MAKING TOILETS SEXY, COOL & DESIRABLE

Indore, Madhya Pradesh. ©Sonja OchAn unlikely carnival travelled over one thousand miles across India last month. The party included children’s games and workshops, cricket, Bollywood and …poo.

The carnival, known in India as a “yatra”, has been organised by Quicksand, an Indian development company and WASH United, an organisation where sports stars stand united with school children, top political decision makers and ordinary people from around the world to fight for universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

India leads the world in child mortality from diarrhea.  Two of the main causes of this are poor hand-washing hygiene and open defecation. Every day enough Indians poo on railway tracks, roadside ditches and other open spaces in and around their communities to create a pile of excrement that would fill a cricket stadium to the roof.

With an aim of making toilets sexy, cool and desirable the travelling carnival has  reached over 80,000 people across India.  The messages are simple ones that will save lives – hand-washing at proper times throughout the day, using a toilet, and menstrual hygiene management. However the means are unique – a brightly coloured touring fair involving Bollywood-style performances, cricket-based games and stars from both.  Participants playing one of the 20 fairground games on offer, “Poo in the Loo” are asked to shoot a poo football into toilet-shaped holes. “Poo Carrom” is based on a popular Indian game where the striker hits germs off hands. Workshops include a well received and much needed menstrual hygiene management workshop and a competition for schools making “tippy tap” hand washing stations – one of 72 training sessions held at schools.

The carnival has the support of Bollywood Superstar Vidya Balan who also appears in television advertisements throughout the event. As a result, the Yatra is set to break the embarrassed silence in India over the economic, political, social and environmental issues related to sanitation and menstruation. Already over 300 news articles have been written about the travelling party – the majority of them in Indian newspapers.

The £1.3million project was funded by a range of private sector entities such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Other funders include The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and Arghyam. However, the yatra also has the support of Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Minister for Sanitation and Rural Development, who is promoting the use of a government sponsored programme that encourages Indians to build toilets and waste management systems in their homes for record low prices.

As the travelling carnival reaches the end of its thousand-mile journey, WASH are adamant that they will do it all over again:  “Nothing like this has been done before. We are the first yatra (or travelling carnival) like this, and we are hoping to replicate this model in other parts of the world starting in early 2013,” Says WASH Communications Manager Sabrina Aggarwal.

Photo credit: Himanshu Khagta

The great WASH Yatra website – http://www.nirmalbharatyatra.org/

Tippy Tap building http://www.nirmalbharatyatra.org/blog-posts/tip-tap-hurray

Some of the games http://www.nirmalbharatyatra.org/yatra-elements

On Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheGreatWashYatra

On Twitter http://twitter.com/greatWASHyatra

 

Advertisements

Less Jive Talking about Swindon

It is the fifth time in a row that the Bee Gee’s track, Jive Talking is being played in the Plum Tree in Swindon as I sit down to write.  Nobody seems notice.  An old man smiles and taps his foot whilst tucking into a fried egg breakfast.

It’s been 14 years since my favourite comedian, Eddie Izzard, described the Wiltshire town of Swindon as “knackered”.  A Bristolian by birth, it felt good to sneer at our less attractive west-country cousin. Known to me only as “a bit of a railway town,” last month I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Swindon to see for myself.

As I have done in Basra and Islamabad, I arrived in the dead of night.  Lost, I wondered with my luggage around a black and white town centre void of almost all people.  Those I came across – hotel workers and chip shop owners – helpfully pointed me in the right direction, some walking with me for part of my journey.

In the morning I ventured along the same streets, now bathed in colourful sunlight.  It was early and everyone was busy going about their business.   One figure stood out from the rest –  a middle aged white man with a huge grin on his face was walking towards me.  As he grew close I was able to read the words on his T-shirt: I’m so broke I don’t even pay attention.  The message combined with his happy disposition was a wonderful defiant opening to what would prove to be a very positive few days.

