We ordered the steak because of the chalkboard promise of fresh salad or veggies.
Two with mushroom sauce, two without. Two with salad, two with veggies.
Two well done, two-medium rare.
Two ginger beers, a white wine, a schooner of VB and forty minutes later, four apparently identical plates arrived, laden with steak, canned vegetables and chips floating in a sea of brown.
As the first hovered over the spot occupied by Jo, she inquired:
"Is that the medium rare?"
There was an almost imperceptable delay, as though time had stood still for a mere nano-second.
A voice from behind the plates replied:
"It's the steak."
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Bourke is a long way from England.
It's a long way from everywhere except North Bourke which is where we ended up one night by dint of our usual random navigation technique. It's said to be the gateway to Australia's outback, everything beyond is "back of Burke".
The temperature was in the mid forties, so we decided to forgo the pleasures of sleeping under canvas that evening for the hardship of an air-conditioned guesthouse room. The owners apologised for the lack of meal service, they were hosting a convention at the time and were overstretched as it was, but they could order something from the Cafe about a block away if we liked, or alternatively we could walk there in the cool of the evening.
As the temperature slowly descended below the forty five degrees it had hovered round during the day, to a much more comfortable forty three or so, we wandered around to the sort of Country Cafe in which every visible surface was covered in green marble laminex lightly dusted with a preserving cover of condensed Chicko Roll. The fryer looked large enough to consume the entire oil ration of a third world country and featured a galvanized hood with a faded menu stuck to it with sticky tape that had been there so long it was the colour of shellac.
There wasn't a thing on it, from the battered savs to the dim sims in breadcrumbs, that seemed matched to the desire of our sophisticated palettes, so we retired to the pub next door to consider our next plan.
Fortunately, the pub had a small but inviting menu offering a choice of chicken and salad or steak and salad.
We ordered the steak, paying for it at the bar.
"Better take a seat, it'll be about forty minutes.
We get it all done at the Cafe next door".
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In Queensland, if you don't like how others drive, you are often invited to phone someone and complain.
In reality you can't, and no one cares if you do, but just in case someone wants to give it a go, many heavy vehicles are resplendent with signs that read something like: "Our driver offers you the courtesy of the road", or "Telstra values safe driving, PH 1800...." .
Unlike other places where the lane in which you travel is not an indicator of one's manliness, in Queensland, freeway travel is an exercise in chaos theory. People go to great lengths to prevent others overtaking them, even if, or perhaps particularly if they are travelling at a small proportion of the actual speed limit on a multi lane freeway.
Some years ago I attempted to pass a bus in a line of slow moving traffic on a single lane section of our National Highway One. The attentive bus driver had obviously not seen my flashing headlights, my indicator, or even my car.
The bus managed to accelerate just enough while we were alongside it to close the gap between it and the vehicle in front to about the thickness of a cigarette paper, which at the time was somewhat less than the length of our car, leaving us with a few options, none of them conducive to maintaining a normal level of blood pressure.
Foolishly, I accepted the kind invitation to phone the number on the bus.
Prompted by my call it seems, that bus driver is now driving a tipper.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
One could tell she was a Pom, because she was glowing bright red even in the dim light of the ablutions block at the camping ground.
"Had a good time at the beach?" was how Jo greeted her, in a terribly subtle way of hinting that perhaps tomorrow she should wear at least a hat and a full length UV body suit.
Girls being girls, there ensued a conversation about how fantastic her trip had been thus far. In a few weeks she'd seen one of just about every kind of native animal in the wild, Koalas, Kangaroos, Emus, Snakes even Crocodiles in the Northern Territory, the only thing she had left to tick off was the Platypus.
"You can forget that", replied Jo encouragingly. "I've been here for half a century and I've never seen one. They're pretty much impossible to see in the wild. Even just trying would be a complete waste of time."
The conversation ended, and that was that for a day or two, until we found ourselves in the town of Bright, at the foot of the Victorian High Country. The camping ground there is located on the bank of the river, near an known Platypus habitat.
Even as we were pitching our tent that earlier conversation began playing on our minds, and we resolved to go Platypus hunting.
With nothing to lose except a few hours sleep, we rose in the chill of the next morn, just before sunrise and waited by the bank.
Then we waited some more.
We thought we'd wait further down the river, but that was just as productive as waiting where we'd been earlier, so we went back and waited there.
We'd almost given up, when we saw the glint of movement on the surface of the water, then to our amazement, it appeared;
Ornithorincus anatinus, there before our very eyes.
We watched for maybe ten minutes or so until the first rays of the sun reached the water, and sent the little bloke back to his burrow for the last time that day. Oh yes, we have the photos; a little brown log floating on the brown surface of the river on brown background, but this was one of those times when you had to be there!
Filled with emotions that hovered between excitement, surprise, satisfaction and wonder, with Jo at the same time riddled with guilt that just maybe she'd talked the Pommy girl out of an impossible quest that just now seemed not at all impossible, we strolled downtown.
