing anyone on earth’s assets, something they have done to many a dictator and despot) , they must communicate telepathically as well (considering the coalition of the willing basically has a monopoly on transmitted communication and has been intercepting com since pre WW2) and i guess they have a clone army of super soldiers considering they have withstood the 200,000+ man strong force of America Inc and her lapdogs and mercenaries (the most expensive, powerful, and technologically advanced fighting force in the history of mankind) for over 10 years.
that makes more sense to you than some VERY powerful men who control the oil industry, the banks, the military industrial complex, and world business wanting to grab more power?
Oh bugger it, methinks, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He might yet be sane… So I replied:
Since I don’t live in the Marvel comic universe, I don’t believe in supervillians. The very concept is as laughable as Dr. Evil’s sharks “with frikkin laser beams on their heads!”.
‘Always’ one step ahead? Once was enough my friend, once. 9/11 was a pretty low-fi operation.
The Pentagon can shoot rockets out of the sky? Really?! I thought they retired Reagan’s Star Wars project. But still, rockets and planes are two rather different things (rockets, being packed with explosives, tend to blow up when you hit them, planes don’t).
Magic! The plane vanished did it? Where you there? Did you sift through the debris? Are you an air-crash investigator? And where, pray tell, are the people who were on board? Would you mind explaining to me (or even better – their families) where they are? I’m sure they’d like to know…!
The CIA can freeze anybody’s assets can they? That’s news to the bankers in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Nigeria. I better tell them.
If the Americans have the monopoly on communication, why on Earth did they invent the internet? Shot themselves in the foot there, methinks. You better watch what you say on this site, ‘they’ might come and get ya! Like ‘they’ came for the makers of ‘Loose Change’. Oh, hang on… no, no ‘they’ didn’t. Silly ‘they’. Missed a trick there, like not being able to assassinate Castro… when he was in a coma(!).
Not sure what you’re getting at with the ‘clone army’ malarkey, but if you’re talking about Al Qaeda, well, they’re not exactly Darth Sidious are they? Last time they tried to blow up something in the UK, they ended up getting their car bomb towed and setting themselves on fire. As for the Afghans, they’ve been kicking the arse of empires since 1841. They even chopped off Sean Connery’s head, which is more than Blofeld ever did.
Yes, there ARE some very powerful men out there. The remarkable thing is that they are ALL utterly rubbish at keeping all the horrible things they do a secret… but they are incredibly good at getting away with it. Why? Well, I don’t know, Joe… maybe it’s because people are too busy wasting their time pursuing mad conspiracies that make no sense. We have NO EVIDENCE that 9/11 was an inside job other than hearsay and conjecture… don’t forget: we’d only need ONE piece of concrete evidence to bring a court case against Bush and his cronies, one whistleblower, one disgruntled employee, one payslip, one receipt, one unambiguous photo, one little piece of CCTV footage…
One little thing to bring down the entire Republican party, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin… and oh what a joy that would be. Sadly, that one little thing doesn’t exist. There’s nothing, even after 10 years. Not a dicky bird. This is the same government that couldn’t even get away with stealing a few bits of paper from the Watergate hotel. And while people’s attention is focussed on this garbage, the REAL conspirators get away with in BROAD DAYLIGHT!!
Honestly: you can look their activities up on Wikipedia and everything!
Some homework for ya:
Union Carbide. Bhopal. Investigate.
Find out where the $60,000,000,000+ worth of Iraqi ‘rebuilding’ contracts went. The Iraqis would love to know.
Coca-Cola. Colombia. Murders. Nasty. Get them to pay compensation to the widows.
Find out why on Earth some ex-Nazi rocket engineers were paid by tobacco companies in the 70s to manufacture doubt in the popular imagination that smoking leads to lung cancer (Hint: they did such a good job, their arguments are STILL being used to cast doubt on the otherwise irrefutable science of climate change).
BHP Biliton, War in Zaire (DR Congo), copper prices. TELL PEOPLE!
Find out Who Killed The Electric Car. Hate them forever.
What links Agent Orange with the American farming industry?
So when did Donald Rumsfeld exactly leave the board of Halliburton, it being a blatant conflict of interest, of course…
Which American politician (and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, bizarrely enough) flew out of Jakarta mere days before Indonesia invaded East Timor?
Talking of East Timor, what was it that Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said when people were being massacred on the streets and Jose Ramos-Horta pleaded for help?
Find out how ONE MAN reduced the value of the British pound by 25% IN A DAY.
Give me a rough estimate of how much money the Nigerian government has stolen (by its own admission) from its own people since 1967.
Find out who gave Ethiopia the bombers to destroy Massawa in Eritrea… and why.
Tell me some of the high-jinks the Portuguese got up to before leaving Mozambique.
Exactly how much of Italy’s media is owned by its Prime Minister?
That’ll do for a start. I have more.
I thought that would be the end of it, but then I haven’t been frequenting too many conspiracy forums recently… I kinda forgot that you can’t reason people out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into. Joe wrote:
You must believe in supervillians if you think a rag tag gang of afghans with a budget of about 1/100000th that of the US and her allies is capable of holding the whole damn world hostage
Not once, 5 times that day (supposedly) and then for 10 straight years. Do you really believe a few arabs with box cutters could really subdue 5 airplanes? the 100s of people on those planes sat aside and just let that happen? Come on, you can’t even get into a cockpit on a commercial plane, never would’ve happened
I didn’t say from space, but of course america and especially the pentagon itself has anti missile defense systems. A plane is much larger and moves much slower than a missile, therefore they shouldn’t have had any problem whatsoever taking that plane down well before it maneuvered (while flying over Washington, DC) to street level and crashed into a relatively short building. a basically impossible feat
Do yourself a favor by looking at a photo of the perfectly round hole in the pentagon and the “wreckage” that was in the field. Then type “plane crash” into google photo to see what an actual plane crash looks like. I don’t have to be an aircrash investigator, the only qualification you need is sight to know that there ISN’T a plane in the pentagon or on that field. As for the families, they were probably killed, just like the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis.
Yes, the CIA def can freeze assets. They recently froze syrian president Assads’, Gaddafi’s, gbagbo’s (ivory coast), mubaraks, Saddams, the list goes on. They do it whenever they want to. There is no telling what their real agenda is or what kinds of backroom deals they make with various world leaders but there is no doubt that if they deem it necessary they can and will
I know you’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, and China, three places (among many) that have restricted the internet (in Egypt’s case completely shut it down, which fueled the revolution). The internet isn’t exactly the free speech untouchable force it’s played up as. Governments shut down websites all the time.
I mentioned the clone army because only an infinite clone army would have the manpower to force a 10+ year war with the entire G20. We aren’t fighting Afghanistan by the way, they are actually our “ally” in this endeavor, our “enemy” is some faceless ghost army of terrorists that can be everywhere at once and have endless supply lines the world over
There is an absolute MOUNTAIN of evidence. 1000s of structural engineers, physicists, first responders, eyewitnesses, military insiders, computer simulations, the entire history of steel buildings (never has a steel building fallen because of fire, NEVER), common sense (why did building 7 fall? why no planes? why would the building fall perfectly into it’s footprint? (something ONLY possible with a controlled demolition) who had the most to gain? (Dick Cheney (as you must know) was the CEO of Halliburton the day before he swore into office. Of course i don’t have to tell you Halliburtons role in all this is. You’ve seen loose change, you know about the pipelines across afganistans and how the taliban didn’t want to play ball, i know you understand the abhorrent greed of mankind and the insatiable drive for more, more power, more money, more oil, more control. Why wouldn’t these top tier assholes want to consolidate all the power they could?