“It’s a working town” said a taxi driver, “we have no airs and graces, we just enjoy living and working here”.  Swindon’s lack of pretension was the number one thing that people I asked said they loved about the town.  Another thing that made Swindonian’s proud was “the people”.  Combine the two and you get a very welcoming, down-to-earth place to be: The receptionist at the Holiday Inn Express who “sneaked me a youghurt” when I arrived at midnight. The guy in the corner shop who offered to make me a cup of tea when I asked where a good café was. The smiles in response to a cheeky girl who ran into a shop and turned up the volume on their speakers.  A smile and a wave from a highly decorated octogenarian war veteran on a mobility scooter – in fact people saying hello to each other all over the place.  There was also a genuine excitement in the air about “future Swindon” – the coming regeneration of the town centre, the potential of a ski slope at the Oasis, and new life breathed into the old corn exchange building in Old Town.

I am glad to have my perception of Swindon changed by the people who live there.  I had thought it was a relatively new town – yet it has a history going back as far as a The Domesday book.  I knew it was famous for building railways – but I never knew it was where Isambard Kingdom Brunel chose to build.  Nor did I know that the railway workers health scheme was used as a blue-print for our National Health Service.  In 1844 a revolutionary co-operative organisation known as The New Swindon Improvement Company transformed the railway’s workforce into some of the country’s best-educated manual workers.  The legacy of this history with people at it’s heart, is clear.

This travel blog has been home to my thoughts about my travels in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq – and each time I am keen to show that their perception of a place is not necessarily accurate.  Swindon is just the same.

I asked the Landlord at the Plum Tree if he liked Jive Talking.  “Has it been on more than once, darling?” he asked.  I nodded.  It was taken off.  For those who don’t know, Jive Talking is slang for bullshit.  It’s time for less Jive Talking about Swindon.

Il n’y a pas de terroristes au Pakistan

Il n’y a pas de terroristes au Pakistan

Image

Il y a vingt ans, le philosophe, sociologue et politologue français Jean Baudrillard signait un essai intitulé « La guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu ». Publié en partie dans Libération et le Guardian (Royaume-Uni) le texte, qui soutient que le conflit dans le Golfe est une guerre virtuelle et essentiellement fictive, a soulevé l’opinion de gens tels que Christopher Norris, qui a fustigé Baudrillard, et d’autres intellectuels postmodernes dont certains ont même qualifié Baudrillard de « théoricien du terrorisme ». Baudrillard ne niait toutefois pas les pertes de vies humaines ni le fait que plus d’explosifs aient été largués en deux mois de guerre du Golfe que pendant toutes les attaques aériennes de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale réunies. Son argument principal était celui de l’interprétation et de la présentation des faits à travers l’objectif des médias. Il se préoccupait surtout de savoir si l’événement pouvait être qualifié de « guerre ».

 

Pour Baudrillard, le bombardement aérien massif des infrastructures civiles et militaires en Iraq constituait une guerre dépouillée de passion et de violence. Expurgée de toutes les images abominables et « dénudée par ses techniciens », elle a été revêtue d’une « seconde peau » par « l’artifice de l’électronique ». Selon lui, ce conflit était gagné d’avance et bien que la « guerre » fût présentée au public entièrement par les médias, cela ne prouvait pas réellement son existence : « la retransmission en direct par CNN d’informations en temps réel ne suffit pas à authentifier une guerre ». Son argument consistait à dire que la guerre du Golfe « telle qu’on nous a poussés à la comprendre » n’a pas eu lieu.

 

Vingt ans plus tard, à la différence du vernis jeté sur la guerre du Golfe, ce sont les horreurs graphiques de la guerre qui semblent attirer notre société moderne. En 2009, l’artiste Jeremy Deller a récupéré les débris d’un véhicule bombardé à Bagdad pour leur faire faire le tour de l’Amérique. Comme l’écrit le Guardian, il a nous a mis la violence de l’Iraq « sous le nez ». Pendant l’invasion du pays en 2003, nous avons reçu nos informations de blogueurs tels que Salam Pax qui a diffusé pour nous le traumatisme en temps réel de la vie à Bagdad, et aujourd’hui, le petit écran nous abreuve de peur, de danger et de la proximité de la guerre par le biais de journalistes assoiffés de conflits sur le terrain.