As the pre-dawn mist began it's skyward journey for another day, we bought a pie for breakfast.
Monday, November 26, 2007
George is a hard-talking, hard-smoking, pensioner, artisan, craftsman, luthier, artist, boilermaker and raconteur, with a rasping cough and a voice to match, although if the truth be known, and it rarely is around George, he would prefer to be described as "that Wog who only had three years of education".
Steve caught us mid conversation the other day, although the term "mid" is used fairly loosely, as it's difficult to tell when a conversation with George actually begins, and it only ends when he's out of sight, but in any case he made a brave attempt to interrupt by asking if we ever stopped talking.
George turned to him and explained that life is like a garden. For some people it is full of brown grass and dead trees and prickles.
"This isn't very good" he declared, continuing that it should be like a beautiful garden filled with flowers and beautiful fruit.
"If you want the roses to grow big and beautiful, Stephen", he went, on pausing for emphasis,
"you need to spread a lot of bulldust".
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"As our dogs find them difficult...."
I hate it when the camera's zipped up in the bag and by the time I've got it out, turned it on and shot from a moving vessel, the subject matter has been obscured by a hedge with a really mean man-proof fence.
Everyone else hates it when I waste their time showing photographs with stories that don't make sense.
Maybe that's also difficult....
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"Western life in Japan bears little resemblance to life in the West, and the same goes for western style weddings in Japan.
The Japanese have long liked to copy, and improve on, the West. Take, for example, the national railways, communication systems, democracy, and anything to do with electronics.
It's fashionable to imitate other cultures, just as westerners do by getting a suntan so they can look ... errr ... 'exotic'
People like the dress, the kiss and the image. Japanese Christians make up only 1% of the country, but now about 90% of weddings are in the Christian style." from - seiyaku.com
Deeply suntanned though I may not have been, I'm certain that I would have looked quite ... errr ... "exotic" as I stuck my head into the Nikko Narita's splendid wedding chapel, complete I'm sure, albeit terribly well concealed, with national railway, communication systems, democracy and electronics all hidden somewhere within.
In the light of the above, the lights from below the floor should have offered no surprise to me, although I suspect that for any bride wearing insufficient undergarments that may indeed not be the case.
If it were possible in Japan, to make sense of the phrase "tripping the light fantastic", this is where one would come to try.
Friday, November 23, 2007
There's something special about being in a place where events occurred which changed the course of history.
The fact that there were human beings alive and doing stuff all those years ago right there where we stand at any given time creates some sort of tangible mental, and perhaps physical imprint. Whether visiting a shoe a Roman left in a bog in 24 AD, or the house where Ann Frank hid awaiting her fate, the feeling is the same; a connection with what's gone before.
A sense that something really happened.
Hair stands erect on the back of the neck.
We stood with fans from several generations queuing patiently for admission to a museum where half of the exhibit was still alive, still very much a piece of modern life. Familiar tunes tempted pheromones. The neck hair quivered in anticipation.
For the older generation this was nothing that hadn't been experienced at the time it occurred, if not first hand, then from the pages of Rolling Stone, Go-Set or even the Women's Weekly, or perhaps from television (in black and white) in the better neighbourhoods.
It is almost unbelievable to to me that I used to listen to them on a Crystal Set at a time when "transistor radios" were available for the upwardly mobile at a price that today would buy a small house. Not that there was such a thing as upwardly mobile in the 60's, but there were plenty of small houses. There were more small houses than transistor radios as a matter of fact.
For us, this wasn't visiting history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane. I once owned a beatle wig just like the one in the display. I once wore a thin black tie and had a jacket with no collar. I'd owned a pair of circular sunglasses.
I wondered if time would allow the place to evolve into a genuine museum of pop culture, or will it fade like a cheap sideshow with the fading of the other half of the exhibit.
At ten quid a pop and another six for parking, perhaps it'll fade like an expensive sideshow.
For the newer generation it seemed to be a pilgrimage of sorts, a metaphoric journey to where things which had a great influence on their time had taken place. Although these occurred long before their birth there was a curious itch that needed a salve.
They saw things they hadn't experienced. They experienced things they hadn't seen.
Even so there was something missing, I think we all felt it but could not express it.
We were in Liverpool, the heart of Merseybeat, but we weren't where anything actually happened. It hadn't happened where we stood.
This was no Cabinet War Room sealed in a perfectly preserved time capsule for three generations.
This was a plaster of Paris and chicken wire recreation, and it could have been recreated anywhere.
It was interesting, but the hair on the backs of our necks remained prostrate.
The band begins at ten to six
when Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H will demonstrate
ten somersets he'll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
a splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill
Thursday, November 22, 2007
We live in a country where it's possible to get sunburnt sitting in the shade.
It's a foolhardy Australian who ventures outside for more than a few minutes without at least donning a hat, and some protective cream.
The international scale for measuring UV levels is an index which ranges from one to and extreme of 11+, and where we live, dangerously high readings of 12 and more are not uncommon. People in the north instinctively find places in the shade to lean while conducting a conversation. I've even seen people standing in a line in the shade of a telegraph pole.
