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A graduate of Sports Studies at Paisley University, which is about as rewarding as being the best dancer in the Spinal Unit.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


So here I go then. My job for the last seven years was basically to provide kids in Scotland with an alternative form of exercise in place of kicking pedestrians to sleep. As fulfilling as it was and even having known so many good people, I wanted to try other things. And besides, time was ticking: As a man, there comes an age in your life when you can't travel to places on your own without looking like a sex tourist.

 It takes four hours to fly from Heathrow to Beirut, a stint that seemed longer due to a screening of the new Chronicles of Narnia movie, set to a choir of unhappy babies.
 Stepping off the plane and collecting my bags, i then proceeded to the nearest taxi rank to engage in the inevitable monkey dance to get to your hotel without surrendering your entire budget to some sweaty opportunistic local wideboy. As if on perfect cue, he stormed off in a huff when i tried to ask for anything below $40, so we eventually settled for half that. On first impression you discover that its incredibly dense as a city, and with the mountains looming in the background giving the illusion of houses being piled on top of each other. There are 5 lanes on each road, extended to 6 if you count the pavement. I'm pretty sure the Lebanese DVLA consists of two guys in a smokey room screening an looped pirate copy of Die Hard 3. No one, quite honestly gives a shit. Horn honking starts before they start the car and will continue in an empty street. The entire process could be trivialized as a comical free for all if you weren't genuinely in danger of living the rest of your existence as a wonky legged cripple.

 I moved hotels today to somewhere cheaper and more centralised but also small enough that i could touch all four walls if i stand in the middle. It is ensuite but has a unique feature of being able to sit directly under the shower while taking a shit. Your move, Ikea.

Despite the ongoing threat of war kicking off, the Lebanese seem set on rebuilding the city and living the former playboy lifestyle of the 60's. Although there are thousands of formerly beautiful old paris-esque houses falling to bits (partly due to age and partly due to being covered in bullet holes and shelling) there is also vast new decadent buildings that look like theyve been pulled from Monaco or Dubai. The centre peice of all the war torn sites in the old Holiday Inn that sits on the waterfront. After the war started, snipers commonly used it as a vantage point and as a result it is simply a shell of its former self, empty to this day and as bullet strewn a building as youre ever likely to see. Its used now, barely, by the Lebanese army who line the bottom of it with barbwire and APC's.

Speaking of the army, they are everywhere. You dont go far without seeing guys on the corner carrying assault rifles and cooking under the sun. As I was trying to get a shot of the waterfront, an angry soldier dragging an M-16 around like a petulant child called me over to see the footage, making sure I wasn't filming him. I'm not sure what the definition of "awake" is, but by the time he dismissed me with a wave of his hand, i felt pretty fresh.
If anyone has seen Robocop, they might remember a rundown Detroit being rebuilt by a corporate giant OCP. In Beirut,the downtown area is being rebuilt by a company called Solidere and as a result is being renamed as such. Many Lebanese are up in arms at the loss of culture and history in exchange for an unprecedented promotional corporate stamp, but on the upside, its a small price to pay for a sweet ass cyborg police officer.

My last full day was undoubtedly the best. After willing away a hangover, I went to see Lebanon's candidate for the new 7 wonders of the world, Jeita Grotto. Two Danish guys from the hostel came with me and shared the taxi death race. I then ate chicken wings before heading to a gun club where i pumped 50 rounds out of a 9mm Beretta. If you are going to learn to use a gun, i figured i might as well do it here. I know this may be a contraversial issue but it is, without question, awesome. I can definitely see the side of pro-gun loons like Charlton Heston who rather than giving up his rifle, famously offered to have the weapon pryed from his "cold, dead hands". Its a pretty fun way to pass the time. Of course, if say, taxidermy also caused a billion deaths, id probably feel pressed to find myself another hobby. It would just seem right.

Anyway, overall, Lebabnon has its beautiful aspects but I didn't find them in Beirut. Its over-expensive, has the feeling that everyone is trying to rip you off, homicidal drivers and an uneasy atmosphere like a post-coital cigarette with Magic Johnson.