Dale Dyke Reservoir

The weather was grey but dry, so we decided to walk up to Dale Dyke Reservoir. We followed muddy footpaths around Agden Reservoir (this area has a LOT of reservoirs—it’s a good place for water birds). The track rose over a grassy hill, with sheep begrudgingly moving out of our path, and then we saw it—first the steps of rushing water from the overflow channel, and then the reservoir itself, glinting under the grey sky, stretching across the valley.

As we drew near, we saw a strange stone, like a mini gravestone, marked with CLOB, and I wondered whether it was the grave for a dog with a strange name. But then I read the board next to the path, and it took on a new significance. Dale Dyke Reservoir was built to replace another, larger reservoir—which in 1864 burst through the dam, rushed into the valley below, swelled the rivers to Sheffield and killed hundreds of people. We read the story.

Accounts of the incident vary slightly, but it seems that on 11th March, 1864, after several days of stormy rain, a local man, William Horsfield, crossed the dam on his way home from work, and noticed a crack. It was fairly small, but big enough for him to notice, and the dam was new—only recently finished. I wonder what he thought at that point. Did he have a sense of fear, knowing the reservoir was new, it hadn’t been there for years, it wasn’t yet something familiar, something he assumed was permanent. Was he frightened, or merely interested? Did he assume all would be okay? Maybe not, in an age when bad things happened more often, perhaps he was instantly concerned.

One of the dam builders, Mr. Fountain, was still in the area, so William told him, and they both examined the crack. Mr. Fountain thought it was probably nothing to worry about, but just to be cautious, he sent for the main engineer, Mr, Gunson, who lived in Sheffield. (To be accurate, he sent his son—sons have always been useful.)

By the time Mr. Gunson arrived (Sheffield is about 8 miles away, and I am guessing they travelled by horseback) the crack was bigger. Water was beginning to spill over the embankment.

Suddenly, a huge gap opened—30 feet wide—and the water began to gush into the valley. At this point, there was nothing anyone could do to prevent tragedy. The men scrambled to safety as the dam gave way, and 700 million gallons of water swept towards Sheffield. There was no time to warn anyone, no telephones to contact people, nothing they could do but watch in horror.

The water raced along the valley, swelling the rivers Loxley and Don. The River Don ran through Sheffield, and an area called The Wicker was badly flooded. The bridges were choked with fallen trees, destroyed mill wheels, carts and debris. People stood on bridges to watch, unable to stop the flow, helpless. About 250 people were killed.

After walking to the reservoir—which looked placid and innocent when we were there, we decided to visit Sheffield. Great-Grandpa Todd was a vicar in a church there, about a hundred years ago, and we were interested to see his church. It just so happened, that his church was in Wicker, next to the river Don, right where the flood water had been worst. We saw the church, and the river, and on the opposite bank, there is a memorial to those who lost their lives. Some of them are unnamed, just ‘servant, male, aged 27’, or ‘infant, 2 days old’. Some names were of people later found alive. Some people died later of their injuries.

It’s thought to be one of the worst man-made disasters in the UK. It reminded me of Aberfan, the mining town where the slag-heap slid over the school and killed the town’s children in 1966. Except I had never heard of the Dale Dyke disaster—perhaps because it was so much earlier. But the local people have not forgotten. In 2014, on the 150th anniversary, they commemorated the occasion. There were talks by historians and civil engineers, and the local brewery produced a beer named ‘Dam It,’ and they produced a CD of ‘flood songs.’

It is difficult to understand who was to blame for the disaster. Locals blamed the Sheffield Waterworks Company, who commissioned the dam in an attempt to provide clean water to the city. They were not held accountable at the later inquiry. Nor was Mr. Leather, their engineer (though interestingly, his uncle George Leather was the engineer for another reservoir that collapsed, near Leeds, killing 81 people). Maybe the reservoir was too large for the engineering of the times. Maybe (as claimed by the company) there had been unexpected earth movements (though I would’ve thought that their engineers/geologists should have checked for earth stability before building it—but maybe these things couldn’t be predicted in those days). Hard to know. I don’t know whether having someone to blame would help the grieving survivors. 

