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Saturday, July 10, 2004

I'm not going to start out by telling you the time and date, if you are that bothered, I think Blogger date/time stamps each entry. Let's just say I'm at work with a bit of downtime and leave it at that.

I'm back on the rollercoaster of overworking, but I'm not complaining. During my 2 and 1/2 days off, mainly I caught up on some much needed sleep and I'm back, feeling fresh and ready to go. Rockin'!

Rather than ramble on aimlessly about this, that and the other thing, I thought I would try to tell a story from my past.

No, I haven't run dry, being a full time hippy provides me with a wealth of material. Maybe that's a stretch, but it gives me enough to keep things ticking over nicely. To be honest, things are a bit more unsettled than normal in my real life and I think its best to leave it alone for the time being.

Someone said something earlier that reminded me of some time I spent in Croatia and Bosnia, about 11 years ago. How's that for a link?

I was staying in Split, which is on the Adriatic Coast in Croatia. Once a resort town, during the height of the war it was mainly home to journalists and towards the end of the war, some western military ops were based there. I've been there a couple of times.

Split is actually a really nice place, certainly nicer now than it was during the war. The first time I was there, during the war, it was a bit of a ghost town. It was relatively safe and the nearest fighting was up the road in Medjugorje, on the Bosnian side of the border. This would have been Spring of 1993.

I was working with a correspondent from a country in the Far East. I won't give away the network, or even the country. Some things are best kept secret.

I liked the correspondent quite a bit, he was a good guy. He probably still is, but I haven't heard from him in over a decade. Hey ho.

I was in Somalia with him a few months before this and got him to smoke his first spliff there. He was about 50 at the time. The first time he tried it, nothing happened. The second time, he got quite high. I remember him describing it as feeling "like drunk, only not so dizzy." He sang karaoke non-stop for about 2 hours, before quickly retiring to his bed for a night of deep sleep. This guy was cool, as cool as he could be considering his age and background.

Back in Croatia, he was having a very frustrating time. His home newsroom would not allow him to travel anywhere near the fighting. He was not happy about this.

Life in Split wasn't too bad. Like most warzones I've been to, there was plenty of booze and cannabis. The food was surprisingly good, considering there was a war on. The cuisine is heavily influenced from Italy, just across the Adriatic. If you are ever there, I would recommend the Dalmation Ham (a variation on Parma Ham) as well as the seafood. The lobsters were huge, succulent and tender. Thank god for expenses is all I can say. Sometimes, you get a little taste of the high life. And they still had running water. Bliss!

All the journos were based at the Hotel Split, which under normal times would have been a holiday hotel catering to the package tourist, but these weren't normal times. Someone had thrown a hand grenade into the swimming pool, which was built over the dining room, causing a bad leak. It had to be drained, so no poolside cocktails. Also there were loads of soldiers hanging out, armed and in uniform.

One Saturday night, I was invited to the "disco" in the basement of the hotel. After a while, they put some martial music, proper marching songs and the local crowd began to sing along. I asked someone why they were all so excited by this traditional-sounding music and was told that they were "Croatian nationalist hymns". I was also reminded that during WW2, the Croats sided with the Nazis. 'Nuff said.

One thing you will notice, its actually hard to avoid is that women from Split are stunning. The locals will tell you, probably even now, that the best looking women in the former Yugoslavia are all from Split. Countless Ms. Yugoslavias and Ms. Croatia's have come from Split, not that I would expect anyone to keep score on the Ms. World or Universe pageants.

Now, during a war, there are precious few options for people to make money. The two I've encountered where-ever I've been have been the black market and prostitution. These industries flourish where-ever traditional economies fail.

In Split, back then, it was hard to avoid the hookers, they employed a very direct marketing strategy. Firstly, they would phone your room to ask if you wanted "the sex." If you declined, as this hippy did, the second line of attack was a knock on your door.

This happened to me. I opened my door to find a statuesque and attractive woman begging for my help. She had a long tale of woe concerning her landlord, her rent and a money transfer from overseas that had not appeared. She said she was looking for work as a translator/fixer, but we already had one, so there was not much I could do. She then asked if she could perform another job for cash, a BLOW JOB! Yikes! I gave her a little bit of cash from my expense money and sent her on her way.

Do you think that was the last I heard from her? Yeah right. Life is a learning curve, and I should have learned this lesson by now. If you help people once, they will always come back for more. Of course she came back, but I was able to brush her away without any hassle.

At the time, the main story was in a place called Medjugorje, in Bosnia. There were Spanish peacekeepers, trying to referee the fighting, so the Spanish networks were keen to self-cover, as was a large British broadcaster, and at the time, both agencies. There was no shortage of pictures to use.

Every morning, after breakfast, we would watch the other tv news teams pack-up and drive up the road to Medjugorje, where fighting was raging. We were left in Split, looking for a story.

Most days we wouldn't find one, there was precious little going on in Split, certainly nothing that would have been news-worthy. So we'd wait until the other crews came back and "borrow" their pictures.

Here's a big tv news secret: You don't have to film the pictures yourself to use them in your report. If you think your favourite tv news station has covered everything themselves, all around the world, you would be wrong. Most broadcasters subscribe to agencies, which provide general pictures of just about everything.

When a broadcaster sends a reporter somewhere, its so you can see them on camera. What that means is a reporter can record a voice track, and a stand-up (or piece to camera), then edit using anyone else's pictures and it will look like they did it themselves. "Borrowing" other pictures on the ground makes this illusion even more believable.

Not everyone does it this way, but many do. If you don't see the reporter standing in the exact spot where the story was filmed, they probably didn't go.

Now my friend in Split was specifically told he could not go to Medjugorje, but he needed to do his "piece to camera". Safety is always a concern in newsrooms and I don't actually fault them for not letting him go. He seemed jealous and envious that the others were being sent and he had to stay behind. I think it dented his macho-pride.

If we filmed his stand-up in Split, he would have to say he was reporting from Croatia in his sign off. That was not good enough when the story was in Bosnia.

He came up with a cunning plan to get around this. Rather than going to Medjugorje, where all the sexy bang-bang pix were coming from, he decided to drive to the border with Bosnia, step over the line and film his stand-up. Then he could say "xxxx reporting from Bosnia" and not look too stupid. They agreed with this because we went to a different part of Bosnia, far away from any possible danger.

My lingering memory of this trip remains my reporter friend waking up in the car as we drove from Split to the border, asking "are we in Bosnia yet?"

And that concludes a rambling tale from the hippy's past. Tune in next time for more exciting hippy adventures.
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