I think you have a bit of a fairy tale idea of real world justice. The 9/11 commission posted it’s results within a month, accepted no independent investigations, and closed the folder forever. Why wasn’t anyone at BP charged with a crime after the gulf of mexico spill that killed 11 people and still ravages the south coast of America? Why wasn’t bin laden brought to the Hague or DC and put on trial for his crimes? why wasn’t a single banker indicted after the 2008 economic collapse after it became common knowledge that they were engaged in a plethora of illegal business practices (in fact they were rewarded to the tune of trillions of dollars of no interest loans)? Why? because the system is rigged to favor the elite, by the elite. If you don’t believe the elite are looking out for themselves then you must be delusional. Would you help you’re family out if they were in trouble? Do you take care of your friends if you can?
Your list of atrocities only proves my point, those in power will ALWAYS take advantage of that power and do whatever they can to keep it. Morals be damned. Just look at the entire history of mankind, its a running theme. To say that the corporate/banking elite are all just a bunch of idiots, bumbling around with theie combined trillions of dollars, tripping over their own feet, is patently ridiculous. Politicians? Yea, for the most part they probably are pretty dumb, but those guys aren’t making real decisions, they are lackeys, henchmen, PR spokemen, actors (Ronald Reagan was literally an actor before he became president).
Every year the top echelon of elites meets as a group called the Bilderbergs, (as you may know), behind closed doors, with no media coverage. What do you think they are talking about? How they can make the world a better place? If so, they are doing a pretty shit job at it
Well, I really couldn’t be bothered refuting each point separately, so I thought I’d just target the most nonsensical part of the whole silly conspiracy theory: the idea that not a single person who was involved in this cover-up would say anything to anyone, even after ten years. So I wrote:
STOP STOP STOP. PLEASE. THINK about it. Just THINK.
If 9/11 was an inside job… how many people would have to be in one it? Give me a rough figure. 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? These people would have to ALL be utterly amoral psychopaths whose motive was what… power? The iron law of oligarchy states that powerful people don’t share power… so then money? Okay… let’s say money. There’s a lot of them, but lets say they just escaped en masse from Arkham Asylum.
Now if ONE of these people talks the whole thing is shot to shit, and everybody goes to jail… for the rest of their lives. We’re not talking corrupt bankers here, or Bono cooking the books so he pays no income tax, we’re talking the wilful murder of 3,000 AMERICAN CIVILIANS. This is death penalty level crime we’re talking about.
Now work out how much it would cost to keep every single one of those people quiet for 10 years. How much would it cost to keep YOU quiet about the biggest conspiracy the world has ever seen? $1,000,000? Damn you’re cheap! There are businessmen and politicians involved in this who earn that amount A DAY. So how much do you pay them? $1,000,000,000? Sound fair? Let’s say they demand a cool billion every year. Let’s say there are 1,000 of them in on it (a modest figure, I’m sure you’ll agree, given the scale of this thing)… that’s a TRILLION DOLLARS A YEAR for TEN YEARS just to keep people quiet… because any one of them could AT ANY TIME grow a conscience (or need more money) and blow the whistle.
TEN TRILLION DOLLARS… for WHAT? So they could invade IRAQ? Even though Iraq had NOTHING to do with 9/11? Even though the combined worth of Iraq comes to… wait for it… $117 BILLION a year… hang on, what about Afghanistan?? Well (being one of the poorest countries in the world AND HAVING NO OIL) it’s worth a good $14 BILLION a year, so shall we call it $130 BILLION all up…
…and we’re spending $1,000 BILLION a year on BRIBES??
That’s the conservative figure… how much does it cost to keep Wikileaks quiet? I’d love to know.
IT. MAKES. NO. SENSE. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You can’t grasp how ridiculous the ‘truthers’ proposition sounds to somebody who has a degree in Poltics and Modern History and has travelled as extensively as I have. You might as well be arguing that the world is flat or that an eclipse is a dragon eating the sun. IF there is ANY truth in what the ‘truthers’ claim, why doesn’t one of the more wealthy ‘truthers’ make a civil case against the US government? Anyone with a bit of wonga can do it. But they don’t, do they? Why is that Joe?
Maybe because it would require REAL EVIDENCE and a ACTUAL MOTIVE for the US govt to be behind it… and, as yet, NOBODY has provided me (or any of the millions like yourself who obsess over 9/11) with either.
It may make you sleep easier at night to believe that you live in a universe in which everything happens for a logical reason, but that doesn’t make it the case. The 9/11 hijackers had the motive, the opportunity and the ruthlessness to go through with one of the most spectacular terrorist attacks the world has ever seen – and hopefully will ever see. All they needed was a few flying lessons, nineteen plane tickets and some box cutters. Scary eh? Tough. That’s the way the world is: shit happens… it doesn’t necessarily follow that the shit was put there by the Men In Black to enslave humanity and feed us to the space lizards.
As I tried to get across in my last reply, there are REAL messed-up things that politicians, governments, corporations and businessmen have done and are still getting away with. As I travel, I meet people who want to talk about how every major event or every famous person’s death is a conspiracy (JFK! Diana! Elvis! Evolution! The Moon Landings! Climate Change!), but very few who want to talk about what the Sudanese government has done in Darfur in the full view of an indifferent and apathetic world.
Hell, maybe you and the 9/11 ‘truthers’ are part of a conspiracy to distract people from talking about what’s REALLY going on…
Go on, it’s the space lizards, isn’t it?
I KNEW IT!!!!!!!
To which Joe wrote:
Well Graham, I guess there’s just no convincing you. Usually i dont bother trying to convince anyone because i figure if you believe the “official” story then your just a believe what your told kind of person. I think your stuck on the disbelief that people would be evil or careless enough to do it, but just look at your list of “real” atrocities. Every single day people in power take horrible advantage of people, genocides are very real, slavery is very real, the oil industry really has decimated the Nigerian Delta, the Fed Reserve really did give (print out of thin air) over 1 trillion dollars to the same banks that wrecked the worlds economy. These aren’t even denied and no one does anything. How much convincing do you think it takes to get a soldier to fire bullets into a crowd of protesters in Syria? Mindless people do what they are told, against their own beliefs and morals, every single day, every day of history even. They don’t have to be “paid off” they just want to maintain their status quo, get their paycheck, not ruffle any feathers. As an independent person (remember that i also took a 2+ year epic journey around the globe) you dont get it, but most people want to be part of a “gang”, be told what to do and do whatever it takes to fit into it. Also i think your stuck on “it’s the government”. The real powers that be are the international bankers and corporations, that are above any one countries jurisdiction. If you think those assholes have ANY morals whatsoever then your just lying to yourself.
If you think killing 2000 Americans is some major line that had to be crossed, consider the fact that over 6000 have died in the wars so far. 3 times more have died than the original attack. How about the 100,000s of Iraqis and Afghanis (innocent bystanders many of them) that have died. Nothing is “better” in either country in 10 years. What the hell are we doing there? Obviously nothing good. (Even you admit 60 billion dollars of the “rebuilding” money vanished) It’s all a farce. But i will just stop, because if you can’t see the nose on your face then who am i to show you a mirror. No offence.
So i’ll just leave it be at this point. I highly recommend you do some more research, all of the answers are out there, very easy to find if you want to
There’s a point at which your eyes are rolling so far to the back of your head there’s a good chance you might detach your retinas. I was rapidly approaching this point. With the ad hominem attack of me being a “believe what you’re told” type of person ringing in my ears, it was no more Mr. Nice Badger…
At the end of the day, I’m asking you to provide me with solid evidence and you’re asking me – in true conspiracy theorist-style – to take your word for it based on no evidence whatsoever other than opinion, conjecture and idle speculation.
And then you sign off with ‘the answers are out there’ like its an episode of the X-Files, yeah…. so’s Russell’s Celestial Teapot, but I’m not going to waste my life looking for it.