We are bemused when Europeans visit, and have no understanding of what lying naked in this environment can do to skin cells. The darker complexions turn even darker, but the fair ones very quickly adopt a similarity to freshly boiled lobsters, sometimes with a lot less than an hour's exposure. If they are lucky, they won't blister for a few days, but they will still have a few days of pain and angst till that happens anyway.
So when we found ourselves in Barcelona, under a cloudless blue sky and touring on the top deck of a topless bus, we didn't understand the askance stares from our fellow passengers, as we slathered the white cream on the exposed parts of our bodies. Having not been over endowed with follicles at the peak of my person, and having left my hat back on the boat in Narbonne, I became a little concerned for the shiny bits on my scone, which these days comprise the major portion.
It was only then we realised that no one, that is NO ONE in Barcelona was wearing a hat. The shops didn't even sell them. The closest I could get to a fair dinkum hat was a souvenir Bullfight sombrero which was intended for hanging on a wall, not for wearing, and that wasn't going to happen.
Strangely my head didn't seem to be getting burnt, although occasionally it did feel a little hot, so I wrapped a spare jumper round it, turban style, and forgot about the whole thing.
Forgot about it that is, until I was looking at some photos, and noticed that not only did people in Barcelona not wear hats, a great many of them, like myself, did not actually wear any hair.
How could it be, I thought, that these people haven't shrivelled up into foul little black dots? From our experience they should look something like a prune would if it were roadkill.
So I did some investigation: Barcelona - UV Index 0 (minimum).
I'd never seen a "0" UV Index before.
I doubt whether we'd get that at midnight in winter under four layers of bedclothes.
The Australian Tourist wearing the Akubra stands out in Europe like a sore thumb, not because of the Akubra, but simply because they are wearing a hat.
The European Tourist in Australia on the other hand, stands out because they are wearing nothing.
I think I'll head off to the beach now to find a European Tourist, (to warn them of the folly of their ways)!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
As Julian has already reported, we tripped over Dustin Hoffman while walking near Waterloo one evening. As filming was underway and by just being there we'd apparently given our permission to use our images, I figured the lighting was pretty perfect and there was an opportunity for a quid pro-quo.
I now have half a dozen pictures of Dustin, and no idea what to do with them. It's not as if he spoke with us or asked us for dinner, and if he had even so much as seen us passing by, I wonder would he have felt compelled to take a photograph of us?
What do his mates call him anyway? Dusty? Dust? "D"? Surely not "the Hoff"? "Hoffo" perhaps.
When was the last time you took a photograph of someone you didn't know just so you could go to work and show your mates and say "look at this photograph, I saw this bloke today".
Why do we have a seemingly incurable urge to take the photo of someone simply because of their celebrity, when there are already perfectly good photographs in every magazine, and you can even own moving pictures of them if you wish? Let's face it, if he'd been asleep on the tube, I'd probably have made a few bob from selling the shot, but working on a film set?
I don't know why I took them, perhaps because they do evoke feelings of "ooh you were there with Dustin Hoffman" from the girls at the office.
On the other hand I also shot the bloke above, but because the subject is apparently anonymous, in all probability known and loved only by his wife, kids and a few small animals, I am berated with sighs and grunts of mock horror from those same girls at work.
The subject was just as aware of my presence as Dustin was, and no less photogenic in my humble opinion, particularly given that (and I'm guessing) he hadn't spent an hour "in makeup" before boarding the tube for the ride home.
Why then, if I was to explain this photo by describing him in completely false tones, "he's.... arrr... you know.... HIM...the bloke that starred as that detective in....ohh.... it's on the tip of my tongue....", would this picture take on a different light?
If ever you're travelling on the Jubilee line at the same time as this gentleman, ask him for his autograph, he's earned it!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
A few years ago we were pottering round New Zealand.
We'd had a particularly terrific day driving from the Northern Most Point of the North Island, down the Western Coast to where that particularly long beach gets interrupted by an inlet, so we pulled into a carpark on yet another scenic headland.
It was just a typical Kiwi scenic headland, where you leave the car, walk for twenty minutes, get drunk on the natural beauty that surrounds you, then stagger back to the car to repeat the process at the next headland.
The car parking arrangements we found to be typically as ruggedly natural as the coastline, usually there’d be a bit of a track, a clearing, and a few wheel ruts in the soil to show you where others have parked before, and this place was almost no different.
The difference was a nondescript white Japanese car of inderterminable age, but quite second-hand and of the type that flooded into the country under the banner "cheap imports" and it was parked smack beside the entrance to the pedestrian track. It was impossible to get to the headland track without walking past its open window.
If the sandwich board hadn’t attracted our attention, the personalised plates may have, although it's occupant cerrtainly did. It was difficult to gauge much of the person within, as all we could see in the gloom of the interior was the fluorescent grey moustache which seemed to fill the almost the entire volume of the car, leaving only just enough room for one of those kinds of beards which we are led to believe were favoured by the bushrangers of old.
