Table talk with friends.

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"Frankly, nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians frightens me. They've already stated their desire to destroy another nation", blasted the brother of my mother, throwing in the odd foul word as he silenced the family gathering. I stopped poking at the plastic microwavable trays of Chinese food to look up, my smile was instantly erased as his words found the correct orientation. To my surprise he was not sarcastically echoing the simplistic digest of the media but rather lining up and saluting. My mother's bother doesn't seem to suit this increasing distance between his former leftist tendencies and current opinion yet during a heated debate my many examples of hypocrisy failed to calm his rage – is it because we are the noble and enlightened, glowing with an unquestionable virtuosity?

Many curious minds have been putting questions my way since my return to the UK, keen to test the usual information sources regarding Iran. Somewhat uncomfortably I have once again been providing soundbites and gloss-over commentary presenting an unqualified summary of a nation – and for a pleasant change, the other way around. Many have been pleased that what I tell them isn't as bad as they imagined, yet others are silenced by the differences.

I sat around the dinner table with a friend and his family in the company of a mutual friend who was on a visit from Paris. An awkward silence befell me as I resisted the temptation to trump her stories. It was like I was listening to her describe the erroneous weave of art nouveau craftwork found on the gate of her suburban fortress. Our spectrum of concerns was vast with maybe one of us falling outside of the visible frequencies. I held my tongue however, but these awkward silences haunt me as I struggle to not appear fashionably distressed from my year of topical exploration.

This was my undoing, I unleashed a series of troubling stories that sobered the air and with my every word the hangover grew

"I like the French, they're feisty", remarked a friend while discussing national attitudes and protesting. "You must apply to protest around areas of London", added another friend as the conversation progressed. "This is the same in Iran", I gently contributed before explaining accounts of how things go if one is illegally protesting. This was my undoing, I unleashed a series of troubling stories that sobered the air and with my every word the hangover grew.

In my absence I've been looking forward to talking – in Farsi for a change – with the many Iranian folk in England. Oddly enough the expat Iranian community in my hometown is strong and I've been enjoying my recent graduation and exceptance. "You understand Daveed?" they repeat as I listen to perspectives on matters long gone and buried. Even as I write I'm sitting in an Iranian cafe, listening to the Farsi gossip over the counter, backed by songs I've come to be familiar with. "Yes I understand...", I joyfully respond, partly confused at an Iran they once enjoyed.

"I enjoy traveling America and speaking badly about them to their faces", remarked a friend while updating me about his recent tour, "You know, in a strange way I think they like it", I responded. "So tell me about Iran?!", he requested, confused at my reluctance to divulge. Having seen the latest round of political tug-of-war he was keen to hear my thoughts on the matter. "It seems we've been here before, the Iranians seem to be rightfully defiant", I responded, tired at the reoccurring headlines. "As much as I worry about the expanding rhetoric, it's kinda nice to see someone take a stand against the bullies", I uncomfortably stated. We were careful to agree – but maybe we are yet to be enlightened.



A view from the train in my hometown.

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"I'll prove to you that a tree has a soul", I exclaimed tilting my body forward while theatrically casting a hand out to demand the attention of those before me. I found an excited smile to compliment my wide-eyes then held an atmospheric pause, "I'll prove to you that a tree has a soul", I continued, softening my tone as I began my father's story – heard in Iran the night before – told in England the day after.

Less than 24-hours separated my father's enthusiastic interjection in a controversial debate, a debate that was more comfortably reiterated in the tolerant air and company of a place I once called home. Home is where I've finally arrived, landing to the backdrop of an annual aviation festival – reuniting conversations bothered by the ripped skies, vibrating with the sound of billions of pounds. Something about the airshow tasted more sour than the previous years.

Between the parading of a fighter jet – the Euro Fighter at a guess – I began my parody, enlightening my Great British friends circling me in a Great British pub, "'My father – god bless his soul...' , 'God bless his soul!', we respectfully repeated...". I was overjoyed at being reunited with subtle words, sharp ears and being able to pick from a shelved vernacular. "'...upon inspecting one of the trees in his orchid was concerned that a certain one was not bearing fruit. He took me out of sight of the tree, gave me an axe and relayed a plan'". I continued my father's story explaining that he had been asked to act out a scene in the tree's company whereby my father was to threaten cutting the tree down, supposedly to encourage cooperation. "'No, we'll give the tree one more chance!', responded his father in this staged moment". I leant further forward modeling my father's excitement as he approached his conclusion. Whilst mustering another atmospheric pause, I drew the mimicry to a close, "...and the next year the tree bore fruit!". The soul, I was assured.

