Monday, 28 November 2011

The final stage (shot)

Having posted two photos of a people-free stage I thought I should end the run with this: us in action. It comes from an album of photos of the AVNOJ event uploaded by The album really captures the feel of the event so I'd recommend taking a few moments out to browse through them over a nice cup of tea...or similar beverage.

And talking of was only last week that Rowan was reading that Somersby Pear Cider was coming for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as their Apple Cider was apparently a huge hit over the summer. I still maintain it tastes like vaguely alcoholic Apple Tango and am concerned it might damage the image of cider to first time drinkers over here, but the announcement of the arrival of its pear counterpart is good news. I found a bottle in Croatia this summer and was pleasantly surprised by how tasty it was. So it put a smile on my face when I stumbled across some in a supermarket earlier today...hopefully they'll still be stocking it come next summer!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Filling a stage.

After posting yesterday's empty stage picture I thought it good to give it some context with today's image. This is how things looked late this morning before everything kicked off outside the AVNOJ Museum. We were responsible for that kick off, rocking out as the assembled Partizans, anti-fascists and other onlookers processed back across the bridge over the river, after a wreath laying ceremony at Jajce's Partizan memorial. If there was any disappointment from the crowd it was we didn't squeeze another song in, or accept suggestions as to what it might be, before we made way for the rest of the program to continue.

I did, however, get a truly Bosnian busking experience, filling in on bass guitar with a local folk singer, his school music teacher keyboard player and the sound man on drums for an interesting rendition of a traditional tune. The song was in 7/8, which might not mean much to some of you, but others will understand the challenge these presents when feeling your way through a song you never heard before. Some rather-too-pleased-with-themselves acquaintances enthusiastically assured me my first foray into sevdalinka had been videoed. I can't see me rushing to put it online!

Friday, 25 November 2011

The stage is set.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is the big AVNOJ commemoration here in Jajce, remembering the founding of Yugoslavia on 29th November 1943. (AVNOJ stands for Antifašističko Vijeće Narodnog Oslobođenja Jugoslavije or the Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia.)

We were asked to be part of proceedings again. Last year we gave an enthusiastic performance of some ex-Yu rock songs (plus a few international numbers) as part of the organised programme of events from the stage outside the AVNOJ Museum. And so, with a slightly-rejigged line-up, we will reprise the spirit of that performance tomorrow. The stage is set - I photographed it earlier today - it just remains for us to turn up early in the morning and hope it isn't too cold for guitar playing fingers!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Citizenship fail

Yesterday's homepage featured an article about the Life in the UK Citizenship Test. We've been out of the country for the better part of the last three years so we thought it would be good to see how we got on with their online quiz. We failed. Embarrassingly so! For us this means nothing more than some dented pride but I can't help feel for the genuine cases that are going to come unstuck when faced with the real deal.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Yes we did!

It's not a picture I'm proud of but I'll say I guess it had to be done to mask the clear lack of principled behaviour on display here. As someone who has enjoy living in a land beyond the reach of McDonalds and Starbucks it is unfortunate to have to confess that this weekend's trip to Sarajevo saw us not just sampling McDonalds traditional fast-food but also indulging in their take of the Starbucks formula.

One of the key strengths of the McDonalds brand is that, whatever you think of it, their food tastes the same wherever in the world you eat it. I don't care much for McDonalds' ability to steam a burger to within an inch of its life, but their hot apple pies and ice cream are a special kind of plastic magic. But who would have imagined they could tackled the decent coffee and cake thing? I was genuinely surprised; I certainly won't rule out a return visit. And that's a confession I didn't expect to make.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Yesterday's news

Yesterday's news was, quite fairly, dominated by the passing of Steve Jobs. It made for sad reading on my MacBookPro over breakfast. I for one am grateful to the man who designed a computer that does the things I want to do without requiring me to understand how the computer does it. That it does it all in a well designed package that is a pleasure to work with is an obvious advantage. But the purpose of this post is not to big up Apple or their various iProducts.

It is, instead, the tale of two contrasting meal times. If breakfast was a subdued affair, lunch took on a celebratory tone as we indulged in our first wraps purchased in Jajce. Not only has the local supermarket finally decided to took some Mexican food, they have done so by stocking more varieties of wrap than we've seen in the other towns we used to secure our supplies from. Long may this continue.

So what's the most appropriate to finish this post? It has to be by saying: that's a wrap!

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Most of us must have a favourite quotable movie and if not a favourite then we probably go through phases of plundering a particular popular film for our own entertainment. I remember when A Knight's Tale was the movie of the moment. It remains fantastically quotable, although these days its best lines might do little more than draw blank stares. Heath Ledger was good but I think the scriptwriters gave Paul Bettany a gift with a part they wrote for Chaucer: “I am a writer, I give the truth scope” remains an all time favourite of mine.

I say this because we met a writer last night. They are visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina to research their next book. As we sat listening to them describe their journey from writing true stories to fiction I confess my mind wandered. I was back in A Knight's Tale hearing Chaucer tell the Pardoner: “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.” Eviscerate sounds so emotive, even if I'd be hard pushed to give the dictionary definition with, well, consulting a dictionary!

I doubt we'll end up as inspiration for some fictional characters but who knows. If we do and you recognise us just remember the writer has probably given the truth scope.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Today's news on Twitter

Earlier this summer I saw an “article” on The Telegraph website which consisted of little more than a string of Lily Allen tweets, linked by some poor prose, masquerading as an attempt at celebrity gossip. It was the kind of sub-journalism that one hopes resulted in someone being relieved of their writing duties!

I don't blame Twitter for this. The micro-blogging site delivers the weird and wonderful with surprising ease. Try searching its feeds for mentions of 'Bosnia'. You'll quickly discover there are plenty of Bosnian Beliebers desperate for Justin to visit the country. Today, however, I saw something genuinely interesting: a link to a UWC Facebook page. While we were in Mostar we knew several United World College students in the college there. We heard a lot about the UWC philosophy and we saw the opportunities it opened up for them. I was intrigued to read that a student from one of the world's more closed countries is about to enter that world. At the risk of appearing lazy, I pasted the following straight in from the UWC Atlantic College Facebook post.

UWC in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina has announced the acceptance of North Korean student Kim Han Sol. The 16-year old will be the first student from North Korea to attend a UWC and benefit from the transformational educational experience that UWC offers.

The UWC movement identifies diversity as one of its core values. In bringing students together from a range of cultural, social and economic backgrounds, we can further our mission to make education a force for peace and a sustainable future. We aim to develop students who are multi-cultural, socially confident and morally responsible. During their time at UWC, alongside their academic studies, students participate in a variety of community service activities and develop skills to resolve the tensions within and across society. We expect that all students who participate in our programme, from whatever background, will ultimately be of service and influence in their home and the wider global community.

