A November Trip to Malta

Malta Holiday Diary

Sunday 20th November, 2022. Late.

Arrived in Malta. The Airbnb is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Staying in Valletta, which is pedestrianised, so parked in multistorey car park and wheeled our suitcases through the city. Rain was forecast but never appeared, so felt very thankful.

Dumped bags in the apartment and went to McDonald’s. Sometimes, when you’re very tired, you just want something very easy/familiar. It hit the spot. We were the only people, including the staff, who were over twenty!

The apartment is weird. It’s all on one level except for the bedroom, which is reached via a steep spiral staircase. The bedroom contains a bed—nothing else. We left our bags in the sitting room, changed in the kitchen. Very odd.

Monday 21st November.

We woke early and went for a run. (Well, ONE of us woke early, and then had a hard job waking the other—but we did both go for a run.) The apartment looks better in daylight. It’s right in the centre of Valletta, and has two balconies that overlook the city. The bedroom, whilst odd, is also wonderfully light and has a view of the sea. Husband carried up a small set of shelves, so I can put a few things up there.

We had breakfast in Eddie’s Café in Republic Square. They didn’t serve croissants, so I tried a Maltese pastry—which was flakey pastry (quite greasy) filled with cheese. I wasn’t a fan. Husband had Eggs Benedict, which was much nicer, so I ate some of that.

It then basically poured with rain all day. The bedroom has a tin roof, so I read an Ethics book while the rain rattled above me. The sea turned from blue to grey and then disappeared from view. We walked to a little Italian restaurant for dinner: Papannis. Great food and wine, with friendly service. Returned to the apartment feeling happy.

Tuesday 22nd November

Not raining. Brilliant! We ran through the Victoria Arch, along the coast, then up the hill to the apartment (one of us walked up the hill). Showered, then had coffee and croissant at Caffé Cordina in Republic Square. Perfect.

We can see a big dome from the apartment, so we walked there (it’s a big church, rebuilt after the war. A LOT of Malta needed to be rebuilt after the war.) We found our way down to Boat Street, and had a lovely walk next to the coast. As we passed the imposing city wall, we could see where the bricks had been cut from the rock. When the knights arrived in Malta, they must have cut the rocks into bricks (thus lowering the base) and built the wall right there (hence not needing to transport the bricks very far). Clever. The wall is now weathered, but I still wouldn’t fancy having to climb it to attack the fort.

The weather was windy (needed my woolly hat) but sunny. When we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm—tee-shirt weather—but mostly we needed a jumper and coat. This was unexpected, I had assumed Malta would be warmer in November.

Returned to apartment and I read more of my Ethics book (quite heavy-going). Fell asleep while reading, and woke up to feel the bed shaking—thought it was Husband trying to wake me—realised it was an earthquake! It didn’t last very long, but there was quite a lot of movement. I checked Twitter (which is always the fastest way to confirm an earthquake I have learned). The earthquake was measured at 4.4.

Dinner at Papannis again. Lovely.

Wednesday 23rd November

Lots of wind and rain (and church bells) during the night, so woke up tired. It was grey and windy, but not actually raining, so we went for a run. I love running next to the sea, there’s something that makes me feel like a child again.

Breakfast at Caffe Cordina again. Today the pigeons were annoying. They’re very aggressive, and as soon as they see food they try to fly onto the table. If people leave uneaten food when they leave, the table is instantly swarmed with pigeons. Not very hygienic. I don’t like city pigeons much (they’re like rats).

Went back to apartment and I tried to read more of the Ethics book. Managed to not fall asleep. Gave up, and we went for a walk along the south eastern coast. We could see warships and a cruise ship and more of Malta across the inlet. Malta is distinctive, with its cities of golden stone and steep walls rising up from the coast, and so many churches—domes and steeples in every direction. Which means lots of bells. The bells near the apartment were fairly random in when they rang, and some of them rang throughout the night.

Dinner at Papannis again—we will have to eat somewhere else tomorrow as they shut on Thursdays.

I will tell you more about our trip in my next blog. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

(You can read it for free if you have a kindle.)https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?crid=36HORPFE9BX3D&keywords=sarcastic+mother%27s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson&qid=1669889589&sprefix=sarcastic+mother+s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C52&sr=8-1

What is Fascism? And Are You A Fascist?

What is Fascism? And Are You A Fascist?