Sorry my friend, but as Christopher Hitchens quite rightly points out, claims that can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
And that’s where this conversation (which, quite frankly, I tire of having) ends.
But Joe didn’t want to leave it at that. Funnily enough, he found it hard (impossible, maybe?) to explain the exact mechanisms for keeping all those people quiet, and herded me instead to watch a bunch of 37 second YouTube clips: essentially adverts for the 9/11 truther’s “product”. Which seems to be… bullshit. Joe wrote:
I assumed that you were capable of doing your own research (and would trust what you found more wholly) but if you want some actual evidence then I can provide you that.
It seems like you made up your mind a long time ago about this issue, maybe there are some new bits of information that you are unaware of.
The reality is the history of mankind reads as one endless power struggle between the elites. Ghengis Kahn rode across the Central Asian steppe slashing and burning his way to Europe? Alexander the Great convinced his country to march into Turkey and lay siege to its cities on the way to Egypt and India. The Caesars murdered everyday during their reign, as did the Goths, the Ottamans, the Moors, the Franks, the Germans (did Hitler have to pay off all of the Germans to be convinced the extermination of the Jews was ok?) the Brits, all of Western Europe raped, murdered, and stole their way through the Americas, and today corporations and governments economically pillage the world (I’m sure you’ve heard about all of the help the IMF and the World Bank has brought to the developing world). Why? Because its the very nature of mankind, it’s how it’s always been, and most likely always will be.
That’s got to be the non sequitur to end all non sequiturs. I couldn’t resist. I wrote:
Jesus Christ: The planes had no windows! They weren’t even in the air!
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, gimme a break!
As you keep re-iterating time and time and time and time again, your argument boils down to this:
a) governments did bad things in the past (go on about ancient Rome)
b) governments continue to do bad things today (go on about American foreign policy)
Therefore… (drum roll please)
c) the US govt masterminded the 9/11 attacks
What? Eh? Hang on… erm? WHAT? You even sign off with “its the very nature of mankind” as if that’s going to convince me that it’s why no journalist IN THE WORLD fancies winning themselves the Pulitzer Prize by exposing the BIGGEST CONSPIRACY THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN!! Wooowowowowoooo!
You might as well say:
a) pirates did bad things in the past (go on about Blackbeard etc)
b) pirates continue to do bad things today (go on about Somalia)
Therefore… (drum roll please)
c) pirates cause global warming!!!
You’re so immersed in this fantastical world that makes Battlefield Earth seem logical and you just can’t see how utterly bonkers it all sounds.
And you send me links (WordPress don’t likey too many linkys – maybe they’re in on it toooooooo!) to websites stacked full of (again) biased opinion, conjecture (it COULDN’T have happened that way… I don’t think!), hearsay (this guy, right, he’s an engineer and even HE SAID IT – explain THAT, Poindexter!) and a really annoying habit of ignoring any evidence that doesn’t fit the conspiracy theorist narrative.
The ‘forty reasons’ link is hilarious! Thanks for that! Here’s an example of how utterly invalid the points are…
6) Did cell phones work at 30,000 feet in 2001? Maybe not, but the PHONES IN THE BACKS OF THE CHAIRS DID.
The longstanding relationship between US intelligence networks and radical Islamists, including the network surrounding Osama Bin Ladin. Oh look, they’re talking about the CIA assistance to the Afghan Muhajideen in the 1980s – BEFORE BIN LADEN EVEN ARRIVED IN THE COUNTRY. Hey, Stalin was our ALLY in WWII, and then the Cold War happens… ha ha, look at the stoopid sheeple believing in the Cold War!! Tsk! It was all smoke and mirrors!
In short, IT IS NOT EVIDENCE – none of it is. It would NEVER STAND UP IN A COURT OF LAW, it would NEVER BE PUBLISHED IN A PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC PAPER.
The best you can hope for is the National Inquirer and a few paranoid, tinfoil-hat wearing fruit-loops on the internet who BY GOD I never want on my jury… unless I’m guilty of cause
Again you’ve failed to adequately explain a motive (they’re just EVIL! They don’t need a motive!), where all the money went, why there’s no paper trail, why they didn’t just “make” AT LEAST ONE of the hijackers Iraqi or how on earth the US govt keeps this under wraps when you and I both know that two people can only keep a secret when one of them is dead.
Not ONE of the intercepted 9/11 pager messages published on Wikileaks said “Phase One Complete. Plan for invasion of landlocked resource-poor Central Asian basketcase on schedule!” Maybe the governmentals use that telepathy what they learnt from them Aliens in Roswell, eh?!!
The arguments you use are exactly the same as climate change deniers and the young Earth creationists. I can sit a climate change denier down with a Nobel-prize winning scientist who can show them all the evidence in the world that climate change is real, man made, happening right now and something we should be damn worried about – and it STILL won’t change their mind. I can take a young-Earth creationist to the Natural History Museum and show them fossils from millions of years ago and they’ll STILL think the world is 6,000 years old.
Like them, NOTHING I or ANYBODY can say or do will persuade you otherwise.
However, you could persuade me: all I’m asking for… is evidence.
Why can’t I persuade these people? Because that’s what you and they WANT to believe. Climate Change is scary. Evolution is demeaning. Better to just stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalalalala.
9/11 truthers like yourself are exactly the same mindset. You WANT to live in a dystopian world in which rich Western governments oversee the wholesale slaughter of 3,000 civilians LIVE ON TELEVISION and get away with it. So long as you get to feel like you’ve got the magic powers, the vision, the intellectual vigour to know what’s really going on, and you can badger people online and in the pub with the old “everything you know is wrong!” fallacy. And WHY do you find the “9/11 was the govt” theory so appealing? Well, according to psychologists, because it’s what you would do.
Yep, conspiracy theorists seem to score higher on Machiavellian mindset tests than people like me. But it’s not like I don’t have any Machiavellian thoughts (we all do), it’s that I’m humble enough to know there would be absolutely NO WAY I could get away with it. The sad thing is, conspiracy theorists are the ones who think they could get away with it, an arrogant inflation of their own (and by extention, others) abilities to pull off the most horrifying acts of violence and walk away scot-free.
From your own comments on this site, you appear not to think much of humanity: you talk about human nature being essentially evil and you say (perhaps sarcastically, who knows?) that 2000 Americans “is a drop in the bucket”. (I’ll assume you mean ocean… it could be a small bucket).
These are the opinions of a psychopath. And while you subconsciously project your murderous desires onto a terrorist attack like 9/11: the REALLY scary thing is you consciously believe that you could get away with it, therefore it follows (in your mind) that the government could.
That’s worrisome. You should really get some help with that.
You started this discussion by asking me how I can ‘deny’ the 9/11 conspiracy nuts. Maybe I should explain.
I don’t have a religious/spiritual/faith bone in my body. I really don’t. That’s not to say I am a nihilist, I most definitely am not. I just find it incredibly difficult (more like impossible) to believe anything I’m told unless it passes a quick and easy mental test:
1) Does it sound plausible?
2) Is there any solid, unbiased evidence to support the proposition?
Needless to say, for me, the 9/11 truthers fall at the first hurdle. It sounds as plausible as Elvis working in a KFC on the moon. As for the second extremely reasonable question, the evidence is painfully flimsy, all based on bad science and conjecture… and almost comically biased.
But I think everybody runs through that same mental test, and you know what? For some people it must sound plausible, for some people the evidence presented on hysterical websites is all the evidence they need: hell, it fits their bleak, paranoid world-view that we’re all cogs in a vast machine – a vast machine that wants to sell us Coca-Cola or something.
