Saturday, 30 January 2010

They have their exits...or not!

For some reason, the other night I caught myself thinking about the books I used to read as a child. I was thinking particularly about this one that was a collection of excepts from escape stories, conveniently collated by the good nice people of St Michael if I remember correctly. It was all boyish ripping-yarn stuff, well apart from the bits that were true stories – as the title of this post implies. But they were exciting too.

This morning we were back running uni hockey training is a local school gym we hire. The equipment is of the same vintage as the old gym we had in the school I was at over twenty years ago. But that gym was glass on two sides with those old metal fire doors that were slightly warped with age, making them awkward to close if accidentally opened. The gym here in Mostar has probably fifteen foot of wall before you reach the windows and just one door; the one linking it to the school. No fire exits.

So it was that between watching the practise I started concocting an escape plan should the school catch fire and our only obvious exit be blocked. It wouldn't be easy and successful flight would probably best be achieved by suddenly developing the ability to fly. Then I remembered attending a gig in a student venue in Sarajevo that was clearly over capacity – if such a concept exists. It was at the uncomfortable-standing-room-only point when we and our host decided that we would wouldn't miss much if we walked out on the underwhelming band and their slightly repetitive rhythms. We might have been the only three people not smoking in the venue and we were a good fifty foot of densely packed bodies from the entrance. It was then that I clocked the incredible fire risk and complete lack of emergency exits.

But back to the gym. We finished our session without incident and headed up to the front doors to leave the school premises. They were locked. This in itself was not unusually. We often let in by clearers who then go about their duties only to reappear when it's time for us to leave. But this morning no amounta of shouting, banging or unauthorised ringing of the school bell could raise any attention. A hunt around revealed that not only was no one else on sit but that the gym was not alone in being completely devoid of fire exits.

Fortunately, there were windows only four foot off the ground, through which a couple of our young people climbed to go and get help. Reflecting on this almost adventure I cannot recall ever seeing a fire exit in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I must have, but I couldn't say when or where. Clearly my challenge now is too track one down and photograph the evidence.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Yes we did eat some fine homemade Mexican food tonight but, no, fear not, we're not about to lower the tone! Today has been a genuinely windy day in Mostar. This is the Bora, or Bura, which we were told so much about last year. Winter passed and we were left feeling quite skeptical because we seemed to have missed all the strong windy days we were promised. I took a moment while out this afternoon to record this to show you that this year we will not be unbelievers!

If you came hear in search of the other kind of wind I'd hate to think of you leaving disappointed! You could do worse than checking out this high-brow* video with almost 10 million views.

(*it was filmed in a public library)

Monday, 18 January 2010

Quality of Life

Reading an article about an unpleasant challenge facing British expats in the south of Spain reminded me that I was going to write about the International Living Quality of Life Index. Their website is a mess but dig around long enough and you'll find the 2009 Index. (I've just refound it and it seems to be in a different order than when I last checked.) Undeterred, I will continue as planned because I don't believe the list anyway. says "to produce this annual Index we consider…nine categories: Cost of Living, Culture and Leisure, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Safety and Risk, and Climate. This involves a lot of number crunching from “official” sources, including government websites, the World Health Organization, and The Economist, to name but a few. Once the data is collected, we also take into account what our editors from all over the world have to say about our findings." It's at that point you realise the list is no better than 'The Top 100 Movies of the Last Decade' or '50 Albums You Can't Live Without.' You can call it editorial opinion, guess work or names-out-of-a-hat; the one thing it isn't is scientific proof.

Nevertheless, curiosity kicks in and the natural reaction when presented with a list like this is to check where you are living ranks on it. If that different from the place you come from you'll probably check that too, and you might check the place you'd like to live next. Then you'll start looking at the neighbours above and below those countries on the list.

So it was that I scrolled down the list, annoyingly supplied without numbers, in search of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I found it nestled just below Albania, sitting above the Bahamas! I remember Albania being Europe's oppressive, closed state. At that time Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of Yugoslavia; Europe's more open-minded expression of communism. I was surprised Albania had the upper hand. Perhaps it was just on alphabetical merit!

The Bahamas, however, really only conjure up images of white sandy beaches and palm trees. It took a moments thought to remember that outside of the picture perfect resorts life is hard and corruption is high. You might escape trouble on a two week summer break but it makes the islands a less attractive proposition for living overseas. Despite rationalising the result, and ignoring my general skepticism of the whole list thing, it is comforting to know I live somewhere with a better quality of life than a tropical paradise!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


We have a guest this week so I have been cooking. I cook a lot, almost every day, but I have been making sure things are just a little bit more coordinated on the culinary front. Rowan has been helping out too: 'do you want some ice cream now? or 'anyone for a chocolate mousse?' Against type, I answered yes to the second of those questions this evening. What you see is the reason I'll be staying off the mousse for a while.

That small spot is, however, the least of our problems. Mostar has had a very wet week - we've never seen the Neretva so high - and this has done unpleasant things to the walls. Our landlord put a wall mounted heater in our bedroom back in early December. It's made a huge difference, fighting a valiant battle against the damp. But in the living room, with no consistent warmth, things are bad. Although the room feels warmer than it did last winter the growth on the walls seems more expansive and definitely a lot greener.

Of course, you didn't need to know all that but isn't that what this blogging thing is all about?!

Monday, 11 January 2010


The BBC are reporting that Baroness Ashton says the hope of EU membership is the 'glue' that is holding Bosnia and Herzegovina together. Far be it from me to disagree, I merely want to underline her statement that the EU needs to 'reach beyond the political leaders, much more into where the people are and explain to them the benefits.'

In our experience there often seems to be a huge disconnect between the political posturing that gets reported as life as it is lived by the majority here. Many people we've spoken with laugh at the prospect of EU membership; perhaps they dare not hope. I once heard someone say that by the time Bosnia and Herzegovina gained entry all the other countries will have left!

Given the tangled political situation in the country it is understandable that people seem reluctant to get their hopes up. There may be benefits - freedom of travel within the EU zone would be a huge one for Bosnian passport holders - but perhaps the EU should be careful of promising what it may not deliver. Even a cursory reading of the country's recent history will highlight how damaging that can be. We can but hope the glue in question does not come unstuck.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Land of Contradictions

I don't want to say to much about this. If you're a regular reader you probably know what my comments would be anyway. I do want to say I took this photograph this afternoon in Mostar. I did Photoshop it - I cropped it slightly, adjusted the colour levels a bit and changed the digits on the licence plate - that's all!

The vehicle, should you not recognise it, is a Cadillac Escalade EXT]

This, then, is my photo essay: The Land of Contradictions.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Given time, I could write a delightful post about some wonderful New Year experiences in Dubrovnik. Alas, today you will just have to make do with some videos instead!