Li Po Chun UWC, based in Hong Kong, has been operating an outreach programme with North Korea for a number of years, sending student ambassadors to the country to engage with young North Koreans and learn more about life in their country. The enrollment of the first North Korean student to a UWC is a natural consequence of this relationship.

Keith Clark, Executive Director, UWC International commented “UWC is proud of the transformational nature of its education. Diversity is key to the educational experience and each year UWC welcomes a diverse cross section of students to its schools, colleges and programmes.”

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Thinking of a holiday...

We're back from our holiday and back to work. While our work is based in Bosnia and this blog is for the most part dedicated to given an alternative glimpse into life in Bosnia and Herzegovina we're going to allow this post to talk about the neighbours: in this case, Croatia.

After a week on the beautiful Zlatni rat beach near Bol, on the island of Brac, it seems a good time to promote a bit of regional tourism. Remembering that we once posted a video from the BiH Tourist Board I went searching on YouTube to see if I could turn up something similar for Croatia. I found this. There are too reasons to love this fancy little 30-second clip: the American voice-over and the fact that it opens with a superb we-were-there shot - enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

We'll back after the break!

Our summer activities are over; our summer holiday is just a little way ahead, around the corner. For the young people we've been working with this summer, yesterday's highlight was probably the water slide at Aquana, in Banja Luka. Either that or the opportunity to tease me, a Spurs supporter, about Dzeko's four goals for Manchester City at the weekend. In the interests of impartiality I left a bit of both in the video.

We now have a month before we resume Novi Most courses and activities here in Jajce. I probably don't need to point out that is not the same as a month's holiday but, there, I did anyway! Our holiday is booked for later in the month. My only concern is that although the sunshine and the temperature yesterday spoke clearly of summer still being here the trees on the drive back had definitely decided autumn is on its way. Give it a couple of weeks and who know where we'll be. Well, we know where we'll be; we just hope the good weather will still be hanging around for us!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

An Unintentionally Aquatic Finale

My last post might have made it sound like anything in Jajce involving water and tourism was experiencing something of a hiatus at the moment. Of course, that isn't the whole picture. This evening, for the first time, we rented a boat from outside Hotel Plivsko Jezero and spent a lazy hour soaking up the early evening sun on the lake. As you can see for the video, the boat had a small electric motor, running off what was basically an oversized car battery. It was slow and almost silent. Although my last experience in a boat involved a powerful engine, an exciting turn of speed and vast stretches of Finnish water I think Jajce's lakes, and this evening's excursion, benefit from their lack of the noisy elements of watersport. Tranquil would be a word well used to describe the experience.

This little adventure was part of an unintentionally aquatic finale to our Novi Most summer activities with young people in Jajce. Yesterday, we had the first social gathering between young people from Novi Most's three locations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar's Gradski Bazen - it's outdoor pool - was where most of the hanging out took place. Our final trip takes us to Banja Luka, on Monday, for a second visit to the aqua park there. For a first summer of organising activities in Jajce I think we can say things have gone fantastically well. We're in the process of getting some official feedback from the young people but the fact they've kept coming back speaks for itself.

This evening was a first for us, it probably was for many of them too. But it wasn't the first first we've made possible this summer. Insights in the other firsts will, however, have to wait until another post.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

No waterfall

Jajce really is very pretty in the summer; sitting, nestled amongst the green mountains, under a clear blue sky, its various water features sparkling in the sunlight. I could start writing things about an other-worldly beauty but I fear the 'pretentious police' might put in an appearance. Besides, some would say this would not be Bosnia if there were not some way of bringing overly romantic thoughts crashing back down to reality. For Jajce, this summer paint and pile-drivers provide the answer.

The main pedestrian bridge in one of the prettiest parts of town has been undergoing noisy, if necessary, reconstruction for the past two months. That this coincides with the height of summer and has almost certainly affected the number of visitors to the AVNOJ museum - effectively stranded on the wrong side of the river - is unfortunate, to say the least. I would add that the bridge being out of action robs tourists of easy access to the best views of Jajce's waterfall. However, for the last week the waterfall has been 'switched off' to allow the essential engineering works that have been happening below it for some months to expand. I'm sure, one day, the magic will return, but until then there are machines and what appears to be an homage to Heath Robinson.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A tune for the summer

A couple of years ago Poppiholla, Chicane's take on a Sigur Ros track, was undoubtedly my song of the summer. This year that title is likely to be taken by something of the Hurts' album Happiness. Both of these are unfortunate confessions to make before today's big announcement for they betray a fondness for electronica and retro-styled synth pop. However, unashamed and undeterred, I will offer this suggestion for your summer fix of pop punk rock.

Peace & Love is the latest recording from Gilgal, they band which Rowan and I form two-thirds of. It is one of those relentlessly energetic tracks that demands repeated plays at high volume. You could drive fast to it, dance crazily in front of the mirror to it or take your choice between air guitar or air drums. (Full disclosure: I'm the guitarist but when it comes to air instrumentation I am almost exclusively a drummer.) It may not be the sound-of-the-summer but it is certainly a sound-of-the-summer type song.

Because we feel a bit guilty soaking up the hot sun here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, watching friends in the UK tweet about grey skies and rain we want to do our bit to brighten your day, should it be a dull and cloudy one. Click the link to the Gilgal Bandcamp page ( and you can download Peace & Love to kick start your summer fun – regardless of the weather. You can get the track for free, or if you want to leave a donation Bandcamp makes that very easy. All donations will go towards the work we're doing making music recordings with young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Whether you prefer your summer synth pop or punk rock, we hope you have a good one!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Gigging again

We're gigging tomorrow and Saturday. Gilgal. That's us. Rowan and I and Budo, our drumming co-worker at Novi Most in Jajce. If your eyesight is good you'll see from the poster that the gigs are at two different caffe bars in town. We're actually playing outside two caffe bars, because at this time of year any caffe bar that has the option to operate outdoors does so.

These will be are first gigs in Jajce, if you don't include our cameo in last November's AVNOJ event. As you'd expect, we've been putting the hours in rehearsing. We're ready to play about 35 songs, including extended guitar solos and an acoustic set! Quite how the evenings will play out is anyones guess at this stage. Experience has taught us to at least try to be relaxed about such minor details start and finish times, and whether another bunch of guys are going to hold an impromptu jam on your instruments half way through the evening.