“Are things that bad?" we asked the moustache, pointing vaguely in the direction of the bucket marked "DONATIONS", "or is this just a cunning fundraising ploy?”
It seemed we pressed some sort of button, because the moustache erupted into speech, assuring us that “they” come up from the city, and wreak havoc among the parked cars, pinching radios, breaking windows, bending aerials; that sort of thing. The Lions club are doing this as a service, they don’t make much money out of it, but it’s bad for business in town if tourists’ cars keep getting trashed, it explained.
It didn’t know what the world was coming to, but it did offer that the Maori’s had a word for the sort of people who perpetrate the sort of anti-social behavior in question.
Well, we’d been in the land of his long white beard for a few weeks, and were starting to get the hang of pronouncing about every fifteenth word we’d seen in the Maori language, so were pretty keen to expand our vocabulary.
“What’s that?” we enquired.
With barely a sideways movement in any of its bristles, the moustache replied:
Monday, November 19, 2007
Walking the streets of Barcelona, one can be forgiven for thinking that cars are dropped into their parking spaces with a crane. Sometimes less than the thickness of a cigarette paper separates the front of one car from the rear of another.
Sometimes cars are left out of gear, and sort of bump parked out of the way.
Then we saw this car stop beside what looked like about two thirds of a space and wondered if she was going to double park or pick up someone, but no, young lady at the wheel confidently reversed into the spot, flipped the shifter into first and rolled forward to complete the manouvre without missing a word of the telephone conversation she was having at the time.
She hopped out and bowed, then walked off in the same matter of fact manner in which she had arrived.
None of this was possible, the picture has obviously been photoshopped.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Barry is in his seventies, deeply tanned neatly combed wavy grey hair, pressed bermuda shorts, trim navy polo shirt, and with a preference for that particular kind of white jogging shoe that looks brand new and seems to be all the go for his set, wearing after shave reeking of grey nomad.
For twenty kilometres or so coming into Maryborough we followed him and his late model Japanese saloon, the kind that in the old days would have had a “Special” badge, but now is more likely to have been an “LS” or “Turbo Injected V6” and no doubt he finds it is the perfect tow vehicle for his caravan. It certainly had enough power, as it could pull the rig at 110 kph or more in the overtaking areas, although it always slowed to 87 in places where overtaking was impossible.
Even my almost inexhaustable patience was tested, but I knew that if I stayed calm, I would soon be able to pull over for a break at Sexie Coffie. Barry had the same idea, no doubt with courtesy in mind, to let me and the procession of other vehicles pass him.
After refreshments, feeling suitably relaxed, I retired to powder my nose only to find him leaving the rest-room at the same time.
He held the door for me as I entered.
“Thanks Barry” I offered in my cheeriest tone.
He was somewhat taken aback; “Have we met?”
“Not really,” I replied, but his look gave me the impression that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with my answer.
“I’m a tax investigator,” I offered without further explanation, before scuttling into my cubicle, leaving a perplexed Barry consider what that might have meant, and how the heck I knew who he was.
When we left, Barry was speaking with his wife in hushed tones, hopefully vowing never to speed up in an overtaking lane again.
I guess if I was to give any advice to Barry apart from the bit about not speeding up in the overtaking lanes, it would be if you do, don’t order coffee at one of those places where the girl is going to call out “Barry your coffee’s ready”, if you don’t want everyone to know your name.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Mostly when on the road, we adopt a fairly random method of setting our travel agenda.
Sometimes we will make decisions on where to go based on flipping a coin, a sign to an hitherto uncharted feature, perhaps we'll see a town more or less in the direction we are heading and go there, or if we are really stuck for ideas we'll simply follow a car that looks as though its occupants know where they are going.
At home in Australia, this is not a particularly taxing method of decision making, particularly when some highways may run for several hundred kilometres without a junction, but in England one can find oneself in a labyrinth of ever diminishing roadways, with a minor adventure round each bend.
To eyes unacustomed to buildings older than themselves, every shed or barn is a potential calendar photograph, every lane a new discovery.
It is strange to us, that those who live among it by and large just don't get it. Most it seems need the security of a destination which projects the prospect of a welcoming mug of Bovril and the promise of a warm tele, particularly after a long journey, which in Pommy-speak, even in the twenty-first century, can mean anything further than crossing the street.
One might think that proprietors of accomodation establishments may be an exception to this, being exposed as they are, on a daily basis to glamourous international travellers such as ourselves, but no, it seems that this exposure makes them even more wary of putting a foot outside the door lest something unspeakable should occur.
"Where to today?" inquired our landlady as we were checking out after breakfast. As the proprietor of a delightful three storey manor in Bradford On Avon chocked with antiques, books on almost every topic and a selection of home made conserves, she seemed like a woman who knew a thing or two about the world.
"We've no idea, I replied, can you suggest something?'
Thinking I'd misheard her, she asked again, her voice quivering a bit, in the same way it may have had she just discovered I was carrying smallpox.
