CCTV luggage hall.

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"Guess who's coming today?" ask my younger brother while passing me at the ironing board where I readied my shirt for our special guest. "Er, the Mahdi?" I cheerfully responded considering it was five in the morning and I'd not slept. My father, who was pacing around in the background greeted me with his first words - a mixture of mumbled Farsi and strong English hit my ear. "I've told you, don't talk about politics or religion" he firmly instructed before proceeding to inform me that I have too much shit in my mouth. This moment was to set a stale mood for what was going to be an eventful day. I dismissed his words and also the many responses that had built-up and merrily continued ironing - working on the crease I just left imprinted.

I get excited when I visit Tehran's main airport Mehrabad, my ears prick and my nose rises in lame hope of sensing something English. Although my visit would take me to the arrival section I flirted with the departures desk knowing that a few steps forward would essentially mean England. As the delayed sign flashed for BA6633 my brother and I larked about, fueled by the excitement of what was to come and helped by the lack of sleep - we irritated travelers nearly as much as the circling vehicle that sped between uniting family to wash the floors. Unlike most airports I've been to Mehrabad has CCTV showing the luggage hall for families and friends situated at the arrivals exit, yet just as BA6633 was at passport control the empty luggage hall turned to a Mexico '86 Argentina game.

"She's here, that's her" shouted my brother during a odd silent period. I looked in the empty corridor expecting this to be more of the larking about but indeed he was correct. My sister had somehow managed to be the first and seemingly the only person to exit from BA6633. I was overjoyed and lost for words choosing to break the silence with a witless comment about her headscarf. She looked exhausted and confirmed that she had not slept either. I was honored and immediately begun fussing, thinking of all the things that once puzzled me and making sure she would not be confused as I once was and probably still am.

After 25-years of absence, my older sister has decided to join me and the family in Iran for a two-week holiday. Like me 3-year previous she is without the Farsi but with the advantage of my words and pictures since that time. Whether it was the lack of sleep or my sister's well travelled eyes that made her so calm during her first day I'm not sure but she politely told me that my being present was reassuring. It was much the same for me too I thought to myself.

After gifts were given and tea drank we set out in the fine weather to Park Mellat near my father's house. We detoured to browse through a mostly closed clothes shopping arcade nearby, inside which I had the horrific realisation. My sister's arse was shining like an apple with only her jeans to hold it in. I had prepared her with headscarfs before she arrived but forgotten the manteau, an elongated shirt that covers the rear in an attempt to rid women of femininity (surely a glue-on beard is more effective?). This oversight was embarrassing for me and I felt the gaze of every person we passed, frowning upon both me and my sister until we purchasing the appropriate equipment.

We later paid a visit to my grandmother's house where many of the Iranian bound family joined to catch up on 25-years of events. I tried my best to play the role of translator while I simultaneously described the family that she barely knew existed. My sister is a very confident and organised character for which I forever feel in her shadow, she is normally first to do things in the family and this I feel has had an odd effect on my character, yet for one rare occasion I felt I was the older child, I was the first and it was now my responsibility to look after her.



Around the Haft Seen.

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"It's now", exclaimed my father. "It's now" repeated my brother as they sat-up straight around the table, dressed well before the 'haft seen', ready as if at a restaurant waiting for food. I stood a few steps away, looking at my phone screen aimed at the TV screen. I was ready to capture something but not sure what that might be. The digital farsi clock sat in the corner of the screen found its way to the Norooz (the Iranian new year) showing 09.55.35pm. We heard fireworks explode outside, I captured two ambiguous photos turned my head to see if the fish - as part of the 'Haft Seen' - were motionless (as mentioned that they might be by my father) and enquired, "It's now?". It's now 1385.

The changing of the year coincided with Eastenders on BBC Prime to which my step mother immediately attended to her fix. The screen switched from the supreme spiritual leader presenting an annual address not unlike the folk in Britain receive on Christmas day (from HRH herself) to two east London girls in an interracial lesbian bed-scene. I could not contain my shock and burst out in what later became laughter. It wasn't offense that befell me but amusement in juxtapose and a reminder of the acceptance I once enjoyed. "What she needs is a good seeing to..." exclaimed Mo whilst waltzing though the market - this episode could not have been any more unsavory. Television is not something I indulge in, but for a rare moment I was fixated, refreshing my mind of where I wasn't whilst noting each topic that might not even arrive in people minds here.