I guess in the UK advertising like this is called fly posting. Over here it's how the word gets out about pretty much everything. We weren't responsible for where our posters went up and I probably wouldn't have gone for this particular spot as, although it has an advert for summer day trips to the Croatian coast, it is mostly used for posting death notices. That said, we always see people stopped and reading them here so perhaps it wasn't a bad idea. We'll find out tomorrow night.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I show this photo not to illustrate man's propensity to spread a little around the middle but because it was my favourite photo from our recent camping experience. That it is pains me. Not because I have anything against any of these guys; the photo was the idea of the bloke doing the pointing and I thought I'd do them all the favour of blurring their faces to spare their blushes. And it's not that I dislike the photo. I like how it captures the happy wind down after a mad five minutes that mixed testosterone and a diving board. My pain is because of all the good photos I didn't manage to take.

Four days camped out at Boračko jezero, the lake you get a glimpse of in the picture, came with some fantastic sights that did not include excessive man flesh. The sunlight, the mountains, trees, clouds, weird and wonderful bits of wildlife: all of these I tried to capture. I failed. The photos I downloaded from our camera this afternoon have no mystique, no sense of wonder. The real deal, however, did not disappoint at all. Whether it was the morning sun striking the rocky mountain outcrops, or the brook weaving its way down the canyon, or the usually unseen stars revealed in a night sky with no light pollution. In the correct sense of the word, I had a great time seeing creation be awesome.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Rowan spotted this video on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It's from a high school graduation celebration here in Jajce. We were out of town when it was filmed so we missed the parade, although we did see a similar one in the boarder town of Gradiška on our way back from a recent trip to Zagreb. It's a fun video to watch - we know a few of the characters in it - and it does a good job of showing Jajce off, which we think is a cool thing.

Posting it tonight has an added significance because I've got that end-of-term feeling. My work on the children's album (that our last post talked about) is officially finished. After nine months of the project simmering in the background and two weeks of intense work, today we put a CD on the bus to Mostar, where the artwork is being designed and where it will be duplicated. It is a satisfying feeling to have delivered what was asked of me inside the timeframe we initially discussed. That the initial feedback has all been positive is an encouraging bonus.

Now all I need to do is get those songs out of my head and start learning a bunch of local covers for an acoustic set in a couple of weeks. But before then, I will have one day with a summer holiday feel to it!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

In the mix

It looks like it's going to be another sunny day in Jajce but I'm inside, sitting down for another of mixing. It's what I've done for the last two days; it's what I'll be doing for most of the next three days. At that point we'll assess progress and work out what needs to happen before the end of next week. You'll have to watch the video below to get the details of the project, it's enough here to say it's going well but the timeframe is tight. The looming deadline means there's little room for interruptions. However, in my experience, achieving an uninterrupted working day is a big ask in Bosnia and Herzegovina - but here's hoping!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Mine no more.

“UK Government congratulates #Nepal for clearance of last remaining minefields & its designation as landmine free country.” So tweeted the Foreign Office this morning. This is good news for the Nepalese, and for visitors to their country.

When it comes to the scars of war, clearing up the physical mess can take a lot longer than it does to return to some kind of psychological normality. We hear people talking about choosing to move on, but bombed-out buildings don't mend themselves. In the fifteen years since the shooting stopped in Bosnia and Herzegovina many of its marks are still clearly visible. This morning I woke to see the sunlight streaming through the bullet holes in the shutters on the window of the bedroom I was borrowing.

I'm in Mostar. I drove down from Jajce on Sunday evening. One section of the journey passes through what has been, until recently, a largely unmarked minefield. Last month a sudden proliferation of bright yellow hazard tape alerted me to the fact that I'd managed to miss the small red “Pazi Mine' signs that have been nestled in the bushes for some time. In the last week the roadside shrubbery has been hacked away and a grid of hazard tape marked out over the ground: all indications the days are numbered for this particular mine field.

Perhaps it's just me, but it is strange living in a country where there are still so many mines out there. You don't go off the beaten track. You do watch where you put you feet when you're outside of town. You do look up at the inviting mountain views and think “I wonder...” Optimistic articles I've read indicate Bosnia might be in the say position as Nepal within ten years, the pessimists add another nought to that number. Either way, the day can't come too soon.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What we see in Zagreb

Last weekend the Pope was in Zagreb. We were there the couple of days before he arrived. The to events had no connection, except that we were as aware of his impending arrival as he was unaware of our impending departure.

However, the point of this post is to put Zagreb on the map if you haven't heard of it before. We would hope the capital of Croatia has crossed your consciousness before now but should it have evaded your radar that's about to be corrected.

We've only started to explore Zagreb since our move to Jajce; it's now about a four hour drive away, which is makes it a reasonable proposition for a weekend break. Where as every city we've visited in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a east meets west feel to its architecture, Zagreb is definitely a western city. It has charm and, though we can't claim to have visited any of them yet, it also seems to have a healthy collection of museums and art galleries. It also has recently landed a regular Easyjet service from London Gatwick.

If this reads like an advert, or a puff piece, I have to confess, sadly, that we are in no way getting remunerated for our kind words - not that we'd object if that situation changed! What we can say is that we have seen enough to know there's plenty we'd like to see more of in Zagreb. We'll definitely be back there some time. And if you're reading this in London or Paris you are just one cheap, direct, flight away from meeting us there!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Music Courses Update

Last Thursday we ran a second rehearsal for our music students at Novi Most Jajce. Since we started teaching guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums (and violin), at the beginning of the year, we've seen a steady increase in the number of young people wanting to learn with us. Some have tried an instrument for a few weeks and decided it's not for them, but despite that drop-off we still have more students than we started with. Fourteen of them joined us for this session. For some it was their first time trying to play as a band, for most it was their second. (One or two might have had a little more previous experience.)

Anyone who's played music for any length of time will know there's a big difference between being a 'bedroom player' and a gigging musician. It's encouraging to see these young people rising to the challenge. Many off them are still in the very early days of getting to grips with their instrument. That they are prepared to use the little they've learned so far to make music with others is a real credit to them. Fo our part, we hope that providing both personal tuition and regular opportunities to play with others will not only give these guys a great start on their musical journey but hours of fun too.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Big news & black humour

Today the big news from this part of the world is making the headlines around the globe. It's always difficult to know what if anything we should write about such things. If we've learned anything in these past few years it is that war stories are really as simple as most news outlets like to paint them. We were in Croatia last weekend and there were plenty of visible declarations of support for General Ante Gotovina. A UN war crimes tribunal recently sentenced him to 24 years in prison for persecution, murder and other war crimes during the conflict in the 90s, but that doesn't stop him being a hero to many Croats. Likewise, in Bosnia and Herzegovina the arrest of Ratko Mladic will be met with different reactions. It may bring closure for some, reopen old wounds for others. And then there are those who will think he's being falsely accused. Discussing it could prove a conversational minefield; a sad reflection of the physical minefields that still litter the country.