We studied the rise of fascism in our Ethics class, and it was fascinating and slightly scary. As we learnt about the typical components of fascism, I could see similar traits in society today—things that I consider to be new and modern, are key traits of fascism, and can be seen through history. I will explain what fascism is. You can ask yourself whether you would be considered a fascist.

Some key historical figures were fascists, and their legacy was not a good one: Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely. Therefore today, only the most extreme groups want the label ‘fascist.’ But if we examine what fascism is and does, you will see trends in politics today, and this is worrying. We should notice the signs, and ask where it might lead and whether we want to go there. Perhaps if people had seen fascism in Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely, their grip would have been loosened before it grew too strong.

Fascism grows when there is hardship: a country in an economic slump, a group of people that feels a loss of status, a society recovering from an unexpected hardship. From these troubles, a strong leader can emerge and people want to follow, they want to believe that there is a simple cause to their problem and a simple answer. They want to belong to something. Fascism always seems to have a charismatic leader, someone who leads from the front and demands loyalty. The focus of the ideology tends to be on the leader. When the current leader goes, the group tends to disintegrate.

Jason Stanley (author of How Fascism Works) has defined fascism using some key points. They’re useful, so I will list them below and you can decide which ones you can see in society today. Just remember, a fascist does not have to be an angry little man with a funny moustache—the new face of fascism strives to be polite and acceptable.

  1. A Great Mythical Past. A fascist leader will talk about how things used to be better. ‘In the 1970s, we had true family values.’ ‘We used to be able to govern the country properly.’ They ignore all the problems that were actually in the past, and focus on a mythical ideal, longing to return to that era.
  2. Propaganda. A fascist leader will promote their own message and say that any alternative view is a lie. Apparently, Hitler and Mussolini both did this, saying that things reported in newspapers were untrue, telling the population that their opponents were liars. The idea of accusing the media of ‘fake news’ goes way back in time. (Scary, huh?)
  3. Anti-Intellectualism. Fascist leaders appeal to people with limited education, the speeches are not necessarily clever (because truth doesn’t matter) and they appeal directly to emotions. They therefore dislike and try to discredit academics (because they will offer a counter view, or question the authenticity of the claims being made). Education is therefore sneered at, experts are shunned, people are told to ‘think for themselves’ which really means, ‘don’t question what I am telling you and don’t listen to someone who might have studied this issue.’ (I think we should be wary of people who tell us ‘the experts don’t know what they’re talking about.’ In my experience the ‘experts’ usually know more than the rest of us!)
  4. Unreality. This is another interesting one—apparently fascist leaders tend to love conspiracy theories. They always have an enemy who is trying to sabotage them, talk of subterfuge is encouraged, they want people to be paranoid.
  5. Hierarchy. Fascist leaders always have a dominant group of loyal followers, those who are ‘true to the leader.’ Anyone who questions the general message is eyed with suspicion, and removed from the ‘inner group.’ As stated earlier, everything focusses on the leader.
  6. Victimhood. Fascist groups always state that they are the victims of another group—they have been oppressed, or made poor, or cheated—and this has been caused by a definable ‘other.’ (Hitler blamed the Jews, gay people and Roma, but other groups held to blame over the years have been black people, feminists, immigrants. I wonder whether in the near future, ‘white males’ will be added to the list—people who can be blamed for whatever has gone wrong.)
  7. Law and Order. Fascists declare that they want a return to law and order, and the group against them are the criminals. The ‘other’ people are the ones to blame for crime, for stealing, for rape, for drugs, for violence.
  8. Anti-Decadence. Fascists claim that the moral fibre of society is under threat (blaming the ‘other’ group). Only they, and their followers, have good morals; the rest of civilisation belong in Sodom and Gomorrah.
  9. Work Ethic. Fascists claim that the ‘other’ group are lazy, mere parasites of society. Fascists claim they are hard-working, deserving of better. (Hence the ‘Work will make you free’ motto above the gate at Auschwitz.)
  10. Nationalism. Fascists promote great nationalism, and shun other nations. They strive to make their country ‘great again’ and nothing else matters. They will wave the flag, wear a uniform, and march. This gives a great sense of belonging to the followers of fascism, they feel part of something, a renewed sense of pride and purpose.

There are variations of the definition of fascism, but I have listed the key ones that seem to arise regularly. We need to be wise, to notice the signs and not be fooled by a great speech or a charismatic leader. Sometimes the truth is mundane and unpopular, but it’s still the truth. As I said in my previous blog, if we view people of the past as more evil than us, if we refuse to acknowledge some of the same elements in society today (in us!) then we are doomed to make the same mistakes.
Thanks for reading. Be wise.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

In my next blog, I will tell you about my trip to Malta (a slightly sunnier topic!)