I do wonder though, how William Horsfield felt afterwards. Although he took immediate action, although it was in no way his fault, did he torture himself with regret? There was time to fetch the engineer from Sheffield, which means there was time to bang on doors, to try and warn people—even though at that point, they didn’t think it would breech. But should they have warned people anyway? Should they have risked looking stupid, of raising a false alarm, of causing unnecessary panic? What would we do? Remember, no one knew what would happen, it remained an unlikely possibility, right up until the time it happened—but would that have been a comfort to poor William? I suspect not.

Today, there are several, smaller reservoirs in the area, feeding water to the city. They look peaceful, places to walk to when on holiday. But water camouflages danger with gentle ripples and inviting cool blue calm. Once the restraints fall, the chaos can begin.

Thank for reading. Have a safe week.

Love, Anne x 

Photos a mixture of my own, from information boards, and the Daily Mail website.

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Mini Break in the Peak District

Easter Away Trip

I am writing this in a tiny cottage snuggled in the hills of Lower Bradfield. You might remember that in January I attended a conference for Old Testament Study in Sheffield, and Husband kindly drove me and rented a cottage in the Peak District? I stayed in the cottage for just one night, and was sorry to leave, so when we realised we had a week free after Easter, we decided to return. 

We arrived on Easter Sunday, after lunch with the family in Cambridge. The cottage was warm and comfortable, and after unpacking we strolled up the steep lane behind the house. It was dusk, and an owl was hunting in the fields, swooping over the lane. There was the trill of curlews, who rose above us, warning us not to stray near their nest. Sheep watched from behind stone walls, their lambs snuggled under their legs. In the distance, hills rolled away, dotted with stone buildings and steep fields, up to the moors. It’s a open place, a place where you can breathe, and it feels weird that it’s only half an hour from Sheffield.

Monday morning, my Ocado deivery arrived at 8am. Perfect timing for breakfast. The delivery man was exceedingly grumpy, and told me he had worked all weekend, and no, he had not had a nice Easter. I felt slightly guilty as I unpacked my order. I seem to have ordered a lot of cakes, so won’t be losing any weight this trip.

We walked across Agden Nature Reserve to Canyard Hills. Muddy footpaths, twisted trees, a reservoir in the valley. I wished I hadn’t gone for a long walk a few days before Easter and given myself blisters. I blamed my walking boots (which I left at home) and was stomping along in wellies. Husband hardly mentioned it. We walked for two hours. There were beautiful views—and big black clouds. We got home just before it poured with rain.

It was still pouring after lunch (ate some cake). We went for drive to Castleton—which we both remembered but couldn’t remember why (we are at that age when we can spend a happy half hour trying to remember things). Then we drove through Winnats Pass. This was spectacular, we turned the corner, and there it was—steep rocks rising on either side, tiny streams bubbling down to the valley. The road was single-carriage, and there were lines of cars waiting to pass, so I recommend you don’t visit in peak times. But definitely plan to visit, it’s amazing.

We had dinner at The Plough in Lower Bradfield. It was a ‘pubby’ sort of pub (as opposed to a ‘gourmet’ sort of pub) but after a nice glass of Merlot I decided it was lovely. We chatted about the day, and managed to remember when we last visited Castelton, and I bored Husband with interesting details about the theology book I am currently reading. A good day.

Tuesday, I got up at 6.30. At 9.30 we left the cottage and walked to Lower Bradfield on the footpaths. I was still in wellies. It was okay. The walk was very pretty, we went up the hill to High Bradfield, and the old church with dragon gargoyles and sheep grazing in the graveyard. Then back down, along pretty footpaths under trees and over rivers, to the village. There’s a new cafe, which advertised brunch and coffee, but it was shut. (Apparently it’s always shut on Tuesdays.) Walked back to the cottage for coffee and toast (and more cake).