In the light of all this, perhaps it is permissible to quote a light-hearted tweet on the subject. Like the British, many Bosnians we've met do a good line in black humour. I think they'd get a smile from this, if they could get their heads around the pseudo-archaic English of DrSamuelJohnson: Gen. Ratko MLADIC / Both evil & tragick / Vanish'd from View / 'til SERBIA wish'd to adjoin the EU.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A First Swim

This weekend saw Rowan and some friends taking a first swim for 2011. I know that three months from now the waters of the Adriatic will be beautifully warm, which does little to tempt me to plunge into the cold. I did, however, get as far as getting my feet wet.

We were in Gradac, Croatia, for the Novi Most team retreat. I should, of course, be showing video of all the thought-proking sessions but I was too busy leading them to get the camera out so instead you're left with a glimpse of how we spent our spare time, although what this video does fail to show is how good the ice cream was!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A wake up call.

Summer has not even arrived yet and we're already preparing for winter. This morning we were woken by the persistent ringing of the door bell, announcing our first delivery of wood. It was ten to seven. So we started the day, under the watchful ear of six or seven swallows, stacking this pile of logs into something neater and altogether more tidy.

Although the instructional videos on YouTube tell me wood should dry for a year before being burned it doesn't seem to work like that here. However, this lot will get a minimum of four or five months which should put us in a lot better starting position than we were last October. Here's hoping fires start quicker and are distinctly less smoky come the autumn.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


I should have got this online about a week ago but I needed a little longer than a moment here or there to get the video edited. So in the spirit of 'better late than never' here is what the outward leg of our recent 60k cycle ride looked like. I didn't film the way back so you miss out on the increasingly heavy rainfall the accompanied our journey home, and the collision between a brake-less BMX and the rider in front of me that left one of them tasting tarmac!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Burnt out

At a time when there are fears the actions of politicians on all sides are fanning unwelcome flames in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jajce experienced its own unwanted act of arson. We were told today these mills by the lakes survived the war unscathed but last night they did not survived what was surely a very pointless, and mindless, act of vandalism. Although, lest they perished in vain, perhaps they will provide a timely reminder of how beautiful environment is too easily scarred. Nobody benefits from that.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Worst Post-War Crisis

If Wikipedia is the place to go check 'facts' online then Twitter is certainly the first port of call for breaking news. When I noticed the phrase 'worst post-war crisis' appear with alarming regularity is my 'Bosnia' keyword search I figured we probably had something worth investigating.

It seems this is the verdict of the International Crisis Group. One might argue that given their name they were unlikely to find the situation in Bosnia as anything other, but nevertheless these kind of reports are a timely reminder that nothing should be taken for granted.

You can read the way the BBC reported this story if you want a bit more background, although it really contains little new news. However, I was left wondering where hope and optimism are when you need them. It is a brave man who says he understands the ins and outs of the political machine in Bosnia and Herzegovina; it will take brave men to see it provides ongoing peace and prosperity for all people here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

An R-rated barbecue?

This video really needs very little introduction although it may benefit from a film-like classification. It's been labeled as 'the most gory video I've seen' and I've been told it should be R rated for violence. I feel I should say "you have been warned" but can a barbecue really be that bad?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May Day Barbecue

In the next couple of days I'll edit an hours video footage into something watchable but until then I present this photograph as evidence of our May Day celebrations. That's a young goat being spit roasted and, yes, that's me taking my turn at slowly rotating the highlight of our barbecue lunch.

I'd never eaten goat before. Now I can say I've been party to tearing a freshly cooked one limb from limb and chewing it off the bone. Civilised dining it probably wasn't. However I now know goat doesn't taste like chicken, it's, unsurprisingly, lambish.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Best of British?

Sometimes it's hard to understand something you've never experienced. Up until two weeks ago my only clear recollection of an earthquake was on a simulator in London's Science Museum. That didn't prepare me for what flashes through your mind when your house actually starts shaking, like it did as we were watching Man City dump Man Utd out of the FA Cup. Last night as I lay in bed, trying to drift off to sleep, the house shook again. These quakes, while big enough to show up on the websites that monitor these things, were nothing compared to the quakes we've seen destroy communities around the world in recent months. I know that my little experience cannot really help me understand the tragedy, and terror, of those situations.

This morning we woke to a day where around the world people have joined in celebrating one of the best things about the British: their ability to do pageantry. Rowan and I watched the Royal Wedding thanks to the streaming on YouTube, although by all accounts local television was full of it too. This afternoon I was looking at some of the reporting on the BBC website. Over a helicopter image of Westminster Abbey the voiceover declared: “The seat of Kings for a thousand years.” We shouldn't overlook the fact at least a couple of Queens have been crowned there in that time, but oversimplifications aside, Britain has experienced an incredible stretch of continuity when compared to many other countries.

Since just before moving to Mostar, a book called Bosnia: A Short History has sat on our shelves. Despite its optimistic title it's a daunting brick of a book that remains unfinished. Nevertheless, I'm all too aware few countries in the Balkans can come close to claiming that kind of continuity over the last hundred years, let alone over a millennia. I often wonder what it feels like to be born in a country that no longer exists, like so many of our friends here were; their parents were quite possibly born into a different country still. (I know I'm probably guilty of a little oversimplification myself.) We live in a city steeped in history. Yugoslavia was born here and it lives on in the memories of many, but it is a past that will only slip ever further away. Listen long enough and you hear more nostalgia than pride in the present, or hope for the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have no desire to experience a tremor that really rattles the Richter Scale to better understand what it feels like. Neither would I want to live through the break-up of my homeland. Both must bring with them an unwelcome insecurity. Even though I wouldn't say life here is dangerous I think do about things I never considered back in Britain. I know the UK is not without its issues but it still has a lot going for it. Days like today help highlight this heritage. When it comes to why we shouldn't take British history for granted I think Christine Amanpour summed it up well in this tweet: “Amazing to see Will & Kate tie the knot. Not empty pomp but richness of history & continuity. Uplifting sense of security in troubled times.”

Sometimes I'm tempted to think this security, or stability, that forms part of my background is an unfair advantage, but none of us decide when or where we are born. We are, however, responsible with how we share the good things life have given us with those who haven't had the same opportunities. A day like today serves as a timely reminder that those of us who were born British shouldn't take the benefits that has brought us for granted.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Not one swallow...

One swallow does not make a summer but could two be the sign of sunshine to come? The online weather forecasts don't agree at the moment but we live in hope. Whatever the weather it was quite a surprise to see these guys outside the window as I was getting breakfast. Perhaps it is evidence of ageing or a sign of the power of parenting that such things catch my attention. As if to prove either point, this morning's bike ride around the lake was a head turning affair. I am pleased to say I didn't run over three of the largest snails I can remember seeing. Spotting the first, bang in the middle of the trail I was riding, had me stopping to gauge just how big he was: head to tail easily as wide as my fist. Maybe that doesn't sound so impressive to you but it was to me!