 

Aujourd’hui, Internet nous apporte autant de sang et de tripes des points chauds du globe que nous pouvons en digérer. Nous entendons parler de la mort d’Oussama Ben Laden au Pakistan, mais nous voulons des images, nous voulons sa dépouille mortelle, aussi horrible que cela soit. Nous voulons sa tête. Et cela seulement rendra sa mort réelle. Même une violence inaccessible, telle que celle qui a sévi au nord du Sri Lanka en 2006, voilée aux yeux des médias et des organisations internationales, a été capturée par les caméras des téléphones  portables et diffusée sur YouTube. À la différence de Ben Laden, la tête défoncée du leader tamoul Prabhakaran était sur tous les écrans quelques heures seulement après sa mort et, maintenant, les horreurs du sang versé des civils tamouls se glissent dans nos pages.

 

La sensation de guerre et de violence semble toujours attirer le spectateur des informations. En contraste à la guerre du Golfe assainie décrite par Baudrillard, c’est d’une autre guerre dont nous témoignons, attisée par la concurrence qui fait rage entre Internet et la télévision, une compétition pour qui creusera au plus profond d’une infâme souffrance. Les enfants affamés ne nous émeuvent plus. Les caméras du monde restent fixées sur la tête bandée d’un bébé après une attaque au mortier, un enfant démembré, les larmes d’une veuve désespérée. Et pourtant, notre goût européen de l’horreur n’est rien comparé à celui de l’Asie. Il y a dix ans, la presse du Sri Lanka diffusait en première page la photo de la tête tranchée de l’auteur d’un attentat-suicide (avec le titre « connaissez-vous cet homme ? ») et une visite récente au Pakistan a révélé que, dans cette nation exaspérée d’être constamment associée au terrorisme, les journaux transmettent un flux ininterrompu de bombes, meurtres et révoltes.

 

Lors de mon dernier voyage au Pakistan, je me suis rendue à Karachi. Pour préparer cette visite, mes recherches sur Internet m’ont révélé les corps calcinés de victimes d’explosions, des assassinats dans tous leurs détails et les nouvelles de furieux incendiaires. Même les gens éduqués m’ont dit que je risquais d’être décapitée, kidnappée et, à cause de l’intérêt que je porte à l’Islam et au Pakistan, j’ai reçu des courriers chargés de haine de gens qui m’ont dit que je serais violée et assassinée (parce que c’est ce qu’ils font aux chrétiens, là-bas). On ne pourrait avoir confiance en personne.

 

À ma grande surprise, la ville pakistanaise que j’ai découverte déborde de générosité et d’attention, d’innombrables tasses de thé et de mets de toutes sortes. Les centres commerciaux ont des cafés italiens, des McDonald et des boutiques Next. Les gens vont au travail, les enfants vont à l’école, qui n’est pas forcément une madrassa militante radicale, les étudiants bavardent gaiement et vont à leurs cours à l’université, les policiers en uniforme impeccable se chargent efficacement de la circulation, les hommes d’affaires sont éloquents et de jeunes femmes me confient que « Karachi est un endroit fantastique pour les femmes, actuellement ». Et je ne mentionne pas les kilomètres de sable doré qui bordent l’océan Indien, avec leurs enfants qui jouent au football, les familles qui se baignent et qui sourient, les gens qui me saluent amicalement de la main dès que je sors mon appareil photo. Même dans le quartier de Saddar, endroit dont on m’avait dit que je ne ressortirais pas vivante, j’ai rencontré beaucoup de gens bien loin de s’entretuer, bien loin d’être violents. La plupart vivaient des journées ordinaires, derrière les étals de fruits, balayant les rues, conduisant des autobus. J’ai même rencontré un travesti costaud dans un sari rouge vif, qui m’a dit avec esprit : « vous avez sûrement des gens comme moi, dans votre pays ! ». Le Pakistan est devenu l’un des premiers pays du monde à reconnaître officiellement un troisième sexe. J’ai visité une élégante église catholique. J’ai l’impression qu’on n’entend pas vraiment parler des églises au Pakistan, à moins d’un attentat à la bombe.

