Archive for the month “June, 2017”

A Forum full of atmosphere.


One added bonus to visiting the Colosseum is that your ticket also gets you entry into the area that used to be the Forum, the commercial and administrative heart of Ancient Rome. Just wandering around these ruins is a truly spiritual experience.

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You can imagine yourself rubbing shoulders with stall-holders selling tomatoes and Roman Senators out on a shopping trip to buy new daggers.

You can read some of the history displayed on rather wordy signboards


Similarly at the ruins of the Temple of Vesta with its famous virgins.



Well worth a morning’s exploration.


But spare a thought for the poor benighted men and women who work for Rome’s Urban Planning Department.  It must be quite a challenge to plan any substantial building work in Rome, because every time you put a shovel into the ground, you are likely to discover another priceless archaeological site!  They are currently trying to extend the Rome Underground and building a station right next to the Forum!  It must be a nightmare!


Making a living.

From my vantage point up high on the walls of the Colosseum I could look down on the crowds of tourists milling about outside. Of course, wherever there are tourists there is money to be made so there were people selling souvenirs, selfie sticks, headscarves, umbrellas and, like the fellow in the picture below, hats.


Well, it was Rome, it was sunny and so people needed hats, didn’t they? And commerce abhors a vacuum.  So there was a man selling hats.

And then…              P1080204


Hats?  What hats?  No, Officer, not me!  No, I’m just delivering these for a friend.


No, I’m just delivering these for a friend.


And. finally an uneasy peace is restored and the Colosseum can go about its business.

The Colosseum was awesome!

For our mini-break in Rome we rented a small apartment through Airbnb.

Look what we found at the end of our street.

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We couldn’t resist the temptation to go inside so we signed up for a guided tour led by a young woman who turned out to be an art historian.  There were about twenty of us in the group and we were each given what looked like an ipod to hang around our necks.  The tour guide then had a small transmitter and was able to talk to us without shouting and without us having to follow a flag.  If we strayed too far from the group, the commentary in our ear-pieces started to disappear so we would make sure that we caught up with the group again pretty quickly.

One question that I was dying to ask was why the walls of the Colosseum were full of holes.  I could see no reason for them to be there.


The guide explained that originally the Colosseum  was covered in marble, but that the Catholic Church had stripped it all out, declaring the Colosseum to be a pagan monument, and then used the marble to decorate the many churches that are scattered liberally around the city.

I’m not sure if the explanation was true, but it was a good story!

Apparently, some of the holes were made to anchor the original metal banding that held the great stone blocks together, but that’s not anywhere near such a good tale.


Being on an organised tour, we were able to go to areas of the building that were not open to the general throng. Amongst these was the huge area beneath the actual arena itself, where, two thousand years ago, the slaves, gladiators and wild animals were kept before being hoisted up into the arena above their heads to face whatever uncertain fate awaited them.


The stench in these cramped corridors and alleyways must have been appalling.  Perhaps being hauled up to the surface to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd would have been a relief!


Part of the arena floor has been rebuilt and there are proposals to complete the rest of the floor so that the Colosseum could be used for concerts and other entertainments.  (Apparently, the original arena floor could be sealed so that it could be flooded to enable mock naval battles to be staged.  What fun would that have been?)

Two myths were exploded by our very well-informed guide.  Firstly, that Hollywood lied to us in the film ‘Gladiator’, where we saw Russell Crowe battling tigers.  Can you believe that Hollywood would lie?

Apparently, Gladiators did not fight with animals.  That was below their station.  They only fought with other gladiators according to a strict set of rules.  The people who fought with and were torn to bits by wild animals were hunters, not gladiators. I don’t suppose it made much difference to the animals.

Secondly, the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ signal to determine whether the vanquished gladiator would be put to death or not is not true.  Oh Horror! Are there no certainties left in life?

Apparently if the emperor, or the crowd wanted the poor defeated gladiator to die, they would hold out their fists with the thumb showing in a horizontal position, perhaps representing a blade that should be drawn across the victim’s neck.  If they wanted mercy to be shown to the victim, the thumb would be tucked inside the fist.  (Interestingly, in Germany, a closed fist with the thumb tucked inside is the sign for good luck, the equivalent of ‘fingers crossed’. I’m sure a vanquished gladiator who saw such a signal would consider himself very lucky indeed.)


Gladiators were trained in a special gladiator school some distance from the Colosseum.  They would come to the arena though underground tunnels like the one pictured above.

There is something really special about being in a building that is two thousand years old. When it is just at the bottom of your street, it’s even more special!


I know nothing about football.

Well, that’s not strictly true.  I do remember one of our venerable football commentators saying that football is a game where twenty two men chase a ball around a field for ninety minutes trying to score goals and then the Germans win, but that is the extent of my knowledge.

Imagine my surprise therefore when we were wandering around the backstreets of Rome and discovered a game of football that just did not match the above description at all.P1080351

Firstly there seemed to be three teams playing at the same time, each team had three players and there were three goals.


There was a proper referee who was dressed for the part and had a whistle, and a notebook, and socks …


… and the competition was fierce.

Every now and again, someone was awarded a free kick, (for reasons I didn’t understand),  but instead of being allowed to just kick the ball, the player had to shut their eyes and be spun around by the referee!