My novel Counting Stars looks at a future world where politics have gone wrong. It makes an interesting Christmas gift.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2YPNXFCK3U6SV&keywords=counting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419853&sprefix=ounting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

Who is Evil? Visiting the ‘Seeing Auschwitz’ Exhibition

Warning: Some horrible images.

Seeing Auschwitz

I usually ignore the adverts on social media, but when Seeing Auschwitz popped up, I was interested. Advertised as a exhibition of photographs from the concentration camp, it stated that it encouraged visitors to look not simply at the photographs, but also beyond them, to the motivations of the photographer.

Since we visited Auschwitz (see previous blog: https://anneethompson.com/2019/06/11/visiting-auschwitz/) there has been something bothering me. Obviously atrocious things happened, people were treated worse than animals and it never should have happened. But why did it happen? When I look at photos of the guards, I do not see evil people—I see ordinary people who somehow changed so that they did evil things. I feel that unless we understand what drove ordinary, normal, people like you and me, citizens to become Nazi guards, we will not be able to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I arranged to meet a friend and went to the Seeing Auschwitz exhibition in Old Brompton Road, London. The exhibition was easy to find, and there were seats inside where you can wait (and a Nero opposite if you need coffee!) We had our tickets checked at the reception desk, and were offered free audio guides. If you take headphones, you can use the QR code and listen on your own phone. The audio tour matched numbers on the display, and you moved to the next one manually, which meant you could go at your own speed. The audio had music, to create mood, but it wasn’t overly melodramatic and most of the commentary was factual.

A variety of people were at the exhibition. Mostly women, though there were different age-groups, including a school class of teenagers with back-packs. It was busy, but not too crowded, so it was easy to see the displays. (I think they limit the numbers, so if you don’t buy tickets online, you might have to wait before being able to enter.)

The exhibition was a selection of photographs (I recognised several from the museum at Auschwitz). Some were huge, life-sized people drawing you into the scene. Some were smaller, and you needed to stand close to peer into the faces. They showed the structure of Auschwitz, how the camps functioned, the population of prisoners from around Europe. The audio guide also asked you to consider the purpose of the photographer, to see that the victims were treated as specimens, that there were no photographs of killing or disorder—everything was very regulated. This contrasted with images smuggled out by the prisoners, which showed cruelty, and mass death, and acts of rebellion that were quickly exterminated.

One section showed the guards relaxing on a day out. Their occupations were listed; an accountant, a doctor, a sweets manufacturer. But there was nothing to indicate what had changed them from these very mundane characters to heartless guards. Nothing helped me to understand why and how this happened. I find this troubling. If we look at images of the guards and we tell ourselves they were evil people performing abominable acts in the past, then we remove it from ourselves. If we cannot relate to the perpetrators, we will not guard against falling into the same trap. I expect some guards were evil, the role would appeal to sadists. But I think many were just ordinary people. There were photographs of the death marches—when the camps were emptied towards the end of the war and the prisoners marched for miles, many of them dying. The photos were taken from houses as the prisoners passed—by ordinary people—who had done nothing to stop the atrocities. Why? How was society gradually infiltrated so that gays and Jews and Roma were believed to be less than human, vermin, something dirty. What changed people like us, into people that allowed the holocaust to happen?

I still don’t know the answer, though it links with something we discussed at college this week. We were looking at the rise of Fascism, and the point was made that societies today that are defined as ‘fascist’ do not use that label themselves—because no one wants to be likened to Hitler or Mussolini. But this is my point. If we don’t liken ourselves to people who did terrible things, if we decide they were all somehow different, a nation of evil people, ‘other people,’ then it could happen again. I believe we need to start asking questions, trying to learn how it happened, enabling us to guard against the same tragedy.

If you want to visit Seeing Auschwitz you can buy tickets online until the 18th December. If you can’t go to an actual camp, then it’s a good exhibition to visit.

Thanks for reading. In my next blog, I will tell you about the Fascism lecture, and the ten points that define fascism—I was a bit shocked by how many I recognise in society today.

Have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

I explored the idea of what our future might look like in Counting Stars. An exciting novel, it was great fun to write. I asked a scientist, and economist, and a lawyer: ‘What might change in the near future? Tell me what is possible, even if it’s not probable.’ I wove their ideas into a story about a family, because teenagers will be the same whatever the world looks like.