The wisdom of Wikipedia indicates the bird swimming on the lake could be a sign of summer. The margin for error comes from the vagaries of their distribution map and the accuracy of my identification. Nevertheless, I'm going to make it 2-0 to summertime with my sighting of a Great Crested Grebe. (Real ornithologists feel free to shout me down on this!) Least this all get terribly optimistic I have to redress the balance with what Wikipedia says about my weirdest wandering wildlife encounter yet: “These salamanders are secretive and will only exit their underground home on warm rainy nights in Spring, to breed and hunt.” Yes, I spotted a Spotted Salamander, obviously late getting home from a hard night out in yesterday's rain. Shiny black with bright orange spots he was always going to be hard to miss but nevertheless proved a little camera shy. Here's the proof it's probably still spring.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The first rehearsal

Back in January I wrote a post about the behind the scenes preparations for the music courses we are now teaching in Jajce. In the video I said I hoped that at some point we'd be able to post a video showing the result of this teaching. This is that point. After a couple of months of teaching individual music lessons we decided it was time to get all our students into a rehearsal to put together what they have been learning. There were nerves, and there were some mistakes, but there were a lot of very encouraging performances too. Judging by the cell phone videos that appeared on Facebook on Thursday night they are proud of their progress; we are too and this is our video record of their first rehearsal.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Not inevitable

This afternoon I was told a simple story that illustrates why the hatred and division, fuelled by nationalism, that's all too common in this part of the world need not be an inevitability. We were visiting the parents of some brothers who are attending the youth work we're running in Jajce. Over generous helpings of coffee and cake the conversation ranged around various subjects. Then it turned to the one that can prove so explosive. The father leans forward. “It was ninety-three” he begins, explaining that this was the height of the war between the Croats and the Muslims, at least where he was at the time. “We got married then.” He is Catholic, his wife Muslim. His point was clear, so clear I think it needs no further expounding.

Monday, 11 April 2011

An Empire State of Sarajevo.

We'd watched it grow but we'd never been up. Yesterday, we visited the Avaz Twist Tower in Sarajevo for the first time. The decision was made by its proximity to the place we were spending the night but mostly by the gloriously clear blue skies stretched over Sarajevo. Although they had postcards pushing a parallel with the Empire State Building the two are very different experiences. For one thing there are no snow-topped mountains to be viewed from Manhattan. Without a double the Avaz Twist Tower does offer the best panorama of Sarajevo. If there was one disappointment it was that the open-air section of the 36th floor viewing gallery was closed, meaning the 35th floor cafe bar provided the better views. But as it would be wrong to gain that much elevation without stopping for coffee we did have time to savour them.

Friday, 8 April 2011

International Roma Day

You have to be careful what you read in the news. It can give you a very unbalanced perspective on things. Today as I sat in a multi-agency round table meeting to discuss Roma issues in a village school near Jajce I caught myself thinking: I can't imagine this happening in France. I'm aware this is probably very unfair to all the un-xenophobic French whose views are not presented in the British media. However I was struck with the contrast between reading recent stories of deportations and sitting in a room with representatives from the local social services, local government, OSCE, EUFOR and others discussing issues around education with a group of Roma parents. Here were people trying to make life better. That, at least, is the optimistic view. Listening to the realities of the struggles this community faces it's easy to wonder if life will ever change. This evening I read a less than hopeful article about the future of the whole country. With such big problems in need of fixing it begs the question why worry about the little ones. But as a friend said this morning: you have to start somewhere. Where people have started they have made a difference, and when people stop to think about it they recognise that and are thankful. That's the encouragement. There may still be a long road ahead but, one step at a time, life can get better.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A winning day

Saturday was a very satisfying day. Sometimes in youth work it can be hard to see progress, or any kind of positives, from all your efforts; it was not one of those days. Instead it was day when I could choose which of many encouraging outcomes to reflect on.

The uni hockey match in Mostar brought together young people from a mixture of ethnic and social backgrounds, although the teams were not defined by these factors. The teams, from Mostar and Jajce, were both mixed. It was exciting to see that after a hard fought game, that lacked nothing in passion and intensity, the teams were happy to hang out and mix together. Perhaps this was because the players are unified by an involvement in a sport almost unknown in this part of the world. I'd like to think the accepting atmosphere the coaches from both teams have created had something to do with it too.

For my part it was nice to know I haven't been forgotten by the young people from Klub Novi Most in Mostar, and it was fun to show the young people from Jajce around the sights of Mostar's Stari Grad. Six and a half hours on the mountain roads between here and there took its toll, but it was a very satisfied exhaustion that left me struggling to wake up on Sunday morning.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Jajce fights back!

It's like Jajce read yesterday's post about Mostar and thought anything it can do...and turned up the heat.

When I left the house at nine this morning is was a grey, overcast day. By noon we were sitting outside a coffee bar in the centre of town, burning up under the midday sun. This season's tan is officially started!

At five I had a meeting with a local band out by the lakes. Had I sat the other side of the table I would have spent an hour staring at this view. As it was I concentrated on what was being said instead!

Truth be told, Mostar was warmer yesterday but having given friends there a cautious appraisal of Jajce's move towards summer weather I am happy to be proved wrong so quickly.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mostar looking lovely.

Mostar was looking lovely today. I was down for the day as our uni hockey team from Jajce were playing against the team from Klub Novi Most in Mostar. I'll save any comment on the game until I can post the highlights video.

Instead, enjoy the view from the Stari Most. It was ideal weather for taking in the delights of the Stari Grad, which we did before hitting the road back to Jajce. Warm, t-shirt weather in the low twenties is much more suited for strolling around in the sunshine than the mid-fourties heat of high summer.

What you won't see is all the photo opportunities I passed up on the way there and back in the interests of driving responsibly. Blue skies, sunshine and snow-topped mountains still take a lot of beating in my book. In fact my concern to drive safely almost backfired when I slowed dramatically on a mountain road to let a cat with no sense of urgency saunter out of my path; I was being tail-gated by an impatient local at the time. In retrospect, full speed ahead would have been safer for human life. Future dazed and confused felines be warned!

Friday, 1 April 2011

What Europe has lost.

It's a sad fact that most news stories about Bosnia and Herzegovina that make English language news sites tend not to be happy ones. The article from this week's Economist that landed in my Facebook inbox this week would be a good example. While I don't believe you, me or the international community at large should ignore the issues this kind of journalism highlights it is important to offer proof of the positives of this place. As an example of this I present this quote from an article a friend posted on my Facebook wall last night.

