Tropical Fruits: Strangers from Distant Lands

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How many fruits do you eat, regularly? A few months back, I probably could have counted them on one hand. Granny Smiths, bananas by the bucket-load and tomatoes (which don’t really count, do they?). Other than that, I guess I just couldn’t really be bothered. But in Cairns, I became a bit of an addict, so much so, in fact, that I was starting to actually get bored of the same old fare. In the ‘when in Rome’ spirit therefore I decided to reach deep (by fruit standards) into my pocket and try the regional delicacies. So here we have them, 5 tropical fruits tried and tested so you don’t have to:

ImageLychee – the hedgehog fruit. The edible part of these little-uns is covered by a spiky red shell that once peeled reveals what can only be described as a small testicle. Not that I have ever eaten a testicle, but the texture of the lychee’s fruit feels close to what a testicle’s looks like it will be. The taste is sweet and probably closest to a dark plum. Overall, though, not worth the effort of peeling the shell and taking out the hard, inner seed.

Tropical PaImagew-paw/papaya – looks a bit like a mango when cut open but with dozens of jelly-textured black seeds. Taste is, well, sweet, closest approximation is indeed probably mango but with an added bitterness that I found slightly unpleasant. Messy too.

 

Dragon frImageuit – red with spiky yellow ‘leaves’ sticking out – the dragon fruit is quite the looker. Cut inside and you get a kind of translucent jelly with black seeds in. Not much to taste though. Shame really – it promised so much.

 

Ladyfinger banImageana – a banana with lipstick. Its twice the price of a normal one so I figured I was in for quite a treat. Again, though, I was to be disappointed as it basically tastes the same. No wonder they never made it big. Plus, I was duped. The red tip of the ladyfinger, it turns out, is added by dastardly farmers in order to make their bananas look different from other ‘sugar bananas’. Next you’ll tell me that the beef I’ve been eating is actually horsemeat…

Passion FImageruit – OK so you’ve probably heard of passion fruit. But have you ever eaten one? You probably know what it tastes like from all those x, y and passion fruit juices you’ve had. Or from drinking the amazingly named “Um Bongo”. But eating one proved quite the embarrassing experience for me. I bit into it à la an apple only to hit rock solid skin, now complete with minor skid marks. Woops! Eventually I got a knife and atoned and was rewarded with wonderfully coloured and tasting fruit. It only lasts about ten seconds mind.

So my conclusion? I love trying new stuff but the orange, apple and banana are classics for a reason – they taste better and are far cheaper than there more exotic counterparts. And not looking like testicles does them no harm either.

What about anyone else? Ever tried any weird or wonderful fruits?

My Birthday in Cairns: Paradise Lost?

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Thank you very much to all the lovely comments on Facebook! I haven’t responded fully until now as I felt the sheer earth-shattering incompetence of my birthday merited its own blogpost. We start from the beginning.

Wake. Early. Decide to get out of bed. Would usually go out and train but taking a rest week. Bummer, what to do? Eventually have something to eat and go back to bed for a bit. That was eventful!

Wake up again and go for a little swim. Spoilt brat – my Cairns apartment block has a pool. Enjoyed that but then get it in my head that I’ve broken something and try to fix it. Waste time and get hungry. And more hungry. Can’t fix it, go back upstairs. Call the parents on Skype – lots of warm cuddliness but need to talk to them about going to the doctor’s. I’m unwell on my birthday. I worry them and add another chore to my list of things to do before work. Flatmates are now all awake. The normal, working day has begun. Bummer!

Make the days meals and then book an appointment at the hospital for later in the afternoon. Go to work. But I have to move my computer – drat! Why is this so hard? Half an hour later m’colleague has finished, I’m just staring. Eventually ask the office IT-go-to-person. “Leave it to the professionals” I exclaim. “Oh, I’m not a professional” she says. “You’re just plain amateur” she implies. Should I laugh or cry?

Breakfast porridge is rushed. Not that I’m really rushed – My boss is busy and hasn’t had time to give me work. The meeting for our project has been cancelled so I can’t work on that. I’m in limbo. I hate limbo. But the working day passes in that way. I do love my food, but I always think that there’s definitely something wrong if it becomes a highlight of your day. From 9-5 on Feb 4th though, the lunchtime salad is just that (though admittiedly, I am rather proud of my lunchtime salad).