"I think we'll turn left" I replied, which seemed like a good idea, as the street was decidedly one way, "and then we'll make up our mind when we get to the junction, although we may go vaguely in the direction of Bath."
Her face went ashen, and she was rendered entirely speechless. Her eyes fixed on us. You could see in her eyes that something was seriously amiss, but whatever it was, her lips were disobeying entirely any command to move, and we could only guess. We started to wonder if we could remember any of our CPR training.
"Actually, we might just walk around Bradford for an hour or two", I interrupted in an effort to diffuse the situation, "Is it alright if we leave the car till we return?"
"Y y y yes of course", she stammered, and bade us farewell with no more than a suspicious glance, clearly relieved that we were on our way, and hoping I suppose, that we'd visit the local witch to seek attention for our appalling affliction.
I suspect, that as soon as the door closed behind us, she forwarded our details to the local authorities, to assist them with their future enquiries.
Just in case we turn up missing.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Barcelona is an amazing place to drive through and in. It's not really frenetic, but constantly moving. No beeping horns, no rude signs, no minor bumps, just a infinite number of near misses moving in a wave of energy.
Apart from the scars on bumpers and number plates resulting from parking in spaces equal to somewhat less than the sum of the square of the opposite sides, there is little evidence of the overpopulation in the bodywork of the vehicles.
We wondered at the secret, and then it appeared one day from the top of the double decker bus.
No one learns to drive in Barcelona.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
So there we were just south of Chester, I was certain that we were within coo-ee of finding Frank and Gill's place but without a map it was getting a bit hard, so I pulled into the grounds of a nice pub at the cross roads to ask for directions.
The place was empty, if one was to ignore the two patrons enjoying a quiet one in the late afternoon, which given the intent of my visit to the place would have been somewhat counterproductive.
I wandered up to them and inquired if either knew where the lane in question was, and would they be kind enough to let me in on the secret.
The first looked up and said "Aye I can tell you, but where will you be starting from?"
I looked at my feet and pointed towards them. "How about right here?"
"It's a bit complicated", he said waving his arms in a reasonable impression of an agitated traffic policeman, "we should go outside."
Presumably it would make things simpler if he could avoid giving directions from the bar to the carpark, because when we got outside, he pointed to the cross road, and told me to go up there about a quarter of a mile, faltering a little while he made sure I knew what a mile was, coming from a metric world and all, and to make doubly sure that he had my full attention, he summoned all of his will to work out how to describe the rest of the journey.
I braced myself.
"it's the first street on the left", he said.
And it was.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
By the time we found Avebury, it was very much lunch o'clock and although there is a perfectly servicable food establishment there, the tourist prices put us off and we decided to have a bit of a forage down the road a bit.
We turned left at the first turn off the "A" road, and wound our way through the hedges and fields until a sign appeared promising a pub if we turned left again in 100 yards. That we did, and after a little more weaving, came apon an apparently nameless village comprising no more than four cottages and a pub. Of course the village wasn't actually nameless but we weren't actually paying attention either and we may not actually be able to find it again, neither was the pub nameless, and in the blink of an eye we found ourselves in the welcoming dining area of the King George.
The young barman looked at us with a mysterious squint, part inquisitive, part fearful, as though we'd materialised from deep space, and welcomed us with "You're not from round here are you?"
For the better part of the time it took us to demolish four steak pies with a beer pastry crust, he engaged us, quite genuinely attempting to determine our motivation for visiting him.
"Why?" he kept asking.
"We've only got stones, and a white horse on the chalk cliffs, and a hill built by someone 3,000 years ago but no-one knows why or what it was for. The only exciting thing that happens here is on April Fools' day when we take hessian bags up the hill and turn the white horse into a zebra."
"Everything's old and grey, like the weather always is", he went on, beginning to sound a little like Eric Olthwaite "even my house is older than your country".
Then, as we were leaving, and he was pretty sure that we weren't actually incognito for the Michelin Guide, he confided:
"Actually, one day I'm going to get out of here, I'm going to open a bar in somewhere in the Sun. I really like the look of Fiji."
April Fools' day might just be a biggie in Suva next year.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Seven or eight hours later we appeared as if by magic, in Narita.
The Nikko Narita Hotel is a nicely sanitised western style or perhaps more correctly international styled hotel which derives almost its entire income from overnight international travellers enroute to somewhere else. It is hardly the place one would go searching for cultural oddities, but when one's culture is as odd as ours, most things Japanese tend to confound us in the nicest possible way.
It seemed strangely far from normal to eat in a Chinese Restaurant in Japan, although Chinese Restaurants are perfectly acceptable in any other country on the globe, one just doesn't think of Japan as an appropriate place for them does one?
The sign in the Hotel Gardens "Be aware of Snake" was barely disconcerting, but would have seemed more appropriate had it been on a used car lot.
The wedding chapel, constructed entirely as a prop, complete with illuminated floor was intriguing.
It was when the time came to unload some of the Shark's Fin, and Cashew Pork with Black Bean sauce that we had the first truly confounding moment.
