Flags of All Nations (that I've visited this year)
Walking West

Thursday, December 21, 2000

It's almost the end of the year, which means it's end-of-year lists time. In the spirit of High Fidelity, one of my favourite movies of 2000, here's a random assortment of cobbled-together insights into my soul.

Interesting to contemplate how different last year's lists would have been. But I didn't write any then. In fact, the last time I wrote a top ten albums list was 1992; it was something I used to do in the days when I kept a diary. Which is perhaps why I've felt the urge to do it again now.


Tuesday, December 19, 2000

At last, all of my Christmas card and letter duties are fulfilled. Except I've probably missed someone and caused an unintended rift between us. So here's a card for you, too. Merry Christmas.

(Site discovered by Greg Restall.)


Monday, December 18, 2000

Dogs of the Third World

I was never a dog person growing up. My family had a black labrador for a while, but when we moved to the country it wasn't long before he disappeared into the bush. After that we only had cats. I like dogs though, as long as they aren't snarling at me, and aren't ridiculous silky dwarf creatures with helium voices.

You don't see too many dwarf creatures in the third world—at least not in the parts I've seen. When I was on fieldwork in Tonga in 1993, my regular shortcut down a side-street into the main part of town took me past a family of strays. Polynesian dogs are not the best-fed of animals, and over several weeks I watched these pups grow hungrier and hungrier, their skin vacuum-shrinking over their ribs.

Dog in Fort DauphinI expected to see the same in Madagascar, but there weren't a lot of dogs around there, and most looked surprisingly fit. Some were even well-fed enough to spend their time slumbering peacefully rather than wandering dejectedly, as one of my favourite photos from the trip attests (click on the thumbnail for a full view).

Thailand, though, was different. Thailand is a dog-lover's nightmare, an anti-Cruft's where genes mingle like balls in a lotto draw and every dog is its own unique breed. Much of that uniqueness is down to nurture rather than nature; the environment isn't kind to Thai dogs. Years of ferocious dog-fights and frantic dog-couplings take their toll. Older dogs sport impossibly wrinkled hides; bitches all have rows of swinging teats. One mutant corgi that barked furiously at us as we passed had legs so short and tits so big that it was like being chased by a giant centipede.

The all-time classic lived outside a particularly beautiful temple in Ayutthaya. Jane saw it first, and insisted on dragging me over to see how disgusting it was—which of course meant I didn't want to. What I reluctantly saw was a miserable mutt, hairless in spots, with a layer of lumpy white scabs coating one ear, and... oh God, it's too disgusting; click here if you really want to know.

Some things you don't have to photograph.


On the weekend I caught up with a couple of old friends, both from my student newspaper days, both of whom have suffered major spinal injuries and survived. One broke his neck a few years ago after falling off a second-floor balcony. The other, I learned on Saturday, broke two vertebrae when she slipped on some steps in India, and spent weeks in traction. That they are both now walking around, and not quadra- or paraplegics, is a minor miracle.

I'm starting to wonder if there's a Togatus curse. I'd better watch my back.


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