5 o’clock eventually comes. Doctor time. That’ll be $80 please! Oh yes, this isn’t the NHS is it. Should have known really – how else would I have got an appointment the same day? Also, the magazines are up-to-date – dead giveaway.

Dr Li listens to my ramblings, asks questions and gives no answers. “Blood test” he diagnoses. “Can you recommend anything else?”. “Nothing until we get the results”. Shouldn’t have expected more though – if he’d pulled out a tropical fungus and told me that would cure me, I wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

So to the blood test. That’ll be another…$190! Without my insurance, I can imagine weighing up the options  – a 5 minute, probably unnecessary blood test or that Kindle I’ve been wanting/some serious new bike gear/entry to a few triathlons/some VERY nice food/… But blood test it is. I feel like an early 2000s Tour de France cyclist sitting in the hot seat getting a needle stuck in my arm. I ask a stupid question about red blood cell counts to further the illusion. Better than staring at the wall I suppose.

I leave but go back due to a stupid worry that I’d left my bank details lying about. Quelle surprise, I hadn’t! More wasted time. But now, its time for the FREE BIRTHDAY SUBWAY! I’ve recently been experimenting with not eating wheat (for no particular reason) but its free – can’t say no to that. Order the works with extra avocado (an Australian Subway addition if ever there was one). Get home and take another swim and at last relax – you can’t beat exercise. Walk a whole fifty meteres to get back to the apartment and what’s this? People are eating together? We never eat together! I don’t even have a shirt on. “Oh there you are” I hear. I’m tired and in a bit of a daze but when I get to my bedroom I realise what’s happened. That was a surprise birthday party, and I missed it. Whoops would be an understatement. I look guiltily at the table when I come back – pizza, salad, chocolate cake (literally with my name on it) all there. Effort has been put in here. All I can do is apologise. The excuses pour like Cairns’ February rain. Truth is, even when my parents tell me exactly at what time and where diner will be served, I’m still late. There’s always time (or not as the case may be) for just one more lap of the park. So a surprise party? The thought means an awful lot but the deck was stacked against the poor people. There’s still time to ceremonially cut the cake and post-mortem (or just mortem for me).  Then bed. That’s it. 4/2/13 over. Thank God!

Well no, actually, that’s not fair – I got 2 surprise birthday cakes (one at work too) and lots of lovely wellwishing. And a nice salad. But still, it could have been better.

P.S.: I would have a photo of me cutting the cake on here but my phone got stolen. You couldn’t make it up really.

Boundary Review antics: First Laugh, Then Cry

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British electoral mapRead about the defeated Commons vote on the boundary reviews and you would think (if you didn’t already) that politicians are just little children. Nick Clegg, voting reform and everyone’s-vote-is-equal Crusader, instructs his party that, on this occasion, he doesn’t care. It was they who started it – those evil Tories shutting down our beloved House of Lords reform. This is our revenge – no free extra seats for you in 2015. Rarely will you see such a brilliant example of politics overturning principle – I can envisage it being used in A-Level politics textbooks already. For those used to this kind of tit-for-tat (i.e. those who have followed politics for a week or more), it may be tempting to blame Nick and co. and indulge in some classic anti-politician put downs – “there all just the same”, “arrogant career monkeys”, “never get anything done” etcetera etcetera… Fair enough. But I would ask you to consider: what would you have done if had you been dastardly Nick?

I would argue that there is simply no way he could have voted for this and preserved any dignity. Admittedly, voting against it isn’t all that dignified in light of his previous comments on the topic but to have allowed the review to go ahead when its quid pro quo – reform of the House of Lords – was blocked would have been to effectively declare himself a pushover. I can’t say personally that I would have done any differently and I think other Lib Dems would have been very angry if he had.

But mildly amusing as it all is, there is a serious side to this story. Voting reform is often dismissed as a side-issue, with frequent cries of “who cares?” when the rather esoteric and wonkish subject comes up. But really it is fundamental and if one cares about healthcare, education and the rest, one implicitly must take an interest in it.