The country described sometimes as the heart between the mouths of two lions, hosts one of the two greatest tracks of primeval forests in Europe, unmatched biodiversity, daunting mountain faces yet to be climbed, deep gorges yet to be traversed, wild rivers with water so pure you can cup your hand to drink, some of the highest concentrations of wildlife, and perhaps the last highland tribes of semi-nomadic peoples on the continent. In many ways, Bosnia today has what the rest of Europe has lost.”

It was a brief travelogue piece: perhaps not the finest piece of writing in the world but the reaction of someone who'd clearly been taken by surprise by their Bosnia and Herzegovina experience. It wasn't an April fool; I checked the date and it was written in September 2009. Whatever might have happened politically or economically since then it is safe to say that the mountains and gorges, rivers and forests still present the same, largely unspoilt, opportunities for would be adventurers. Anyone hungry for an off-the-beaten-track holiday in Europe could do worse than investigating what Bosnia and Herzegovina has to offer. Don't say you haven't been told!

(After Wednesday's post it would be wrong to ignore that fact today FIFA and UEFA have suspended the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – something that only goes to prove my opening sentence!)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's a funny old game

Let's pile on the the cliches; we are talking football after all. That game of two halves. The one where things always seem to be up there and probably at the end of the day! It's been described as a game that is't a matter of life and death, it's more important than that. Maybe it is, probably it isn't. Nevertheless, these days, many a manager mangles words like a would be philosopher while the stars of the pitch are schooled to deliver non-committal, controversy-free press conference performances a politician would be proud of. Taking their cue, this post will touch a little on the political and philosophical, which I hope makes up for the lack of anything more important.

Tonight I played a little game. I typed 'Bosnia news' into Google, determined that I would blog about the first link it served up under its 'News for Bosnia news' heading. That was this link from ESPN Soccernet. I was the story I expected.

Although I've been aware of this story for a while I don't claim to have any inside track on any facts, so this piece should be read as nothing more than a breezy bit of opinion from the blogosphere. I know enough to know the footballing situation is complicated and not easy for the casual observer to understand. It goes without saying this too is a reflection of the political situation.

Under the headline 'Bosnia and Herzegovina facing ban' the article explains that the national team may be suspended from international competition. This is not for any misdemeanours on the pitch, nor for anything untoward going on in the stands. Instead it is because the country's footballing hierarchy reflects the political system that governs BiH. There are two football associations in the country with three presidents between them. FIFA and UEFA announced in October 2010 that if they could not organise themselves into one association with one president by the end of March 2011 they would be suspended on April 1st. That's no joke.

With all the fanfare FIFA made about taking to football to new places with the way it awarded the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups it seems strange to be talking about them taking it away somewhere else. It is, as they say, a funny old game.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


We recently bought a Nintendo Wii for the youth club sessions we're running in Jajce. There were two reasons for choosing this over a PlayStation: the Wii is less common here and it seems more of a social gaming experience. The wireless controllers often make the players as entertaining as the game play. However, it was only in the unboxing after the purchase that we realised the sensor that picks up the movement of the controllers was connected by a very thin, delicate-looking piece of wire. Not something I deemed durable enough for repeated rigging and de-rigging. One over-enthusiastic tug might have left us with an expensive collection of useless bits of plastic.

And so I dreamed up this, as-yet, un-named transport, storage and protection solution for the Wii. That it doubles as a handy projector stand is an added bonus. The toolbox cost little more than a fiver and now houses the Wii console and power supply. The tool tray keeps the various controllers and connectors organised. Custom cut slots provide access for loading games, running leads to the projector and letting the sensors 'see' the players. My one concern was overheating – I plan to add ventilation holes once I've purchased an suitable drill bit – but two hours of constant use came and wetn this afternoon without issue.

The good news is the pay off for all this 'ingenuit-Wii' was a whole group of happy young people who had hours of fun. That tells us enough to know this was a worthwhile investment.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The passage of time

Consider this our passage of time moment. Like in the movies we are acknowledging the time since our last post by showing the changing of the season. (Compare with the post below.) This is today in Jajce, a warm sunny day that might mean winter has passed.

After a couple of weeks of catching up with friends and family back in the UK we're now getting back up to speed with our work here. Rowan was running a baking course last night and is out teaching art this evening. I spent the afternoon giving keyboard lessons. So we are back, up and running.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Castles in the Sky...with snow!

I think it was in a video I made earlier this year that I mentioned how a dash of snow suited Jajce's castle. Back then I didn't take the photos to prove it but an overnight fall gave me the chance to snap this shot while walking home today. In fairness, the castle looks pretty good whatever the weather.

On Monday I was sorting through some old photos to upload on our new WeDoAdventure Facebook page. If you were to head over there and click 'like' you'd be able to see that clear blue skies and golden sunshine also compliment it nicely. But least I be accused of favouritism let me add the castle is not the only photogenic spot in Jajce. The waterfall, the mills and the lakes are all up there as great place to take a camera; something I've tried to provide a bit of evidence for on Facebook. If you do like the page I hope you like what you see!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I don't want to claim to speak for anyone on what this means so I'll quote from something I saw on the Facebook profile of a local friend. It was written in English, so I haven't coloured anything in translation.

Happy Independence Day to MY most BEAUTIFUL country Bosnia & Herzegovina!! ♥ and to all of the people living here, wishing that any subsequent year is better and that all who live in this territory feel like BiH is their homeland :) :P

I wholeheartedly agree this is a beautiful country but it was the last bit that really got me. If the things I've heard over the years are a fair representation of the truth then it was the desire for distinct homelands that broke up Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country from which some people would still like to carve a distinct homeland for themselves. While not wanting to comment on the politics of that I fail to see how the economics of such action would add up, apart from anything else.

I'm aware there are many who might not have clicked 'like' if they had seen this status this morning but to me it said something about hope for the future...and I like that.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fact or fiction?

I'll confess that at first the thought made me cringe. Google refused to come to my rescue and the growing realisation dawned: I may have invented a myth. That is a rather grand way of saying that the lies I told as a tour guide my brother took as truth and presented to YouTube. Obviously, I didn't intentionally set out to misrepresent my adopted home, or to mislead my brother, or his YouTube audience. I still maintain that my information came from somewhere other than my fertile imagination, but I have yet to find the facts to back this up.

Clearly a video about a different kind of tanning booth has great potential on the internet. It was only after seeing it titled and tagged that I began to doubt the description I'd given. Online all I can find is references to 'mills' or 'water mills'. (Now I know which sounds more glamorous; perhaps the local tourist office is missing a trick!) I quickly came clean to my brother about my reservations and he countered with the comment that most official signs he saw in Jajce confessed to unverified sources. No different from using Wikipedia then!