 

Comme Baudrillard, je ne nie pas les faits. Je ne prétends pas que le Pakistan soit un pays sans sa part de problèmes, ni que Karachi ne soit pas le siège d’actes de violence extrême, ou qu’elle n’abrite pas certains terroristes célèbres. Je ne prétends pas non plus que des explosifs ne soient pas chargés dans des véhicules ou attachés au corps de malades mentaux avant de détonner. Ni que des gens aient perdu la vie. Mais la réalité de cette ville particulière et de ses 18 millions d’habitants est très complexe et peut-être impossible à présenter sous une facette unique dans les médias. Selon ces derniers, l’impression dominante nourrie par la découverte de Ben Laden est que le Pakistan est un foyer du mal, et les cyniques pourraient arguer que cette perception est tout aussi manipulée ou, au mieux, forcée, que ne l’étaient les reportages des médias lors de la guerre du Golfe.

 

Baudrillard n’était pas fasciné par l’événement qu’était la guerre ni la vérité de la guerre en soi, mais par la notion de réalité et l’érosion de cette réalité par la technologie et les médias. Le point de vue selon lequel le Pakistan est « plein de terroristes » est fabriqué spécialement pour nos esprits avides de sang et d’histoires unidimensionnelles : nous sommes de simples consommateurs de médias, accros de la distraction que procurent les catastrophes. Le philosophe français affirmait que l’être humain est naturellement attiré par une version simulée de la réalité, mais sommes-nous allés trop loin ? Peut-être cet appétit négatif est-il nourri par les envoyés spéciaux débordants d’adrénaline qui filent les « chasseurs d’ambulances » de Karachi ces jours-ci. Au risque de me faire moi-même taxer de théoricienne du terrorisme, la semaine de la découverte de Ben Laden au Pakistan semble le moment opportun pour affirmer : « Il n’y a pas de terroristes au Pakistan ».

 

FIN

Majorca, Multi-culturalism & Michael Schumacher

Image

Those of you who know me well, will know of my fascination with the perception of people and places.  I have to admit, before I arrived in Majorca I thought of Spanish tack, red-neck Brits and cheap beer.  Because I am a Formula 1 fan, I also held a view that the Spanish were racist (remembering times when Alonso was Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at McLaren).

The beer was not that cheap, the tack was well….tacky and the Brits?  Surprisingly were a delightful  eclectic mix.  This week I spent a couple of cheap days in Porto d’Alcudia in the north of Majorca.   It was a refreshing experience for many reasons – not least because it challenged by own perceptions.  For a start the “Spanish” were in fact Catalan. And some of them were African, some Chinese and scoring a delicious saag paneer, coconut rice and mushroom curry washed down with a mango lassie, I discovered that some Majorcans originated from the Punjab.

The supermarkets were well stocked up with crates of some of the cheapest, craziest alcohol in Europe (absinthe for example) – but the clientele (at least out of season) did not appear that interested.  Bottles were not flying off the shelves, and tourists seemed more impressed with bicycle rickshaws which whole families could hire for as cheap as 6 Euros an hour.Image

There were Muslim Brits from London, Jamaicans from Birmingham, Groups from Ulster, Yorkshire and Devon. There was middle class triteness and a certain up-tightness.  There were coffee-coloured babies.  Asian babes.  Red skins, white skins. White Irish gypsies getting their hair braided. And more mixed-race couples than Nick Griffin could shake a stick at. In response to this deluge of British diversity Majorca responds with Chinese restaurants, curry houses, Irish pubs, Italian pizzerias and Mexican bars.

This might not be a revelation to some, but coming from an industry which patronisingly acknowledges the importance of “grass roots” initiatives (in other words “working class”) it was a real pleasure to witness a multiculturalism that hadn’t been fabricated by Guardian-reading liberals, where people from all walks of British (and German) life rubbed shoulders in apparent harmony.

Not only that, but the island was beautiful.  The perception may be of tatty tourism, but the rolling mountains were bigger than that.  Rural Majorca could have been mistaken for Tuscany, and the turquoise seas as clear and perfect as any in St Juan-Les-Pins.

Once I managed to tear myself away from the only Go-Kart track on the island (who celebrated Lewis with a giant cut out of him) – my only problem was that I had forgotten to pack a beach towel.  No fear – the bargain kiosks that lined the street to the beach had plenty – at 5 Euros a pop.  I was drawn by a towel bearing the beaming grin of Michael Schumacher. Tic Tac logo on his helmet from his Ferrari days. On enquiring I discovered no Lewis, no Jenson, not even Alonso graced the space on a beach-towel in Majorca.  Clearly Michael had discovered what I had – that this island of the Balearics, was a good place to be.

