Archive for December, 2006

Just a Little Prang

Dhaka has apparently 600,000 rickshaws ferrying people around, and Bangladesh itself must have millions. You can get nearly everything and anything on a back of a rickshaw, and if you can’t, you use a rickshaw van. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a single street, anywhere, at any time of the day, and not seen one. Rickshaws are simply an embedded feature of the Bangladesh environment, culture, and economy.

The average rickshaw driver (rickshaw-wallah) makes about 100-200 taka a day (130 taka to one pound sterling), and most fares are very short distances of under a mile, for maybe 5-10 taka, unless it’s me on the back because I always pay a bit more. They usually rent their rickshaw from a gang-master, who takes a bit of their pay in return for providing the most basic food and lodging.

They work completely exposed to all elements ranging from monsoon, 100% humidity, 40 degree heat, and currently fairly cold fog, usually wearing extremely little, and also battle through horrendous traffic and sickening pollution. It should be said that half the congestion is their fault, because busy streets can literally become locked with rickshaws nose to tail, and nothing gets along.

But overall, I’ve got a lot of respect for them, because they’re truly the cogs in Bangladesh‘s machine.


Since I arrived in Bangladesh, as a really keen cyclist I’ve been desperate to drive a rickshaw to see how what they’re like. On Boxing Day I found out.

Continue reading ‘Just a Little Prang’


How to Save English Cricket

From utter humiliation. Sort of.

I first became obsessed with cricket in 1991, and have spent most winter months since then getting up stupidly early to lie in the dark listening to Test Match Special broadcast across the crackling airwaves. I love it.

So I was particularly excited about coming to Bangladesh and being able to actually watch an England winter series, live, without having to get up at 3am. Except that we turned up in Australia and played the worst, most uninspired, gutless, directionless and cowardly cricket I can remember.

So it’s been a massive disappointment. I watched the first day of the MCG Test and haven’t bothered with the end, it’s like watching a dog die slowly.

I should point out that I have a huge amount of respect for the Australian players, and think that Shane Warne in probably the best bowler in the history of the game, and possibly one of the best players full stop. But I hate them. I really, really hate the Aussies, and their joyless gloating at beating us. The fact that we deserve it makes it worse.

So last night I came up with an incredibly cunning plan to wipe the smile of that weasly little bastard Ponting’s face.

We’re going to lose 5-0. It’s a certainty, because we’re rubbish.


1. Everyone who cares donates a few quid in to some kind of online money-box that some techie person who reads this invites quickly.

2. Once there’s about 500 grand in there, offer it to whoever’s umpiring the fifth Test, on condition that they falsely accuse England of ball tampering. It will end the Umpire’s career, but Daryl Hair tried to do it for 500 grand, so it should be ok.

3. Flintoff, indigant, refuses to lead England out to play. We forfeit the Test, but the series will forever go down in the history books with an asterisk saying that it wasn’t a complete 5-0 demolition. Hopefully it would put a dampener on the Australian celebrations and means that we can leave with the moral upper hand. Accused of cheating. Fancy that! We would certainly have won the Test otherwise…

I admit there are a few tiny flaws in what is otherwise a supremely cunning plan. But let’s face it, it’s our only hope. Playing competitive cricket is never going to happen. If anyone  can suggest  improvements,  comment away…

Christmas is Cancelled

This Christmas has been remarkable in that it hasn’t really felt like Christmas at all. Not just because of the hot weather, the total lack of any decorations, booze and mince pies consumed. The biggest difference is the silence. No Christmas music. Usually the biggest Pavlovian trigger (in England anyway) for Christmas is around early November, when it’s a horrible cold grey day and you retreat in to a shop on the high street and they’re playing Slade. And would you believe it, It’s Chriiiisstmaaaaaaasssssss again. This time here in Bangladesh I’ve yet to hear any Slade, Wizzard, Bing, George Michael, or any of the usual shite. I quite miss the gentle warbling of some pubescent choristers, but other than that, it’s been incredibly refreshing, and an experience I would recommend to everyone – sorry Noddy.

