Thursday, 29 July 2010


We were in Dubrovnik at the weekend and, wandering around the old town, I spotted a sign for the Museum of Icons. We gave it a miss. I'm well aware that religious icons are a genuine point of faith for many people but, generally speaking, they don't do it for me on either an artist or spiritual level. But today my head was turned by this cultural icon that seemed somewhat out of place in a Mostar scrap yard.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

An ethical dilemma.

This morning a friend was saying how their mother had been taken ill with a serious problem requiring surgery. However, once in the hospital, they discovered the doctor wouldn't operate without receiving what could euphemistically be referred to as 'a little something for coffee'. That this salary-augmenting 'something' would comfortably keep him in three coffees a day for three months might be seen as a little in conflict with the Hippocratic oath. Apparently different doctors require different amounts to get them out of bed. This one wanted in excess of half the average monthly wage. I have my own complaints about the UK's National Health Service based on painful personal experiences but I never had to pay back-handers for the questionable care I received. Here it seems this is not a uncommon situation.

If your mother needed an operation which could be the difference between her living or dying and her health was being held ransom by a corrupt medic what would you do?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Cabin Fever?!

At the beginning of the month I wrote about our Novi Most 'camping' trip up Jahorina, one of the Olympic mountains outside Sarajevo. We had a great time as this short video shows...

Thursday, 22 July 2010


I was gearing up for a light-hearted, hopefully humorous, blog this evening when tragedy struck; tragedy of the genuinely numbing, incomprehensible kind. We'd turned up to prepare to an evening of youth work at Klub Novi Most to discover that one of our new regulars this summer had had an accident swimming in the Neretva in the afternoon. We were told he'd got an electric shock and was in hospital. He had been in Klub this morning, his usual energetic self; full of wide-eyed enthusiasm whether it was playing table tennis, pulling faces or practising his rock'n'roll poses with an unplugged guitar in front of the mirror.

About halfway through the evening a tearful girl burst through the door to deliver what in that split second had become painfully obvious news. He had died. Nobody wanted to believe it. In my mind all I could see was replays of him laughing and joking and making fun of me during this morning's session. 'Why?' and 'No!' fought to be my strongest reaction. I was hit by that instant hollow feeling that is loss and so many other things rolled together. It was only earlier today I found out he was actually too young to be attending Klub; I thought better than to flag this up to some of the stricter members of our team as he clearly got so much out of the activities. He was ten.

Friday, 16 July 2010

No Time To Say Goodbye

Almost a fortnight ago I blogged about a particularly poignant songwriting commission I'd received. Two weeks later that song – No Time To Say Goodbye - is written, recorded and, with the obligatory music video, now ready to tell its story wherever the world wide web may take it. Life is, as you're doubtless aware, not quite so simple as those last two sentences imply. That I have produced a recording and video featuring both of the young people it was written for is a testimony to the the shifting sands of bureaucratic time frames, the importance of sometimes just acting on impulse and of what can be achieved if you are prepared to sacrifice a little sleep.

Both Sting and Craig David have songs called 'Seven Days'; this song was turned around in four. It was early evening on a Monday when I picked up my freshly restrung Telecaster and started strumming out some chords. Suddenly I hit something that I knew would be the basis of this song. Very quickly the genesis of a melody and structure came together, then lyrics for the chorus. Then the phone rang! I'm not a big fan of being interrupted during the songwriting process but I knew this call was coming, and with it several hours of being out of the house. I got in late, went back to the guitar and within an hour or so had the lyrics down.

I was working Tuesday morning but managed to carve out a most of the afternoon and evening for getting a demo done. I knew there was a high chance this recording session would be the main one for the project so although speed was important so was the quality of what I was creating. By Wednesday morning I had something I was prepared to get feedback on. Suddenly I discovered that both the girls were still in the country – I had been told one was leaving the day before. Next thing I know there's a crazy suggestion we record vocals on the Thursday – the day before she would definitely leave town. We might just create the opportunity we thought we'd lost.

