Australia Days 11.5-14 (Wed 19th-Sat 22nd) And after all the structured travel, Melbourne was just for dicking around. We saw a lot of Jen's friends there - Shiona took us to a noodles and a horrific hipster bar* on the 19th, and Helen to a mad scientist 'themed' cocktail bar** on the 20th. In both cases they provided what I remembered as an authentic Melbourne experience - our guide got lost trying to find our destination down the impressive back-alleys of central Melbourne.
On the Friday we had lunch with the wedding couple - it was lovely to meet them in more relaxed circumstances, and the lunch ran on a bit longer partly because the weather turned to heavy rain. We went out that night anyway - not far, just to a place that had caught Jen's eye called Hercules Morse, the name of a dog from a kid's book she used to love. It was a lovely restaurant, and we'd dressed up a bit as this was the last proper night out. Food and drink and cocktails were all excellent, and it's left a lovely memory.
I'd been feeling a little unwell over some of the holiday - the familiar pain in my left side that suggests that I've been overeating and my liver is paying the price. I'd tried not to overindulge, but it kept nagging.
We were staying in a lovely Airbnb for this last part, a converted warehouse with underfloor heating. There was an occasional ant but generally it was lovely.
Which both lead to Saturday, when the first thing we noticed on waking was a long line of ants from the bathroom across the wooden floor to a locked cupboard (or rather two lines, as there was traffic in both directions). We got the owner who cleared them out and pointed out that their source and destination wasn't as important as the fact that they were attracted to two small pools of red near the sink.
Which is the point that I realised that the lovely dilute drink that I'd been keeping myself hydrated with wasn't, as all of them are in the UK, sugar-free. Which explains both problems.
Anyway, we stayed in that evening and canoodled in front of Clash of the Titans (the newer, terrible one with Mads Mikkelsen as Rio Ferdinand) and then it was up and back to England, where someone had turned the sun down in our absence.
Cultural differences of Terra Australis:
Top sheets - these were a thing when I was growing up in Ireland, but I've entirely done away with them since coming over here, and it was nice to be back in their genteel embrace. In the UK they seem to be not just not a thing, but not any kind of thing - in conversation with ultraruby yesterday she seemed confused about what one was (okay, I didn't help by just calling it a sheet) until she remembered that they happened in a bed herself and Iain had seen on the US roadtrip. There's an article in GQ making the case for them, I won't press it, I'll just quote "Not only do top sheets separate us from our duvets, they separate us from the animals."
Shiny money - I know the UK has recently got on board, but Australia had it, with it's see-through panel, when I was there first at the turn of the millennium - and it still looks sharp.
Swearing on the radio - specifically on Triple J, which is basically BBC Radio 1 with a commitment to play a lot of Australian artists (which does tend towards the 90s indie rawk, it must be said) and no language constraints of the sort that the commercial radio stations still apparently labour under: Jen noticed it on a rap track that was definitely not the radio version, I didn't cop on until "So here's Sherri, and you build shitty robots is that right? Sure do!"
No tipping - I am still not convinced that being told this wasn't just the wedding couple trying to get us lynched on our last few days in the country. But we were the best tourists ever for 12 days then!
* We were admittedly one of only two tables there, but the other featured, between 8 people, two denim jackets and one appalling mustache.
** The theming was mostly just cocktail names and being able to get them in a 'syringe' or a beaker - we had regular martini glasses and thought that was the end of it - until Jen went to the loo and reported on her return that there was a hospital bed chained up Silent Hill-still next to the cubicles.
Australia Days 8-11.5 (Sun 16th-Wed 19th) The next three and a half days share a certain structure: get up a bit late and check out and get in the car and go to the next place via taking photos of very large things, and go to bed early, with spare time to Do One Thing somewhere in there. It was still lovely as a framework to hang out with Jen.
On the Sunday we stopped off at the first small town for breakfast and a wander - literally the first person we saw on getting out of the car was wearing a T-shirt that said "Born to fish - forced to work", it was that sort of place. Also the puzzling possibly-geese that were sitting sleeping on the bollards on the pier turned out to be pelicans!
The main selling points of the first two stops were that they were 1/3 and 2/3 of the way from the wedding to Melbourne - Eden was more of a big street than a town but it did have whale-watching trips the next day. We decided we probably wouldn't add that much hassle - and driving back from the sight of the sea, we spotted another beach, we went to look out. The sun setting behind us on the other side of the peninsula gave the clouds the impression of being painted, and a couple of minutes after that photo, we saw some whales anyway.
The next day, after passing by a Big Fish, the big thing for the day was a trip to the Buchan Caves - after that we went on to find out that the Airbnb of the evening was in essentially a shipping container converted to a barn, with parakeets outside. The wifi wasn't working so we played Trivial Pursuit - frontier spirit there. We also played it using blankets as shawls - we had driven basically as far as London to Edinburgh, so we should probably have not been so surprised by how cold it was getting.
The couple providing the B&B were lovely though, and had been to Ireland and Scotland - they were off again in the morning or we'd have loved to talk to them.
The last full day's driving saw us pass by the Big Cigar in Churchill and the Big Pint of Beer in Mirboo North - somewhere in here the GPS threw us its only wobbly, sending us down what was Not A Road (though it did connect two roads, which is presumably what the GPS was thinking of). This fortunately wasn't the bit of the day where it was raining, or we would have struggled to get the tiny car up the slight slope at the end.