Available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book. Another great Christmas gift idea!

If you want to buy a copy, the link is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2PDCW3KBUU1BG&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668695965&sprefix=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thimpson%2Caps%2C73&sr=8-1

Egyptian Airport Security Guards; Are They Honest?

Security Scam!

Although I found the people in Egypt to be mainly friendly and helpful, there was a sad exception: the border guards.

When you leave Egypt via Cairo airport, you encounter a mix of high security and total chaos. Before you can check-in at the airline desk, you need to put all your luggage through a security gate. There’s a sign telling you to separate liquids, computers, etc like normal security checks—but there are no trays, and nowhere to put them. There are men, scurrying to help people lift their bags (for a fee) and we fought to retain control of our bags. Everyone ignores the sign and puts all their cases through the scanner. We did the same, and walked through the metal detector. Everyone is then hand searched. I also had my hand-luggage bag opened. The guard said he could see something unexpected, and opened my bag. Two guards rummaged through it, while it was on the belt, with other passengers pushing past, trying to retrieve their bags. It felt very insecure, and I worried that they might put something into my bag. They mainly investigated the books I was carrying, flicking through them and checking the titles. One was a text book, and quite thick, so I wondered whether the density had worried them. They pushed my bag, and a variety of scattered possessions towards me, and moved to the next passenger.

I reloaded my bag, collected the rest of my luggage, and we continued to the check-in desk. First hurdle crossed.

The check-in desk was efficient, though there were still men trying to give unwanted help, and we were soon heading to the lounge. There was another security check. We went through passport control, and moved to the luggage check. Again there was a sign telling us to remove liquids and computers, and shoes and belts and watches, etc. This time there were trays (just two, so it was slow). We obeyed the sign, passed through the scanners, were hand-checked by a guard, moved to collect our luggage. I arrived as my bag was passing through the X-ray machine, and one of the guards pointed to the screen, indicating a vase that I had in my bag. This was a terracotta pot, bought on the street for 75p, and rather lovely. We had bought two, and put one in the suitcase and the other in hand-luggage. They had spotted it in my bag.

I thought that perhaps they were checking I wasn’t stealing something valuable; they opened my bag (again, on the belt, while other passengers tried to reach their bags). The guard lifted my pot, turning it in his hand as he examined it. He then put it under the table, and waved me on.

I asked for my vase, but was told: “Not allowed.”

I refused to move, and asked why. “Not allowed,” he repeated.

I asked why. He shrugged, and told me it was too heavy, and not allowed.

I went back to the woman who had searched me, and politely, in my best (not very good) Arabic, I asked her to help me. I told her I wanted my vase.

She spoke to the guard, then told me it wasn’t allowed because I could use it as a weapon, it was very heavy.

This was clearly rubbish. All around were duty-free shops, selling a variety of bottles of alcohol, all much heavier than my vase and ideal for use as a cosh if a passenger was so inclined.

Another passenger leaned over, and told me that they had also confiscated some giant marbles from his bag. The guard was currently playing with them, weaving the ceramic balls through his fingers; hard to imagine on what grounds they were a security risk.

But what could I do? I told the female guard (who looked more sympathetic) that I wanted it, but she simply shook her head. I asked for a receipt, but they shrugged and moved away. I asked if I could photograph it, and they agreed.

My lovely vase, abandoned at the airport. Not exactly a dangerous weapon!

I considered offering a tip—is that how things work here? But I have heard stories of things like that going wrong, and I didn’t want to be arrested for trying to bribe an official. I had no option but to leave it there. What a shame.

It’s also a learning point. We saw many over-priced goods in tourist shops, and the vase could have cost me several hundred pounds, the outcome would have been the same. When I next visit, I will put valuables in my suitcase. If the guard planned to keep or sell the vase, he will be disappointed. It really did cost about 75p (so cheap, we didn’t even try to haggle). I loved it, because the rough terracotta and simply beauty and incredible price would be a lovely reminder of Egypt—with its roughness and beauty and unexpectedness. Instead, I will remember the guards, and the frustration of confronting rogue officials, when there is nothing that can be done but comply.

Luckily, we had two vases. The second made it home intact, and now sits in the window—a happy reminder of Egypt, but with a sting in the tail.

