Saturday, December 13, 2008

It was like something from the Twilight Zone

So there we were, propping up the bar downstairs from where we've been staying for the past two weeks, chatting away with the staff and generally being good little backpackers, when in walk four Santas. Good, we thought, this will be entertaining. Nothing like a few Santas to liven the place up on a Saturday night.

Then in came some more.

And then some more.

And then even more.

Apparently they'd started at 2.30pm somewhere about 13km away, and were bar-crawling to the best of their ability. Except someone had decided that they weren't allowed to use public transport or taxis to get around, so they were hitching from bar to bar. All very well, but apparently people don't really like stopping to pick up drunken Santas, so when some people made it they then had a rather long wait for the rest to turn up.

And then there was pole dancing.

I love this country.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I still can't get used to the fact that December is sunny. I keep thinking that it's going to get much colder by Christmas.

Currently we're in Nelson, which is the sunniest place in NZ. Just to prove it, it's raining. Oh well.

I'm sure I had lots to write about, but I've largely forgotten it all. Luckily this place has free internet, which is nice, so I can come back tomorrow and write lots. You have been warned...

Also there are a couple of photos up on Picasaweb. Unfortunately I have to upload them in batches of five, which takes a very long time, so there aren't many for now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shiny new things

The observant amongst you will have noticed a little slideshow of photos just to the left. If you click on it, it will take you to R's online album. When I get my photos online, I'll change the slideshow, but until then you'll have to make do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A brief summary

We've made it to Wellington, where we're staying with R's family. It's been a busy couple of weeks - we've camped on the Coromandel Peninsula and walked up tracks with steps as high as my waist (well, nearly); visited the hot springs in Rotorua and relished in the smell of sulphur; adopted a kiwi at Rainbow Springs (by kiwi I mean the comical flightless bird, not a stray New Zealander); seen the crazy colours of geo-thermal pools and caves at Wai-O-Tapu ("Sacred Springs"); seen what looked like Mordor while on the Tongariro Crossing, apparently the best one-day walk in New Zealand if not the world, and more that I can't think of at the moment.

Tomorrow we take the ferry across to Picton, and our South Island adventure will begin. We've got a hostel booked in the Marlborough Sounds where we'll spend a week about a three hour drive from - well - anything, and then we'll be camping our way down to Christchurch via whatever looks interesting on the way. Oh the life of a carefree traveller!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Aotearoa photos!

Rob put some up here.

We just found out that his sister is in Grant Park at the celebration. I'm so jealous! But there's celebratory salad and big glasses of wine. We know how to live.

(We're also going to be staying in Auckland for a few more days than planned. Daisy needs new brake pads, and given how twisty the roads are here - think rally tracks on gravel roads - we might appreciate her having them.)

Obama did it!

And I dance around awestruck at the amount of people in Grant Park, wishing that I could be there too. Chicago will be having one hell of a party tonight.

This is history. Let's hope it lives up to expectation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Back in Auckland

As the title says, we're back in Auckland for a few days being fattened up by Stephanie and Yid-Ee, getting a new road user charge (since diesel here doesn't have tax added at the pump, there's a separate charge) and generally working out what to do and where to go next.

Still having massive bank trouble - Natwest blocked my debit card the other day, which was exciting. They did leave four messages for me on my UK number, which was nice, but that also meant that I've just spent lots of money calling voicemail. Oh well. Got to keep Richard Branson happy somehow. After talking to a rather tired-sounding Scottish man, my debit card should now work again. Huzzah, access to money! I hope. The other thing is that the BNZ won't take a Sterling cheque, so my new plan is to take out $600 at a time and pay it into my NZ account in cash. If I'm lucky, I won't get mugged between the cash machine and the bank counter... I'll just have to act nonchalant.

We went up to Waitangi the other day, which is where the treaty between Maori and Pakeha (generally "European", but more specifically the English in this case) was signed. The treaty was the official establishment of New Zealand as a realm of Her Majesty, drawn up with the usual colonial arrogance of the time and then debated and changed by the Maori to better suit them. Good for them, really. There's still an awful lot of debate about it too, especially as it's almost election time here.

It's a very interesting place, especially as there's not a comparable place in the UK. There's a meeting house (marae) which is unusual in that it's for all the people of the country and you don't have to be invited in, unlike a tribal marae. We saw another cultural performance, which was much more powerful than the one in Auckland Museum - the performers seemed to take much more pride in welcoming visitors to the "birthplace of the nation". R and I were the only two there for the first part, so we had the full force of the traditional welcome. R was designated the chief; this meant that he was greeted by a young Maori man doing the threatening posturing thing, tongue out, eyes bulging, lots of yelling and gesticulating with a stick. I'll tell you now, the Pakeha explorers were very brave. If I'd come across this country and been greeted by angry Maori, I'd have said they could keep it. This guy was being welcoming and was still terrifying! Eventually he gave R a fern leaf as a symbol of peace and welcome, and then all was ok. They sang us a song thanking God and the ancestors, theirs and ours, and formally welcoming us into their whare (house); then it was time for hand shaking and the hongi, which is gently pressing noses together. By doing this you share breath with the other person, showing that you've been accepted by them as a brother or sister.

There were a few more songs, talking about Kupe (the first Maori to set foot on New Zealand) and another legend which I can't remember at this point, and then it was audience participation time. Uh-oh. Poi looks simple, but is really not. Luckily another couple had come in, so it wasn't me by myself (poi is a women's game). I think I may need practice; fortunately there are no photos. I'll just have to make a set.

After being shown how to do it properly by the Maori women, it was the men's turn. Haka is also not simple, although good to watch. R and the other man didn't look as fierce as the Maori though - it's hard to stick your tongue out and get the good staring eyes when you're concentrating too hard on what you're supposed to be doing.

Aaaanyway, there's baking happening and that sounds exciting. I'll try to get some photos up soon, and perhaps a more ordered post of what we've been up to. I need to get back in the habit of keeping the blog up to date - it's been a while since Russia.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Our car is now called Daisy. She's fantastic.