The WC suite in our room was a flash electric job, with some sort of built in bidet and a set of instructions that would do an airliner proud. It was exactly the model featured as the ultimate contrivance in "Kenny" the movie.
It was fantastic to look at. The very thought that one was staying in a room which featured one of these things in its ensuite made one feel satisfied indeed with one's lot in life.
Very satisfied indeed that is, until one attempted to use the wretched thing.
As soon as it sensed weight on it's seat, it made a whirring sound and threw in a few clicks for good measure, just disconcerting enough to ensure that instead of concentrating on the job in hand, one was compelled to look and see what was going on.
There, in front of one's very eyes, illuminated in bright orange letters were the words: "STAND BY"
So one did.
The process repeated itself each time until eventually there could be no more "Standing By", and a new cloud of desperation descended.
Does anyone out there know where they hide the flush button on those little low electric Japanese WC Cisterns?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
(Note:- the picture is from something called a Nokia, I preferred my Nikon, so will have to save for another one, if you look carefully at the bottom left corner, you'll see Mitch's dad being interviewed!)
Since Ken and Donna live about 75 yards from the gate in Vulture Street that happens to be next to the members which happens to be where we get our seats every year, it seemed civilised to stay at their place overnight.
Besides, Ken makes a nice cup of coffee.
The day dawned with clear blue skies, but by the early start, it was cloudy again.
Jiminy and the White Wiggle resumed where they'd left on the penultimate over the day before. Every now and then one of them'd accidentally snick one and feel obliged to change ends.
The poor bugger who was twelfth man was running out to the Wiggle about every fifteen seconds, he's going to have to get a mascara that doesn't run so often or no-one'll be twelfth man.
I think there were about three runs scored in the first session, but a bunch of blokes (maybe 50 or so) in yellow shirts and sombreros had somehow managed to circumvent the fun police and were sitting together en mass. To counter this the riot police (No I'm not kidding) were assembling in the concourse behind. While sombreros haven't officially been banned, I'm sure there must be something about them in the fine print, and in any case, they are tantamount to a racial taunt and anyone wearing one in future will be arrested I'm sure.
The kids in the next bay who do the kanga cricket thing were getting a bit testy, so started a wave-like thing. Clearly it wasn't a Mexican Wave, because they would have been arrested, and that would have ruined the half time entertainment. I suspected they'd sussed it, and pulled a Birkdale Wave out of the hat to get around the rules.
It didn't work, they were all turfed out after lunch.
I went for a walk to see what life was like among the yellow shirts, and to count the Boonie Mo's, but I only saw one and it was Nikko'd on, so it was probably left over from last year.
By lunch, Mitchell Johnson (Mitch to his mates) had been interviewed about seven hundred times, and his girlfriend wasn't looking any less attractive. He'd done no wrong at that point, not having actually been on to the paddock, so was really earning his place as the darling of the press.
Luckily for me I'd just come back from England, 'cause when I went down to buy a pie and it was $6.50 I could do a quick calculation and say to myself, "Not bad, that's not even three quid".
Sometime during the day, Jiminy seemed to get a bit bored with just standing there watching the Wiggle talking to the twelfth man, because he sort of just started to play like he was fairdinkum. The Wiggle thought he'd lose his spot if he didn't play the same game, so he arranged for the 12th man to come out every second over for a bit, and started actually playing cricket for a bit too.
Not surprisingly the scoreboard blokes had to wake up, and before you could say "Mr Cricket" they'd both made hundreds. On the Teev they said the pitch had dried out and that made it easier, but I'm not so sure.
I had my money on Jiminy to be 180 not out, so was sad when he got tired and left. When Krusty came in, we were getting worried that he'd had the pads on for so long that his leg muscles'd atrophy, but he wandered on and made the other two look like dills.
Krusty got his 50 the next over, but by then Punter was getting tired of hanging round indoors and called the boys in. This is where it got really interesting, 'cause the Wiggle unselfishly wanted his 150 by hook or by crook. The twelfth man came on every ball for the last three overs, in which the Wiggle failed to score the six runs he needed, before Punter finally put his foot down.
That was it.
I went for another walk to see how things were going down in yellow shirt territory, and their stock of beach balls seemed to be diminishing rapidly, but the floor was STICKY down there and I didn't like it, so I returned to my seat.
That's when the best bit happened.
I was sitting very near Mitch's dad, and when he walked on to the paddock in that fresh green cap, the old man just about burst. Then when he was handed the ball for that first time, the old man's grin just about joined up at the back of his head. It was truly wonderful.
Made me think of my old man, and how the biggest disappointment in his life was that I couldn't play cricket to save myself.
It would have been special to have made him grin just like that.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
So there we were in Barcelona, Graham and I sitting in a comfortable bar while the girls pottered in some shops nearby.
A lovely young lady approached our table and although we couldn't understand a bar of what she was saying, it was pretty clear that it was something like: "Can I get you blokes anything to drink?"