I spent the afternoon reading my theology book (by a chap called Leo Perdue, about Wisdom Literature—very interesting). Sounds of fighting wafted upstairs. Husband was in the sitting room, watching a cartoon. 

We decided to drive to a cheese factory advertised on Google Maps. We found the lane (very narrow) but not the factory. I think it must have closed. Drove into Hathersage, and I bought some walking boots in one of those outdoors shops that smell of sensible clothes and waxed jackets. These boots fit better than my last ones. And they have pink laces, which is an additional delight.

It was pouring with rain again. We drove home via Snake Pass, but it didn’t compare to Winnats. 

Dinner at The Plough again. We had asked to sit in the same room, but they either forgot or decided to ignore us because they were busy. We were seated in a very ugly room, full of people who seemed to know each other. I ordered fish and chips, and the portion barely fitted on the plate, it would have fed three of me. Especially as I was already full of cake. A pleasant day, but not as perfect as Monday.

I hope your week is fun. And you have cake.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Talking with a Coptic Christian

As I told you in my last blog, we have been studying spirituality around the world. In our lecture, we spoke to a Coptic Christian from Egypt. ‘Coptic’ is the type of Egyptian writing that came after hieroglyphics, and became the language of Egypt, and therefore the language of the early Christians—people like Origen & Co. The chap we spoke to, spoke to us in English. Not much has been written in the past by Coptic Christians, and we were told that this is partly because it was a difficult place to be a Christian. He spoke about the ancient church in Alexandria, commenting that, “We produced more martyrs than books!”

He explained that the Coptic church is known as the church of the people, and it works with the poor people in Egypt. He said that Christ was found with the poor people, and that is where their focus is. Later, I asked him about all the money, and gilt and splendour, that I had seen in the Coptic churches in Cairo. How does that tally with their aim to work amongst the poor? He told me that it generally is the poor people who provide the money for the beautiful churches, that they want to contribute, to show how much they value God. He also said that in a country where they are the minority religion, it is very important to have a ‘presence’ and to be seen. It would be easy for the media to discount them, for governments to say there were no Coptic Christians—harder to do that when there is a stonking great temple in every city. This is something I hadn’t considered (it’s very easy to judge cultures before we understand them).

As a minority church in the country, their ‘outreach’ has to be different than in Western countries. They strive to do everything well, to live their lives authentically, and to work honestly. This is the way they hope to be noticed, and for people to be attracted to their church. (I think that in an Islamic country, you are not allowed to speak with Muslim people about your faith.) This tallies with what we saw in Cairo, where the Zabbaleen people (who are Coptic) collect the city’s rubbish, and are known for doing it better than anyone else.

When asked about people converting to Christianity, he said that they would only want people to do that who are sure they want to follow Jesus, not because they have been ’persuaded’ into it—because converting from Islam means risking so much.

He showed us his ‘Book of Hours,’ which is a tiny book of Psalms. They read it at regular intervals throughout the day—like when they wake, at mealtimes, when they go to bed. I thought that was a good practice to copy, it’s hard sometimes to even think about God during the day, even, ironically, when studying for an MA in Theology. My Muslim friends are currently fasting during daylight hours for Ramadan, and I admire their determination and wonder whether we have grown too ‘soft’ in our Christian churches. Sometimes a routine/discipline is a good thing. He also spoke about the monastic tradition. He likened this to the Bible story where Moses is praying while Joshua fights a battle. He said the monks are the ones praying, and studying Scripture, aiding the Christians who are outside the monastery. Most people go to the monastery for retreats, when they join the quiet contemplation for a while and learn from the monks (and share with them what is happening in the world). It’s different, but I can see how it would work.