Image

Sleeping Rough on the Streets of London

ImageYou may think I have been taking my nomadicity to extremes.  Although I did in fact spend all of Friday night on the streets of London – sleeping “rough” might be over egging the spoon.

True, I laid my head on cardboard boxes and shivered the night away, along with 60 others – but the evening was also spent enjoying Brazilian music and a cheeky carafe of wine.  And the East End of London isn’t quite what it was either.  Expecting a bit of edge, I was disappointed to find that Spitallfields Market was really rather clean and lovely.  Even Wagamamas was in sight.  My immigrant forefathers would have been amazed.

But the night was not really about racking up another perilous adventure, despite claims by friends that I was “brave”.  It was about raising money for children who sleep on the streets every night.  It was about trying to change that.   Today Street Child World Cup let us know that our efforts raised £7000. I am sure there is more to come.

An estimated 100 million children live and work on the streets. Street Child World Cup is a global campaign for the rights of street children. Through football, art and an international street child conference they provide a platform to change public perception and realise the rights of street children.

They have had notable successes – both individual stories and real results as they lobby governments for changes in policy (e.g police round ups).
My main hope is to see a team of street children from Pakistan take part in the Rio challenge in 2014, and I know people are working behind the scenes to try and make this happen.  And one day, who knows, maybe a team from the football loving nation – Iraq.

So here are the shout outs followed by a few photos of our night:

Donate for our Big City Sleep achievement

Become a Supporter 

Street Child World Cup main page

On Twitter: @scwc2014 @daisybotha (my roughing it partner!) @abctrustuk (Action for Brazil’s Children)

Image

Daisy making clothes for our favela washing lines

Image

60 sleepers

Image

I think that might be John from Momentum Arts waking up next to a cardboard favela

Hyde &The Great British Tourist

Over the past few weeks I have witnessed our Brazilian house guest taking in Britain’s top tourist destinations.  In the very few hours she has when she is not studying English, she boards coaches bound for our “sights” to explore Britain’s heritage.  She has been to the cities of Bath, Oxford,  Brighton.   She has taken in a West End show, been awe-inspired by Stone Henge, and enjoyed the delights of Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle.  Today she is in  York.  Next weekend Edinburgh.

All of this on top of the fact that we live in central Cambridge – a city that swells with over four million visitors every year.  We have a quirky and interesting history here, churches, museums, a river with boats (punts) – all the usual stuff that attracts tourists.

As I trekked up the A1M this week on a pilgrimage to the small town of Hyde on the outskirts of Manchester, I couldn’t help think of myself as a bit of a tourist, and I certainly felt like one when I got there.

Two things drew me to Hyde.  The first – as the old stomping ground to my favourite melonchony signer – John Bramwell from I Am Kloot.  The second, a more serious research assignment – as the old stomping ground of British Artist, Harry Rutherford.  Like Bramwell, Rutherford frequented Hyde’s public houses and found inspiration there.

“It’s a shit hole” I mumbled to myself incredulously on first impressions. I parked up on a dusty stoney patch of land and fumbled with a pay & display machine.  Not knowing my car registration number caused a queue to form behind me.  Expecting the usual tuts and impatient sighs I apologised profusely for holding everyone up.  I needn’t have bothered, people were smiling warmly in a kind of “she’s not from round ere” kind of way.  Someone asked “do you know where your’e headed?”  A phrase from the film Withnail & I sprung to mind: “I’ve come on holiday by mistake”.

I didn’t say that, instead asked for and was offered directions to the cash point: “Is’ through the mall”.  The “mall” had more of a bus-shed feel to it – and seemed to offer the poorer versions of franchised retail outlets from home.  Even the charity shops looked in more genuine need than the charities they were supporting. A couple of young men pointed to a bucket and asked me to give some cash for soldiers in Afghanistan.  My excuse of not having money was genuine, but clearly not believed.  Grey-faced smokers stood around chatting, in the same, not-in-a-hurry way that I had encountered buying a parking ticket.