Our following morning expedition asked that we wear black and not wish a happy new year as we visited three houses in mourning. The new year also coincided with the mourning of Imam Hossein, the 40th day being exactly on new years day. This coincidence resulted in the much anticipated, and in my mind, legendary Haji Firooz not dancing the streets in his black and red get-up and blacked out face. Although I don't fully apreciate the meaning of this, the idea of an Iranian minstrel interfering with the remaining Tehran traffic was a sight I had yearned for since purchasing the dancing doll months previous.

For these reasons I uncomfortably wore a solemn face while we saw long missed family. We travelled around the blissfully empty streets of Tehran being nothing more than sacks of tea, fruit and nuts. At each house I would stare at the portraits of the late family member with the black ribbon wrapped at 45-degrees to the corner while my ears picked up my father's small talk and odd joke. Unfamiliar with the etiquette I cringed as the other guests brought themselves to laughter.

Within the last month I've had the revelation that I'm half Azari. After parting with information about my family to friends I would often be asked whether I was Azeri - somewhat ignorantly I would answer that I'm Iranian. The queries were normally put forth after mentioning that my family speak Azerbaijani (pretty much the Turkish language) with one another. After several of these moments I asked my father if I was Azari to which he gave a puzzled response - "of course". This frustrating reminder, that much is assumed of what I know, has caused another period of reevaluation. Being Azari I figure, from the little I have learned, is like maybe being Scottish - I'm British but Scottish. As the family gather around the nucleus - my grandmother - for the new year's visitations I found I was in exactly the same position I was 3-years previous (my first visit to Iran as an adult), I was at a loss as to what was being discussed. Normally the Azerbaijani is broken up by third parties and I have benefit of listening to my grandmother's increasingly odd Farsi accent, yet on this occasion I was in a thick gaggle of Azari. The gradually familiar tonguey sound of Azerbaijani - a language that sounds like a person talking with a boiled sweet on the go - resonated around the walls as they have for years gone and I was left, sat at square one, tea in one hand, pistachio in the other.



Snow on the roof.

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Snow is tall, this I am aware of from reading his autobiography, he stood towering towards me, his height exaggerated by the both our petite respective female accompaniments. Television has an odd way of hiding heights in either direction and it seemed Channel 4 had the daily task hiding a lot of this immense man. Habit forced me to watch Hilsum's hand which she eventually offered and I follow up by shaking Snow's. He shadowed before me then boldly greeted me with a very formal Arabic phrase: "Salam alaykoom". After the welcomes and pleasantries I smugly commented that Snow was wearing the exact tie I predicted, having earlier educated my accompaniment of the legendary occurrence of Snow's flavorsome collection.

As we made our way to the minibus I was informed of the previous day's hiccups whilst recording in Isfahan, involving power failures during transmission, a crashing vehicle and multiple arrests. Thankfully our short minibus trip to the local mosque, where we were to broadcast from the roof, was only eventful in conversation. We were initially warned of the Basij presence that would accompany our filming but my fear for an aggressive US led strike was greater and prompted me to ask the many stacked questions.

"So what have you been learning about this nuclear mess?" I inquired, thrilled at being able to get an off-the-record response from such exposed people. "Well it's crap isn't it" replies Snow barely allowing me to finish. He continued to remind us of the hypocrisy involved before suggesting that military intervention seems inevitable, "That's crap Jon, don't say that, you have no evidence to base that on..." retorted Hilsum. We moved off the topic to discuss Iran's recent history with Snow iterating the British undermining of democratic progress here. He went on to ask what exactly I am doing in Iran, what my plans are and when I may return, if at all. After giving a brief summary I went on to mention my military service predicament, to which they agreed that my attendance would make for a great book - going as far as suggesting titles and pseudonyms.

The British Channel 4 news team had arrived for a week of live broadcasts from various areas of Iran, having received an unprecedented number of VISAs and having a surprising amount of freedom to broadcast during this politically tense week for Iran. It seems that history is repeating itself - a la Iraq - with the US asking for Iran to prove that something doesn't exist. Even with the hypocrisy aside it seems the rhetoric is very hard to prove for all parties. Nevertheless there has been ample coercion to continue the matter and Channel 4 were around to cover both this and general life for folk like me.

We arrived on the roof of the mosque to where the team had already set-up ready for the live transmission. My accompaniment and I were introduced to most of the team, after which we became known as the "bloggers" or the "blogger in the lobby". Two such gentlemen, whom I failed to catch the name of later stood before me, skipped the pleasantries and addressed me with questions. From their mumbled Farsi I gathered that they were asking who we were, who we worked for, what we did and why we were there. Realising they were the Basij members that we were warned about, I began to answer, informing them that we were part of the Channel 4 team, hoping this would give them no reason to cause a stir. They stepped back and spoke between each other concluding that we should leave. After gaining backup from the team they backed off and proceeded to film both me and my accompaniment exclusively for maybe 20-minutes straight.