As I said on Monday, we only had one seminar about global Christianity, but even the little we covered challenged some of my preconceived ideas. Churches in different countries need to find the best way to do things within the culture they live in. Often, this will be very different to how we do things in the West.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a good week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Madeira, February 2023

We visited a few towns on the south coast of Madeira. It wasn’t possible (I think) to reach them via pretty coastal roads, as the roads seem to be either blocked or fallen into the sea or abandoned to rock falls. Our drive was therefore through a series of tunnels. Madeira does tunnels very well, but you don’t get to see much scenery. I cannot imagine how different life must have been before the tunnels were built. Towns would have been fairly isolated, as visiting other places would have taken much longer.

We visited Ponta do Sol. As we drove down the steep road into town, we saw a small carpark. It was full, but we managed to arrive as someone was leaving, so parked the car and followed signs to the old town. The town is built on a steep hill, terraces of bananas reaching up the cliff side, cobbled streets and houses clinging to the lower levels. There were some good coastal views, but nothing to entice us to stay in the town. The busiest area was the beach, with families sitting on the black sand or swimming in the sea. I never like black sand. Although I know it’s no less clean than yellow sand, it feels dirty. As Madeira is basically just a big volcano, all the natural sand is black.

Next we drove to Madalena do Mar. We did attempt to follow the coastal road, but it petered out, so we had to do a difficult 3-point turn on a bendy road, and it wasn’t worth the hassle; we returned to the series of tunnels.

Madalena do Mar has a big car park next to the sea, and a lovely promenade lined with palm trees along the coast, a jetty for fishing or mooring boats . . . And very little else! There were plots of land waiting to be built on, and even an area designed for a café, but no one seemed to have actually arrived yet to build the hotels and cafes. It was lovely, in a sort of abandoned, not quite there yet, way. Not sure what it will look like in ten years time.

Quite windy!

Our last stop was Praia da Calheta. This was a busy town, full of people, cars trying to park, cafes and supermarkets. There was a small marina, with little boats bobbing in rows, and a long promenade with palm trees and cafes. There were also beaches, with yellow sand hauled from Africa. Despite the cold, several teenagers were swimming, their squeals piercing the air. Steep cliffs bordered the coastal road, and we sat in a cafe, sipping espresso and watching little black and white birds nesting in the rock while seagulls swept past looking for food.

We returned to Funchal for dinner, and ate in Noitescura, a restaurant near the apartment. It served traditional food, and last time we tried ‘Francesinha’ which were like burgers (beef, chicken, fish or vegetable) with a fried egg on top, and served covered in a sauce/gravy. I chose badly, and had the vegetable one, thinking it would be a mushroom burger, but it wasn’t, it was more like minced vegetables (tiny pieces of onion, broccoli, carrot) in a soggy bun. It was as horrible as it sounds. This time we shared a fish platter, which was lovely. It had a variety of local fish (scabbard, parrot fish, bass) and we ate it with fried sweetcorn, rice and chips. (No veg this visit, Husband chose the food.) 

I also tried a poncha, which is a traditional drink, sold all over the island. I was expecting something like a caipirinha, as it’s made with sugarcane alcohol, but it wasn’t, it was more bitter, and orange, and served in a short fat wine glass with no ice. Not unpleasant, but I prefer caipirinha. I also had white wine with my meal, and a dessert with sambuca (which I remembered too late I don’t like, but luckily they poured it over the dessert and then set it on fire, so most of it burnt off). We finished with a glass of Madeira wine, but refused the rum that was offered with the bill. I don’t usually drink much. I didn’t sleep very well that night.