For a couple of hours on Thursday morning we recorded vocals in a hastily created 'studio room' in Klub Novi Most. English is not the first language of either of the girls; the song is in English because that's the only language I'm competent writing in! It really was a case of rehearsal and recording blurring into one. (In this situation Logic was worth every penny!) I knew the clock was ticking and having got this close I wasn't going to let the opportunity of creating what we all wanted slip away. With one family leaving the next morning, and their leaving party starting five hours after we finished laying down vocals, I had a seriously immoveable deadline.

Squeezed around a work-related meeting over lunch and an evening working at Klub I produced a final mix and some album art and burnt a couple of CDs. Rowan and I arrived at the party late – but as soon as we could. Have you got the CD? That was what everyone wanted to know. Friends and family gathered around the kombi as the stereo blasted out the first play. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.

Last night I was getting sign off on the video from the girl who's still in Mostar. The whole situation still hangs over her and her family. The video touches some very real, very raw emotions. As it finished she looked at me and said 'Thank have no idea.' And that's the painful truth. I have no idea. I can't begin to comprehend what life right now feels like for her and her family. But those are my issues to deal with. For now I still won't claim to have any idea but I will be very grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to do something that helped. Someday we hope we'll get the chance to record together again. Until then we have No Time To Say Goodbye.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Football and friendship

We've just spent a few days up a mountain running a summer camp for a group of young people who are involved in Novi Most's centres in Mostar and Capljina. The previous post mentioned how we'd been telling visitors about how Novi Most is successfully bringing together young people from across Bosnia and Herzegovina's different ethnic groups. The camp was proof again that this is neither propoganda or wishful thinking; it is a reality. I could pick on a number of encouraging incidents to illustrate this but perhaps the most humourous came this morning when a young lad pulled up his sleeve to show me some freshly penned inscriptions. Football fans will recognise that you would not normally expect to see "TM87", "Hajduk" and "Partizan" all 'tattooed' on the same forearm. I know one boy writing the name of big teams from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia on his arm doesn't necessarily constitute a reconciliation revolution but it does demonstrate something of the atmosphere the camp created. Acceptance was definitely the order of the day. However, it being a camp for teenagers, it'd be slightly disingenuous not to add that nestled between these generous signs of sporting support I also spied the name of the girl he fancied!

[The following video gives a brief glimpse into our fun and games on the way home!]

Monday, 5 July 2010

Yesterday's News

Yesterday was a day for stirring the grey matter. It started with Rowan discovering The Guardian had a front page article about Mostar - online at least. It charted the story of War Child and mentioned the establishing of the Pavarotti Centar here in Mostar. Rowan visited the Centar a week or so back to see about getting help repairing a violin. The story she heard there was not a happy one; no money, few young people involved making music. You didn't get this side of the story from the article.

Coins have but two sides; stories, it seems, can be as multi-faceted as a well cut diamond. I don't know if this adds to their beauty. The longer we live in Bosnia Herzegovina the more we learn to see every new bit of information as just another aspect of a big picture we'll never fully understand. Anyone claiming to have a handle on exactly what went on and why probably has some agenda they're trying to push. From our perspective, parts of The Guardian's article were clearly wearing their angle on their sleeve. It's worth reading nonetheless.

The evening ending over dinner with an ex-soldier who was part of the UN observation force deployed in this country during the conflict in the early nineties. The conversation was sobering stuff. Firsthand accounts of death and destruction were to be expected. Tells of observation reports going missing and of a general disinterest higher up the line to acknowledge what was going on less so. Sure I have read about this happening so it wasn't news as such but it makes a difference to hear it from someone who clearly felt regret that they hadn't been able to do anything to stop the madness.

Sitting up in a rooftop cafe bar overlooking the, now rebuilt, Stari Most it was time to reflect how far life here has come since those dark days. We talked about the youth work we do with Novi Most, bringing together young people from across the different ethnic backgrounds in Mostar. This kind of relationship building is where the hope for the future can be found. Looking back can be discouraging; it doesn't necessarily help to dwell too long on how people can end up committing inhuman acts for reasons they cannot explain. Yesterday I was encouraged to look forward. What we are doing may be the smallest contribution to a better future. But it is a contribution and it is working.