But my brain will never be wired that way… I dunno… possibly because I’m not a psychopath?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The 9/11 wingnuts don’t even have ordinaryevidence, even after a decade of obsessing over every last element of that dreadful day in September. All they got is a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
You’ve had your say and I’ve allowed you to post your utterly bonkers links which users of this site may click on if they wish. Unless you have something new to add to this conversation – (and I’m talking something that could win you a Pulitzer), I won’t be approving your next reply.
You see, I have the power to approve people’s replies on this site, since I pay for it and maintain it myself. I can also edit people’s replies. And then Joe surprised everybody by writing:
You know, after reading your solid rebuttal I do admit it DOES all sound a bit silly. Maybe I’m just a little naive, you know, and the habit of stuff like ‘Loose Change’ to ignore the inconvenient facts, cherry-pick evidence that suits its (for-profit) agenda and take quotes out of context is really starting to make me question my entire opinion on the matter.
The ‘Machiavellian mindset’ thing you posted was very interesting, and I have to admit I do have a tenancy to think the worst of people and that everyone has a price. I guess I am a little paranoid and yeah, you’re right, I kinda wanted the government to have masterminded 9/11 – I don’t know why, possibly because it would confirm all the bad things I think about everybody who isn’t me.
I’m also concerned by something I noticed while surfing conspiracist websites… a definite anti-Semitic tone, one that has a tenancy to deny the holocaust (or say it ‘was no big deal’) and claim that a shadowy cabal of Jews are responsible for all of the world’s ills. It’s very similar to the rumours that led to the Pogroms in Russia and then the Holocaust itself, and that worries me, especially as my great-grandfather died fighting the Nazis and I’d hate to belittle his sacrifice by supporting the beliefs of right-wing fascists and racists – the very people he gave his life fighting against.
Anyway, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for setting me straight, I’ll try in future to have a little bit more trust in the inherent goodness of humanity (after all – we’ve made it this far haven’t we?) and a little less time badgering people to believe in stuff that is — I admit — pretty far-fetched. I’ve been reading up on some of those issues you mentioned in a previous reply and I honestly believe that my time would be better spent spreading the word about stuff we SHOULD be getting angry about, and — more importantly — bad things that are happening right this moment that together we CAN do something about.
Take care and safe travels,
PS. I did warn ya!
Oh, okay then… I wrote that last one myself. Joe’s real last reply was (predictably) more links to YouTube videos and websites that gnash their teeth and holler about global conspiracies, with (as always) nothing but conjecture, cherry-picked evidence and the conceit of the paranoid mind to back them up.
But before I go, I just want to ask you something.
Q: What links Nazis, holocaust deniers, Soviet apparatchiks, climate change deniers, corrupt policeman, tin-pot dictatorships and 9/11 ‘truthers’?
A: A determined and concerted effort to take things out of context to fit their twisted world-view.
Winston’s job in 1984 was an editor of history: he would physically black out facts in books and newspapers that were in contradiction to Big Brother’s narrative (one that, in the context of the novel, changed with political expediency).
It’s easy to do: I’m a professional video editor, I know what you mischief you can make with a clever snip here and there… you can change the true meaning or intent of just about anything. Imagine Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal taken in isolation from all of his other clearly satirical works: it would be the ravings of a madman – a homicidal, cannibalistic madman.
If the only song you knew by John Lennon was Happiness is a Warm Gun you would probably never guess that he was an avowed peace activist and that the song is either clearly ironic or a sexual (and possibly narcotic) metaphor. As far as I’m aware people shooting real stuff with real guns didn’t make John Lennon happy – in fact it made him dead.
If all you knew of Nelson Mandela was that he was sent to jail for attempting to blow up a train, and the context of apartheid South Africa was missing from your narrative, you’d possibly be wondering why he was ever let out of his cell. You’d crap your pants when you found out he was made President.
If the only clip of Star Wars Episode I you had seen was Darth Maul pulling out his double-ended lightsaber, you might be fooled into thinking Episode I was actually a good film. It wasn’t. Watch this re-edit of The Shining that makes the scariest movie of all time look like a heart-warming comedy. Clue: it’s not that difficult.
In short, context is everything. But for your local conspiracy-theorist (and the list of their fellow nasty badgers above), context is something to be suppressed, an irritation to be edited away – and there seem to be enough willing Winstons in the world happy to go along with it. Maybe the government attached a rat to their faces once.
Conspiracy-theorists want you to ignore all the evidence to the contrary and fixate on a select line that fits their pre-conceived narrative – and so we find ourselves at the mercy of the tyranny of soundbites. If you look at what the Nazis did with Nietzsche’s works, you’ll see how pernicious this practice is. Watch out for it.
In any conspiracy rebuttal piece or video, you will notice a very different tactic: they invariably fail to show you the full video, the full interview, the full set of photographs – making it impossible to take the material out of context. For every one photograph that the conspiracy nuts hold up as some sort of talisman of all truth and logic, the rebuttalists are more than happy to upload twenty that show what actually happened from all different angles.
This is important – it shows the conspiracy theorists for the deluded hypocrites they most certainly are. They accuse the government (or whoever) of ‘covering up the truth’ and then proceed to use the exact same tactics that a ministry of propaganda would use in order to get its nefarious message across.
We all need to draw a line in our minds between what is true and what we wish were true. Otherwise that line can become blurred; hence the number of people who go on X-Factor firmly believing that they can sing when even the deaf can see they cannot. In order to draw another person into your wish-fulfilling delusions, they need to share the same desire for it to be the case: so you’re probably not going to get very far with me.
I hold a fairly strong belief (backed by evidence, of course) that conspiracy theorists are all of a particular mindset. One that is generally paranoid, border-line psychopathic and Machiavellian to a greater extent than the general population. If nothing else travelling to over 180 countries around the world has re-affirmed that not everybody is out to get me – most people are inherently good, law-abiding citizens who will go out of their way to help a straggly wayfarer in distress.
And until some Earth-shattering revelation is made by Wikileaks, the BBC, the Independent newspaper or two renegade journalists working for the Washington Post, I will never seriously entertain the mere possibility that those people brutally murdered on September 11 2001 were killed for any other reason than nineteen paranoid, psychopathic and Machiavellian bastards bought their golden tickets to the ancient and hollow lie that is the Elysian Fields with the blood of 2,977 innocent lives.
The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts. He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy.
The time for procrastination is over. Much of this year has been spent – some might say wasted – holding out hope for a yachtie to invite me onboard his vessel and whisk me away into the wild blue yonder for nothing more than the price of a few beers and a barrel of diesel. After being held on tenterhooks for 8 months (repeatedly being told that the yacht in question would be ready to go ‘in a few days’) I gave up that pipedream. I guess the old adage is a good today as it’s always been: if something sounds too good to be true…
So I cast my net out wider, appearing on TV here in Australia and on countless radio shows, always throwing in the ‘anyone up for an adventure?’ line (while trying not to sound too desperate, of course). I got a few backpackers wanting to join me, and a couple of delightful offers of dinner(!), but no red-blooded mariners quietly waiting on their sailboat willing to take a ginger landlubber like me for a high adventure on the high seas.
But now it’s too late: even if I found a willing skipper and a boat called “Unsinkable II” today, cyclone season kicks off in November and good luck getting insurance to be bobbing up and down on the silver seas when that happens. No… I’ve got to come up with another way of getting around the Pacific, in other words: I have to revert to Plan A. Cargo ships.
“Why didn’t you just do that in the first place YOU IDIOT?” I hear you cry. Well, given the choice between visiting all the Pacific Islands in a few months at no great cost or visiting them over the course of six months at great cost, it was always going to be the former. Plus, look… I’ve been living with my girlfriend here in Melbourne and there aren’t too many relationships that could survive not seeing each other for two years – I’m not making excuses, I just wanted to take the path of least resistance, especially if that meant I could hang out here a while longer.