Thanks for reading.
Have a good week. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Another Day in Funchal, Madeira

Winter Break in Madeira

Day Two

We found heaters in the apartment, and managed to warm up a bit. There’s no central air conditioning or central heating—I assume because usually all year round is ambient. It’s colder this year. I woke early, before sunrise (it’s not light here until about an hour after it’s light in the UK). When it was light, we went for a run. Although not sunny, it wasn’t cold. The light is different here. It’s a comforting light. Most of Madeira is mountainous, so lots of people run on the only flat land, along the promenade. It’s a pretty place to run, with little areas of garden, and interesting statues and the sea lapping onto pebbles next to you. There are often cruise ships, towering over the docks, and occasionally we had to dodge large groups who were touring the island, led by a guide to the most famous sights. I prefer living here, even for a few days, to try to absorb some of the real life. It was fun to watch the ships arriving though, such impossibly huge structures balanced on the water.

After a shower, we walked back to the little cafe where last year we went every morning, Husband always had a cheese and onion bolo, and I had an espresso. But the cafe was shut. What a shame. We wandered around, looking for somewhere to recreate the same ‘coffee with the locals’ feel, but most cafes looked very touristy. Then we settled on the cafe under the apartment, which wasn’t in such a nice location (okay, it is a horrible location, as it’s basically right on a busy road). But it had plastic chairs, and locals sipping espressos, and it looked clean. We ordered (Husband had chips. Chips. For breakfast.)

Note my disapproving face! The sandwich is actually very traditional in Madeira: sliced beef, ham and cheese. But the chips?

While we waited for our coffee (and chips) we saw the elderly man from last year’s café. He sat outside and had his coffee, and we wondered whether we should say hello, but decided we didn’t speak enough Portuguese and he didn’t speak English, and probably it would just confuse him. So we didn’t. But we mentioned it to the waitress, and she told us that he still runs his café, but the roof fell down, so he’s waiting for it to be fixed. This is why I like returning to the same places. Being on holiday is a break from life, but if you travel a lot, it can mean that you never engage in life, you are never part of anything, which seems a waste. When we return to the same places, we can be part of a different community — even if only very briefly. I think life is about connections, not being isolated. I’m not a great one for drifting, I like to have a purpose.

Caffeine replenished, we set off to find the boot shop. Last year I packed the right clothes, but not the right footwear, and when we had torrential rain, my only ‘waterproof’ shoes were drenched. We found a little shop that sold boots, and I bought a pair because they weren’t too expensive. They have been the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned, and are still worn all the time. They are brown boots, and I don’t like wearing brown shoes with grey trousers, so I was keen to buy some black ones. But would we manage to find the shop?

We set off, past the market (Mercado dos Lavradores) and all the aggressive salesmen selling fruit at inflated prices to unsuspecting tourists. We crossed the road, rounded the corner where they are building a Savoy hotel, and headed into the lanes of the old town. We half-remembered the road, and that the shop was opposite a larger shoe shop selling fashion shoes. We found a smaller shoe shop opposite, and went inside. It looked slightly different, but was in the right place, selling shoes. I explained what I wanted, showed the salesman my brown boots, and he went off to find some black ones. He returned with several boots, some of the black, none of them the same manufacturer as mine. I explained that I wanted the exact same boot, but in black (otherwise I may as well buy them in England). He came back with some similar boots, which he spent a long time stretching, undoing the laces, bending them open. I tried them on, knowing they were a size smaller than I wanted. I thanked him for trying, and left. The man suggested I should try in the big shop opposite, but I knew they only sold fashion shoes, and I wanted the same good quality leather boots.

I set off towards the apartment,  refusing to listen when Husband suggested we should look in other shops, because I hate shopping, and only went to that place because I thought it would be easy. Husband insisted. I said I would look in one more shop. Husband led me up the road . . . To the exact same shop we had visited last year! We had been in a different shop, which explained why they hadn’t had my boots. This shop only sold Tapadas boots. Which begs the question: why did the other shop, when I was leaving anyway, not direct me back up the road? He must have known the Tapadas shop was there, and he wasn’t making the sale, so why not tell me? I dislike mean people. If you want comfortable boots (the sort of boots you can wear on an all-day hike on the day you buy them and not get blisters) then head to Abreu’s Sapataria.