The simple truth is, had the proposed boundary changes been in place at the last election we probably would have had an all-Conservative government. Indeed, had equal constituencies been in place at many previous elections, the results would generally have been very different indeed. If Britain is to keep her current constituency-based ‘first-past-the-post’ system (cue debate!), the least that can be expected is that it is logical. Admittedly, we are far from the days of the Duke of Wellington, whose contemporaries were sometimes elected in constituencies with voter numbers in single digits (Blackadder was not exaggerating), but few would genuinely argue against the concept of each constituency having roughly the same number of voters so that Ken in Northampton and Patrick in Belfast’s votes have the same electoral ‘weight’. The problem is expediency, and that is why these matters cannot be left in the hands of politicians. Only with an independent commission to continuously monitor the boundaries can equality be assured and only be passing this bill can that happen. Oh the frustration!

The problem is that it will all be forgotten – boundary reviews are not particularly ‘sexy’ politics. But don’t blame Clegg and co. Politicians are, actually, good people trying to balance competing interests. No, really, they are. Indeed, Nick Clegg has spent more time between rocks and hard places over the last two-and-a-half years than almost anyone else. The best we can do is make them as reflective of our views as possible and for that, the system itself needs to change. An independent boundary review board is a first step in that direction and I would urge you next time a candidate asks you what issues you care about, that you include it. Or even raise it at your next dinner party! OK, sorry, too far.

Cairns: Small town, big boots

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Currently, I am in Cairns on an internship for a policy institute. Not a bad place, you might say, to spend your Summer holidays working. For those who don’t know, Cairns is in Far North-East Australia and is the so-called “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”. This guarantees two things: one, it is HOT, in a way sub-tropical places just aren’t. And currently its monsoon seasons, which, when combined with my stubborn refusal to buy an umbrella (an Englishman coming to Australia to buy an umbrella –whatever next?) has produced some eventful walks to work. Secondly, there are, in the central area anyway, almost as many backpackers as locals, recognisable by their singlets, wavy hair and silly sunglasses. So not so lucky me to be here, you might say – sounds like it has the makings of a touristy hell, a Costa del Street Crime AussieImage-style.

The funny thing is, though, that these things actually do no seem to suck the soul out of the place at all. On the weather front, certainly I would advise that noon is not the time to go out and do anything intense, or anything much at all for that matter. It really is like a sauna. But just like how places that are used to heavy snowfall have a procedure for dealing with it whilst Britain goes into nuclear meltdown, so too does Cairns know how to deal with heat. Most noticeably, this means air-conditioning.  LOTS of air-conditioning. Even places that are relatively “budget” have it and its funny how high heat doesn’t seem so bad when you know you’ll have some instant (and yes, artificial and ozone-layer destroying) cool air once you arrive.

The tourist question is, in a way, similar. Tourists feel like part of the town’s culture rather than poachers of it, perhaps because, relative to most worldwide tourist hotspots, Cairns is still such a relatively new settlement. The place, indeed, seems to come alive in the evening, especially around the esplanade area on the seaside, one notable attraction being the night-market where, if you decide that what you really want at 11pm is a full Chinese massage or an ornamental Aborigonal figurine, you are in luck.

Cairns for me is also a great mixture of small-town and city life. Everywhere is within walking distance but there are still all the conveniences and amenities that you’d expect from a big city – supermarkets, shopping malls and, naturally, McDonalds, Subway and the like. Anyone that knows me also knows the importance I place on a good gym and here one is spoilt for choice: the place where I have temporary membership, bizarrely, has another branch two or three blocks away and another four around the town. I suppose it can make for a nice change of wallpaper. But there is still intimacy here – because there is often less choice as to where to shop, for example, you can quickly become familiar with the staff that work there. “Capitalism with a human face”, the tourism brochure might say.

I am still, though, a big city boy. Call me lacking in community spirit but anywhere where the local paper sells as well as the national one is just too parochial for me. Sad really, but there you go. As a place for a trip though, don’t let the humidity and tourists put you off. If what you are after is relaxing break on the beach, restaurants galore and a base from which to explore the Reef and other natural wonders, Cairns, despite its small size, really has earned its spot as Australia’s fourth most visited tourist destination. Just don’t expect haute culture. When I told the police officer I thought I’d had my phone stolen next to the Cairns Museum, he was shocked – “I didn’t know we had a museum!?”.