But now the time has come to GET REAL: the only way I’m going to get this journey finished is on board freighter ships, and one way or another I’ve GOT to get back on the horse.
The ticking clock never stopped. It’s not just my own personal drive to get this thing finished, it’s practicalities like my Aussie visa runs out on Sept 22, so I’ve got to make like a tree and get out of here. So, not being one to stand on ceremony, I’m heading back to Papua New Guinea next week. I’ll have to head over to Wewak and then make my way to Lae and then try my best to get on one of the ships that goes to The Solomon Island and beyond: either to Fiji, New Zealand or Australia.
Lorna, Mandy and I are busy talking to shipping companies and valiantly attempting to side-step the whole “we don’t take passengers” malarkey to get me passage. But the good news for you lot is that my bag is packed, I’ve got a stack of miniDV tapes in my jocks and I’m raring to go.
I’ve just heard back from Martin at China Navigation (the subsidiary of Swire Shipping involved with PNG) and the good news is that there is a ship willing and able to take me from Lae in Papua New Guinea to Honiara in The Solomon Islands and back to Australia so I can FINALLY officially tick this great big silly continent off my list.
The ship is called the Papuan Chief (cool name eh?) and it’ll be departing Lae around the 10th of October.
Major thanks to Swire Shipping, China Navigation, Ray and Sebastian in PNG, Paul in Melbourne, Ross in Sydney and Martin in Singapore as well as kudos and kisses for Lorna and Mandy who helped out with the deal. Lorna especially so: she’s in the UK and the time difference meant she either had to stay up very late or get up very early in order to make the calls – somebody get Interflora on the phone!!
So… what I’ve got to do now is head back to Wewak on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea and pick up the trail from where I left off. Then I’ve got to get to Lae. Luckily for me, I’ve got an age to do this, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easily. Flights from Port Moresby to Wewak were extraordinarily expensive, so instead I’ve opted for a much cheaper flight to Madang – halfway between Lae and Wewak. But while it takes 6 hours on the road to get from Madang to Lae, it the road from Madang to Wewak is slightly err… problematic, as you can see:
Consequently, I’ll have to get on the same sort of Steamboat Willie affair that I took along the coast from Vanimo to Wewak last December – there and back again. But I’m not complaining – it’ll be fun! And, more importantly, THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION IS BACK ON!!
Today THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION gets its skates on again. Living up the traditional Odyssey brand, I’ve been waylaid for far too long – but thanks to some clever editing, I’m sure nobody watching series two of Graham’s World will notice that 9 months has passed between episodes 6 and 7. No doubt state-of-the-art CGI will be employed to reduce my ever-expanding beer gut to reasonable standards.
I’m chipper, feeling good, motivated and excited about the next chapter… one that will, if all goes well, take me halfway across the world and back again. Even after I finish the South Pacific islands, I still have to pesky Palau… and I have to (somehow) get back to Taiwan to get there. Even then there’ll be four countries left to tick off the list: Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan. So from Taiwan I’m going to have to return to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and catch a ship from Malaysia to Sri Lanka. A return journey to the Maldives would be a treat, but even then getting to the Seychelles from the Indian subcontinent is going to be nigh-on impossible – pirates baby, pirates.
My best bet would be a cargo ship to Madagascar, but as the pirates extend their reach across the Indian Ocean, that too might prove impossible. If necessary I’ll have to take a ship to South Africa and fight my way back to Madagascar via Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Comoros AGAIN, then charter a yacht from Nosy Be to one of the more southerly islands of the Seychelles (something I should have done yonks ago).
But even then it won’t be over! South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, beckons. This adventure will not be over until I reach Juba. So that’s back (again!) through Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia… and then, and only then will it be over.
I’ve not worked for almost three years and I got stiffed by the (word deleted upon legal advice) at (name of company deleted upon legal advice), so not only do I have to do all this mad stuff, I’ve got to do it for no money whatsoever.
Kudos to Mandy for standing by me through all this and letting me sully her house for the last few months. She has the patience of a saint. I should also mention Rocco’s awesome cooking (and dirty sense of humour) which I’m going to miss like you would not believe. A huge shout out to my fellow Britishers — Sarah, Gemma, Hugh, Simon and Adam — for some of the best nights out I’ve had while stuck on this rather silly island continent on the edge of the known world.
21.09.11: I left Mandy in Melbourne’s wee Tullamarine airport on Tuesday evening. We had spent the afternoon getting the last things sorted: chief of which was a new click-click camera for me as well as a teeny battery powered razor (which I heartily recommend to any would-be globetrotter who likes to play with his (or her) facial furniture). Mand was with me as I checked onto the flight and after us both hoovering up some Nando’s chicken (truly South Africa’s second greatest export after Nelson Mandela) we said bon voyage… a parting made a little sweeter by the fact we would be back together again at the end of October.
A couple of hours later I was in Brisbane airport looking for Mandy’s mate Matt who had kindly offered to put me up for the night.
After a swift half at an Irish pub that was about as authentically Irish as Oliver Cromwell, we chewed the fat over a couple of cold ones in Matt’s back garden, Graham here keeping a beedy eye out for Queenland’s infamous giant flying screeching super-glue spiders which are every bit as terrifying as I’ve just made them sound.
That morning I had to be up for 5:45, but the excitement of being back on the road kicked in and I was up an’ at ‘em at 5:43. Take that, snooze alarm! Matt gallantly dropped me off in the city centre (Brisbane’s commute was recently voted second worse in the world… which I find had to believe – maybe commuters in Nigeria, Egypt and India weren’t given a vote) and before you could say blimey that was fast I was on a train speeding towards Brisbane airport and out of this loveably irksome continent.
But you didn’t think they’d make it easy for me did you? This IS Australia we’re talking about, the most anally retentive nation on Earth, the country that makes the Gestapo look laid back and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a positive job requirement.
Upon checking in, my delightful checker-iner fretted at my lack of exit plans from PNG. PNG being an Aussie colony for the vast majority of the 20th century, their skill at freaking out about the slightest bureaucratic misdemeanour is understandable while still being unfathomably irritating. Now the problem was this: in order to get a visa for PNG at Port Moresby airport, you had to have a valid ticket out of the country. Now my email confirmation from China Navigation saying that I was leaving on the Papuan Chief in a couple of weeks is more than enough evidence that I do not intend to hang around. The problem lay in the fact that my Aussie visa runs out tomorrow, and the ship brings me back to Australia and even though I can’t apply for a new Aussie visa until I leave the country, they wanted me to have a new Aussie visa before I left. Which would be as silly as it would be impossible.
Happily for the forces of sanity, my ship calls into The Solomon Islands before Australia, so my Australian visa (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with the PNGers, the Aussies or the man in the frikkin’ moon. After explaining this salient fact (in much politer words, believe me), I was (eventually) welcomed onboard. Ta-ta Australia, do you think that while I’m away you could, you know, chill the —- out?
TRAVEL TIP: if I had booked exactly the same flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby through Virgin’s Pacific Blue website, it would have cost me TWICE as much as booking it through the Airlines PNG website. Bear that in mind, fellow tight-arse travellers.
Within a few hours I was smacking the tarmac of Port Moresby and ready to hit the town. After waiting way too long for a taxi, I got a local guy to drive me to the city centre for 30 Kina, which is how much it says it costs in the Lonely Planet and WHO AM I TO ARGUE? I trotted along to the Crown Plaza hotel, a concrete monstrosity, but a useful location opposite the EU mission headquarters here – the workplace of Sophie from Belgium, my CouchSurf host for the next couple of days.