"Dos Coca Cola gracias" replied I, calling apon my entire Spanish repertoire and doing not a bad job of it either if I do say so myself.
"Coke?" says I hopefully.
Even more quizzical stare.
"Cola?" I tried.
By now the quizzical stare was morphing into a sympathetic frown.
"Coca-cola?" I was desperate.
She was becoming no less desperate to assist.
"Help me here Graham" I asked, looking in his direction.
"OH! She exclaimed, you speak English!! Please ask me in English!!"
"OH, sorry, of course: Could I have two Coca Cola's please?"
"Sure, would you like ice and lemon in your glass?"
And that my friends has been reported verbatum!
Friday, November 09, 2007
It's a nice photo, and so it should be, it cost two quid.
There we were, minding our business, which at the time was simply breathing the scenery in central Wales, with Julian driving and me in the back seat not giving him a chance to make up his own mind about anything related to exactly how the car should be piloted.
We rolled down the hill, across the bridge and as the "A" road did a sharp left immediately over the bridge, I yelled "Carpark! Turn right now!"
Of course only having a few years' experience as a son-in-law, Julian complied without hesitation or question.
We'd locked the car and were walking out of the otherwise empty carpark when the gatekeeper found us and put out his hand for the two quid.
There we were at Cenarth Falls, on the River Teifi noted for its Salmon Leap among other things, although we didn't know that at the time. We took a couple of photographs including this one, and set out to see what secrets the village held that could possibly justify two quid for a carparking space.
Probably not coincidentally, this village houses the National Coracle Centre, so we thought a visit to the Coracle museum might be a start.
"Museum closed, all enquiries at the Mill" said the sign.
So we went to the Mill, but it too was quite devoid of any sign of life.
Further up the hill we walked to the Smithy, with its bright red door decorated with the amputated feet of several unidentified creatures, but of course it was a closed door, and the sign above it proclaiming a "first class establishment for lease" hinted to us, that we may not be successful were we to attempt to gain entry on that day.
We walked across the road, through the cemetery where Thomas Thomas lay in peace, past the church to the highest point of the village. On our way back, a kindly soul poked his head through the window of his cottage next to the Smithy and inquired of us as to whether the church was open. When we advised him that it was indeed in the same state of open as every other establishment in town, to which he helpfully offered that we could let ourselves in if we liked.
"The chap at the Coracle Centre has the key."
Thursday, November 08, 2007
There are lots of reasons why pigeons are unpopular creatures in cities, and over the years there have been lots of methods employed in attempts to limit their population, or at least to keep them at bay. Most of these have been banned through the untiring efforts of various animal liberation groups, apparently oblivious to the fact that not all humans welcome the consequences of the unchecked lofts.
The current trend in avian disuasion seems to involve covering every square inch of horizontal surface with a sort of continuous stainless steel barbecue fork, which is apparently intended to deter all but the most determined fakir among the flock.
I am not sure that they the solution doesn't have a more deleterious visual impact on some buildings than the patina created by the remnants of a thousand pigeon's breakfasts.
Perhaps some would call it art, whatever the case, the pigeons seem to have a work-around.
Surely the problem could be solved with some clever marketing of that old favourite of the gastronomes, the Pigeon Pie.
Just tell the punters that pigeons taste like Cat.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
A 45-foot-long polystyrene sculpture called The Swimmer ended a weeklong stay in London's St Mary's Gate, Greenwich Park last week, and was shipped off to Chiswick. The piece had been exhibited in Greenwich Park to draw attention to, or promote if you like, the WOW reality series London Ink, which follows the adventures in the skin trade of Louis Malloy, the inker who put "the world's most famous tattoo" on David Beckham's back, and his team of artists. London Ink airs Sundays at 10PM on Discovery Real Time in the UK.
And we just happened to stumble across this thing on its first day in the park, blissfully unaware of its intended transience.
I struggled to see the promotional value of the piece I must admit. In itself it was mildly amusing, and very well executed although it needed around the clock attention from two security guards, who set up camp in their car for the duration. This fact in itself speaks volumes for its durability as a piece of public art, or perhaps it speaks volumes of the target audience for the programme.
If it hadn't had a plaque explaining its purpose, we would never have known of its apparent significance in the world, but there again we don't actually recall ever seeing David Beckham's back either.
David Beckham's back.
We didn't even know he'd been away.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Julian mentioned the little village of Llwwddfyrddin in his blog the other day, and while he may well have deliberately miss-spelled the name in the interests of protecting the innocent, he may also have hinted at what a hotbed of interesting, if somewhat trivial information we found the place to be. Information that seemed irrelevant, but only in the sense that at the time we had little use for the so many solutions to the mysteries of life which presented themselves to us in one night and a rather short morning.
While we did wonder at the enthusiasm displayed by the lady who was an expert in curing cats of their ills using nought but fresh cut flowers, and the young American cow doctor who had come to study holistic bovine treatments in the backblocks of Wales, my imagination was captured entirely by the certain knowledge that 'they' have found a gene (or was it a hormone?) in Salmon leaping up waterfalls, which is apparently identical to one found in breast-feeding humans.