Much as I'd love to sweep this whole, slightly embarrassing, episode under the carpet I felt it a useful exercise in transparency and an interesting example of the issues surrounding much of the history of this region. The truth is out there but often it seems the only sure fact is that the facts are fuzzy or altogether elusive. I doubt I am the first foreigner who, with no ill intent, misrepresented history here, I probably won't be the last. And should it, by some strange chance, end up that my recollection was, in fact, correct I will nonetheless in future remain ever mindful of the fact of my own fallibility.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The last couple of days it has been attempting to snow here in Jajce. This has jogged my memory, for better of for worse, reminding me of this photo from when we had snow settled everywhere earlier this year. Against the white blanket covering the ground this mystery object stood out as we studied the view from our kitchen window. Rowan declared in disgusting and I, employing a sensible look-don't-touch policy, reckoned it to be some kind of animal skin, probably removed at one of the butcher's shops near our house. Whatever its origin, and however it ended up opposite our home, it provided hours of entertainment for the local stray dogs. For the better part of a week we watched it get smaller and smaller until, with the snow, it disappeared altogether.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

A uni-hockey first.

Over the past couple of years I've written a number of posts about uni-hockey. However, I've never posted a photo or a video that shows the game in action. Thankfully, last weekend my brother was on hand to do the honours. This, then, is his first-hand account of his first experience of uni hockey, on his first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Big Thumbs Up!

This isn't the first time we've had reason to write nice things about EasyJet on this blog. We hope it won't be the last. But least pessimism get the last word let's celebrate the bizarre experience that was collecting my brother and his family from Zagreb airport yesterday. We knew they were flying EasyJet, in fact we'd noticed tickets for the new route become available and recommend they book a cheap trip months ago. We'd since forgotten they'd booked on the inaugural flight.

Without this context we did wonder why we were seeing the aircraft ceremonially doused by the hoses of two fire tenders as is taxied towards the terminal. The presence of a media scrum in the arrivals hall had us wondering if a Croatian celebrity had shared the flight with them. When a lone piper struck his first drone note in baggage reclaim we were lost for an explanation. Thankfully the British Ambassador to Croatia was on hand to provide the missing pieces of the puzzle.

As we say on the video: big thumbs up to Easy Jet on this occasion. It was our nephew's first flight and were he old enough to remember it it was a very memorable experience. Thankfully his uncle has a slight video-making obsession so the moment is captured, even down to our Ambassadorial handshakes, which were a very welcome icing on this most surprising of cakes.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


On today's impromptu after-lunch stroll my wander up to the view point overlooking Jajce's waterfall was interrupted by a familiar looking strip of yellow tape. MINE: not an indication of ownership but an announcement of clear and present danger. After a quick glance around I decided they was no need to do what Hilary said she did in Bosnia. I did not duck and run; I stopped and took this photo for you. Only last week I saw a new article posted on Facebook about a cliff fall a few metres from where I was standing. My mind was putting two and two together hoping for four. Was the danger not so much a mine as an undermined area? Is it wrong to suspect that MINE tape was being used as an all-purpose hazard tape?

Having experimented with various ways of capturing the view and the tape in a neatly composed image I wandered back down to the path that leads out to the side of the falls. The sun was in completely the wrong place for capturing a good photo – why I had headed for the upper view point in the first place – but squinting into its glare I could see that the fall had indeed take quite a chunk out of the cliff face. A path we once ventured down now ends end more abruptly than it did when we trod it. Something is being built by the base of the falls. There is a crane drilling deep holes down there. We've heard conflicting stories of what exactly they're up to. All that's obvious is there's some heavy machines and a lot of concrete down there. It wouldn't take a conspiracy theorist to conjecture there is some connection in all these goings on.

In closing, I should note that the view point is but a road's width away from a scenically placed petrol station. From its perspective I suspect neither mines or undermining are particularly good news.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Not lacking potential

A piece on the BBC website about the Easter Islands caught my eye this morning. It made me think about a conversation I had on Friday morning out by the lakes in Jajce. I was drinking coffee with a local friend who was saying it was a shame more had not been done to develop the potential of the lakes as a leisure destination. It's true they have huge potential, their banks bear testimony to various efforts down the years to capitalise on this, yet it's fair to say much of this potential remains unfulfilled.

I'll confess my knowledge of the Easter Islands runs little deeper than recognising the origin of the giant talking statue in Night At The Museum, but their story got me thinking over breakfast today about the pros and cons of achieving potential. The lakes in Jajce could easily become one of central Bosnia's go-to summer locations, but at what price to the local community. We know the lakes are loved by the local community but perhaps the price of overcrowding and possibility of permanent scaring on a beautiful landscape are worth paying for the jobs and revenue an upturn in tourism could create.

Jajce is a town, or city, with charm and character and fair helping of rich history and natural beauty. It does get tourists but it is not a touristy place. This gives it an engaging authenticity. We heard someone say Jajce used to be the biggest tourist destination in former-Yugoslavia, a fact which, if true, is not entirely surprising given its place in both Bosnian and Yugoslavian history. It has heritage if not the badge to prove it: the Easter Islands have their UNESCO World Heritage Site status while Jajce remains just a candidate of its. Nobody I've spoken to is sure if or when this status will change. And who knows if or when the town will. It is easy for me to say I'd hate to see it ruined by development, I think the more pressing issue for most local people is they'd love to see some jobs and some money return to the area.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sun...and sexism?

The sun came out on Saturday. It's not that we haven't seen it for months but this was the first time for months that you could say it was warm, or at least warmish. Running around at uni-hockey training I wasn't the only one to end up in a t-shirt. Since the start of January, after training on Saturdays, Novi Most has been running a social session for a couple of hours. Most of the team will turn up joined by a number of other young people from the area.

So far this year the sessions have happened inside – apart from one snowy weekend that saw some impromptu 'ice hockey' happen in the area behind the building. This week the sunshine and warm weather prompted our co-worker to suddenly decide to get all the lads clearing leaves and generally tidying up the yard outside. He is unashamedly keen to have this space ready for the onset of barbecue season! And so an industrious half hour from the boys saw a splendid piece of early spring cleaning accomplished under the watchful gaze of the girls. Was it sexist not to hand one of them a broom? Not in this country. It's been our observation that gender roles here have well established and accepted norms. Many people seem to have a clear distinction between what is men's work and women's work, and I certainly didn't catch anybody complaining about that in this instance!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Pretty in pink?