Spent the past few days out on the Karikari peninsula at a fantastic backpacker's called The Rusty Anchor. Staying there felt more like crashing at a friend's house than staying in a hostel, which was great. One night Shane (one of the owners) took us out on a glow-worm tour on his private land, which was really cool. There's something magical about sitting listening to a stream and the calls of the morepork (NZ owl) while watching the glow-worms come out and light up the rock overhangs like earthbound constellations. Gorgeous.

Anywy, today might be caving shortly. Yay, underground exploration! or it might just be sitting drinking coffee and chasing the hostel's dog around. Who knows.

At some point I need to get to a bank, too. Then I can pay myself a cheque and finally have access to my own money! Take THAT, Natwest! (Still very annoyed about that.)

Oh, and I snorkelled for the first time the other day too. That was a lot of fun, although I kept having to remind myself that yes, I can breathe underwater. I kept holding my breath, which really doesn't work. Anyway, saw loads of little tiny fish, masses of sea urchins and a big crab. Not sure who was more scared, it or me. I quickly left it alone and went back to looking at the less pinchy things.

What else? I can't really think of things of interest. Lots of the past few days has been spent just enjoying the spring weather and relaxing in pretty scenery. Oh, and driving. Almost ran over some wild turkeys, which was exciting. Why do they run along the road? You can't outrun Daisy!

Currently we're staying at the Little Earth Lodge, which is rather cool. There are ponies, which took a liking to R and decided to try and eat him, a rather fantastic shaggy dog who we spent a while chasing round and round, and lots of farmland. It's so peaceful - I can hear a tui and a pheasant at the moment and nothing else. Lurvely.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We are officially surf bums, but withoout the surfing. We shall learn though, and then the Tasman Sea had better watch out!

Lots of other things to write about too, will do that when I'm not supposed to be cooking...

Monday, October 20, 2008

We bought a car!

Or, more accurately, R bought a car. I was present though, so that counts for something.

It's a 1998 Ford Escort estate, with a 1.8 diesel engine. It's a workhorse! And I imagine is really heavy to drive. I have to keep up my climbing strength somehow. And it's green! Which is an important factor, obviously. Green is good. Apparently it's R's third green car, which is good?

We went to Waiheke Island recently (last Tuesday or so) and hired scooters for the day, which was a lot of fun. Did mean that we couldn't do the vineyard tour, but that's probably just as well. Carrying lots of bottles of wine, while tasty, would be hard work. We both survived pretty well, although R did try driving off the road a couple of times. I claim no responsibility for that. Just because I meeped my horn at him to tell him to drive on the left is no reason to drive on the left-hand verge, in my opinion.

The scooters were a little scary on the roads though. Suddenly there was an 80kph road, and our little speedos only went up to 60... but we survived, I was nearly overtaken by a bus, and all is well. We were very glad when we dropped them off though, and had a local bottle of wine to celebrate. With a delicious meal, I should add, not on the street with it wrapped in brown paper.

Waiheke itself is absolutely beautiful - golden beaches, turquoise sea, green hills... all the stuff you see on the brochures and think they've Photoshopped is actually how it looks. Unless someone Photoshopped my eyes, which would be weird.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Journey time again

Ok, been in NZ for over a week now. Starting to feel a bit like a local - I can use words like "kumara" (sweet potato) and I can even pronounce Aotearoa! For reference,it's "Ow-teer-owa". Go me.

... oh yes, and we met the Prime Minister Helen Clarke at a flea market in the south of the city:

Let's start at the beginning. 32 hours is a long plan journey! First part (to Frankfurt) was easy, as was getting through Frankfurt airport to wherever I needed to be. I did enjoy the "smoker's boxes" - glass boxes in the corridors in which the smokers stood looking a little like vertical goldfish, and where people walking past could feel very smug about not smoking. Good stuff.

The next flight was to Hong Kong, which was long. Luckily my medication knocked me out, much to the chagrin of the man sitting next to me who wanted to talk. Sorry.There were also noodles for breakfast, which was odd but appreciated. Yum, noodles.

Then I was in Hong Kong! I decided to venture into the city itself on a sleek fast train. It sounds silly, but I didn't realise HK was so mountainous! Very pretty, with all the sea and mountains and big tall buildings.I wandered for a while, went to the pier and saw boats (surprisingly enough), took photos, got lunch (which was a strange experience in itself, but successfully negotiated without too many faux pas, I think), discovered I'd lost my train ticket, bought another and headed back to the airport.

Then there was another 10 hour flight down to New Zealand. Slept some more, which was good, ate more noodles for breakfast (what is it with noodles for breakfast on long flights?) and watched as we flew into the dawn with the long beaches of North Island below us. Such a beautiful introduction to the country. Seems I was lucky, as R had landed a few hours earlier in the dark and rain. Heh.

I was met by R and S (his cousin), who took us back to her house for an early lunch. After that we headed out to the Waitakere mountains for a bit of a wander and some pictures (which are on facebook, but nowhere else at the moment). There was a giant picture frame framing the view, and a totem (for which I don't know the Maori word) featuring various ancestors with huge penises.Such is the way of things.

So far our time here has been eating, sleeping and doing touristy things in almost equal measure. Since we're so close to the sea wherever we are, green mussels are incredibly cheap (NZ$2.25/kg!) which means we're eating them fairly often. Yay seafood!

The Auckland Museum was fairly fun. We went to see a "cultural performance" which was a Maori troupe performing songs and dances with poi and sticks, culminating in (of course) the war haka. Quite a sight, even when done purely for tourist purposes. One of the dancers reckoned himself to be a bit of an NZ Idol star, which was quite amusing. Hard to be fierce when you're trying to pose.

We've also been over to Devonport, which is a village just north of Auckland reached by ferry. All very picturesque and "English", down to the prevalence of fish and chips (or "fush and chups") and little tea houses. Really is a bit like stepping back in time.