This remarkable slice of information positioned yet another piece on the board that is the jigsaw of my life. At last I have an explanation for the head-sized holes in the ceiling, and all the banging that occurred in the shower recess of our home for a few weeks after the birth of each of our children.
It's not as though my evening was ruined by the thought of Richard Attenborough talking to camera just out of sight, in front of a fibreglass shower recess with a brood of lactating mothers taking turns in leaping over the shower rose, far from it, but none of us ordered dessert.
Monday, November 05, 2007
We were in Barcelona concentrating on having our camera and passports stolen on his first birthday, so we weren't going to miss his first day at the beach for anything!
He didn't disappoint. From the minute he saw the surf he stood on the beach squealing with excitement, walked with us all through some of the deeper pools, and eventually found a small puddle just big enough to sit in, and would still be there there splashing and scraping in the sand if we hadn't taken him home.
More pics (as well as a couple of birthday shots) as usual at flickr, just click the links.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
After four weeks of hanging round, we thought we'd come to know the place reasonably well, if not quite intimately. So when it came to buying a few simple household items it should have been a doddle.
After an hour or so of searching the likely shops, we finally stopped at the bookshop and enquired if there was anywhere at all nearby that was likely to sell blank CD's.
The delightfully groomed young lady adopted her most purposeful expression, carefully composing her reply so as not to be misunderstood by the foreigner who stood opposite:
"Nar", she replied,
"You won't get nuffink practical in the shops in Greenwich."
As a person who could learn to enjoy sleeping in red pirate long-johns (for girls) complete with a thing called a "pirate cape", I beg to differ.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
When we saw Chipping Sodbury on the map, we knew our day's travel would have to end there, just because of the way the name just sort of rolled off one's tongue: Chipping Sodbury.
If one pronounces it quickly it sounds like "Chipping Sodbury", which remarkably is exactly the same as when one pronounces it slowly.
It could be said that we aren't all that adept when it comes to planning ahead. In fact it could be said we don't plan ahead at all, so when we are on the road, finding accommodation becomes a version of the old car game "Spotto", with the stakes becoming ever so slightly more desperate as the evening light begins to fade, and bedtime approaches for respectable inn-keepers.
As it turned out, there was a certain lack of salubriousness in the available rooms in Chipping Sodbury, so we continued down the road a few miles until we stumbled across a charming complex which, we would have agreed was perfectly described in its publicity brochure, had we had the benefit of it at the time:
Best Western; The Compass Inn is a medium sized, family run hotel set in the beautiful South Cotswolds. An 18th century coaching inn with modern accommodation set in 6 acres of beautifully kept grounds and gardens. Just a minutes drive from junction 18 of the M4.
It looked terrific, so Jo and Jules went in to enquire.
"Ninety-eight each" replied the receptionist when asked if there were any rooms available that night.
Jo, a little travel weary, perhaps even disoriented by a long day in which we had travelled a total distance of something near 30 miles, retorted incredulously: "POUNDS???" Even now, we have no idea what sort of currency she was expecting, nor whether for an instant she thought that this particular establishment was quoting in Bolivian Bobs, or even that they were prepared to trade in Chestnut Conkers.
"I'll phone the B&B down the road for you" came the firm and immediate reply.
And so it came to pass that we had a splendid night at Chestnut Farm Tormarton, a small, family run, farm and B&B set in the beautiful South Cotswolds. An 18th century farm house with modern accommodation set in a few acres of beautifully kept grounds and gardens. Just a minutes drive from junction 18 of the M4, compleat with traditional English breakfast, and all for fifty.
Friday, November 02, 2007
It was our last day in Greenwich, and with an awkward three hours to kill we decided to take one last walk, find some food, and do one or two last minute shopping things.
The ground in the park and on most streets was covered ankle deep in a golden brown covering the likes of which we had never seen before (except in movies of course). The Poms called them "Autumn Leaves".
When I said "most" streets, I meant EVERY street, except for the Part of Romney Road which runs in front of the Maritime Museum and the Queen's House, which had been cleaned to within an inch of its life by a man who was clearly on a mission.
"You seem to be on some sort of mission" we called cheerily as we passed.
It must have been smoko time, because for the next fifteen minutes (at least) we were regailed by tales of how difficult life is.
His responsibility "you see", is for the whole block from King Willam Walk to Park Row, and because "they" don't have the funds, "them on the other side of the fence; the history people", they use leaf blowers to pile all the leaves up near the fence when the Southerly winds are coming, so all the leaves blow out onto his patch of footpath. He'd been there since "5 o'clock this morning".
He had another three months of work he reckoned before it was all over, then it'd be nearly spring "and the tourists'll be back". We didn't ask him how he disposed of the tourists, but presumed he'd have to use something larger than the pillow-case sized plastic bags he used for the leaves.
Then again he had one of those fantastic twig brooms favoured as flying machines by all self-respecting witches. Maybe...... no he couldn't possibly........