News of air strikes on Syria remind me of a much more peaceful time

A Tornado at RAF Marham, Norfolk. EMN-150312-113311001
A Tornado at RAF Marham, Norfolk. EMN-150312-113311001
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Wensum, by Jim Harding, December 15, 2015

Or the heartache I would experience from the devastations wreaked on two of them in particular.

I refer, as you might guess, to Syria and Iraq. Now as our involvement in the war over the skies of both these countries has escalated and Tornados from just down the road at RAF Marham have joined in the Syrian conflict, I’m poignantly reminded of more peaceful and hospitable times on the road. Writing an account of my journey has conjured up very different visions of cities and towns and landscapes which have now been so tragically laid to waste. And people who were so kind and considerate to a complete stranger.

In the light of The Big Eye column last week and the grim news making headlines every day, here are some remembrances rekindled when my friend and I crossed from Turkey into Syria all those years ago at a point just north of Aleppo......

A few miles from the sleepy border town of Alaz we were invited to take coffee with a posse of well-dressed young men. When they learnt our plans they insisted on hiring us a taxi to Syria’s second-largest city[now in ruins]. There we had the good fortune to meet Abdullah, a truly wonderful character, who offered us his shop floor to sleep on, lent us his primus stove to cook on and served us tea and slices of iced melon. He even poured water whilst we washed our feet.

As word got around that a pair from England had unexpectedly turned up the shop became a party venue with friends arriving late into the evening. Early the next morning, Abdullah did the rounds in a bid to put us on a lorry heading eastward across the desert. With no luck he finally shut his business and walked with us to a nearby petrol station. It was a long wait there in the heat but at last a young driver, who demanded to be called Tiger, agreed to take us to El Hasek, some 100 miles from the Iraq border. [The route passing just north of Raqqah, now under the control of Isis forces]. The cab was infernally hot but there were frequent stops for drinks and snacks, all paid for by our host. Towards dusk we left the road and charted a course across the sands. The overnight was at some sort of crossroads with just a smattering of cone-shaped dwellings. We laid our sleeping bags out on top of the lorry to gaze up in wonder at the star-studded sky.

Rolling on at dawn we were transferred to another lorry just short of El Hasek, finally stopping in Hamashleye at a drivers’ pull-in for a wash and brush up. A meal ordered for us both included meat fingers, spiced tomatoes, flat bread and, wonder of wonders, two bottles of ice cold beer.... .

The signs are not good but now as we approach 2016 with news that the city of Homs has declared a ceasefire we can but hope that the vast majority of Syrians – and Iraqis - who, like the rest of us, wish to live ordinary, fulfilling and peaceful lives may be given the chance to do so.

Closer to home, the couple who run Collectors Heaven on Norwich Street have been campaigning to sort out traffic problems adjacent to their business.

Complaints centre on speeding cars in a 20mph zone, vehicles parking – illegally - on the pavement to access the cash machines and youngsters on motorbikes using the road as a racetrack.

Michael Skipper and his wife Eleanor started up their shop 15 months ago and during that time have witnessed some dangerous close calls. Having collected some 200 signatures of support they appealed to town councillors to back their suggestions, which did include closing off the street to traffic. This currently only happens on market days.

Town councils are powerless to deal with such issues and the Skippers were advised to contact Fakenham county councillor Tom Fitzpatrick. One suggestion which might help the situation was a call for a No Parking sign at the entrance to Norwich Street. But in the absence of traffic wardens patrolling this area, some other kind of enforcement would surely be needed if things are to get better.