Once the player was completely dizzy, she had to try and kick the ball.  Results were, to say the least, mixed.


And so the game went on, to the obvious delight of the spectators and to the absolute bafflement of your correspondent.


Amazing what you see when you travel.

Well, it amused us…


… and it solved the dilemma about where to have dinner.

You’re never alone…

Our trip to Rome was well worth the effort, but my overriding and enduring impression is one of crowds.  people, people, everywhere.  Most of them dutifully following flags like loyal, if somewhat foot-weary, soldiers.

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At the famous Spanish Steps, there was hardly room to pose!


Indeed, I couldn’t resist a moment of reflection about just how famous the Spanish Steps would have been if Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn hadn’t ridden a motor scooter down them in the 1953 film Roman Holiday. There were an awful lot of souvenir shops selling reproductions of the original film posters!

And as for the Trevi Fountain.  Yes, it was impressive, in a gargantuan kind of way…





… but any thoughts of throwing a coin into the fountain and wishing for good luck were quickly dispelled.  Short of projecting my hopeful Euro over the heads of the crowd in the hope that it would land in the fountain, it was physically impossible to get close enough to the water to secure my future good fortune from this ancient ritual.

Indeed, the best view of the fountain was through and over the stall of the souvenir seller!  Colosseum in a snow globe, anyone?


Still, all good fun and plenty of sunshine to boot.

It just didn’t seem right.

We’d both reached our mid-sixties – well, to be honest, we’d both passed our mid-sixties,- and neither of us had ever been to Rome.  Clearly, once we realised this, it was a situation that had to be addressed, so a couple of weeks ago we treated ourselves to a mini-break in the Italian capital.

When you travel, you learn lots of things.  You learn how different nationalities deal with familiar situations.  Like, for instance, how Roman law enforcement officers deal with drunks…

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Problem sorted!

And selfied


The centre of Rome is just a feast for the eyes.

Everywhere you look, there are temples, statues, monuments, colonnades, ruins oh yes, and restaurants and street cafes galore.

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…and churches, everywhere churches, most of them decorated to within an inch of their lives.  It seems to have been a point of principle amongst Italian artists not to leave a single square inch of wall or ceiling undecorated. Perhaps, like lawyers, they were paid by length or by square meterage.


By the end of our four days in Rome our neck muscles were bulging and our feet were quite sore.  Well worth it, though.



It’s Tuesday today.  On Tuesday, I do my shift at the OXFAM shop in the centre of Brighton.

So this morning I set off on foot, at a brisk pace, eschewing the car which sits outside our house, neglected and slowly rusting. Which was just as well, because this was the scene that met me halfway to work.



I’ll admit it was a bit windy, but this was ridiculous!


On closer examination, it was clear that this was an accident that had been waiting to happen for some while.  The base of the tree was completely rotten and, in the high winds, it had simply snapped off and come crashing down across one of Brighton’s major thoroughfares.

The residents of the flats behind the tree must have been a trifle relieved that the wind hadn’t been blowing in the opposite direction!


Four hours later, I came back to see what had been going on in my absence.


Tree?  What tree?

The bigger picture

Last Saturday’s tragic events in London are still very much in all of our thoughts.  The more you think about them, and the Manchester attack only two weeks ago, the more you start to wonder what on earth is happening to our world and where is are these events leading us.

The immediate reaction is always a tightening of security, an increase in surveillance and a self-perpetuating sense of crisis and despair.  Indeed just the response that groups like ISIS are hoping to provoke.

I was therefore grateful recently to receive the following graph which shows the incidence of terror attacks in the UK since 1970 and which, I believe, needs to be in the background of our thoughts.


I’m not sure what we should conclude from this.  2017 is certainly shaping up to be a very bad year, and one of the most worrying aspects in the increase in hate crime directed to those who are seen as sharing the religion of the killers. But when you see what was going on in the 1970s and 80s, perhaps the graph is suggesting that we need to be slow in forming our judgements and to tale a longer view when seeking quick solutions.



London: 3rd June


This is the Shard, one of London’s newest buildings.  I took the photo on Saturday afternoon, having just walked past London Bridge and Borough Market.  In the evening, we went to see a play at the National Theatre.

I think, being charitable, I might describe the play, called Commons, as ambitious.  Or perhaps it was something to do with the good dinner and the generous bottle of wine that we enjoyed before the performance.  Either way, neither of us stayed fully awake for the whole of the first half, so we decided to leave during the interval.

We ambled along the Thames and waited for a bus just outside the A&E Department of St Thomas’s Hospital.  Nothing much was happening. That was sometime after 9.30pm.  We caught our bus and make our way back to our daughter’s flat where we were staying the night at the end of an agreeable day wandering around London.

Within an hour of our catching our bus, three terrorists had run amok on London Bridge and then went on a stabbing spree in Borough Market.  Seven random people were dead. police had shot the three terrorists.  St Thomas’s A&E Department was overrun with casualties.

A grizzly reminder, if one were needed, of how life can change in an instant and how all of your certainties can be exploded beyond anything you can have imagined.

So many innocent lives ruined on a warm summer’s evening.

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