Doping in Cyling: More questions than answers

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So Lance has finally done his “you know when I said I had never doped?” mea culpa and the cycling world can, as they say, move on. Because things are different now, are they not? We have the much-acclaimed blood passport and a testing regime so stringent that athletes who seem genuinely clean name it as the worst part of their job.  For those unfamiliar with the craziness that is an out-of-competition doping test, a person turns up at your door unannounced and you cannot leave his site until you have a cup of fresh, organic urine. If your bladder proves not up to the job, no problem – the tester will sit there with you while you go about your daily business until it is. Once the grand moment arrives, he/she has to make absolutely sure that what enters the cup is indeed what exits your body. And there’s only one way to do that. Lovely! The system, though, seems to be working – the drop in the overall standard of the cycling peloton seems to be the best indicator of this and the whole culture is widely perceived to have changed.Image

Unfortunately, though, I still find it difficult to be optimistic. Indeed, I would question whether the war on drugs in sport generally (or outside it for that matter) is even winnable. Testing has indeed reached a new level of sophistication with the biological passport, which essentially involves athletes establishing a baseline blood and urine profile that can then be compared to their results in the future. The idea is that the common criticism of testing – that performance enhancing substances and techniques always come first and the (often imperfect) tests for them second – is invalidated as what is being tested for is changes brought about by substances rather than the substances themselves. What it effectively says is – if you ran 10 seconds for the 100m last season but can do it in 9.6 this season, you’re a cheat, you’re on something even if we don’t know what it is.

            But the biological passport has issues, foremost among which is the issue of false positives. Sure, if the example above were to happen, or if I became an overnight bodybuilding sensation you would probably be justified in being hugely suspicious. But where do you draw the line? What percentage increase of x in your blood is impossible without banned substances? Go too conservative and you miss some cheats, too strict and you make false accusations.

            I would also suggest that the basic problem of athletes always being one step ahead remains. And even if, as has been argued, any cheating that is occurring is at least becoming less severe than it once was, that doesn’t really seem either here or there – it could be the thing that makes all the difference and the principle remains the same.

The passport also seems to recall an older test used in cycling to prevent excessive use of EPO, by measuring levels of hermatocrit, the percentage of red blood cells in blood. If this was above 50, riders would not be allowed to race that day. All this meant was that all riders’ used EPO until their hermatocrit levels were just under the limit. The biological passport could perhaps be similarly circumvented – if you know what your acceptable limit is, what’s stopping you doping until you reach it?

            The whole question of banned substances also seems to become rather arbitrary at times. How do you even decide what substances are banned in the first place?  If we are to ban substances based on whether they ‘artificially’ enhance performance, what of the so-called three Cs (carbohydrate, caffeine and creatine – a substance that considerably improves maximal strength)? There is no such thing as a level playing field – better-funded athletes have better facilities and thus superior access to ‘natural’ performance enhancers. Is there really all that much difference between an EPO injection and innocent Alistair Brownlee sleeping in an altitude tent?

            I can’t offer any definitive answer. My instinctive reaction is to just say no holds barred – if athletes are willing to put their health at risk for their sport, that’s their decision. Many already do – there is nothing particularly natural about training for hours on end each day whilst following a diet that is, in many cases, sport specific but not necessarily balanced. Pro cyclists are a case in point – mere skeleton from the waist upwards, ingesting huge quantities of sugary energy formulas, spending hours on end on the same repetitive motion – its hardly ‘healthy’. Legalising performance enhancers also appeals to the perfectionist in me. One common misconception about these substances is that they allow athletes to be lazy and let the drugs win the race for them. The truth in many cases is the opposite – the drugs speed up recovery allowing athletes to train harder and longer.  In this sense they’re not magical pills in the same way as ectasy tablets are but targeted and specific ‘dietary supplements’.

            There is another part of me though, that recoils at this idea. What of the young, desperate and impressionable athlete who thinks his only path to a better life is through sport? Or the hardcore amateur, ruining local races by using substances that no one else has the motivation or money to?

I’d be interested to know everyone else’s thoughts on this one. Is the nuclear option right? Is the system OK as it is? Is professional sport inherently unfair anyway, given differences in funding, climate, genetics etc.? Cheers!

Australia: Culture shock or culturally shocking?

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So 6 months done Down Under, how is it going? In short, great. Move away from everyone and everything familiar and you find out a lot about yourself and the world. And when that place is Melbourne, the isolation is amplified – you don’t just pop home for a quick “Oh its great to see you” when the plane journey there and back lasts almost as long as the Imageweekend. Aren’t I just such a pioneering adventurer, entering a brave new world? Sadly not, no.