A world war two bomber crossed the skyline as I shared the dodgy science still on my mind from my last Tehran night

I later travelled through my hometown with a dear friend, slightly disorientated at the abrupt change in my ddmmyyyy. A rapid series of events in Iran had brought my person sitting calmly in moderate traffic, grey skies and in the company of calm pink-faces. A world war two bomber crossed the skyline as I shared the dodgy science still on my mind from my last Tehran night, "Yes scientists in Amsterdam have proven that playing music to plants helps them grow", I paraphrased before repeating my response. "I'm willing to accept this, but this is not an indication of soul".

Might playing music at various distances effect growth?
What alterations in the environment are brought about by intervention?
How do differing species react in the presence of music?

During my 4-seasons away I often considered an Arabic phrase as I've come to learn of my family around me – 'my dad rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies a jet and his son rides a camel'.Jets have been circling me, friends have been driving me and I've seen no camels.



"Resistance Station" at Haft-e Tir, Tehran. A sign displeasure towards Israel.

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"This week I wanted to write a comparison between ice-cream adverts in the UK and here in Iran", I jokingly answered to a weekly question asked by a friend. "It'll also be my 50th blog entry!", I added with a small sense of achievement, "I'm not sure I will mention it though, I worry about the day my writing becomes self-referential".

While walking between restaurants, battling with indecision, I explained my fascination for Iranian adverts:

This fascination was confirmed on a Fathers' Day gathering at my uncle's (without my father). At the time we struggled for comfort in a small room during another melodramatic Iranian series, compacted among a hive of hushes, gasps and, "yes he's such a bad man!". A welcomed television break allowed for tea and toddler-attention, caring for neither I sat nursing my weak stomach feeling delusional from the previous day's hospital episode where food poisoning had once again claimed me. During the break my family reconfirmed the plot to one-another, shifting tea cups away from the toddles' path while assessing the likely direction of the story-line. I, on the other hand, entered some alternative state where voices transcended to a blanket-tone, indistinguishable from one another and slightly louder than I might normally tolerate. The TV requested my eye as an ice-cream advert filled the screen. It felt like the fifth time I'd seen it and could well have been the second. Ice-lollies – tossed out of the screen hitting my eye at a computer programmed rate, cones – cream-filled at the pace of the narrator: empty cone arrives, metal arm drops, cone gets it, repeat. A glimpse into the production of your ice-cream, all very modern and clean.

"English adverts for ice-creams are nothing short of porn!", I concluded struggling to recall an exact example

As we arrived at the restaurant I'd managed to summarise the differences: an orgy of machinery and automation – lines of multi-coloured rods firming-up with flavoured ice or the rhythmic spitting of cream to holes of waiting cones. For those that don't live in Iran, one need only replace ice-cream with any other product we can see a nice cross-section of the Iranian advertising style – factories, conveyor belts and machines. "They are showing that they are modern and clean", my father once assured me. "They are showing they are modern and clean", I repeated as I entered the door of the restaurant. "English adverts for ice-creams are nothing short of porn!", I concluded struggling to recall an exact example. There was some vague point about illusions but I didn't get that far.

"Can we have menu?", I eventually asked the Arabic looking feller playing games on the computer. "The menus are being changed, we are serving this food until then", he stated while passing us a photocopied sheet in a plastic sleeve containing mostly Iranian dishes. It then dawned on me, we'd come to a Lebanese restaurant, owned by Lebanese. Topical. An eerie feeling arrived as I considered the timing.

"Can we order drinks?", I eventually asked the Arab looking feller playing games on the computer. I had been to the restaurant before and enjoyed warm service and an interesting variety of foods yet the previous staff were not present. "Where do you think they might be?", asked a friend, "Maybe they've joined Herzbollah", added the other partly in jest. "Maybe they've gone to help and be with their family", I pointed out while looking at the pictures on the wall at what was probably once a beautiful Lebanon.

"Can we have our drinks?", I eventually asked the Arab looking feller playing games on the computer. When they arrived we quizzed him about the ingredients in some items in the menu, "Sorry, I don't know", he repeated with each question. I ordered kebab and hummus. I silently enjoyed the similar Arabic spelling of Hamas to Hummus.