While the setting up continued or long pauses arrived I had the opportunity to pick Hilsum's brains. I was keen to hear her perspective as to why Iran is truly centre stage right now. I put forward my opinions regarding the Iranian Oil Bourse plans to which I was presented with information partially refuting this. It was suggested that a whole host of issues combined are inviting tension, yet not too much detail was shed other than them relating to fuel. I enjoyed hearing Hilsum's political speak, both then and before, her occasional snippets of current affair that funneled through the ears of Snow cemented the impression that Snow was the chassis with Hilsum the engine. She struck me as level, confident and attentive, having a skill with words that left me happily ashamed for a rare moment in Iran. Snow on the other hand might also be described as a creative chap, possibly too creative at times, humanitarian might better describe him. Yet there is no doubt however that he wears his heart on his sleeve along with a very colourful pair of cuff-links I'm sure. An interview with Snow was filmed after the live transmission to which Snow suggested a strike on Natanz might materialise. The on-set response from the editors who were silently shrinking away with part laughter and part disbelief made for amusing viewing.

As we left I took the opportunity to quiz Snow about the last vague sentence in his autobiography that I read one year previous. It was my intention to research about this yet never did I expect to get an answer from the man himself. Following this I listened in on a conversation between Snow and an Iranian member of the team. "I hope they see that all the trouble was worth it, if only they could see the huge response we've been getting - all the emails" Snow proudly stated referring to their Iranian partners. "It is harder to bomb a nation when the public are aware of the people and if they have familiarity with their lives". I cannot agree more Mr Snow.

ROOM 1328

Wind farm.

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"I've found him, he's in Esturghlal Hotel, room 1328" said the message that flashed up on my screen. "I'm calling him now" followed the next message. "She's calling him now" I wrote in the other window. "She's a joker" replied another window. A little while later we learned that, "He's in Qom, I've just seen the broadcast". We missed him for today, but attempted to predict his moves and made plans accordingly.

Hours later I woke and left town for a business trip of sorts with my Father and his brother in law, visiting the city of Rasht, a place that the Caspian Sea furnishes with fish and gifts with a familiar salty breeze. In between routinely recalling the hotel and sharing the altering plans with my accomplice, I saw the enlarging sight of a single wind turbine on the horizon. No sooner had I begun to point this out but they multiplied before my eyes. "Dad, we're stopping to photograph" I firmly instructed, and without protest we pulled over and I disappeared out of view, leaping over think clots of caterpillars that have yet to evolve to their future obstacles and dodging the odd lizard. My only pause in this fleeting photography session was to stand below the rotating blades of turbine "5" to hear the music being carved from the frighteningly large blades. As I ran deeper into the field I united with another lone man running in my direction - he could only be security and I could only be trouble. We played our roles, mine being one of over enthusiasm - playing dumb, choosing to play down my Farsi as it suited me. "Forbidden" he told me, which was repeated by the manager that I was escorted to later. A crowd gathered as I was requested to show the photos I'd taken. "He's English!" they echoed with an odd jubilation before I went on to agree that this field was certainly better than anything in Europe. I chose the dumb-tourist approach, telling them that I only managed to get one shot for the family before being interrupted. In my euphoric state I cheekily requested that I photograph some more but my smiles were not mirrored.

During the trip I became surplus to requirements and also frustrated at not being in Tehran should we manage to get any news. I concocted a symbolic gesture relating to the week's political events and my experience at the wind farm - choosing to purchase a dove and later release it at the wind farm as we passed upon our return. This futile action, from any perspective, became a source of focus but the shop I later purchased the dove from only served to make me more depressed about matters. Many animals shrieked from the walls - I was mostly upset with the caged monkey that lashed out at a small child that leaned forward to stroke it. There was an odd sense of responsibility developing, with little else for my mind to play with, every smaller details developed symbolism.

"Salam?", answered a woman in room 1328. Confused, I requested in English to speak with Mr Snow. "Salam?" enquired the following male voice. This wasn't Snow's room. Had we been wrong all along? Had reception not understood my English (the better language I decided in this case)? I called again, testing reception's possible mistake, this time asking in Farsi, "I don't know a Mr Snow" replied an angry voice from room 1328. I conferred with my accomplice who was equally puzzled. "He's in Isfahan" I was then informed. The plans were rearranged.