I like Madeira, but I cannot quite get a feel for what it must be like to live here. Unless you want to work in the service/tourist industry, or to be an engineer (because there are some serious mountains to build on/through) then I’m not sure what work the island offers. There are the huge cruise ships that visit regularly, but the passengers tend to eat onboard, and only do brief excursions into town, making shops and attractions overly busy and then leaving, returning the narrow streets to the locals. The restaurants tout for business by trying to persuade passing people inside, which I always find uncomfortable, but maybe they have to, maybe there isn’t quite enough tourism for the number of restaurants. I suspect it’s a difficult place to run a business. We ate in some restaurants that were lovely, with delicious food and staff who worked very hard to keep everything clean and efficient. But they were rarely full, and sometimes we were the only customers, which felt sad given how hard people worked. But for us, it was lovely. I like visiting places out of season, pretending that I live here.

I will tell you more next week. Thanks for reading.
Have a good week, and take care.
Love, Anne x

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Malta in November

Holiday Diary continued…

Thursday 24th November 2022

Woke to a cloudy morning, but not actually raining. Went for a run. There were fishermen today when we ran beside the coast, casting their lines into the grey sea. After a quick shower we walked round the corner, and found a tiny café next to the law court. We had coffee and croissants while watching the criminals arriving! (Rather fun to try and guess who was a lawyer and who was the criminal and what crimes they committed. Especially exciting if someone arrived with a police escort. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t want to end up in court myself.)

I read some more of my Ethics book (this is part of my college course, and I have to write a review on it, and it is NOT an easy read. More like reading an encyclopedia than a textbook.) Gave up after a couple of hours, and we drove to Gnejna Bay. Much more fun than a boring textbook. It was windy, and there were kite-surfers jumping the waves. We ate ice-creams (not very nice ones, I think mine had melted and refrozen) and watched the surfers enjoying the wind.

Drove towards a red fort, which looked exciting from a distance but more like a public loo when we arrived. We could also see a pyramid, far away in the distance. We worked out it was on Gozo, but there was NOT a pyramid on Gozo, so we were confused. Husband stopped for a walk (not my choice) and we strolled across scrubby land towards a tower. Malta is full of towers. Some are beautiful, some are imposing, this was neither.

We then followed signs to Popeye Village. This was my choice. We weren’t sure what to expect — possible a hotel complex or water park, maybe just a hamlet with a cute name. It turned out to be a film set, used in the Popeye film. We didn’t pay to go in, as you could see it across the bay. It was rather fun. There was a car park with a restaurant (and toilets) and a surprising number of other people had driven down the narrow lane to see the village.

Dinner in Café Sei as Papannis was closed on Thursdays. We found it by using Trip Advisor, but I’m suspicious the reviews weren’t authentic. It was okay, and our food was pleasant, but it wasn’t worth the reviews it had received.

Friday 25th November

On the 25th November, Christmas arrives in Malta. We woke to sunshine. After our run, we had coffee and croissants on the balcony, looking across Republic Square to the blue sea in the distance. It was nice, though noisy as builders working on the Grand Palace opposite had their radio on full blast. Valletta IS noisy. If you live in a city you probably wouldn’t notice, but it was vastly different to our home in the countryside — not unpleasant, just different.

We drove to St. Paul’s Bay. This is where St.Paul was shipwrecked in Bible times. I assume there were fewer buildings in those days, though the hills would have been the same. We drove round the bay, and looked across the water to St.Paul’s Island (which has a giant statue of St.Paul on it).

We then drove to Selmun Palace. This was built by a charity who were raising funds to ransom Christians who had been enslaved by the Ottomans. The palace was beautiful, set on a hill top, and very ornate. I’m not sure it was very good use of funds though — I suspect the enslaved Christians would have preferred the money had been used to set them free. Apparently, there were so many people that needed rescuing that the charity had a lottery to decide who would be ransomed. Tough if your name didn’t get picked. The palace was used as a hunting lodge, and knights would stay there and hunt rabbits — the income was used to free more slaves. (Though I am deeply suspicious that the cost of the building was more than any income raised.)