Other than that, we've been organising ourselves (ha!) - getting bank accounts sorted, SIM cards for phones, car hunting etc. Turns out that I can't transfer money from my UK account to my NZ one without calling them, which is a pain, but I'll need to do that at some point soon. What's the point of internet banking when you can't use it to do the things you want to? Grr.

But, all in all, we're fairly settled in. S has been taking us to various places (mostly foody places), we've found good places for beer, like here:

Oh yeah, and we met the Prime Minister Helen Clarke at a market:

So we're doing quite well.

Hopefully we'll set off for the Northland next week at some point, when we have a car.

Will write more when there's more to tell, and internet to tell it from.I do have a phone number down here now; email me if you want it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Safely in Auckland

And R did a decent blog about the first couple of days here. I'm too lazy to duplicate it, so if you're interested, head over there. There'll be more updates here when I/we feel like it (and have internets).

Yay travelling!

EDIT: Also, the Earth has now been destroyed (see the indicative badge on the left). This is unfortunate. Details here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pastures new

Tomorrow I set off for New Zealand. I can't quite believe it's happening; I've been planning for so long that it felt that's all I'd ever do.

Too tired to write more. Still trying to persuade either OS I use to recognise my iPod. Pfft, computers. Overrated.

I'll update as often as I can. Love to you all (that's right, all three of you who actually read this).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August is over?

So the Bank Holiday weekend is over and once more I come crashing back to reality.

I spent my time visiting H and C at H's house down in Essex. This necessitates a train journey which would have been more bearable had the coffee machine on the train been working. Ah well; I kept myself entertained with M&S picnic food (artichoke hearts are delicious, and also a little harder to eat on the train than you'd imagine; their stuffed vine leaves are too salty).

The theme of the weekend was, once again, the consumption of much food and wine. This was great; I haven't needed to eat yet today because I'm still so full of barbecued meat and delicious chocolate cookies. Oh yes.

J came over from Geneva, which was wonderful! We went to see the new Mummy film, which is terrible, but that's what makes it good. The amusement value was infinitely raised by C eating about seven pounds of ice cream and therefore having the biggest sugar rush I've seen for a long time. He was slightly blurry round the edges, he was moving so fast.

After the film we went to meet H's brother in town for a quick drink. This did mean we were exposed to some of the nightlife, which was unfortunate. Of particular interest (in a kind of car-crash way) was the rather corpulent lady who seemed to be dressed only in underwear. Her bra strap was doing a sterling job of staying together, possibly in defiance of several laws of physics. Gods forgive me, but I could not stop looking. Then there was the guy on his stag night who had a collar of hair around his neck, on a level with his adam's apple. I don't know whether he'd shaved above and below it, or simply picked a line and not shaved below it, but either way the effect was... striking.

Other highlights of the weekend include playing Portal for the first time. So. Much. Fun. I particularly enjoyed some of GLaDOS' lines: "Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an "unsatisfactory" mark on your official testing record... followed by death." Oh dear. Interestingly, you only die in the acid if you try to move. Not sure how that could be used, but still.

Now, however, it's back to work. Luckily it's only a 3.5 day week - wedding to go to on Friday afternoon \o/

Friday, August 15, 2008


I have just passed my driving test! I can now legally be a menace on the roads.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A few almost-related things

- I have Lollapalooza'd and it was fantastic, although I need another holiday to recover.

- Airport designers know the secret of bending time and space; they're just not sharing all that timey-wimey stuff with the rest of us, hence my 25-hour waking day last Wednesday.

- Terminal 5 at Heathrow is as big as Hyde Park.

- Marker pens are great at festivals.

- Offering Budweiser, Bud Light and Bud Select does not mean you're offering a choice.

- Music is good.

- Factor 50 sunscreen is also good.

- Next time I see R. will be in Auckland. That's dizzying.

- I must get back to work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

London to Brighton, at last

So very overdue! Never mind.

Sunday 15th June was the annual London to Brighton bike ride in support of the British Heart Foundation. Simply put, this is 27,000 people on bikes riding 54 miles and causing general chaos. Yay! This is a really long post.

The weekend started with a bit of trouble. D, the work colleague who had actually organised for us to take part, ended up backing out because his wife couldn't find her driving glasses and therefore couldn't get the car from London to Brighton to collect him at the end. This shouldn't have actually been a problem - although the train operators won't let participants take cycles on their services any more (which is, in itself, ridiculous) they will still carry people. We could have taken his bike and he could have quite easily caught the train. Never mind.

Fortunately my very good friend C had already decided that she wanted to come and see us arrive in Brighton, largely because she'd never been. The previous plan had been for her to drive down with R and Mum and I would go with D. Change of plan! She ended up with two bikes on the back of her car, which made her nervous for a little while before she got used to it.

In any case, we eventually had everything sorted, the bikes all loaded up and maps ready, and off we went. The drive to London was uneventful - motorway driving isn't hugely exciting. We even found the hotel without too much trouble, bagged ourselves a space in the car park, checked in and took bikes to our rooms with no problems. Huzzah - it's nice when things just work.

That night we wandered into Putney and found a lovely little Greek restaurant. We decided on sharing platters, because those things are just good; stuffing yourself with spiced houmous, lamb kofta, stuffed vine leaves and various other dips with flatbread is something that should be shared. Add a tasty Cretan wine, a dessert platter of cake, Greek yoghurt with honey and nuts and baklava and you have yourself a mighty fine meal that wasn't even particularly expensive. Oh, and a free drink of ouzo because Greece scored in the Euro 2008 match that was happening at the time. Bonus.

After this it was off to the pub to sample some London Pride, which was delicious as ever. There was a chalk drawing of Darth Vader on a board behind the bar, for a reason that was never explained. Finally we decided that in actual fact bed was quite appealing, since our setting-off time was 7.30am and the start line was two miles away.
Far too early next morning my alarm decided it was time to get up. I was all for ignoring it, but fortunately R got up which meant I had to as well. After a quick shower and sorting out gear it was time to leave. Oh wait, we didn't know where we were going. Cue Mum and C trying to work out where we were going on maps with different scales. Once it was eventually worked out, we discovered that it was actually quite simple to get to Clapham Common, it was just that the route took us over about 4 pages of the A-Z map. Urk. Eventually, however, Mum and I left the other two in the chill of the London morning with the agreement to meet at the start before we left for Brighton.