22.09.11-23.09.11: After meeting with Sophie I was whisked away to her flat which overlooks Ela beach and she made me some din-dins which we ate with her flatmate Alex on the balcony as the sun went down. Port Moresby has this dramatic look to it, with many of the buildings perched on the hillsides that drop off to the sea – sadly, most (if not all) of the buildings are made of that cheap nasty concrete stuff that so excites the loins of architects and accountants, so the next day I visited the Port Moresby museum to see some authentic PNG art and culture – and I’ve got to say I wasn’t disappointed.
The museum is free – okay, so it could do with a spring clean — but the wooden artefacts, carvings, totems, masks, canoes, shields etc. are a sheer joy. The Papuans have been here for at least 50,000 years, and with some tribes not contacted by The West until the 1930s (and some might still be uncontacted), there’s a LOT of stories and a lot of culture to attempt to squeeze into a little museum. My only complaint is that it wasn’t bigger.
Before first contact was made in the 1930s, the Central Highlands (an east-west spine running down the middle of the country – with peaks reaching as high as 5,000 metres above sea level) were assumed to be unpopulated. Mr. Leahy and his team were actually looking for gold, but instead found over one MILLION inhabitants who had never seen white people before, never mind gramophones, aeroplanes and top hats. It’s little wonder that a number of inhabitants from PNG and The Solomon Islands fell so easily into Cargo Cultism – the belief held for a short period after the Second World War that if they built makeshift airstrips and shuffled bits of paper around a pretend ‘office’, they would receive gifts from the gods in the form of aeroplanes dropping off cargo.
After the museum, I spent a good couple of hours at the Parliament Haus and visited the spot where in 1975 Papua New Guinea declared a reluctant independence from Australia. While I will cheerfully concede that being run by Australia must have been one soggy picnic, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the structure of hand-overs – in fact, nearly all hand-overs pushed by the UN after the war – and the general health and education of the country at that point were not really taken into consideration. Like the cargo-cultists shuffling their papers in their wooden radar towers, the UN believed if you could get a gang of locals and put them in suits they would magically have the ability and drive to run a country.
The UN was right… to an extent. The newly independent government of PNG could run the country, to the extent that running a country doesn’t seem that difficult. But running a successful country, running a country that doesn’t thrive on corruption… ah, that’s another matter entirely. And so PNG like many former colonies started its long tortuous slide towards becoming a failed state. The expats left in their thousands. Port Moresby gained a reputation for crime and social disorder that would make Mogadishu blush. A reputation somewhat exaggerated in my opinion – of all the people I met in Port Moresby, not one of them had been the victim of a mugging or a car jacking. But while methinks the Aussie press doth protest too much, you don’t walk anywhere at night, and that fact alone smells very much like the upshot of an inept government.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A pilot light. They’ve just discovered the biggest gas field this side of Alpha Centuri beneath the soil of PNG, and with a bit of luck, PNG has a chance to throw off its shackles of being a resource-rich, cash-poor country and become a resource-rich, cash-rich country in the next ten critical years. If they succeed they could easily become THE Pacific tourist destination for adventure travel: with over 700 linguistically unique tribes, the Kokoda Trail and some of the best Scuba diving spots in the world, it’s an easy sell. Or maybe they will fail. Maybe greed and corruption will triumph as they often do in countries in which most children never go to high school and the government see that as a green light to take the piss. Who knows?
What I do know is that the GDP of PNG has doubled pretty much overnight and I would hope that the international community has made enough dumb mistakes in the past to know that if we steal the gas for a song and a sweet backhander, if we let PNG fail, we’ll be storing up a world of pain, not just for the local PNGers, but for the world as a whole – this place is just too marvellous, just to unique to allow the forces of darkness to triumph.
On Thursday night, Sophie had to go to Madang for work and so Alex and I hit the town. A leaving do for a couple of Alex’s mates meant pizza around a swimming pool, more alcohol than was is strictly necessary and a selection of people from so many different countries it was like the UN… so it didn’t come as too much of a shock to learn that most of the people around the table did in fact work for the UN. I met Algerians, Turks, Aussies, Kiwis, Yanks, Poms, Swedes, Dutchies, South Africans, Filipinos, Colombians… you name it.
In the club afterward I found myself drinking with a gang of Papuans and thinking that PNG was actually a really cool place. Okay, so it’s a little expensive, (compared to Europe and the US, not Australia) but then whatever voodoo economics make that the case (Indonesia
Eddie left early Saturday morning to go Scuba diving (did I mention that PNG offers the best Scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities in the world? – Excellent visibility, tropical delights, coral reefs and – oh yes – hundreds of WWII wrecks for you to explore… nice) so I met up with his fellow piloty mates Duncan (NZ), Heinrich (SA) and Shane (Oz) to grab some commonwealth brunch on the way to the airport.
Port Moresby airport is a pretty sweet little aerodrome, but I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this friendly sign.
Ah… Madang internet no likey uploady images… I’d add it later!!
I said thanks and goodbye to the guys. They’ve got a couple more years to run on their contracts so no doubt I’ll see them again if and when I return to PNG.
Up up and away!! The prop plane landed in Lae on the way to Madang. For the first leg of the journey I was inconveniently seated in the aisle (booooo!), but then for the second half I slid over to the window side of things (yaaaaay!) and what a ride! Lae and Madang are both on the north coast of PNG, but instead of taking the route along the coast, the local airlines fly as the crow, well, flies. This means that there are mountains over 4000 metres tall to fly over. And that’s exactly what we do.
So for the first fifteen minutes we go up and up and up and for the next fifteen we go down and down and down… as much fun as you can have in 40 seater prop plane. Madang aerodrome is as wonderfully rustic as you might imagine. You get off the plane, walk across the tarmac into the concrete hut that passes for the terminal building and the guys give you your luggage back off straight off the trolley.
My local CouchSurf host, Katherine, had organised for the bus to pick me up and take me to the DWU – the Divine Wind University* – the University of Madang. She’s an administrator here and has an apartment on campus. And what a remarkable campus it is. Close your eyes and picture a university campus set amongst a lush green forest of palm trees and tropical plants. Giant trees, covered in vines and creepers stand like ancient sentries at the side of the red brick road and provide a home for the thousands of flying foxes that call to each other in the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun.
The bus was late, and as often happens in places like PNG, a local family offered me a lift. Jumping on the back of a pick-up truck I was reminded why I travel, for moments like these, the wind on my face and the thrill of the unknown. I arrived at the University just before dark and that night Katherine took me out with her friend KK and KK’s mum for some pizza and beer: two things I find it hard to object to. The local brew here is called SP (for South Pacific) and — without wanting to sound like I’m ragging on Australia too much this week in my blogs — is a million times better than any Australian lager I’ve have the misfortune to consume. I’m in no way a lager connoisseur, but I know when my poo comes out like looking (but definitely not smelling) like chocolate mousse, I’m pretty sure that they’re putting way too much hops into them there beer vats. You hear me VB, Coopers, Carlton, Boags, Little Creatures??! Yeah, I’m talking to you.
KK is a media teacher here at Divine Wind and so we got to talk all techy stuff that make me think everything is thinking “hmm… how interesting, these guys must really know what they’re doing about”, although it’s more likely they’re thinking “Nerds!”. KK’s mum (also a teacher) is interested in getting the work of certain NGOs filmed and put online so that people can see what’s happening with their charity money around the country – sounds like a job I’d be good at. We’re going to keep in touch.
The next day was a lazy Sunday and I spent it idly wandering along the coast with a big smile and a hello to everyone I passed along the way. Madang is by no means Port Moresby and petty crime here is fairly rare, so despite some offers of ‘security’ in exchange for a few dollars, I was happy to do my own thing and stop into some of the resorts along the way for a beer and a view.