Outside the mall, down side-streets, tatty England flags fluttered, and an increase in visible neck tattoos meant I switched to using eye contact and nods of the head.  I certainly didn’t look about me like a tourist, and made my step intentional, despite not really knowing where I was.  It’s a built in safety feature, I use when in apparently “hostile” environments.  Or shit holes.

Lunch was appropriately in a Wetherspoons pub.  I didn’t know until later that Rutherford had hung out at the Clarendon (as, possibly, had Bramwell), but Wetherspoons was fine.  I shared lunch with a Kashmiri friend of mine who’s complexion attracted a few hostile glances.  He shrugged it off with mild amusement.  Next to us a table of inebriated white people were arguing about where the Falkland Islands were.  An old lady in a tatty fur coat tried to put on the television.  Our pierced “waiter” had no idea where the sauces were.  I found myself wondering if they would marvel at the diverseness of their pub, or spit in our food.  Fish and chips for my friend, who was blending in better than I with my vegetarian sausages.  Through lunch we fittingly talked about identity and notions of “home”.  Nobody troubled us and I was warming to the place.  If I didn’t have a three hour drive home, I could have replaced my diet coke with a strong northern ale and settled down for the afternoon.  Maybe even pulled out a sketchbook.

I said goodbye to my friend who returned to his native Bradford.  Passing a hand-painted sign that offered singing lessons I decided to stop a man who looked not unlike Rutherford himself – with a flat cap and shopping bags.  He was delighted to be asked where the library was, as if I had restored what little faith he had in the town.  “Not from Hyde, then?” he asked – and seemed disappointed when I told him no, I was from Cambridge.  I wanted to add that I was originally from Bristol – as if this would boost my credibility a little in the eyes of this seasoned northerner.  But south is south whichever side of the country you are on.  He waved his stick in the air and wished me good luck.

The library was perhaps Hyde’s finest building.  A grand, red-brick beauty, I wondered how it had escaped being turned into swanky apartments.  Hopefully because in Hyde there is more use for a library than for swanky apartments.  The Rutherford Gallery – which is shortly to relocate, so please don’t look for it there – was housed in a high-ceilinged, light room.  It was beautifully curated with Rutherfood’s actual easel, paints and hat collection as the centrepiece.  But more fascinating were his archive sketches, letters and photographs held in a room not more that four foot high – adding a quirky “Being John Malcovich” tone to my research.

I emerged from the short space hot and excited.  The sun had come out in Hyde and although the faces on the street were still grey (with the occasional orange tan), coats were coming off and arms exposed.  I heard the hearty husky laughter of a long-time smoker. Young people were drinking tea in a scuffy, cheap hairdressers.

I hasten to use the word “real” as I know there is no such thing, but perhaps it is the same gritty northern-ness I love about Bramwell’s voice, that I witnessed in Hyde.  I wondered whether the betting shops and boarded up buildings of Hyde could offer the same insight into Britain as York Minster or Brighton Pier.

I know I will make the seven hour round trip from Cambridge to Hyde again – to find out more about Rutherford, and have a proper drink in the pub.  I might also come back for singing lessons and bring my Brazilian house guest with me.

Drifting Through Den Haag

The following is a record of a derive which was voice recorded on Saturday 19th November 2011.

“One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” – From the Bureau of Public Secrets

 

BEGINS

A rack of small cards, business-card sized, in the lobby of the hotel.  All with small holes in them to hang and representing discounts for various attractions, activities.  Not just in Den Haag, but Amsterdam and various other places with unrecognisable names.  One had a picture of a car on it and I take one.  It is for the car museum. Count the pictures, count the card.  Ten down and seven across – meaning 70 different cards for different attractions.  Notice that there are more than one stack of car cards, so maybe not as many attractions as appears.

Going through the airlock doors.

An old couple with matching brown leather jackets looking in the window of a clock shop.  A small shop window but  home to15 different ornamental clocks. Can’t hear the tick tock.

A life-size native American statue in the street.

A pigeon.  Try following the pigeon.  Moving too slowly, I’m not interested.