When we got to the Common (which was easier than expected - we just followed the stream of cyclists and cars carrying bikes), that plan went straight out of the window. A phone call confirmed that due to the joys of public transport C and R were still waiting for a bus, so we opted to just get started and that we'd see them at the end.

Crossing the park to the starting point was the first time we realised just how many people might be doing this. There were people everywhere.
It was all very well set up, though: there were four big archways, each with a start time written on it. We duly joined the back of one of the 7.30 ones to munch on muesli bars and get our cards stamped. We didn't have to wait very long before we were through the archway (picking up route planners and safety pins for our numbers) and funnelled off into one of three large holding areas in front of the start line. I now know how cattle feel.

While we were waiting for the off, there was entertainment! Giant lobsters on stilts: and some bloke playing the organ beneath a plastic palm tree:

All very entertaining. I decided that I really wanted my camera somewhere more handy than my bag, and so my windproof became a convenient camera holder. Marvellous. (I was actually very impressed that I didn't drop it at any point. Success!)

There was enough time to pin on our numbers, adjust our helmets and generally get ourselves prepared for the journey ahead. Then we watched the other holding pens open up, and off people went to much clapping and cheering from all spectators.

Finally, it was our turn. Away went the ribbon, and we set off in a mass of whirring metal and cheerful voices.
Through the London streets we went, causing chaos as we tried to avoid traffic and each other. Sensibly, there were ride stewards and police at every set of traffic lights to stop bad things happening, such as cyclists jumping red lights or white van drivers expending their wrath on cyclists. (No, they don't need a reason. There is just wrath that must be expended.)

Unfortunately there were so many sets of lights, and so many cyclists trying to get through them that it took us an hour and a half to get to the first refreshment stop, a village hall eleven miles away. This is not a good pace! We stopped there anyway, for toilets and water refills (it was warm). Again, the organisation of the event stood out. Loads of toilets, so no huge queues, free water refills and a mass of old ladies making sandwiches and selling them along with tea, coffee, fruit juice and bananas. It was wonderful.

I sent a quick message to R+C telling them where we were and how things were going. They sent one back saying that they were in Brighton and there were people finishing already. Depressing! That's what happens when a) you start at 6am, the earliest slot and b) you're treating it as some serious training.

Spurred on by that, we were soon back on our bikes and on our way. It must be said, it was a really pretty route through plenty of small southern English villages. You know the type, they're on postcards - little cottages with roses growing in the gardens, ponds, pubs and village greens.

We couldn't spend too long looking, though - with so many people it was all too easy to fall over someone.

We'd not gone too much further when my brakes were put to good use, as a mass of stationary people was just round a corner on a downhill stretch of a country lane. It transpired that there had been an accident, and judging by the amount of emergency vehicles a fairly serious one. Incidentally, hats off to the emergency services - I'm sure trying to get a First Response Land Rover, a full-sized ambulance, two police patrol cars and a police motorbike through a crowd of cyclists on a narrow country lane was less than fun, even if we did all move to the sides. I'd also like to call down bad karma on those idiots who followed the ambulance through in order to get to the front of the stoppage - seriously, you gave a whole new meaning to the term 'ambulance chasing'.

It took about half an hour for the stewards to start letting us through in dribs and drabs, but once we got going again the crowd soon spread out. Cue more wonderful scenery of rolling hills, woods and fields interspersed with scenic villages where the residents were standing outside spraying us with water as we passed. That wasn't as mean as it sounded - we provided target practice for the kids with water guns, and the water cooled us down. Fair trade, I thought.

More cycling. I think my bum was getting sore at this point, despite the gel seat and horribly attractive padded shorts. In any case, I was relieved when we stopped for lunch. This rest stop (a Scout hut) had a barbecue going! And it smelled delicious. However, we were desperate to make up some time (since it was now... I don't know what time. Late) so we stuck to our previously purchased sandwiches, bananas and muesli bars. Oh, and a piece of Kendal Mint Cake for that sugar buzz. Yum. All too soon it was time to put on more sunscreen, fill up the water bottles and head off again.

R+C were a little concerned that since it had taken us so long to do the first half, we wouldn't get to Brighton before about 8pm - which meant a long and late drive home. However, the second half seemed to fly by - more villages, more countryside, more rest stops at pubs (none of which we stopped at - we were the height of restraint, I tell you) and more people on bikes getting in everyone's way. We kept up a fairly decent pace, having decided not to stop again until the rest area just before Ditchling Beacon. This was another great one - it seemed to be a care home of some kind, which had kindly opened their garden so that lots of sweaty bikers could crash out on the lawn for a while. Which we did. Time for another banana and two pieces of Mint Cake, because we could now see the hill and it was a little bit terrifying.

There it was: Ditchling Beacon. Notice in that link where it says "a particularly challenging northern face" - oh London, why must you be north of Brighton? You can see the relative size and gradient of it from the copy of the route planner below (or you will be able to when I add the photo).

Mum and I had done a fair bit of training, and although I didn't feel particularly super-fit it soon became apparent that actually, I was better than I thought. As soon as we hit the slightest incline all that could be heard was the clanking of gears and the huffing of people. I'll freely admit that I was huffing and puffing too - this was one of those hills that just had no levelling off at all, which (coupled with the people) made it so much harder to actually ride up.

As for the people! They were everywhere, stopping in front of me and (most annoying) walking their bikes up the middle of the road, three abreast. Move! Fortunately the ever-present stewards told people in no uncertain terms to walk on the left, so unpleasantness was largely avoided. There were a couple of occasions where I was damn near taken off my bike by someone trying to go too fast and having to swerve, but they were so apologetic I didn't really mind. And when they didn't apologise (or just didn't realise) a good shout of "I'm on your left/right!" made them take notice. And no swearing!