Last night I sat up drinking tea with Katherine and KK, chatting about the insane number of living languages in PNG (over 700 at last count) – the highest concentration anywhere in the world, no less. Sadly, many of these languages are under threat of extinction, and there seems little is being done to record them before the last native speakers die. Many of the language spoken by the younger generation is now interspersed with words from Pidgin or Tok-Pisin, the national language of PNG, a very Papuan version of English in which ‘New Guinea’ becomes ‘Niugini’ and you really have to operate your grey matter in order to suss out what on Earth people are saying.
KK told me that in a recent attempt to translate the New Testament into Tok-Pisin (there are more religious zealots in PNG than in your average medieval witchhunt) that the Tok-Pisin expression thought meant ‘love’ translated instead as ‘got pregnant’. Much hilarity can be gleaned from the idea of a white preacher explaining to the PNG natives how God so got pregnant the world that he sent his only son to die for our sins and that Jesus got your mum pregnant, your dad pregnant and – if you’re very good and say your prayers – he’ll probably get you pregnant as well.
So here I am, it’s now Monday 26th of September 2011 and I’ve just got back from buying my ticket for the overnight ‘Lutheran’ ferry (a vestige of German colonisation). Next stop: Wewak and the RETURN OF THE ODYSSEY!!
* Hang on, doesn’t the word ‘kamikaze’ also mean ‘divine wind’? What are they teaching here? The art of smashing your Zero into an American battleship? Eek!
As I stand outside Wewak aerodrome on the northern fringe of Papua New Guinea, I dip my hat on the morning of Christmas Eve 2010 and… MATCH CUT: I raise my head and it is now 27th September 2011, Day 1000 of The Odyssey Expedition. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot that I’ve put on weight and my facial hair is approximately 83% sillier than ever before.
A lot has happened in those missing nine months, and a lot has stayed the same. I lost my sister and my good friend Si lost his father. Stan got married and my video Best Man speech was a disaster. Babies came into the world, and it was an honour to meet the new additions to our planet. Captain Danny finished his fourth and final tour of the Middle East. Upon his return to the UK last week, the Bluecoat Massive breathed a huge sigh of relief. He proposed to his lovely girlfriend Penny just before heading off to Afghanistan last March leading to plaintive cries of “for God’s sake Danny, do you not watch war films?!!”. Talking of proposals, I just heard on the jungle drums that Dino and his delightful squeeze Ruth are all set to tie the knot – congrats guys, here’s sending my love from Wewak.
After losing millions courtesy of the stubbornly strong Aussie dollar, Lonely Planet TV relocated from Melbourne to San Francisco and so I have no idea a) if there’s going to be a second series of ‘Graham’s World’ or b) if anybody is left to remember that they lent me a Sony A1 video camera last year. I’m hoping the answers to those questions are YES and NO respectively. I got myself a literary agent who is too busy to read my stuff (I wrote that to see if you read this!!) and made friends with my Aussie counterpart Steve Crombie (‘Natural Born Traveller’) who I’m sure we’ll encounter again in the near future.
Liverpool, despite the unhappy reason I returned home, was several shades of totally awesome – like getting into a hot tub with a bunch of supermodels dressed as pirate queens. Melbourne, well… Melbourne was Melbourne. It keeps getting voted most liveable city in the world, by which I assume they mean ‘city that you’re unlikely to die in prematurely’ rather than ‘city that makes you feel good to be alive’. Then again, if you’re a well-heeled teetotaller who doesn’t like chips, footy, music or going out on a weeknight…
Maybe once boat people like myself people have paid the $3,000 toll to live and work in Australia (that’s $3,000 more than I would have to pay to live and work in Paris, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Madrid… but I digress…) they – understandably – feel compelled to say the place is great. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all.
So here we are, nine months on. I could be furious at the people who promised me more than they could deliver, but to be honest I’m more angry at myself for not taking the Pacific cargo ship route earlier. This way would have taken a long long time whichever way I did it, but I didn’t need to set myself up to fail by waiting 277 days (yes) between Christmas Eve and now before picking up the trail again.
Hey, if anybody reading this feels like smashing my record, I think the trickiness factor has been reduced by at least 27.7%.
The good news is that the blog entries will be coming fairly thick and fairly fast once again. (“Got up. Made tea. Phone didn’t ring again…” does not a good blog make.) I know that for some of you out there, these posts are one of your favourite tools of procrastination, so I’m sorry if my extended leave of absence has made you irritatingly productive.
Well then, I guess THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION is now officially BACK ON THE ROAD. I’ve cranked up my battered GPS logger, I’ve got a new screen for my old Dell laptop, I’ve got a stack of MiniDV tapes and a new Sony Cybershot 14 megapixel stills camera with this nifty ‘panoramic’ feature that totally kicks ass… I guess I’m ready to go.
I arrived in Wewak this morning onboard the good ship Rita at the princely time of 10am. Rita is an old beast owned by Lutheran shipping, and it’s not the same ship that I took from Vanimo to Wewak all those months ago – if anything it was older (if that was possible and still afloat), but it was (happily) a lot less (over)crowded. Upstairs was tourist class, a load of spare bunk beds (take your pick) but a higher price. Downstairs in economy you had to make do with any space you can find. I decided to go for tourist class. Oh don’t look at me like that, it’s not like it was air conditioned.
Doing my best to avoid sticking to the plastic-covered mattress I sweated my way through the night using my laptop and camcorder as a pillow lest some rascols had their eye on my gear. The constantly screaming kids and the tinny mobile-on-speakerphone music made it difficult to get off to sleep, but trust me, I’m a professional. Sleeping in ridiculously uncomfortable situations is my specialty.
Wewak was much like I remembered it – a neglected seaside town on the edge of nowhere with no road connections to Indonesia, Port Moresby or even Madang. In fact, there are no road connections from the north of this country to the south of it – you take the boat around the coast, you fly or you get your hiking boots and your mosquito net out. This lack of infrastructure is simultaneously what is holding PNG back AND acting as the saviour of indigenous tribes, customs and languages across the country. It’s a tricky balancing act and I’m glad I’m not the one making the call.
What Wewak has got going for it is that it is the entry-point for the Sepik River – the mighty Amazon of Papua New Guinea. The Sepik is the river that you have to negotiate in order to penetrate the dense Papuan jungle and believe me, The Sepik drives a hard bargain. She’s the reason why there is no road from Wewak to Madang: the river would eat it.
But that’s a journey for another time, and as a) Madang is much nicer than Wewak and b) I had left most of my stuff at Katherine’s flat, I feel it wise to return there as soon as possible, thus picking up from where I left off and FINALLY extending my official airline-free journey to every country in the world.
The Rita makes her return journey this afternoon at 2 (I’m thinking 4) and I plan to be onboard. It’s not cheap though, 180 Kina ($50) one-way for a bunk in a shared space with no amenities, air-con, cups of tea, nothing. And the return fare? 360 Kina – the same as two singles. Welcome to PNG folks – it’s so expensive it makes my nose bleed.
After firing up my GPS tracker outside Wewak airport – the very airport that I logged out of The Odyssey Expedition back in December – I headed along the coast to the newly-reconstructed beach patio of the Windjammer’s Hotel. There was a fire here two months ago and the entire place is being rebuilt. Aside from the staff and construction workers, I’m the only one here.
To my left and right the deserted beach stretches as far as the eye can see. Five large fishing vessels and an empty freighter sit out on the horizon doing whatever it is they do. The silhouettes of local fishermen in their wooden canoes with the balance bar set leeward rise and fall beneath the mirage sea. The waves crash upon the shore as the mighty Pacific Ocean breathes in and out: the promise of escape, the promise of adventure: the promise of great things, yet to come.