Without doubt, the most popular car on the road in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Volkswagen Golf. Every generation is represented, in fact, only the other day I saw one of what Wikipedia tells me was only 6,697 Mk2 Golf Country's ever made. This was Volkswagen's pre-emptive – you could even say prophetic – stab at producing an SUV in the early nineties. My sighting was the only time I have ever seen this model anywhere, other than in a picture. But today we saw a much more modern incarnation that whet Rowan's appetite. As you can see from the picture it is pretty in pink. Rowan declared that it looked like you could eat it. Instead of the words 'Volkswagen' or 'Golf' adorning the cars behind there was just a simple, silver heart decal. This too is a unique sighting. I can't recall seeing many pink cars over here, if any others at all. Do I approve? Well, I like the wheels! Naturally, if I had to choose between these two Golfs my vote would have to go with the retro 4x4 experiment.

Monday, 24 January 2011

On Course...

Last week we said we'd be starting running courses as a Novi Most team in Jajce. We can confirm we did and that our first week of courses turned out to be a heady cocktail of drums and guitar, with a dash of synth, a spot of violin, lashings of papier-mâché and two dozen chocolate muffins! This video gives a bit of insight into the preparation for the music courses and a nice long look at my new hat from various angles!

Monday, 17 January 2011

She Will Be Mine?

I'm not sure how familiar you are with Wayne's World. As a teenager my wife and her friends were definitely in the Bill and Ted camp; for me and my friends it was Wayne and Garth that got our laughs. Regardless of your franchise allegiance – if any – an interest in either should have stirred an affinity with the rock wannabe. I first watched Wayne's World as an aspiring musician; two decades on I've now got a long history of helping others strike their own first heroic barre chords.

Tomorrow Novi Most starts its first music courses as part of its work in Jajce. So it was that today I – a guitarist – walked into Banja Luka's premier music store with my drumming co-worker for some essential supplies. Yes, there was a drum kit sitting under some lighting bars but he did not treat shoppers to an impromptu solo! In the movie Wayne had his heart set on a white Stratocaster that lived locked in a glass case in his local music store's window. “She will be mine” he says until the day he can make an extravagant cash purchase. I've never asked to play a guitar locked in a glass case but the shops I used to frequent in the UK all used to wire their guitars to security alarms. Today I walked in on this beauty just laying on a stool in the guitar room, clearly asking to be played. I can't claim to be a huge fan of Strats or super-strats, but neither was I of Teles until I bought one. Is this the super-strat to change my mind? Will she be mine?

Thursday, 13 January 2011


This was lunch. I can't say I'm proud of it but I present it as an interesting case study of economists; neatly summing up both the psychological power wielded by global brands and the well known fact that scarcity increases demand. As we've mentioned before, Bosnia and Herzegovina has no McDonalds. This is by no means a bad thing. The country has plenty of quality home-grown alternatives to the most famous burger in fast food. However Croatia has McDonalds and that means the lure of the Golden M is never far from the travelling kind.

We once spent twelve days in Manhattan. Despite there being seemingly a McDonalds on every corner that wasn't occupied by a Starbucks we only stepped inside once, when needing to find a 'rest room' after a trip on the Staten Island ferry. We had no inclination to eat there. Years before we left the UK we'd stopped considering McDonalds as a fast food option, except in an absolute emergency. So why did I find myself eating a soggy burger and some decidedly average fries in Zagreb earlier today? Clearly I am a victim of some pesky mind games because I am reluctant to admit I would pine for an absent restaurant I was well out of the habit of frequenting!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Back Page Special

One of our co-workers turned up this morning, apologising for oversleeping in one breath before breathlessly asking if we knew how much Edin Dzeko is set to earn every day. For those whose eyes are not glued to the UK's back pages, Dzeko is Manchester City's latest acquisition and Bosnia and Herzegovina's star striker. We saw him once, when he turned in what I'd have to describe as an uninspired performance in the country's most important ever football match. They lost 1-0 to Portugal and didn't go to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

With a £27m price tag to justify you have to hope he performs better week in and week out in the Premier League. Whatever his wages are they are almost certainly beyond the realms of comprehension for most people in his home country, although this is almost a universal issue with the sport's highest paid stars. That said he could probably pop back here in a couple of weeks and afford to buy a small town, or two!

The funny thing is there's a local joke about Manchester City, at least amongst our friends. It doesn't translate easily into a blog post because it revolves around singing like a folk singer. Needless to say, having lived with this joke associated with City for the last eighteen months or so it put a smile on my face to see Bosnia's most famous current footballer signing for them. I look forward to seeing a rise in the number of fake light-blue shirts on the streets!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Crazy Icy Tunnel

We blogged about icy tunnels a few weeks back but as yesterday's bike ride took in a couple of them I could resist the temptation to stop and make this video so you could experience them close up. Enjoy!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy Trails

Here is the evidence I went out riding today. It's not that I think you wouldn't believe me without the image - I could have blogged about the ride without it – but a pictures ability to add to the word count without adding any words is the stuff of legends. From what I gather from Facebook it seems some UK readers may be sick of the sight of snow, and to them I apologise, but it was the dusting of overnight snow that got me out of the house this morning. I wanted to ride in the snow a couple of weeks back but we had too much work on for me to find the time. Today gave the perfect combination: a sunny day and enough snow to make it a snow ride, without too much to render riding an impossibility.

Yesterday we met an American who had worked in Jajce at the end of the nineties. They were excited to here about the developing youth work project we are part of. The word pioneering cropped up in the conversation. I'll confess it's not a tag that sits easily because I'm conscious that our success so far owes a huge debt to everyone who has worked on similar projects here in the years before we arrived. At the same time, when people with the experience to comment with some historical perspective on what we're doing use the word it seems foolish to dismiss the compliment.

As we look ahead to 2011 we do want to be part of something that provides new opportunities and experiences to young people in Jajce. For all my hang-ups, yes, we do want to be involved in something pioneering, even if we don't want to jump to stick that tag on it ourselves. In our first couple of months here we've seen far more progress than we would have dared anticipate. As we kick off our working year later this week we have plenty to work on, and a surprisingly large number of young people to start working with. Being in the right place and the right time may be a cliché but it also may be our present reality.

Which brings us back to the photo. It clearly shows my bike tyre tracks in fresh snow: trail blazing, or pioneering if you will. I shot it close-up. There's nothing to give any sense of scale or perspective, except if you know the average width of a mountain bike tyre. Were these the lone tracks across a vast untouched snow field? Are they carving a furrow on the verge of a well-gritted highway? You can't tell. Perhaps it doesn't matter. The snap shot shows activity where five minutes before there was none. Instead of a blank page it shows the signs of purpose and progress. If 2011 is stretched out in front of us like a sunny snow day I hope there will be plenty of these kind of photo opportunities as we make happy trails.