I'm very proud to say that I managed to get up the hill without walking. I'm less proud to admit that it was mostly ego and stubbornness that got me there. D had confessed that he'd never been able to ride up the hill, which of course made both Mum and I determined to beat him. I did point out that we could tell him we had even if we hadn't, since he had no way of checking, but that did feel a bit like cheating.

In any case, I agreed to meet Mum at the top (she's much better at hills than me - fancy light road bike, and actually being fit) and joined the throng. It didn't take long before my hands were dripping with sweat - I'd never appreciated how useful cycling gloves may have been - and I was sounding about as good as an asthmatic badger, but slowly and steadily I made my way up. So. Very. Slowly. However, I was passing some of the more professional-looking guys - young fit men all dressed in Lycra, with the super-lightweight bikes and the cycling shoes with cleats - which cheered me up rather more than I should admit to. Not the Lycra, I should point out, but the fact that I was passing people.

Anyway, the Beacon is one of those hills that just never seems to end. Every time I got round a corner I thought I must be at the top, and then... oh wait, that's just more hill. Boo. There were a couple of times when I seriously considered getting off and walking, but I didn't see how that would make much of a difference. I'd still be going up a steep hill, but with the slow pace of walkers to annoy me. Besides, every time I thought this I was in the middle of the road and couldn't have got off my bike without causing an accident, so I carried on.

After what seemed like a very very long time, but was probably only about 20 minutes or so, I could hear megaphones. The stewards at the top were being incredibly encouraging as well as giving instructions on what to do when we got to the top and the final rest stop before Brighton. Doing a good impression of the Big Bad Wolf I finally made it to the top and into the car park of the rest stop, where there were three (three!) ice cream vans all making a wonderful profit. But I had no time for ice cream. I had to find my mother (who was not in the car park, and was instead further along the road), so after a brief flop, a lot of water and a short "Where are you?" phone call I was back in the stream of people.

The top of the hill was very level, which made a nice change. The men with megaphones were announcing that it was only five and a half miles into Brighton now, and it was downhill all the way. Thanks very much, that'll do nicely! I feel the downhill was well deserved. My legs were wibbling in relief that there was no more Beacon to climb, so we pootled along for a little way before picking up the pace. Not that it was hard to go faster; gravity has a way of pulling you down. Funny that.

The final five miles were amazing. As steep as the Beacon was to climb, I'm very glad we didn't go down that way as the twisty road would have been far too dangerous. The wide, sweeping turns of the southern descent were bad enough - I was braking fairly firmly all the way down, and my speedo still told me I was doing over 30mph. There were stewards with megaphones all the way down telling cyclists to slow down - even at 30mph I was being overtaken on a regular basis. The reason for the caution soon became clear - another accident was further down the hill. It looked like someone had been going too fast and not made a turn very well. This meant we were stopped again, although since this section was on a cordoned-off part of a wide main road the ambulance was soon there and we were allowed to trickle past. The injured man seemed to be ok - he was conscious, at least, albeit with an oxygen mask, and the paramedics didn't have him strapped to a board or anything. I was just very glad I'd heeded the warnings to slow down. A helmet is all very well, but the road rash you'd get from coming off a bike at 30mph is fairly serious - and there was no way I was wearing leathers!

At last, we were at the bottom of the hill. Phew! Much further and I think my brakes may have worn out. This would not have been a Good Thing. All that was left was a couple of miles along the roads of Brighton, and then the last few hundred yards along the Promenade. Everyone was very cheerful by now, since the end was in sight.

Turning the corner onto the Prom, we were greeted by hordes of people, all cheering and clapping and waving. The crowd was honestly about twelve people deep on either side of the road, and the noise was incredible. It put a big grin on all our faces - we've never felt so special! The hard bit was going to be finding C and R, or so we thought. Not far from the finish line we heard an almighty yell - guess who that was! I didn't know two people could make so much noise over and above the crowd. Made me laugh. I nearly fell off my bike.

Ahead of us we could see the finish line, which was definitely a sight for sore eyes. Mum suggested we should speed up to "finish with style", which suggestion I treated with the scorn it deserved. Let the groups of lads speed past to race each other - I could see that there was only fifty metres or so after the finish line before you needed to dismount to go through the exit gates, and that's not a good stopping distance. That's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

The feeling when we swept across the finish line was just brilliant; a mixture of relief and accomplishment, garnished with "How are we going to find anyone in this crowd?" Grinning, we dismounted to get our cards stamped and collect our shiny gold medals (everyone's a winner, baby) and a much deserved bottle of water.

You know that feeling when you've been on a bike for too long and your legs don't want to walk ever again? Yeah. That's how I felt. Trying to control my limbs, which felt like the bones had melted, we got ourselves out of the way and waited for people to find us. C and R were first there to reluctantly give us hugs. A short while later, J appeared with H and the other C, bearing gifts of cookies and cake! Yum. Unfortunately, none of us were hungry. I find that happens - exercise fills me up until much later. In any case, I was too excited to be hungry, which was a shame because everything was delicious.

Someone decided that since we were at the sea-side we should go and paddle. Good idea, I thought, my feet are decidedly warm. Unfortunately, Brighton beach is all stones and not so good for tender tootsies. The cold water was nice though, but only for a few minutes. Then there was time to sit on the pebbles for a little while and look at the big menacing cloud that was looming towards us before we decided we should make a move. Back to the Prom we went, lugging bikes and biscuits. We managed to fight our way through the crowds (who takes dogs to an event like that, seriously?) and back towards where the car was. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Southerners, since they had to be getting back, and so did we. Thanks for coming down, guys! Sorry it was such a brief visit.