I just want to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone out there in the blogisphere for following me this far, and if you would follow me a just little farther, there are still 17 more countries and a hundred more adventures to go.
THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION: 1,000 NOT OUT.
When you’ve the world travelled as much as I have you learn one salient fact about developing nations: NOTHING EVER LEAVES ON TIME. But I’d like to amend that little nugget of information to: NOTHING EVER LEAVES ON TIME, UNLESS YOU’RE LATE.
When I was told that the ship to Wewak was supposed to leave at 2pm yesterday, I was dubious. I rucked up at around 1.55pm to find that the ship was still unloading and wouldn’t be leaving until 4.30pm at the earliest. This is normal. So when my return journey back to Madang was supposed to leave at 2pm I turned up at 2pm. I would have turned up earlier but I was in a nearby hotel watching Doctor Who on my laptop and it was a really good episode and I can’t quite get over how hot Karen Gillan is, for a ging.
In fact, I’m fairly confident that discounting Jessica Rabbit, Arial from the Little Mermaid and MJ from the Spider-Man comics (who are all, sadly, cartoons) that Amy Pond could quite literally be the hottest ging on the planet, present company excepted, and such a step up from face-like-a-smacked-mackerel Catherine Tate it’s almost obscene.
Tangent, Graham… stick to the story…
So there I was, with only my laptop bag, my camera and my toothbrush, ambling down the dock road, sweating like a priest getting his computer fixed by PC World… and I arrive just in time to see the boat depart from the old dock.
I look at my watch: There can be no mistake. It is 2pm.
WHAT. THE. HELL???
You can’t be admirably tardy 99% of the time and then for ONE DAY decide that your ruthless efficiency is going to put the Germans to shame. It’s just not cricket. The sudden and weird realisation that I haven’t missed a single connection since… Brazil, December 29th, 2008 had me twirling with frustration, hubris and a whole heap of D’oh.
With no clothes to change into, no clean underwear, no shampoo and nowhere to stay, I cut my losses, found out when the next boat was leaving for Madang (the day after tomorrow) and headed out to the nearest (and cheapest) guesthouse in town. So much for the Odyssey-a-go-go.
On arriving at the Wewak Guesthouse I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of backpackers sitting in the ‘bar’ next to the reception desk… why? Because there was a pretty good chance I knew who they were.
Are you Catherine? She nodded.
And you’re Dave, right? He nodded.
And you’re both from Liverpool?!!
Catherine and Dave looked overwhelmed by the knowledge displayed by this fellow scouser… a scouser that neither of them had ever met. Who the hell is this guy? Some kind of travelling Sherlock Holmes? A Liverpudlian Derren Brown?
Nah… they were the couple that stayed with Katherine — my CouchSurf host in Madang — a couple of days before I got there. Katherine had mentioned I might run into them in Wewak and here they were! Yeah, I probably could have gone in all wild-eyed and jazz hands saying that I had been tracking them for months and that Liverpool need them now more than ever (possibly with an invitation onto my stealth helicopter), but nah the freakiness of there being three tourists in the whole of Wewak and them all coming from Liverpool and them all being the same age group was already maxing out the cool factor.
So we settled in for the night. Mrs. Barry, the octogenarian lady (originally from Serbia) who runs the place welcomed me in and the scouse massive shared a room to cut down costs. Catherine and Dave have been travelling slightly longer than me –- three and a bit years –- and are currently attempting to overland it back to Liverpool. Having just come from the Solomon Islands, they were great to pick up much needed intel from (I’m going there next), and when it comes to visa information for pretty much every country in the world, I’m your man.
We drank SP beers and talked long into the night about travel, politics, religion and The Krazy House. A magic moment there in Wewak, and once again we find that missed connection has a silver lining. One that usually tastes of beer.
When I say the Papua New Guineans are the friendliest bunch of people you’ll ever come across, I hope you don’t take me for a liar. These guys make overbearing drunk Russians seem a little distant. Yesterday a local guy called Tony who had taken Catherine and Dave out on an excursion last weekend offered to take me to his village today which is just a few miles from Maprik, the entry town for The Sepik region. With the offer of authentic Sepik carvings, the chance to go inside a Haus Tambarans (a vagina-shaped meeting house – men only(!)) and the promise of giant yams dressed as people (I’ll say that again but louder, GIANT YAMS DRESSED AS PEOPLE!!), how could I say no?
The plan was that Tony would pick me up at 8am. This being PNG (Lutheran Shipping notwithstanding), I didn’t expect him until noon. As it happened, he finally turned up around 3pm, just as Catherine and Dave were gearing up to leave on the “Star” Ship to Vanimo on the border with West Papua/Indonesia.
So we said our goodbyes and explained to Tony that we were Wantok – a Tok-Pisin word meaning “one-talk”, or “people of the same language” – in our case, Scouse. Tony then took me in his Toyota pick up truck to collect one of his wives (he has two, the lucky badger) from a house near the airport and within half an hour we were bumping our way over the Prince Alexander Mountains towards the little village of Yangichkou. I was in the back of the pick-up and by God it was a fun (if long) ride.
Every man, woman and child waved as we drove by. Beaming smiles, peels of laughter and shouts of “Hey White Man!” echoed through the valleys. I haven’t been given this kind of global superstar treatment since I left West Africa (East Africans can be a little indifferent to us backpackers) but in a country were nearly all white people are ex-pats, aid workers or missionaries, having a tourist in their midst – and one happy to ride on the back of a pick-up – must have been the funniest thing they’ve seen all week.
We were halfway to our destination when disaster stuck: the road was flooded. A river ford, usually fairly sedate, had been turned into a thundering white-water rapid by the mountain rains. Any car or truck attempting to cross would surely be swept downstream by the torrent. What now? I asked Tony. Tony said we would just have to wait. Oh well. So much for seeing the village before nightfall.
By the time the flood had subsided, it was dark. We hurried to the village, but by the time we got there, everybody has gone to bed. Damn that flood, where are my giant yams dressed as people eh? Oh well. Instead Tony and I sat talking for a gudlong time. Tony is one of the Regional Presidents of the Sepik area and the bigman of his village. It seemed natural to discuss what he thinks lies in store for PNG over the next ten years.
A continuous road (and possibly a railway) from Vanimo to Lae for starters and, with any luck, an extension all the way to Port Moresby: thereby joining the north and south of the country by road for the first time in history. The road will bring cheaper goods in from Indonesia, bringing down the cost of living and mean there will be more money in the pot to pay for health care and education – two areas PNG scores infamously poorly in at the moment.
The building of this road — even though the easy bits are already done –- would be a monumental task, requiring a 10 mile bridge/causeway over the Sepik and either some kick-ass switchbacks over the central highlands or tunnels the maintenance of which would stretch the Swiss, never mind the Papuans. But that road is something that PNG desperately needs if it is to decrease unemployment (the source of 99% of street crime here) increase its productivity, improve its infrastructure and boost individual wealth.
The gas which everybody here is praying will be a help not a hindrance (I think back to the sole surviving villager in ‘Blood Diamond’ who says he hopes they don’t find oil because then their troubles will ‘really begin’) has already doubled PNG’s GDP almost overnight: they may not get another chance to give their country the leg-up it needs if it is to get out of the same rut that has plagued the fortunes of many former colonies around the world.
PNG is in a good position geographically — a natural stopover to/from Australia, NZ and the South Pacific — and it’s got the resources it needs to do well for itself. The big worry here — shared amongst almost everybody I’ve spoken to about PNG — is that the money that belongs to the people of PNG will end up lining the pockets of corrupt politicians and foreign businessmen. If that happens, PNG will be yet another promising little country callously fed to the Vogons of the world.