"Can we have the bill?", I eventually asked the Arab looking feller playing games on the computer. We'd skipped desert, even if it was to be clean and modern, things just didn't seem right in this restaurant. We made our exit strategy and left the Arab looking feller playing games on the computer.



Waiting to be seen in one of the many corridors of official buildings.

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"No, you must wait Daveed" he repeated in a rising parental-tone, one that a child might hear on Christmas eve. Not wanting to sound ungrateful for the footwork done by the friend of the family I impatiently repeated the question in other words, "Wait.. 1-week wait or 1-month wait?". "You must wait and I will tell you all", was his answer. "So when will I see you for you to tell me all?", I pleaded, "Soon!" he assured me. But I cannot wait for an undisclosed amount of time and certainly not till Christmas – my flight runs out in a month.

Not for the first time have I been assured of help by some "reputable" source, a friend of the family, high up I'm assured, and not for the first time has this resulting in nothing but a loss of time and money. The arrangement of the purchasing of my national army service is an ongoing matter that is restricting my exit from Iran and causing much frustration."I know somebody who can help you", is becoming a phrase of determent and many promises are broken and boasters unmasked. My family seem confident that their war veteran friends of regimes gone have some weight in levering some more attractive arrangement, yet we keep arriving back to my preferred, straight-down-the-middle route.

It is compulsory for Iranian males to forgo 2-years of army service with a few exception. I fall into one of these exceptions by having lived roughly 97% of my life in the UK and being a dual national – that I have flat feet, a small eye deficiency and am far from fluent in Farsi however is irrelevant. This privilege however, comes at a price, a year's salary equivalent to that of a teacher (pre-tax), a price that was to be gifted by my dear father as part of some loose arrangement before my 'emigration' if you will. Yet things seemed to have changed in the unnecessarily long 8-months it has taken to get to the current stage of unfinishedness and I am now having to source generosity beyond the unfulfilled promises of my father. Oddly enough my father was also exempt from the army service yet it wasn't due to his short arms and deep pockets.

This episode is helping come to terms with the Iranian definition of time. I've worked out that at least 150% – infinite% should be added to any given estimate, my Dad seems to side with the latter where money is concerned – intentions count for a lot here. Thankfully with a fair amount of chasing, the "friend-of-a-friend", "I-know-somebody-who-can...", "my-uncle's-cousin's-cousin's-dad", eventually respond to my repeated calls, confirming what I already knew – there's little they can do.

"You should be taking care of these matters yourself", said the man in room 123 of the Iranian Foreign Office, disappointed of how weak my Farsi was and troubled by my needing the help of my father. This was possibly 6-months ago now and I had to return the other week – going alone – to pickup some paperwork from the Iranian Embassy in London, which had arrived 4-weeks later than the 3-weeks estimate with an additional 3-weeks applied where my father was prompted with my, "we should have the letter back from the Embassy now", only to respond with, "oh yes, you remind me, I must send it". Without an English word to be heard I ran between offices collecting signatures, stamps, counter signatures, photocopies, more forms and further more stamps. Room 102, 123, 103, 102, 110, 103, 123 and then 103 before lastly saying goodbye to 102. I smiled as I left the building – room 123 had not noticed my lack of English and father, "Dast e shoma dard nakoneh, kheili lotf kardi".

an organic gathering of people in no perceived order, possibly heading in a particular direction, for a similar purpose, see 'mosh pit'

Things were much the same today, yet with the all important elbows of my uncle. We raced around on another paperwork run collecting all the above but in different numbered temporarily fabricated rooms of the Tehran army office. The terrain this time being far more volatile, with us being one of a great many persons seeking to attend to our individual situations. Whilst there I was reminded that, like with 'time', the translation for 'queue' doesn't quite correlate in Iran, one might use the army offices as the Iranian definition: an organic gathering of people in no perceived order, possibly heading in a particular direction, for a similar purpose, see 'mosh pit'. A vague understanding of order could be observed in the huddle of people but it was easily subject to change as people drifted in and out, offices closed or computers failed. With a lot of strategic queuing we'd managed to cover a large amount of ground within the 3-hours leading up to 1230hrs where the place closed for the day. Yet there is still more to be done.

As of now I have been assured that money is to pass hands, further undisclosed time waited and more passport photos of me added to the already 40-plus that exist in various offices around, gathered in just 10-months or so. "10-20-days time", I've been assured, yet I've learned to be pessimistic – I'm hoping for a very early Christmas present.