Back to the car, then. And just in time! That menacing cloud had decided it was time for action, and the heavens opened. Fortunately C and R had had the foresight to park in a multi-storey. Success! We were dry. The bikes were once again loaded onto the car, and we piled inside to join the throng of cars carrying bikes that were now trying to get out of Brighton. Oh well. We sat in queues for a while, but that's to be expected.

We decided that it would probably be a good idea to make a loo stop somewhere, not least so Mum and I could change out of sweaty clothes and be marginally more pleasant to have in the car. Dingy petrol station toilets, here we come! The less said about that, the better. Then it was back on the road.

Eventually we decided that stopping for food would be good - this also allowed us to feed C coffee (which she doesn't usually drink any more) so that she'd stay awake for the drive home. The soup we had was too heavily salted, which didn't really help with the dehydration but never mind.

I don't really remember much about the journey after the services. R sat in the front so he could talk to C and keep her awake, which left Mum and I to sleep. And sleep we did! Then we were home, as if by magic. There was enough time to unload our stuff and say a quick hello to my sister before collapsing into bed, ready for work the next morning.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I'd do it again. The atmosphere was phenomenal, with all the stewards cheering us on, along with people lining the route and the other cyclists themselves being generally friendly. I didn't even feel too physically tired after it; the next day (when I expected to be punished by my muscles for my foolishness) I was fine. If anyone's thinking about doing it, all I can say is "Go". You'll have a great time.

There are more photos to come - half of mine didn't want to upload to Picasa. Boo. Here are mine, and here are R's.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

42 Day Detention Without Charge

As you may have heard, the British government is trying to pass a bill allowing the extension of pre-charge detention time from 28 days to 42. The idea is that since terrorist plots are getting more and more complicated, having more time will allow police to pass a better case on to the Crown Prosecution Service (responsible for deciding which cases are actually taken to court).

This makes me furious!

The time allowed before charge in terrorism cases has already recently risen from 14 days to 28. That's an increase of 100%, and in no case has the 28 day limit been insufficient. Not one. There have been some that came close. Bizarrely, the Home Office page dealing with this states that the limit is still 7 days in terrorism cases, and 96 hours (only with the authority of a magistrate) in other cases. Someone needs to update that page.

I believe that there are already emergency powers available which would allow the police to hold someone for more than 28 days without charge, although I can't check this as the main website detailing these powers keeps returning a "layout not found" error. I've never had one of those before.

My problem is this. Given how pre-charge detention limits have already crept up, and the Government's history of insidiousness in other areas (for example the extension of the London congestion charge zone - not the same scale, but you see what I mean) I simply do not trust the leaders of my country to use these proposed powers in the way they say they will. I'm trying to be calm and rational, and not immediately draw comparisons to 1984, but I'm finding it difficult.

I do believe, however, that even if the Government wins the vote it will find it difficult to put these powers into practice. The BBC has a decent overview of the proposed procedure - as you can see, the Chief Constable would need to make a joint request to the Home Secretary with the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP has already said that he feels these measures are unnecessary

The Government knows it faces a tough challenge on this, as its latest concession shows. Up to £3000 per day (according to some stories) for someone held but not charged? Right. It seems that this is a better use of funds than to actually get the case right in the first place. I'd suggest the police are given that money to have forensic evidence put through at high priority, or pay for more officers to investigate, or... really anything. I understand the police are in a difficult position, but I don't think this is the right way to help them.

And what about those people - and there are some - who would deliberately try to stay in custody for longer than 28 days in order to get the payment?

I'm not against reform; the existing system is confusing. I'm against extending how long people can be held for without charge. It's that simple. So I'm keeping an eye on this page to see how things are progressing. I've signed the petition on the 10 Downing St website and I've written to my MP (although as a Liberal Democrat she should be voting against the Government anyway). Hopefully this silly measure will be defeated.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Stuff, and more stuff

Ugh, it's been a while again. Never mind.

Here's a lovely write-up by J of her visit on Bank Holiday weekend. So much fun!

This Saturday just gone was a girly pampering day with the Mother and the Sister. For Mum's birthday (which was back in April, but never mind - we were waiting for sister to come home) we decided to take her for a relaxing day out in Chester. First we went for a facial with the Origins people at the Boots there, which was wonderful. I've been to one before, but neither of the other two had, so that was good. It's a fairly detailed process, this facial thing. First there's a skin consultation, which asks things like what kind of skin you have and any particular concerns that should be addressed. Then the girl picks out the products she thinks will be good for your skin, and explains what they all do and what they contain, and then it's on with the show. I don't remember what order she did things in but I recall her using cleanser, toner, moisturiser, a skin guardian, an eye serum, a face mask and a separate eye mask as well as having my neck and shoulders and arms and hands massaged. Pure decadence. Even sitting and reading a magazine while the others had their turn was really relaxing, since it's not something we generally do and the room is soothing, with classical music and lovely smells from all the products.

After we'd all been thoroughly cleansed, toned and moisturised in a multitude of ways Mum had make-up put on (from the same range) and we went out for afternoon tea in the Library of the Chester Grosvenor. More decadence! This is a five-star hotel and spa with its various restaurants and bars open to non-residents too. We opted for the "Grosvenor Tea", which consisted of finger sandwiches filled with salmon, tuna, beef and cheese, fruit and plain scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and "French pastries and fancies" all served on a beautiful three-tiered platter. There was a choice of tea - I had Darjeeling, Mum had Earl Grey and we got the sister some Assam since it's the closest thing to PG Tips they'd have - and these came in silver teapots with velvet covers for the handles so as not to burn ourselves. We were sat tucked away in a corner, but the waiters were attentive and came over to offer us more of anything we wanted. We decided to have more scones, since they were delicious and that meant we could eat more of the clotted cream! Despite everything being quite small we were all stuffed by the end of it, and reluctant to leave the peace and quiet for the bustle of Chester on a sunny Saturday.

We did eventually drag ourselves home, however, taking the country roads with the roof down for pure posing power. Once home we opted to continue the theme of the day by drinking champagne in the sun in the front garden. Also delicious, and a lovely end to an unusual day.