I’m about to go to Dhaka for the day itself, where we’ll have a real home-made Christmas pudding which Tom has spent nearly a month over, The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, The Great Escape, and the new Bond film to watch (I’ve already seen it, just to ensure that it will be a repeat for me on Boxing Day. Love that tradition.). And we’re getting real cheese, which has come all the way from England especially with Georgia‘s mum.

I don’t know about the main course, but the main point of Christmas dinner is less what it is, more that you eat too much of it, so I can guarantee that’s going to happen. All in all, I’m looking forward to it. And then back to work for everyone (you only get one public holiday here – which is fair enough).

I hope everyone reading this has a lovely old Christmas too – and I want to leave you with my one of my own favourite Christmas songs. Maybe this is apt for our situation in Muslim Bangladesh, but it came out for last Christmas 2005 and is still for me the best modern Christmas song ever, taking over from The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ as a fantastic sing-along story of domestic break-up, depression and misery and loneliness, with a beautiful plodding bass riff, rock solid beat and of course the obligatory Christmas bells over the top. It’s a bit like how the Strokes might sound now if they were any good. Find it, buy it, download it, enjoy it – ‘Christmas is Cancelled’The Long Blondes. Cheers.

Cycling in Sylhet

I now have a quick five minute ride in to work, which I still find surreal because I go past wedding-cake style mansions and also through a slum of shacks made from dried mud and crooked bits of tin. It’s a bit like cycling back in time to the middle of the 19th century, naked children running around, kids pushing tires down the path or pulling rocks tied to string along for fun. Old women sit and stare at you as you whiz past, faces leathered by thousands and thousands of consecutive days of hard work in the dust and sun and mud and monsoon, yet you know they’re probably only thirty.

And then a few sharp turnings and I’m back on the main road and in the modern world again. It blows my mind, every time.

My bike is an absolute relic, but its lack of manoeuvrability and braking makes it even more exciting to ride at night. I’ve started to go out in the dark, especially when there’s a power cut on, because there’s this mist that sets in and you can’t really see anything. Zooming around with only five feet of visibility is kind of cool, because you never know what’s suddenly going to appear in front of you. The streets are packed with the rush hour, but because only half the hazards on the road have lights (rickshaws, bikes, people and animals don’t) something can rear up at you out of nowhere, lit up only by a murky beam of light from a distant motorbike, or you might just catch half their face from a candle that’s in a small shack on the road, for a split second and then they’re gone. Continue reading ‘Cycling in Sylhet’

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

A report by Human Rights Watch on the Rapid Action Battalion was released on Friday. Unsuprisingly, it has had very little coverage here. But it really should, it’s an excellent report. The press release is cut and pasted:

Bangladesh: Elite Force Tortures, Kills Detainees

Ex-Ruling Party May Use Rapid Action Battalion for Elections

(New York, December 14, 2006) – Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism security force is responsible for widespread torture and killing more than 350 suspects in custody, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch warned that the former ruling party could use the abusive force for political purposes prior to elections slated for January 23, 2007.

The 79-page report, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force,” describes how the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), established in 2004 to stop spiraling crime, has made a practice of killing criminal suspects in detention. Torture methods used by the force include beatings, boring holes in suspects with electric drills, and the application of electric shock.

“Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion has become a government death squad,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Its methods are illegal and especially shameful to a nation whose citizen just won the Nobel prize for peace.”

Continue reading ‘Judge, Jury, and Executioner’

Atlas of Jihadist Ideology – call for Mario

The Combatting Terrorism Centre at West Point has made a study of Islamic Militant writings and ideology, and produced this ‘Atlas‘. It’s very interesting.

They bill it as the “first systematic mapping” of an ideology sometimes called jihadism. They conclude that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have had a relatively minor influence on the movement’s intellectual foundation. Among the network’s ideologists, they have come to be seen more as propagandists than strategic thinkers.

The study predicts that the scholarly work of a group of Saudi and Jordanian clerics — most notably Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian — seems more likely to influence the next generation of Islamic militants.

Continue reading ‘Atlas of Jihadist Ideology – call for Mario’

Girl soldier grabs Wills’ sword

I used to go to college with this girl, and I can confirm that William’s got absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. She was wellard. Really nice though.

However, she was also probably the last person I would expect to see smiling out at me from the Sun. Nice one Ang!