What do you think of when you think Australia? Melbournians are all a bit like Shane Warne or Kylie Mynogue right? Love beer, banter and Brit-bashing, lying on the beach, going surfing and grilling shrimps on the barbie. Well yes…and no.  Certainly some Australians like playing sports but as many others like sitting on sofas. Students are generally laid-back, ‘fun’-loving yet surprisingly “deep”. Adult city-dwellers work 9-5, go out with the family on Sundays and yep, love a few beers. Sound familiar? That’s probably because (unless you’re the person in Lebanon who read my first blog) you live in a Western, English-speaking country too. In fact, Central Melbourne reminds me of Manhattan in so many ways its scary. There’s a Maccie Ds on every corner, department stores and tourists galore and a gridiron road pattern that only I can get lost in.

Also, Melbourne has got to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Look around on campus sometimes and you would swear you’re in China and the average street in the central area is packed with sushi outlets and Asian supermarkets. Of course, the CBD and university area is always going to contain more immigrants than average, but it is still staggering. When people ask about culture shock, the obvious question is: which culture? I find the number of different possible flavours of instant noodle pretty shocking for a start.

So what am I saying? Coming to Melbourne is entirely pointless other than if you like paying £5 for a ham sandwich and getting eaten by snakes? No, that wouldn’t be fair – everywhere has a slightly different vibe and Australian civic culture has been shaped by the legacy of the British, the outback, the beach and the favourable climate in many interesting ways. You’ll meet great people and get a great tan. As a location for a year abroad its great. Indeed, Melbourne is the world’s ‘most liveable city’ and it shows – everywhere is very clean, there is an extensive transport system and the public services (see especially the toilets) are pretty top notch. But, as a holiday destination, could you get more cultural bang for your hard-earned buck? I would have to say yes. It’s a long way to go for an even more overpriced iced caramel latte. If you’re in London and it’s a change of scene you’re after, you’re better off going up North  – they do things differently there.

Fat Taxes – the state biting off far more than it can chew

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What’s going on you may ask – The British press, writing about fiscal policy in Denmark? Its food what done it – the first ever tax on food based solely on the 577129_10150948419177767_105454848_namount of fax contained therein.

The major argument for such taxes is a fairly simple one – unhealthy eating equals obesity equals disease equals massive healthcare bills. In short, so the argument goes, people who take care to eat their five-a-day, do their three half-hour exercise sessions per week, floss daily and all the other things that Western governments promote as beneficial for health are paying the price in taxes for other people’s propensity to eat doughnuts, sit on the couch and watch The Simpsons. Fair enough. But taxing ‘unhealthy’ foods just isn’t the answer.

The first major problem is with the adjectives ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. We have grown accustomed to associate certain foods with one or other of these labels, often resulting in blatant contradictions. Hamburgers – unhealthy. Orange juice – healthy. But wait – hamburgers – high in protein – healthy vs. orange juice – high in sugar – unhealthy. Come again? Aha, but hamburgers – high in saturated fat – unhealthy vs. orange juice – high in vitamins and antioxidants – healthy. But wait, what about a 100% beefburger with salad and in a multigrain bun eaten once per week – healthy vs. cheap Orange juice from concentrate drunk outside meal times and sloshed around the mouth to coat the teeth in sugar – unhealthy. Oh calamity, calamity! The point is that taxing food on the grounds of it being healthy or unhealthy is an impossible task, as the Danes found out with their tax on saturated fats some of which, such as those in coconut milk for example, are generally regarded as a beneficial ingredient of a balanced diet. Furthermore, nutrition often seems to more resemble an art than a science – one moment wine gives you cancer, the next it helps prevent it. It’s a constantly evolving minefield, making the whole healthy/unhealthy dichotomy very difficult to nail and thus legislation based on it rather nonsensical.