Dinner at Papannis. Lovely. The bar under our apartment had live music tonight, which lasted until very late. Not so lovely.

Saturday 26th November

We woke to the sound of cranes at 6am. Short night. Yesterday, people were talking about heavy rain storms, but it was still dry so we went for a run. We have learnt that in Malta, if it’s going to rain heavily there is very little warning — a few drips and then an instant deluge. We therefore abandoned our normal route along the coast and ran in the streets near the apartment. We saw lots of Christmas lights, and a Nativity scene (as I said yesterday, Christmas arrives on 25th November in Malta). As soon as we felt the first drips of rain, we raced back to the apartment. We got inside just as it started to pour.

There was a big storm. It tripped the fuse so we had no electricity for a while, and the bedroom roof started to leak so I put a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. We ate toast and coffee in the apartment, and I tried (many times) to photograph the forked lightening over the sea, but failed.

After lunch, we walked quickly to the car park and collected the car. We drove to ‘Clapham Junction’ which is so named because there are lines of cart tracks in the rock. No one knows exactly when the tracks were made — some people date them back as early as the Phoenicians — at least earlier than 700 BC. They are at a prehistoric site near Siġġiewi. We parked (no signs, so needed to follow Google maps) and started to walk towards where we thought they might be. But then it rained, so we hopped back into the car. Drove to a viewpoint on Dingli Cliffs (basically all grey and windy). The rain stopped, so we drove back to look at the tracks. It took us a while to find them, but once we had seen them, and realised what we were looking for, they were easy to see — very deep grooves worn into the limestone. They were much deeper than I was expecting.

Nearby were some caves, which were part of a Bronze Age settlement.

Next, we drove to the Blue Grotto. There was a parking area, and a pathway along the cliff edge to a viewpoint. I spent a long time looking at a pretty cove and taking photographs. Husband then told me this was not the grotto, and directed me round the corner. The grotto was spectacular — much better than the pretty cove!

There were also some really interesting plants growing on the cliff. They looked like little trees growing from a plant not dissimilar to an aloe vera. When I got close, I realised that the ‘flowers’ on the ‘trees’ were actually baby versions of the parent plant. I think that the long stalk falls over, and deposits the baby plants at a distance to the parent, where they can then fall off and start to grow. (I spent ages trying to find them on the internet, but I never found them. If you know the name, please let me know.)

Drove back to Valletta and made it into the apartment before the rain started again. Malta reminds me of Cyprus, but with lots of churches and ancient forts and towers. Even tiny fishing villages have watchman towers, guarding the coastline.

Sunday 27th November

Our last day. We had to leave the apartment by 10am, and our flight was in the evening, so we were homeless for a day. In the sunshine, this would have been a treat. Not so much in the rain. We drove back to see the ancient cart tracks, because we had realised that we never actually found the main set. This time we followed the map, and found them — lines and lines of tracks, running to the edge of a slope. Then it poured with rain, and we were completely soaked running back to the car.

We found a hyper market, and used the facilities, and tried to think of somewhere that would be fun to drive to in the rain. Gave up, and went to the airport. Camped in the corner of a food hall for a few hours (I tried to read more of the stodgy Ethics book that has defeated me all holiday). Eventually it was time to check-in, and leave Malta.

If you fancy visiting Malta in November, it has some lovely scenery. There are fewer people, so parking and visiting attractions is much easier. Valletta is beautiful. If you are lucky with the weather, it will be warm and sunny — but we had lots of rain, and it gets chilly. It’s a fun place to visit, but personally I prefer it in the summer.

By the way, the ‘pyramid’ we saw on Gozo turned out to be the Citadel when seen through binoculars!

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely day, and take care.
Love, Anne x

(And if you can name the plant, please tell me!)

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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!

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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

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

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!)  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