The airport security is something that Egypt really does need to sort out. The hassle begins as soon as you arrive in the country, as drivers are allowed to enter the airport to meet guests before security checks, and keeping control of bags can be a struggle. The chaos on leaving was enough to make me think twice before I return. In Cairo there are many empty hotel rooms, and reading stories online, I realise that mine is not an isolated case. If people feel cheated, their possessions stolen, then they won’t want to visit Egypt. Tourism will plummet, and that is a shame. Egypt is an amazing place, with wonderful people. The history of our world can be found there, it’s somewhere that everyone should long to visit — but it needs to be safe.

Thanks for reading. Hope that only nice things happen to you today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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If you enjoy travel blogs, you should read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.

If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary/dp/1790374235/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3CNCN6G2O4XUE&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419480&sprefix=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C69&sr=8-1

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Eight.

Last Day in Cairo

Blog Eight

It was our last day in Cairo, and we weren’t sure what to do. Neither of us especially like monuments, and we felt we had seen everything we wanted to. I suggested that we had a short drive, out of the city, to the hills we could see in the distance. There was a church, so we looked on Google maps, found a location that looked interesting, and booked a driver. It turned out to be one of our best excursions.

The church we were aiming for was called St. Simon the Tanner (or ‘the cave church’). On the way we drove through the Zabbaleen district, and this was amazing.

The Zabbaleen are the people who collect and sort out all the rubbish from the city; 80% is recycled. As we drove up the steep narrow street through the Zabbaleen district, we saw the people working. There were lorries and trucks and hand-pulled carts arriving with rubbish loaded high, stacked in huge sacks. The road was slow, often jammed while a lorry unloaded, tuktuks and cars edging round them. The rubbish was everywhere—carried on heads, balanced on vehicles, stacked on the roofs of the houses. Flies and smells are part of life here. The rubbish is then sorted—sacks neatly folded, plastics tied together—everything made tidy ready for sale to the recycling companies.

We passed several small shops and roadside stalls. One woman was selling packets of flatbread, and had a box of fluffy yellow chicks. I guess that chickens eat the food waste too. I have read that the Zabbaleen keep pigs, feed them on the organic waste, and sell the pork to tourist hotels. But we didn’t see any, and I have also read that during the swine flu epidemic—even though there were no cases in Cairo—all the pigs had to be culled. So I don’t know whether they are still there or not. I only saw the chicks, and some cows sleeping in a room under a house. (But I don’t think cows eat anything but vegetables.)

The people looked busy, and whilst they were clearly not rich, neither did they look desperately poor. They were clean, and well-nourished, it wasn’t a sad place, it was just busy. These people provide a vastly important service to the city, and I hope they are valued.

We drove through a barrier, and everything changed. The bustle of the streets became a smooth wide road, and instead of rubbish-laden trucks inching past each other, there were coaches of school children. We had arrived at the church complex.

The church of St. Simon the Tanner is relatively modern, with picnic areas and washrooms and signs. We followed the pathway down, under the wall, to an auditorium built into a huge cave. It was pretty, decorated with carved scenes from Bible stories, and the light limestone gave it all an airy feel. It seats 17,000 people—I expect an outdoor church is rather nice to attend. Unfortunately, alongside the Bible stories are several myths and claimed miracles; religion and superstition seem to have got muddled together.

Pretty place though.

On the way home, we stopped at the Citadel. I’m not too keen on monuments, and I much preferred the real-life-chaos of the Zabbaleen district, though the main mosque was spectacular. (And as I have said before, I think the design of mosques would be more likely to point you towards God and prayer than the highly ornate churches.)

It was a good last day in Cairo, and we returned to our room to pack, then sat on the balcony and watched the mesmerising traffic below. I have loved Egypt. One day, I hope to return. Thanks for sharing my trip.

I hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Cairo, Egypt. Blog Seven.

Memphis and the Red Pyramid

We wanted to visit an agricultural area, and the Red Pyramid because it looked as if it was in the desert rather than sandwiched between cities. Husband negotiated a car without a guide, because we wanted to plan our own route. This took some nifty negotiation, but he managed it.

When the car arrived, there was further negotiation about the route. The driver (who had 42 years experience as a tour guide—a sentence I heard a few times that day!) was insistent that it was much better to drive to the Saqqara area of pyramids, and look at those first. Then, if we wanted he could drive us to the Red Pyramid, and after that if we still had energy we could drive to Memphis (which had a small museum).