An art shop.  A lady in a beige coat with her bicycle parked goes through the prints.  Crap old art.  A few nicer Kandinsky prints.  And there’s the black doll. I took a picture of it last night.  The UK outlawed these dolls  as blatant racist objects decades ago.  They were called Golly-Wogs.  Shocked. This one is in the window of a shop…what kind of shop it is….it’s a manicurist?

A wonderful old shop called Emma with trinkets, chandeliers,  earrings and old dolls and statues…..another black doll!  I think it must be Black Peter.  I thought Black Peter was in Spain.  I must investigate.

Postcard stand with Dutch Royal family all over it.  Old lady I don’t recognise, must be a royal – she looks wrinkly and thick with make-up.

Why am I not actually doing anything?  Just walking and looking.  And breathing heavily.  Pulling on my cigarette.

The street I decide to follow opens up into a plaza.  A hundred tables and chairs completely unoccupied.  It’s November and the floor of the cobbles in the plaza are covered with fat brown leaves.  It’s not cold, but some of the chairs have blankets on them….I wish I could follow a bird, the ones that are flying….no they are going too fast.

A fountain spouts froth.  A man tries to sell me a magazine…maybe the Dutch Big Issue.  Regret not talking to him, but I don’t feel like it.

A red brick building.  A red lion.  Gold.  Hollandia.  So many bicycles, some look hand made.  I’m going to touch the next bicycle I see.  Going to touch the handle bars.  They are rubbery and cold.  It’s a glance rather than a grip.  Man gives me funny look.

I already don’t know where I am.  I am walking down a tram-line, which feels a bit wrong.  Not sure how quiet there approach is.

Standing outside an American Book Shop.  10 copies of Steve Jobs biographies fill the window.  I’m going in.

Wonder why considered American Books? Lots of books by non-Americans.  Heading for the art section and contemporary art books.  Discover Keri Smith’s This Is Not A Book.  Like.   Read book on label tagging cover to cover (it is mostly pictures of label tagging). Leave my small picture of a car inside the guide to guerrilla art book.  Is the book an anomaly? Opposite art books are an array of books on war and politics.  Take This Is Not a Book and place it in front of a book about Tackling Somali Pirates.  Tony Blair grins at me.  I remove all Tony Blair’s books and head for the crime section.  Can’t find it.  Better – I find the horror section and fill the shelves with Blair.  Find a lovely but trite book called Greed – a self-help book about how not to be greedy – with these in my arms I return to the biographies of foul leaders and place the Greed titles in front of George Bush .and friends .

After another twenty minutes I have re-arranged others – mostly art books.  Those people browsing for politics, history and especially romantic fiction might now stumble on some art.

Pay for two Keri Smith books.  Feel ok about the unnoticed rearrangement now.

Sitting on a shiny polished bench, watching people go into the bookshop.

Away from the bookshop another cobbled square.  Autumn grey grand.  Lone protestor carrying his words on a cardboard sign.  I show interest.  He doesn’t.  He has a brightly coloured satin sash around him.  Can make out the word Ir-an on his cardboard next to a picture of a fist and broken chains.  He looks glum.

Despite not wanting to take pictures I cannot resist recording a very public men’s toilet.  In the distance behind the pisser, I see a giant hording of the girl with pearl earrings.  She is everywhere.  The size of Mubarak in the film I have.   The one where he gets torn down by revolutionaries. The girl is the height of the building she is on.  Up close, I can get no purchase on her.  Instead I follow Japanese people down a slope, through glass sliding doors.

No mobile phones.  No cameras.  No bag bigger than an A4 letter size (?).  No vocal recordings of a derive. I have to write not speak.  Decide to tag every toilet roll in the ladies.  Realise I have no tag, so drag one up from the 1983 Bristol graffiti days.  My resurrected tag surprisingly remembered perfectly.  Hopefully will touch the arses of many.

Picking up an audio guide and switch it to Japanese.

Rubens didn’t always paint that well.  Bible stories, fruit, piles of books.  Want to cut the strings holding the paintings, but nothing to do it with.  Hushed mumble mumbled.  Want to shout bums very loud but I don’t.