On a completely different note, I came into work early today to avoid the fuel protest. That was successful! We did see it all later, as it came right past the window of the office. So many bikes! Fun to watch, although I'm not sure it will achieve anything. I'm also not entirely sure why it was bikers who were protesting, since they use less fuel than cars anyway (confirmed by the bikers in the office). Oh well.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Locution zine issue one is now out!

Just a quick Public Service Announcement; as it says in the title, the first ever Locution e-zine is now out and available for download here!

I'm so excited that this has finally happened. For a group of random people who only know each other through the internet, to get something like this out is fantastic.

The above is a clickable image that will take you to the Locution home page. Gogogo~

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It goes by so fast

This weekend was a Bank Holiday, the first of the summer. There's something delicious about three-day weekends, when whatever the weather (and lets face it, in the UK it's usually damp) people are out and about doing things simply because it is Summer. All the DIY shops are full of people deliberating over wallpaper and paint, garden centres are heaving as the realisation dawns that it is light late enough to warrant having a few flowers about the place, and family attractions are bustling with families spending Quality Time Together.

My family was of course no exception. Mum had decided that this was a perfect time to sand and re-varnish the floor, with all the fun that entails. I have discovered I am completely inept at sanding and should leave it to people who don't get dragged over the floor by the sander in a bizarre parody of a terrier with a rag doll. A fine and useful lesson, I thought.

I did, however, enjoy the "grouting" of the floorboards. Since the house is Victorian, the floorboards don't always meet where they should, resulting in draughty gaps where the air comes up from the cellar. The solution is to fill these gaps with a combination of wallpaper paste and sawdust saved from the sanding phase. Recycling at its best, I feel. This worked rather well, or so we thought until the next morning when it was revealed that some of the gaps were simply too big and the paste is now in the cellar. Ho hum. We'll try again.

Monday was much more fun. I love these days, when not being in work feels wonderfully decadent and slightly naughty. In order to make the most of it, we went to the zoo with an aunt, her partner and his little boy. And my camera. So many photos of animals.

The zoo with kids is a very different experience to the zoo with adults. It takes on a much more urgent feel - a tick list of Things To See
at a frenetic pace. Luckily most other people there had children with them too and so the cluster of people around an enclosure was constantly changing, meaning I could get in with my camera if I was willing to stand there for more than about three minutes.

By about five, young boy was bored and tired so they left while my mum and I stayed on. The difference in the amount of people was staggering! By six the zoo had emptied and we could see whatever we liked simply by walking up. Possibly my favourite part was seeing the elusive red pandas. Usually they're high up in the trees sleeping through the noise of the day, but in the early evening when we went over they were both down from the trees and munching on food from their bowls. They're incredibly cute, with their oversized paws and little grinning faces. Yes, I have photos.

Now, however, it's back to work. The sun is bright outside my window, as if to mock those inside, but for once I don't care. I'm leaving soon and that's what is important.

Photos of London can be found here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm actually going!

This morning I opened my inbox to find that my application for a working holiday visa to New Zealand has been approved! That means I'm actually going. I have the electronic visa printed out and everything. Makes me want to shout, like this: AAAAAAAAAAAAH!

In other news, it's my Mum's birthday so we're off out to a nice Indian restaurant tonight. Yum.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Workplace rantings

Is there any particular reason why my workplace has decided that database checking for a large and important customer should be done by the two people in the office who know nothing about said databases?

Granted, it should be simple enough - follow these handy step-by-step instructions. Oh wait, they assume knowledge of the software. Hmm. Never mind, it can be explained by the people who are running the software upgrade. Ah, but they don't know what the instructions really want. Useful. Until they work it out and create a whole new set of documents we're on some downtime. Ah well, not like these databases need to go out soon, is it? Oh, Friday's tomorrow. Sorry, customer, we're late again.

It's not like I mind sitting around and doing nothing - I'm naturally quite lazy. However, when there's a job for me to do, I'd quite like to get on and do it, thanks very much. When I'm prevented from doing that by the very people who I'm supposed to be helping, I get annoyed. Grr.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Things are happening!

I really need to get better at keeping this up to date. Ah well.

I spent Saturday hunting for my birth certificate. It was the last piece of paper I needed to get hold of before I could send off my visa application for New Zealand, but could I find it? I didn't even need to send them a copy; all I needed was the date of issue (presumably so they could check up on whether a certificate in that name was issued on that date. Clever).

Why is it that when you're searching for something, it becomes the dearest thing to you?

It wasn't all bad, though. I finally sorted through lots of papers, so now I just need a shredder to get rid of them properly. After all, there's a lot of fuss about identity theft and I really don't fancy dealing with that hassle. I decided that I didn't need my UCAS stuff any more, or my "Welcome to Durham!" papers. That part of my life, while fun, is now over and there's no point in hanging on to it. I have kept my graduation stuff, of course.

Anyway, I was halfway through sorting papers when my mum decided that an Ikea trip was a good idea. That shop is evil, in the nicest possible way. I do have organisational boxes now though - including a little chest of drawers for papers, which I can put the damn birth certificate in! So yay for organisation.

I was resigned to doing more of the same on Sunday, and despairing of ever actually finding my birth certificate. Then I went to one of my Boxes O'Stuff and found my National Record of Achievement (does anyone actually use those?) - guess what was tucked inside? Yes, that's right - BOTH copies of my birth certificate, long and short. Huzzah! I now had the last piece of information needed to turn the little red x on the application into a nice green tick. I filled in the required date, and voila! Everything was good to go, including the NZ$120 application fee. Boo. (Although having just worked it out, that comes to £47.95. Huh.)

TL;DR - found certificate, sent off digital application form. Joyfulness ensues.

Now I just need to send off the medical certificates to London, which should be done this lunchtime. Fingers crossed that Eccles post office hasn't been closed down! EDIT: done now, recorded delivery and everything. Good stuff.