The driver spoke only to Husband during this negotiation, which I was very happy with. Male dominance is a thing in Egypt, but to be honest it rather suits me. The men are comfortable in their superiority and therefore only address other men. I don’t much like being spoken to by random men in the street, so was happy for all the touts to confront Husband. The women have a sort of secret understanding between themselves, so as I made eye-contact with women, they would smile, and nod, and I felt great unity with them. Mostly, I liked it. Being underestimated is usually a good thing I find.

Husband politely (because everything is polite in Egypt) insisted that we would first visit Memphis. We knew that Google maps showed this as an agricultural area, so we chose a small museum within Memphis as our destination. I suspect the driver had a planned route, that would take us to various places on the way where we could spend money and he would receive a percentage, and we rather ruined that. I didn’t feel guilty.

The museum at Mit Rahina was wonderful—my favourite museum so far (and Egypt has done very well with having non-pompous museums). The drive there was exactly what we hoped, and we drove beside a canal from the Nile, on a small road passing date palms, and sugar beet, and buffalo and goats. They were digging the silt from the river, and putting on the fields to fertilise them. We passed mosques and villages, hump-backed cows led by a man on a donkey, a camel under a load of branches, children playing, white egrets perched in trees above the water.

The museum itself was a large outside area, with traders selling crafts along the edge, and various ancient artifacts arranged in the middle. I had the impression that these things—the leg from a statue, a plaque with hieroglyphics—had been accidently dug up by builders, who simply drove their diggers to the museum and dumped their finds on the ground. Instead of being in glass cases, things were propped up against trees. Fabulous. We saw a big statue of RamsesII and an alabaster sphinx (smaller than the one in Giza, but in better condition).

The Red Pyramid is also worth visiting. There were very few tourists (only two other groups when we were there) and the pyramid is plonked in the desert, where it should be. The desert was packed hard sand and bits of crumbling stone from the pyramid. We were able to walk round in silence, while the other tourists were talked at by their guides (Husband joined in at one point, and told some Americans how old the pyramids are—I pretended I didn’t know him!)

We drove further across the desert to the Bent Pyramid (there’s a clue in the name). It was windy and there were lots of flies, but it was still brilliant. Behind the pyramid was the remains of a temple, made with ancient bricks. The bricks were made with mud and straw—just like the bricks described in the Bible story of the Exodus (when Pharoah got cross with Moses and told him they couldn’t have straw). How marvellous to actually see them (though I think these would be older than Exodus).

The pyramids and Sphynx in Giza are definitely worth visiting if you visit Cairo, but I really recommend that you go slightly further and see the Red Pyramid. They give a much better sense of history because they feel less ‘commercial.’ There are also no touts there, so you don’t need a guide.

Whatever you do today, I hope it’s good. Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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I will leave you with some more sights as we drove through the countryside.

If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!) 

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Six

The Coptic District

We decided to visit the Coptic district, which is the oldest part of Cairo. The car dropped us near the ancient city wall, and we followed the crowds, walking along the street to where there were steps going down, and signs directing us to various places. There was no big sign saying This way to the Coptic district so we were a little unsure where to go—usually we avoid underground passages in unfamiliar cities—but we walked down the steps.

The hidden entrance to the Coptic District of Cairo.

There was a short tunnel, under the old city wall, and then we were in a narrow lane, the walls lined with books for sale. It was very unexpected! Tour groups and local people all seemed to be walking in the same direction, so we followed the crowd, round a corner, to a junction with signs on walls and archways in the wall. It was too busy to check our map, but I remembered we planned to see the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus so we followed the sign for that. It all felt rather disorientating to be honest, and I was disappointed because I knew there were several places I hoped to visit but I was beginning to think it would be too difficult to find them.

The church was built in the 11th century, in honour of Sergus and Baccus, a couple of Roman soldiers who were martyred for being Christians. I had read that under the church is a cave, where it is believed Mary and Joseph lived when they ran to Egypt with baby Jesus, to escape King Herod. Several places in Egypt claim to have been visited by the holy family during their time here, which I guess makes for good tourism, but it’s easy to mock—and who knows? They must have lived somewhere and maybe afterwards they told people, and it was remembered.

We found a sign to the cave, and went down some steps, to the area below the church. Much of the Coptic area has stuff below it, because it was built on top of a Roman city. We were in a long line of tourists visiting the cave, so there was no great atmosphere to it, and it was hard to imagine how it might have been, with a young couple and a baby sheltering there.

