Silence Shattered

There has been an explosion in central Oslo this afternoon, somewhere around the offices of the government and a prominent national newspaper.  I work three or four miles away and heard it.  The news networks have been picking up the thread with alarming speed.

Leyla and I are both safe and well.

Late at the office

Friday evening early May.  The in-car thermometer reckons it’s twenty-four Celsius out there.  The moon is rising full and as I left the office it was neatly framed by a pair of cranes.  I have just driven through the yard at night for the first time.

It is an impressive place to move through at any time of day.  The roads are lined by pieces of ships the size of buildings, many of them sprouting sprays of sparks as welders or grinders ply their trade.  Each varies in size and finish from the next, as if parts of several 3D jigsaw puzzles had been spread across a table.  The traffic is a weaving mixture of forklifts, trucks, buses, cars, mopeds, bicycles and often pieces of ship being driven from one location to an other on a Titan: a metal table-top fifteen metres square with dozens of  wheels underneath it on hydraulic jacks.

At night the sense of theatre is heightened.  Sparks glow brighter and fly further while the fizz, crackle and buzz cut through clearer.  Floodlights on the giant cranes make them loom above in angular fashions.  Flashing safety beacons appear all the more urgent, particularly when they are being waved by the two signalmen leading a huge unlit piece of ship across the yard on the back of a Titan.

While terms like “huge”, “mega” and “super-size” are becoming regular currency of many daily lives, this evening was an occasion to appreciate how truly large the scale of things can be.

Finally, the face-lift

Anyone reading this blog through a web browser over the last four months will have observed a distinct mis-match of Norwegian posting content versus Azerbaijani headers and photographs.  Welcome to Version 1.1 – a light but hopefully useful make-over that finally redresses the balance.

Good little car

Many people (and I can be counted as one of them) often poke fun at Russian cars and criticise weaknesses in their looks, build quality and similar.  Imagine my surprise and joy when I came back to my Niva having not driven it for three weeks, scraped the snow off and started it on the first turn of the engine; in near-zero temperatures.  My friend who had been looking after the car for me (and whose Nissan needed three attempts to start) has just sent this photo as a souvenir:

The icing on the cake? (photograph courtesy of Stephen Heath)

Middle of Nowhere or Middle of Everywhere?

So many folk consider this part of the world to be the middle of nowhere but if the BBC report below is to be believed, the opposite could be true.  ’tis the season…

Kyrgyz to name peak after Santa
“By Ian MacWilliam
“BBC News

“Kyrgyzstan is to name one of its mountains in honour of Santa Claus.

“A group of Kyrgyz mountaineers will climb the appointed peak on Christmas Eve as part of an official ceremony.

“The move comes after a Swedish logistics company suggested the Central Asian nation was the most logical place for Santa to deliver presents from.

“Kyrgyzstan has been working to boost its tourism industry and the authorities have spotted what could be a good opportunity.

“The country is arguably the most picturesque of the Central Asian republics, but with its remoteness from established tourism destinations and recent political instability, it has been struggling to attract foreign travellers.

Christmas gift deliveries

“When the Swedish logistics company, Sweco, identified the mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan as the optimum place for Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, to be based, the tourism authorities decided they liked the idea.

“Sweco said that Kyrgyzstan’s central location in the heart of Eurasia made it the most efficient place from where Santa could make his Christmas gift deliveries to the world’s children.

“About 90% of Kyrgyzstan is covered in mountains. The main range is the Tien Shan, whose highest peaks soar to 7,000m (23,000ft).

“The Kyrgyz once roamed the valleys as nomads but some areas are so remote, there are still many unnamed peaks.”

Quoted text copyright BBC MMVII

Not so high-rise

The collapse of sixteen storey building yesterday here in Baku has apparently been mentioned on some international news services.  Mercifully it was an unfinished building with no inhabitants and the construction workers were finishing a shift at the time so casualties while as yet unconfirmed are few.  While I used to live in a building barely one hundred metres away from this one I can assure friends and family who may have heard about the event that I am safe and well.

Reaction is strong amongst those of us who have discussed the event thus far (it is early in the working day at time of writing).  Not just in conversation but in the press there have been numerous comments criticising lapses in standards during Baku’s recent building boom.  This major bust is seen by many as inevitable but whether or not it will precipitate any significant change for the better is debatable.

A new law limiting all new buildings to twelve storeys has been mentioned but how strictly it will be adhered to is anyone’s guess.  Within the large number of new construction projects rush-started in an attempt to beat the introduction date of this law, it is possible that there are several particularly risky buildings that have suffered further from the excessive haste.  This may well have been one of them.  If there is any further significant news on the subject I will let you know.

See for pictures on a local news site (and text in Russian).

English Summer?

More apologies for being slow to write: the mad rush before leaving Baku has been replaced by the usual mad rush trying to see lots of people while in England. The fight is as ever a losing one but after a thousand miles of driving, an art exhibition, a wedding and some restorative amounts of British ale I am starting to feel like I have covered a bit of ground; if only time was not running so short.

What is going on with this weather though? June 2006 was warm, blue skies and sunshine; July 2007 the island is awash and I feared I might have to trade in the car for a boat to reach Yorkshire yesterday. Leyla came across a quote of Horace Walpole that seems most apposite: “The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room.”

Keep warm and keep dry all. I will keep moving and keep trying to catch up with the writing in the meantime. Moscow Part Three follows shortly…

Закрыто по техническим причинам

…also known as “closed for technical reasons” – a familiar message to be read on signs adorning numerous counters and doors around Russia, allegedly.  Sorry for the break in the news flow.  The technical reason was a simple one: I was not here to do any writing.  I decided to take advantage of the national holiday on Monday (Spring Bank Holiday in England coincided with Republic Day in Azerbaijan this year) and do a bit of travelling.  As it turned out the quick trip became a slightly longer one and almost a bit longer again at the last minute.  Having returned to Baku last night and made a brave attempt at catching up with work today I will try to sit down tonight and tell all – or as close to all as can be fitted into a Friday night anyway.  In the meantime, bon weekend à tous.

Business as usual (sort of)

Back to writing about dear old Baku from this point forward: the Nepal chapters are now sporting a few photographs and the archive is fully loaded.  Apologies to subscribers who apparently will have received an e-mail for each of the archive postings despite their being historically dated – that will have been a fair number of e-mails.

It looks like Spring might finally have arrived in Baku (and about time too).  The warmth and sunshine of the weekend has not been instantly replaced by gale-force winds and rain on Monday this week as it was the last few.  At time of writing it is a clear, still Tuesday morning with blue skies and sunshine; long may it continue.

The next “BakuUpdate” is going to be the first one to include a photograph from its moment of publication.  I would like to think that the picture will be included in the email to subscribers and would be grateful if you could drop a note back to let me know.  On with the posting…

New Illustrated Volume

Good news for those who have been asking: I have finally got round to sorting out some photographs and adding them to the Nepal entries (I can hear the distant popping of Champagne corks already…).  Thank you for your patience; I hope it was worth the wait.

For my next trick I will add the rest of ye olde stories from last year so that the history can be complete.  I believe that subscribers receive an e-mail each time I add a new posting.  This may or may not apply to historically dated entries but if it does please forgive the repetition and flex that finger over the Delete key.

A fresh Baku Update will follow soon.

Keep well all.