But there seems to be a greater, more fundamental problem too. Does the state really have a right to tell me what I can and can’t put into my mouth? Sure, eating unhealthily will make one more likely to need to use state medical care but so does a whole host of other things, like riding your bike, playing rugby, even cooking hot food. The obvious comparison to be made is with smoking and drug abuse but really this is fallacious. We all need calories –  even a diet consisting of solely Mars bars and coke is certainly better than one of no food at all. Hell, I even once met someone who “doesn’t like water”. Hence even the policy of gently nudging people away from smoking that is working well in Britain at the moment seems undesirable in the case of food. As a fundamental requirement for life, it is best left alone. Indeed, the Danes recently scrapped their tax – looks like meat’s back on the menu boys!

Israel-Palestine – What’s that all about?

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So Israel-Palestine – What’s that all about?

 Well, fundamentally the conflict is caused by, as one recent book puts it in 4 words, “One Land, Two Peoples”. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs both claim that they are the rightful owners of Palestine – the thin strip of land that borders the Mediterrenean Sea and contains many of the holiest sites for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith

So? I think England should still hold Calais but I don’t go on about it.

This is a bit different though. The conflict is between “right and right” – both sides, it is generally agreed, do have at least some claim to the area.

Ok, how come?

Basically, Israel claim that they have been the rightful owners of the land since the time of King David (of David vs. Goliath fame). They also claim that Jewish people, historically the victim of persecution and genocide in Europe, require a homeland of their own in order to be safe. Before about 1900, there were actually very few Jewish people in Palestine but the first half of the 20th century saw a Jewish immigration into the area in order to establish a state. Palestinian Arabs claim that, having been the majority in Palestine for virtually all of history, that the land belongs to them and the Jewish immigration was effectively an invasion.

So why is the area currently called Israel not Palestinia then?

From the end of World War I to 1947 the area was held by the British under League of Nations (precursor to the UN) supervision. In 1947, the new UN decreed that the area would be split between a Jewish State and an Arab state. The Palestinian Arabs were, shall we say, not happy about this and a coalition of Arabic states invaded the newly-formed Israel to support them. They lost and in turn Israel annexed the Arab state as well.

Right. So I’m guessing the Palestinian Arabs were now even more angry? What did they do about it?

Most Palestinians left Israel during or after the 1948 war and set up camp in neighbouring Arab states like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. There Imagewere 2 major wars in 1967 and 1973 between these states, Egypt and Israel, both of which Israel won and in turn acquired more land, most notably the West Bank, (of the River Jordan), Gaza Strip (on the Israeli-Egyptian border) and the Eastern half of the city of Jerusalem. Since then, Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel, and Syria and Lebanon have proven unwilling or unable to defeat what is undeniably a formidable Israeli military

So where does that leave the Palestinian Arabs? They don’t seem to be doing very well out of all this.

No they haven’t and even rightish Israeli leaders acknowledge, although they don’t accept responsibility for, the pretty diabolical conditions in which many Palestinian refugees currently live.

Where do they live?

Well, a lot of places! But mostly in Jordan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel itself.

You say the West Bank and Gaza Strip? What are they exactly – countries?

That is, as they say, complicated. Remember that 1967 war? Well, after that Israeli occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip with military forces but did not formally annex it as part of the state of Israel. In 2005, they handed the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinians but have not done so for the West Bank. But even the Gaza Strip is still internationally regarded as “occupied territory” and not state of Palestine exists according to the UN which is generally regarded as the supreme authority on these matters. But Palestinian leaders are effectively in charge of the day-to-day running of the two areas.

Great! Issue solved, right?

Err, not even close.

Why? Israel has its bit, Palestinian Arabs have their bit.

Sort of, but there are a lot of issues still to be agreed upon before we have the elusive “two-state solution”.

Which are?

The biggest ones are:

Who gets Jerusalem? – back to 1967! Although Israel only occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it annexed East Jerusalem to Israel. Palestinian Arabs thus want the area back, along with control of the Holy Sites sacred to the Islamic faith in Jerusalem’s Old City. Only problem is, most of these sites are also sacred to Judaism

The “right of return” of Palestinian refugees – “right of return” is a phrase that you will often hear stated by Palestinian leaders. It refers to those Palestinian Arabs that I mentioned earlier who left their homes after the 1948 war. Now, do these people have a right to go back to live in Israel? As you’ve no doubt guessed, it depends who you ask – most Palestinians say “yes”, most Israelis say “no”. And most neutrals, naturally, say “yes…and no”

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – remember how Israel only occupied the West Bank. Well that didn’t stop them building on it and now hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in this area that supposedly will be given to the Palestinians. Also, remember how Palestinians demand control of East Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement? Yep, there’s Israelis there too. Do all these Israelis want to live in a future Palestinian state? Guess!