Switch  back to English to understand van Haecht’s Antwerp Art Collector.  People drinking, playing with a globe.  Emily Godenker tells me it’s an imaginary museum and freaks me out.  It is. A portrait painter Ampelles paints Alexander the Great’s concubine, Campaspe and falls in love.  Alexander gives Ampelles the girl and keeps the painting.  It about the power of the painting says Emily.  It’s about how you can fall in love with a portrait subject I think.

Fucking hell.  In amongst the Holbeins and the Rembrants, Francis Bacon’s crucifixion screams out like a pleasing monster.  It’s next to Van de Weyden’s dead Jesus with a Flemish backdrop.

Up some more stairs and more fucking hell.  The usual red walls filled with salon-style masters – but the frescoed ceilings are crazily daubed by something more contemporary.  Need to know.  It’s Get Lataster. 1987.  Icarus.  Can’t look anywhere but up.

Decide to follow two nuns.  Look at everything they look at.  Pick them up at the Anatomy Lesson.  One nun looks like Larry Grayson.  Gerrit van Honthorst’s violin.  Nuns ignore Rembrant’s laughing man and point excitedly at Gerril Dou’s old woman.  JESU XP PASSIO heart and a cross.

Why place a chair with a sign Geen Zitplaats (don’t sit)?  Is it a work?  Lost the nuns.  Found them again.  Listening to audio guide for a different painting to that which I am looking.  Have idea for making alternative audio guides for great museums.

Bored with the nuns now.  Almost running.  Past Van Gough’s  and Cezanne’s fields.  Nuns appear to be following me now.  Can’t shake them.  And there is the girl.  The one with pearl earrings.

A few hours into my drift.  Fun for me – but may be as interesting as someone else’s dream for others.  Only it is/was real.

Totally escaped the nuns.  Folded the feedback book into shapes.  Now drinking beer.  I don’t really like beer. I write Francis Bacon Rules on a left-behind Napkin.  Exit Through The Gift Shop.  Want to look for a cemetery.

Following the sound of a crowd.  50 protestors.  Shouting.  Don’t understand. There is my Iranian with the sash.  Man in broken English with German and Dutch says Ashraff.  Iraq.  Iran.  Very bad.  Regime change. Dictator.  No good.  Hands me a piece of paper in English, which explains the protest better.  I fraudulently chant.

Feel fraudulent.  Self absorbed. No sign of a graveyard.  Opposite protestors another palace with huge hording –  an Escher painting.  Try to enter, but decide if I have to pay, I won’t.  I have to pay.  I don’t. Seeking ways of illegal entry, but fail.  Pick up an Escher leaflet instead.  Looking for a bench to sit and look at the hording.  No benches.  Distracted by another Black Peter outside the Museum Shop.   Ask a woman with long hair and long eyelashes about Black Peter.  It is Schwarz Pete,  Dutch Santa’s helpers are all black people from Africa.  Schwarz Pete hands out presents to children on 5th December.  Feeling distinctly uncomfortable with this celebration using, to my British eye,  a racist effigy.  Lady insists Schwarz Pete is good, not bad.  Feel she might be glossing over something.  Need to ask more people.  I pass Bansky Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Been walking for half an hour now in one direction.  Fear I am a bit lost.  No signs or maps.  Flats to rent.  Residential area.  No benches.  Might be going back in the same direction I came, but adamant not to exactly re-trace steps.  Canals.  Bamboo.  Looking for that fountain.

A man with a limp walks by with his girlfriend and I overhear him saying I am a bit scared and lost.  Massive déjà vu.  Nearly get hit by a car – looking the wrong direction as I cross the road.  Smile at woman holding her baby.

This would be ultimately more fun with more than one person.

At last I see Escher again at the far end of an avenue of trees.  Not sticking around – I think he got me lost because I didn’t go in and see his crazy staircases.

I follow the train tracks until my feet ache and happen upon the chairs with blankets again.   Still no people.  I wrap myself in two big black blankets.  Another beer.  Chips.  Mayonnaise.  Be rude not to.  I write Follow The nuns on leaflets for The Mauritshuis.  Ask the Dutch waiter who Schwarz Pete was he said he deliversh giftsh for the little childrensh.  Denied any darkside..perhaps I am asking the wrong people.

Pigeon lands on the table and takes a chip.  Warme Choco Met Slagroom.

ENDS