The church itself was very glitzy, with lots of icons, gilt and tourists. Places like that don’t inspire me to pray, I find it hard to discover God under all the religion, but I guess people are different. To be honest, I found the mosques, with their ornate outsides and big empty interiors to be much better at inducing thoughts of God and prayer. I feel there must be a balance, something between the plain ugliness of a Baptist church and the distracting gloss of a high church. Somewhere special, but that doesn’t distract away from God.

Anyway, next we went to the Coptic Museum (because the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which I really wanted to see, was closed for renovations). We wandered into a private area by mistake, and were stopped by a friendly smiling man who turned out to be head of security. People in Egypt were always friendly. After being pointed in the right direction, we went to see the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (which are the source for Gnosticism—the belief that spirit is entirely separate to anything physical, and that Jesus was spirit, not physical). They also have the oldest surviving copy of the Psalms of David, but that was being restored so we couldn’t see it. We did see some very cool examples of early letters, written on pottery, in ancient Greek. (The museum also has very clean public toilets, if you’re interested.)

Finally, we visited the Hanging Church or Al Kineesa Al Mu’allaqa. It has a barrel-shaped ceiling, and white pillars that represent the 12 disciples, with a black one for Judas. Again, there were lots of icons, and gilt, and red bricks, and tourists. Part of the floor was glass, so you could peer down at the Roman towers below. (Which actually makes it less of a ‘hanging’ church and more of a ‘suspended’ one.)

We walked back to the hotel along busy roads. It was more of a slog than yesterday, and I found the constant honking of horns, the music of Cairo, to be very draining. We saw more poor people begging this time, including a young boy. I am uneasy refusing children, but I had no food to give him and money would possibly end up with the wrong person—so I told him no, and then felt guilty for the rest of the holiday and carried packets of Hulahoops everywhere in the hope I would see him again (but I never did).

At one point the road was very crowded with men, all waiting outside the Kuwait embassy. They queue there to apply for visas so they can go to work in Kuwait. It rained, quite heavily at one point, which I think is very rare here. Fingers up noses and men peeing behind parked cars seem to be a thing here. But mostly, I am interested by how friendly everyone is, how children smile and say hello, and people wave at us from buses, and greet us when we pass.

Later, there was a thunderstorm, and more rain. We watched from the balcony as big puddles formed on the roads. An unusual sight in Cairo. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!)

What I Think About Dying

In England, it is Remembrance Sunday, when the churches are full of people wearing poppies and singing rousing hymns about young men who died protecting their country. It’s one of the few occasions when we think about death, the apparent waste of a young life, someone ‘giving their today for the sake of our tomorrows.’ Death of a young person always seems like a waste, doesn’t it? Unfulfilled potential.

Actually, I think death of other people is always horrible. Whatever words people say, trying to be kind, about the person ‘living on in our hearts’ is mostly not true. They are gone, and we miss them. Sometimes we miss them for the rest of our lives.

But I don’t want to talk about that, I want to talk for a little while about our death—yours and mine. Because whatever else we might know about life, we can be sure that one day, it will be our turn. When I had my brain tumour, I thought a lot about death. Everyone with a brain tumour knows that death is real, and it might not be very far away. Some people choose to push the thought away, to ‘keep being positive,’ but I’ve never been one for avoiding difficult issues, so I thought about it, and prayed about it, and came to some conclusions. I share them with you now because one day, you will die, and maybe these thoughts will help you when the time is near. Maybe someone needs to hear them today.

For me, death is intrinsically linked to God, so even if you don’t believe in anything, bear with me.

Firstly, I do not believe that death was some ghastly mistaken afterthought. Nor do I believe that it happened because mankind sinned. If you read the story in Genesis, about the creation of humans and what their purpose was, then we can see, right at the start, there was a ‘tree of life.’ Why do we need a tree of life if there was never intended to be any dying? No, it was all part of the plan. We were created with an expiry date! I find that comforting. Death, when it comes, is not due to anything bad, something humans caused; it was always part of the plan.

Therefore, when it’s time for dying, I absolutely believe that God has it sorted. And if God has it sorted, it will be better than we can imagine—which is why it’s also scary—because it is beyond our imagination. Anything we can’t imagine happening is scary. I suspect that being born was scary, but we don’t remember that far back. The thing is, I think it is meant to be scary, because we are not supposed to be dead, not yet. If we all went around wanting to be dead, then imagine the mess! It would be very untidy. Being alive, wanting to be alive, means that we do not want to be dead. Which is how things are meant to be.