As for other things that happened this weekend, there weren't many of note. I drove a different car in my driving lesson than usual, since the normal one was in the garage. It was a Citroen C3, I think, and felt a lot bigger than the little Corsa! I had to reach quite far over to find the gear stick, and the brakes were sharper, and the steering was lighter. I quite enjoyed it though, nice car. Still can't bay park - I seem to be able to get it in the bay, but WHICH bay I'm never quite sure of. Ho hum; I only need to do it once on my test, and then I can park nose-first like the rest of the world.

The rest of the weekend was taken up with more sorting of shelves and boxes. This means that most of the stuff from my Boxes O'Stuff is now on my shelves, which is exciting (not least for my mother, who has been complaining about them being on the landing since I put them there eight months ago.

Now it's Monday again, as happens all too often. The difference today is that I'm being "trained" on some software. The reason that "trained" is in inverted commas is because this training takes the form of one person giving me a copy of a database and the user guide, and saying "Learn how to do this". Well, I'll certainly try, but don't blame me when the (rather big and powerful) customer can't get anything to work. Proper training? We do offer that, and indeed A is on the Basic User Course this week (she says it's boring) but because this needs to be rolled out to the customer yesterday I don't get that. Ah well.

TL;DR - room is tidied (ish), different cars are fun, work is as disorganised as ever.

That's all for now, I think. Long post for me!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dinner in the Sky

If anyone has a spare few thousand pounds, this doesn't seem like a bad way to spend it.

Yes please.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

DIY and technical stuffs

There's an article in Wired magazine about the decline of technical knowledge amongst average people. It's an interesting read, although I don't necessarily agree with all the points raised.

My dad and I were talking about this phenomenon recently. He's had to take the car to the shop because the power steering light comes on intermittently, and he can't take a look at it because it's all sealed off in a block. The garage just said they'd plug it in for a diagnostics test but if nothing showed up they couldn't do anything. When even the Fiat garage can't take a look inside their cars, something is wrong.

The main problem is that products today aren't designed to be user serviceable, which makes it nigh impossible to do anything because a) there's not the information available since it comes under trade copyright and b) you void the warranty.

I still want to take a basic mechanic course - changing a tyre, fan belt etc. Or I might just get my dad to teach me in the summer. He's always been good at stuff like that - his workshop in the loft is full of bits and pieces of electronics.

However, with regards DIY and stuff, my Mum and I are willing to try most things rather than getting someone in. We've always done the painting and decorating, we've polished up the floorboards, we've laid carpet, lino and vinyl floor tiles. The latest thing is tiling the kitchen, which neither of us have done before but which is coming out pretty well. It just needs grouting now, which we have done before and which is fairly simple. The only thing we've not done is plastering, because that's a skill we simply don't have. The old plaster was terrible, so we needed a professional to make it look good.

I'm not sure I have a point with this one. Never mind.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Unexpected Beauty

Earlier I was in the kitchen, and the sun was in just the right position to turn the water from the tap into gleaming liquid crystal. When this sparkling river fell into the little silver teapot-shaped infuser I was rinsing the sun caught everything and made it shine like the crowns in the Tower of London. It was incredibly beautiful, for an office moment.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


I was browsing the Internet, as I very often do, when I came across a site dedicated to documenting abandoned buildings (mostly psychiatric hospitals and asylums [asylae?]) through photographs and text. The site is called Opacity and it's honestly beautiful.

I think we are that used to seeing buildings whole, being in them and having them fade into the background, that seeing abandoned ones is almost like seeing a corpse. Something that was once living, if only vicariously, is dead. The very words we use to describe them - abandoned, derelict - tell us that the building has lost something and wants our love, like an abandoned puppy. The eerie atmosphere of a derelict building, of something being not quite as we expect is something that you never forget; it's not for nothing that many horror films are set in them.

What intrigue me almost more than the photographs, however, are the comments made on them. There are some who are simply idiots (following the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory), but there are also mental healthcare professionals who comment on why things are the way they are in those photos. Given my own interest in the profession, it's good to hear these people giving some insight on what it's really like. (As opposed to, for example, spidergirl's comments. After you read a couple, it sounds like she's looking for evidence of abuse where there is none, and actually seems quite excited to get it. See, for example, this comment from this photo.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Today's a beautifully sunny day, and sitting here in the office I'm reminded of walking through Hyde and Regents Parks last November with a certain someone. It was a day much like today, crisp and cold, and the sun turned the leaves into a coppery mass. The Canada gate by Buckingham Palace seemed to glow, with its gold leaf caught in the light, and the Horse Guards were a spectacular sight, buckles gleaming and the horses' coats shining.

We stopped for coffee by the Serpentine, and watched the dog walkers and horse riders go by. Later, we saw a parrot, looking as at home amongst the English oaks as I imagine it would in the rainforest. It may have been a little chilly though - do birds feel the cold? I think so.

I hope that we'll have many more memories like this. What's the Kiwi equivalent of Hyde Park? I want to have coffee there, on a sharp sunny morning, and watch the world go by.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Secret History of Revolving Doors, and other stories

I found this article while browsing The Nonist. I enjoy reading that blog - the prose is wonderful, and the articles interesting and varied in their topics. Where else would have a post about revolving doors that wasn't along the lines of "I hate them" or "I got stuck in one once"? Go and read it, and be drawn in.

In other news, research for New Zealand continues apace. The plan is to spend two years there on a working holiday visa, so lots of paperwork to be done and hoops to be jumped through. I feel like a circus animal, although one that hasn't been put down due to animal cruelty fears.

A shiny camera has been bought! Look at it, and drool with me:

So very pretty. I'm excited to pick it up in March, when I go to visit my boy in Chicago. Oh yes, I get to go back to the Windy City, and I'm looking forward to it. How can I resist this city? It has beautiful lakefront and towering buildings, green spaces and bustle, and most of all great people , some of whom I'm proud to call friends. Oh yes, I'm looking forward to it, and maybe my shiny new toy will be broken in on the varied and beautiful images that Chicago holds.