Israeli security concerns – in return for ceding (or giving back, depending on your point of view) territory, Israel demands guarantees that mean it will not be threatened by the new Palestinian state, in particular that said state is demilitarised. Remember, security is why the Jews are there in the first place.

Ouch! Is there any hope that these will be resolved?

That depends on who you ask!

Well what do you think Mr Fencesitter?

Ok, since you asked for an opinion. It is almost painful for me to be so simplistic  but, although the two sides seem a pretty long way apart at the moment, there have been time, especially in 2000-2001, when peace was a lot closer than I think some people realise. The key really is perhaps not to look at how complex the issues are per se, as one thing you can guarantee is that any final agreement will almost certainly be regarded as a betrayal by the majority of the public on both sides. What the conflict needs is leaders – leaders who don’t mind being hated and with little to lose. Someone like Nick Clegg. But seriously, with a couple of such leaders I do believe that peace can be reached. That or some major, seismic event that forces the issue, such as the US turning against Israel.

And the issues will just melt away?

No, of course not but like I say in 2001, in particular at the Taba summit, when the two sides were willing to genuinely negotiate a deal there was a huge amount of progress made. The big deal breakers are Jerusalem and the refugees, I would especially say the latter. Israelis worry (a mild term at best!) that if they accept this it will mean the Israeli Jews become outnumbered by Arabs in Israel – and if this was the case, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state at all. As for the Palestinians dropping the right of return, if you thought breaking a promise on tuition fees was big…

Aside

So it begins…

Hello everyone! So this is my blog. I don’t know if it’s going to be a regular thing, I’m probably just going to write when I feel like it, but I hope it acts as something to look back on when I’m old and reliving my ‘youf’ and is perhaps interesting for you the reader. Or at least you mum anyway.

I guess the best place to start is the beginning. A twenty-four hour epic flight from London to Melbourne via Dubai (horrifically hot, don’t even think about going there in the Summer) and Singapore. Then a short taxi hop to RMIT, my home at least until next January where I met my roommate, a friendly Aussie guy called Jessie. RMIT is just like where I stay in Edinburgh, Robertson’s Close – full of people going out to the local night spots, mostly Americans, mostly already smashed.

My first week here was spent on the Melbourne Welcome which is like a kind of pre-Freshers’ Week Freshers’ Week. We were based at one of the residential colleges of the Uni, Janet Clark Hall, which are like Oxbridge colleges. I went to register and was immediately greeted ‘Oh, you’re Michael Boulton!’ This pretty much set the tone for a lot of Welcome Week where most people greeted me like this because of my name being like that of a certain ‘80s popstar. I suppose we all start somewhere.

The Welcome Week itself was really great. I was led around by a local called Nashi – part time tour guide, part-time crepe maestro, full-time lovely person, who really helped me to find my way in the city and feel comfortable. The whole group was lovely, spanning the whole world with one other Brit, Kay-Ann from North ‘Landon’. We got up to much which I won’t bore you with but the highlights were a trip up the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest building, live music at a local bar on the last night and most of all just general dinnertime banter. Hell, even the trip to the sanctuary was good! I’m sure the group will stay in touch throughout the term.

Since then I’ve had to settle down and sort my life out – banks, phones and the like. This week’s highlight has probably been the trip to the MCG to watch some Aussie Rules ‘footy’. I LOVE the sport – once you start watching you just can’t stop as it is just ceaseless action.  As is the commentary which is like listening to fanzone or an uncensored Will Greenwood.

As you can probably tell I do like it here but I do miss certain things from home, most notably the prices – seriously. $6 (around £4) is considered a cheap beer and at the supermarket most things are literally double the price compared to Tesco. Luckily wages are also around double those in England so hopefully I can get around the problem.

Also SO jealous of everyone watching/working at the Olympics – watched the Road Race today going through some of my old haunts and felt big homesickness pangs! Gutted we didn’t win, I blame the Germans for not doing any work…but that’s another blog.

Also missing people at home of course! I’ve been trying to catch some of you on Facebook but its hard with the time difference I guess. If I’m on and I don’t see you are, please do say hi and catch up!

Until next time x