I also believe, absolutely, that when it is time for me to die, God will make me ready. But not beforehand. If a child is given a train ticket to hold at the start of the journey, they will probably lose it, so a good parent gives them the ticket at the end, just before they need it. God is a good parent, so we will be ready to die when we need to be, and not before. Whenever I talk to people with terminal illness, and they tell me they are scared of dying, I tell them that they probably won’t die today. When it’s time, maybe not until the actual minute, God will make us ready. And ‘dying’ isn’t really a thing. The people who I have been close to have all been living even if living more slowly, right up until they died. Their bodies may have been broken, but they never stopped being themselves and having opinions and emotions. Until you are dead, you are alive.

Personally, I believe that when it’s time, Jesus will collect me, because that’s what he said he would do. We don’t die alone, even if no other person is close. Dying is about God, and souls, and probably where we physically are doesn’t matter much (though I hope to have sight of the sky and something beautiful). We tend to think of Heaven as ‘up there’ and far away. But I think that Heaven is near, all around us, through a veil that’s very thin, but we don’t see it. Heaven is a different dimension, not a place far away. I think passing through that veil will be very easy, and then we will rest, until it’s time for a new earth, and a new body (and I’m hoping the new body has a better singing voice than the current one!) But that’s all for later, not something worth thinking about really.

My own view is that when Jesus died, he paid the price for everyone, for all time, and that no one needs to be scared about dying. We can all trust God on this one. Other people disagree, so you must make up your own mind—but looking to God for answers is definitely a good start.

So that’s it: What I think about dying. Not very complicated, and not scary, not if you trust God.

But I hope you won’t die today and you will enjoy every day that you are alive. Make the most of it! Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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One of my novels, Invisible Jane, includes the death of a child. Invisible Jane is a lighthearted love story, but includes a description of explaining to a child about death.
Available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book:


An account of having a brain tumour (which will only be of interest to fellow sufferers or their family) is in: How to Have a Brain Tumour. You can read it for free if you have a Kindle. Also available as a paperback.

Remembrance Day Poem – As Life Goes On

Now, and Then

IKEA homeware packed in boxes,
Heaps of stuff littering the hall, then squashed into the back of the car.
Last hugs, cheery goodbyes, the drive to uni.
Snippets of home, spread around the strange smelling room,
The lanky excited-scared almost-man says goodbye,
And the mother remembers.
She remembers the feel of the bowling ball weight on her hip when she carried him,
The feel of his tiny hands on her cheeks when he offered snotty kisses,
The snuffle of breath as he slept against her shoulder,
She remembers the child as she looks at the man.
As she wishes him well, holds back tears until she has driven away.

Billycans and clothes stuffed in kit-bag,
A train to London packed up tight, then hurry to find the right squad.
Last hugs, tearful goodbyes, a band plays on.
Heaving the bag, look around for friends joining too,
The lanky excited-scared almost-man says goodbye,
And the mother remembers.
She remembers the feel of the bowling ball weight on her hip when she carried him,
The feel of his tiny hands on her cheeks when he offered snotty kisses,
The snuffle of breath as he slept against her shoulder,
She remembers the child as she looks at the man.
As she wishes him well, holds back tears until he has joined his unit.

The posts on Facebook show new friends and nightclubs,
Texts assure his food is fine, his studies easy.
He doesn’t discuss the drunken evenings, the sleepless nights, the fear of loneliness.
But his mother knows, she reads it in unsaid words and tired-eyed photos.
And she waits. As life goes on.

There are no letters and the News shows little,
Bold battles move to the Front, the headlines proclaim.
They do not discuss the fallen comrades, the sleepless nights, the fear of injury.
But his mother knows, she reads it in unsaid words and tired-eyed photos.
And she waits. As life goes on.

The war ends. The boy returns home.
Yet, not a boy, become a man.
A man who will not speak of horrors,
Will not discuss the stench of death,
The sight of his friends, falling.
The nights when he still hears the screams, still fears the dark.
But his mother knows, she reads it in sunken cheeks and, eyes so weary.
And she waits. As time goes on.

The term ends. The boy returns home.
Yes, still a boy, almost a man.
A boy who chats and loves to amuse,
Loves to debate the point of life,
Who meets all his friends, laughing.
The nights when they drink, talk at length, sort their beliefs.
And his mother knows, he is safe and content with life, has a future.
And she waits. As time goes on.

by Anne E. Thompson

Anne E. Thompson
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