While stopping for tea upon our return, we were repeatedly interrupted by the car alarm sounding. After the fifth time of turning it off, we realised that the dove had actually gotten out of the paper bag and was flapping and shitting all over the car. Freedom it seemed was a strong desire. I detested our transportation methods but was happy that the journey was short. In the near darkness I rested the dove on the ground close to the wind farm. It stood still, looked around, walked forward a little before lauching in fright at my Father's brother in law's foot stomp. The maiden flight was a weak one and the destination seemed a mystery. It landed in a nearby bush in eye-shot, before being pounced upon by a fox. My Father and his brother in law flinched forward in concern but I, on the other hand, burst out with laughter. It was beautiful, nature was taking its course. Relief hit my Father's face as the dove managed to get free and fly far away. We left and the symbolism got deeper.

The following day my accomplice and I decided matters would be better dealt with from the hotel but still no response from room 1328. "No, no BBC 4 in this hotel sir" stated the reception manager. There was no "BBC ITN" I also informed him as I struggled to explain matters. "H. I. L. S. U. M" I spelt out as the manager punched it in to the computer. I knew that this lady was with the team so I tried this avenue. "Hello, am I speaking to Lindsey Hilsum?" I inquired and indeed I was. I explained my request to which it was arranged that I would meet them in the lobby before they went to shoot. "We're coming down. You know what Jon Snow looks like don't you?" she asked. "I think I can remember" I replied with a huge sigh of relief.



Film poster.

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"Do we have to sit in separate areas?" I asked, prepared as usual to expect a response that indicates that I have asked a silly question. "Yes of course, girls sit on one side and boys on the other... why, did you think we'd all sit together?". "No no, I guess it makes sense, who knows what might happen in the dark?" I answered thinking nothing more of it.

I'd been looking forward to my first cinema trip for some time. Having heard many good reviews of the Iranian cinematography I was keen, but not as keen to see how an Islamic cinema functions.

Earlier that day I had given a talk to Tehran University's MA Illustration undergrads and my translator was possibly going to have to continued her role as we made our way to the Tehran picture house. Whether or not it is Islamic to be able to sit beside my female guest was one of the many questions that spun around my mind like the reels that waited before us.

Having stocked up on provisions consisting of cashew nuts, pineapple juice and an unwanted chocolate bar given due to the lack of change, we sat with other visitors on the marble side section and discussed the film title. "Caharshambeh Soory", which refers to the last Wednesday of the year in the Iranian calendar. On this day people jump over fires, throw fireworks at each other and drop bangers in anything that might rile somebody.

A buzzer sounded repeatedly and a yellow light flashed on a small sign nearby. To me this indicated that it is my turn to see the doctor but to my fellow audience it was viewing time. I passed on my guest's half of the provisions as we entered the door expecting to separate to each side of the cinema, yet as we entered I saw the audience was mixed and there were no sides. I had to check that we'd actually stepped into a cinema due to this and also due to it looking more like a airplane cabin - very narrow with maybe 5-seats by 15-rows.

We sat down in the second to last row and no sooner had bum united seat than the screen was lit-up. I became confused, it didn't look like a trailer, we hadn't had any certification notice and I was not told to turn my mobile off. There was no film, then there was film - no preceding husky voice nor sequential explosions.

I tried not to ask my guest what was happening but the pace of conversion that unfolded before was incomprehensible. Thankfully my guest was informing me of the general plot and with the Farsi that I knew and the imagery I was not too far from the happenings. But however I was distracted and it wasn't by the audience members who conversed on their mobiles during the film. The explosion finally came littering my mind with a mass of question marks that required cleaning up.

Is it permitted to have a scene of a woman without a headscarf - even if the scene is in a private home, without men around? Can scenes from other countries showing foreign (non-Islamic) women without headscarfs be shown? Can images of women without headscarfs be visible in a scene? Is it permitted to see at least a single hair on a females head?

Hair, it seemed, was ruining my viewing experience, even more so than the hideously poor sound quality. I felt confused, these questions seemed so ridiculous. The inconsistency between what I know, what I see and what is expected overwhelmed me.

No sooner had the film ended than the usual Iranian, "every man for himself" scrabble out of the exit begun. The room emptied and the screen darkened leaving peace and myself behind to sneak in a photo or two. Upon finally leaving I contemplated that for a change there is more hair in my head than on it.