The Scottish bastard in Damascus

Sounds like a Rossini opera gone a bit wrong, no?

I promised a blog, and I also promised great pictures of the city, but I managed to get my phone stolen yesterday, so sadly no piccies just yet. More on that later.

My fellow Bantermarket users will know me well, but for the benefit of others a brief description of my intent is in order. I’m a third-year student of Arabic and Latin, and St Andrews has the option in this semester of studying abroad with Arabic, taking some people to Damascus University and a few to the American University, Cairo.

Studying abroad in Syria for fourteen weeks sounds like a big change of pace, especially for someone who has never been outside Europe before. But why write a blog? Well, it’s partially a diary for me, so I can look back on this time in the future and remember ‘oh yeah, that was the bomb’ (something I especially love saying here when I see tourists) etc., partially a way of structuring my ideas about this fresh and interesting environment in which I find myself and partially a sort of catalogue of good and bad experiences which the reader can seek out and avoid respectively. I will chat shit. Often. If you read enough into it, I may make sense.

I’m one of the clichéd multitude as I really ‘found myself’ in sixth year. Many of my fellow old Aloysians will remember vividly the distinctly substandard teaching, mediocre facilities, multitudinous wankers and architecture fit to induce ocular cancer, but none of these are what I’m talking about. We also remember Lindisfarne, walking barefoot across the sands to Holy Island in contemplation, the Kairos and third year retreats some of us led, but most of all we remember the chaplains, and their inspiration.

Somewhere along the way I lost myself and can’t quite find me again. So something I realised after thinking that study abroad would be great for my Arabic was that coming to appreciate first-hand another culture will help me understand my own – and myself – much better. This blog, in its own way, is an invitation to trust, a ‘wish you were here’, letting the reader know how I’m doing things and how I represent the homeland abroad (probably not very well).

Nobody visits a new country – in this case a new continent – without being at least a little presumptuous. I came here armed (or perhaps disarmed?) with all of my various beliefs and preconceived notions, results of my own culture and upbringing. My growing fascination with Syria represents an already growing understanding of myself and how I relate to the world.

There’s something very bipolar about Damascus. I’m in two minds about practically everything, for example my neighbourhood. This evening I climbed up onto the roof of my old-style Syrian house and could see out all the way to the Umayyid Mosque in the centre of the old city, and was struck by the houses I saw. And how shit they looked from up there. Compared with the wonderful street level of charming winding alleys, wizened old men mumbling incoherently and noisy children, everything was so silent and… shit. Except for the singing of the muezzin from the Mosque. As I contemplated how and why someone could live in such a place as mine for their whole life, the call to prayer started suddenly, and it reminded me – even though I neither believe the words he sings to be true or fully understand them – that during our time of difficulty as well as plenty, God is with us, sustaining us both silently and with all the rigour of life. Then my longed-for mystic moment was cut short by the tens of other recitations from smaller houses of worship and everything suddenly sounded more like an octogenarian (yes!, I’m a journalist fanny now!) boffing a large mammal. But still, that’s what I’m here for firstly. Mystic moments. Not boffing large mammals.

Very profound, Starky, yes…

Status Report

It has been a long while since the blogs were last updated. My excuse is that things have been busy with the rest of the site. Things have progressed nicely and at the time of writing the forum is up to 1777 posts, 69 of which are in the funny pictures thread. This is not to mention the AMPS, SMR and Bantermarket archives we maintain in vintage. The site has seen a greater level of interactivity and Web2.0-ness than ever before in BM history. We have reinstated all the services seen on the old sites – media, blogs, the forum, the bantionary but we’ve also added an online collaborative office suite and a collaborative project management system. We hope to use the office suite for, among other things, the Bantermarket Times. The project management software brings us in line with current accepted best practices for software development.

Our community has remained very active over the years, despite the geographical separation and conflicting demands on our time. I’m mainly writing because Starky has reminded me about our sorely neglected blogs. Starky is currently in Syria and plans to blog his experience. It really sounds like one to catch.

This is your status report/warm up act signing off, cheers everyone

Guess who’s back, again.

History was hosted on a low cost, “decent spec” hosting package from Midphase hosting and this worked fine until we actually wanted to do anything remotely interesting with it. The hosts would occassionally get cold feet and shut us down, while asking for more money. This is frustrating enough when the host will talk to you afterwards, let you address the program and start your account back up within a couple of days but has been down for months now and this was not the first time it happened.

Thankfully, the internet is a free market and we simply took our business elsewhere. It’s acceptable for a host to suspend an account if it exceeds a reasonable share of the host’s resources because it impacts on the service that everyone else receives too. It is not acceptable for a host to take the year’s fee in advance, shut you down when a heavy attack of spam causes your cpu usage to spike and then disappear when the customer wants to get his site, files and domain registration back. That’s not good customer service. Don’t use midphase.

Our new hosts are hopefully more serious about customer service and we’re trying them out for this year while keeping extremely regular backups of all our files just in case.  We’ve got some pretty big plans for this site, as well as this blog we’ve also got a wiki (the Bantionary of Legendary Things), a forum and a media gallery installed on the site and we hope to grow it further.  Ideally we will also provide archives of the now venerable SMR and AMPS sites from the days of (an excellent host) and content from

Should be very interesting.


As ever, getting a site established is a great deal of work and there’s a lot which hasn’t been done yet.  We’re pretty experienced but we’ve just not got the time we used to have so reasonable offers of help will be considered, particularly by people who want to publish content through us.  Anyone interested by that should spend some time exploring the site and checking out the content we currently have and seeing how it strikes you.  The Bantionary is open to everyone who wants to add to it, we’re not Wikipedia because it’s supposed to be fun.  Everyone in the group already should expect to help out, check with Amps in particular for that.  Why  I don’t honestly know, you’ll have to check with Starky for that too.

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