And then to Philip Island, and the Tiny Penguins! This is the bit where it was raining though, and we sat and watched them come in to the shore and freak out about whether they'd be able to make it across the beach for about half an hour, before heading back ahead of the serious incoming clouds.
The Airbnb couple here were lovely as well - a tale of love found in later life after "his wife passed on, and my husband passed on with another woman!" which now features two mad terriers. This was the one where we remained confined to the room though - when you see Other's People's Stuff in the bathroom, it changes things.
And then up in the morning for the last drive and a tonne of Big things - a Tap, a Koala (by the Koala Conservation Centre, which we went for a wander through), Chocolate Cows, a Wave (with a surfboard inside if you want to pose), a Worm, a Shark, and finally the thing that made this slight preoccupation all worthwhile, the enormous shiny Garden Gnome. I don't know if you've been clicking through to Instagram for any of these, but trust me, click that link.
And then on to Melbourne, where we immediately got caught in traffic and spent 40 minutes on the last 5k.
Australia Days 6-7 (Fri 14th-Sat 15th) And then up on the Friday, check out and off to pick up the car. The dates had gotten a little confused back when everything was getting booked, so instead of a nice leisurely trip down and stay overnight, we were travelling the same day as the wedding. And by travelling I mean that I was in charge of driver support (sweets, tutting at the GPS), while Jen was in charge of actually driving.
We largely kept our heads down and rocked up in plenty of time - it was a small holiday resort, and the 'villas' were three-room/two-bed affairs. We found out that the person we were sharing the villa with had already turned up and taken the one key, but there was no sign of her at the locked villa. It turned out in the end that she, the bride's slightly daffy cousin, had simply set up in the villa next door, which hadn't been locked for some reason. We found that out at the wedding though, so before that I had to go back and wheedle another key out of front desk. I mention this largely because those of us who have attended ATP or similar civilised festivals will recognise the illicit thrill of having an extra key that you're not supposed to.
The wedding was on the beach, and was lovely - when we got there, the Scottish groom was standing about in his kilt, bareheaded under the sun - he apparently managed to avoid burning his head off to the amazement of many. Him and the Australian bride had met when they were both working in the same Edinburgh branch of Blackwells as Jen, about a dozen years ago. I ended up hanging around with the contingent from that shop then, Scots and another Ozzie, for the night, which as you might imagine I had no problem with.
Three sweet parts of the dinner go:
The tables all had books instead of place settings - you were officially asked to sit where your heart takes you, but swapping around to sit where you wanted was also expected. I ended up in front of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog - less because it did mean anything to me than because a table of booksellers advised me it was great (and of course we got to take the books home with us)
There was a projector up, after from a video message from the best man it spent most of the night cycling through photos of the couple over the last 12 years, mugging for the camera in various different holidays around the world. Apart from anything else it was good for me as a stranger to appreciate the groom's many facial hair choices as context for the soul patch he currently sports.
Just before and to the side of the main dining area, a small table displaying the various cultural offerings of the two countries: Tunnocks Tea Cakes/Caramel bars, Irn Bru and Tablet on one side, Timtams, Liquorice Bullets and Jaffas on the other.
Bonus extra sweet thing - the bride had rented out a photo booth and a table full of prop hats - you'll see the four we took in time, I promise.
The next day was very quiet as expected - there was the aforementioned barbecue sprawling over most of the afternoon, then we went for a wander around the rocks on the eastern end of the beach - around on the furthest point there was a patch where massive waves would roll up, the blazing sun and the colour of the ocean meant that the vertical sides of the waves shone the most perfect turquoise. We wandered back along the beach, had a meal later, and went out for another nighttime beach stroll, seeing the bright clear unfamiliar stars. It was about this point, a week in, that the trip tipped over to "this is bliss".
Australia Days 3-5 (Tue 11th-Thu 13th) On the Tuesday we didn't do much except go out to Manly Beach. Well, we went to see Big Things first - Jen had found a few online maps detailing the various aspects of Oz's love of the large, so we saw the Big Bullets that she'd spotted on her way back from her pizza the night before. Anyway, saw those and some Big Matchsticks (not hard to find from that photo), then went out to Manly, wandered over to a smaller beach, went on a walk up and around the head of that peninsula. Home and bed - still not feeling great.
I woke up on Wednesday feeling revived (and this was basically the end of jet-lag), and told Jen that I felt like I'd slept soundly. She grumpily confirmed that I had, but that very sound sleep had unlocked a level of snoring that she'd never experienced before. We'd planned to head out to the Blue Mountains, but we returned after getting halfway there due to a medical scare (but only a scare - it's a long and icky story but it presented as very very serious and wasn't any serious at all). This was probably for the best as the last of Jen's jetlag plus the monster she'd slept next to means that she was pretty snoozy for the rest of the day. So we did the things we'd hoped to do on Thursday - laundry, buy new shoes for me (my walking shoes were a little too bust), pick up portobello mushrooms and halloumi for the post-wedding barbecue. In the evening we went over to see my old colleague Donncha, who's been living here for 17 years now, having returned very shortly after work sent both of us over together in 1999.
And then on Thursday back out to the Blue Mountains - stopped off in Katoomba, went on a walk down 900 steps into a tree-filled gorge (only half-way down, it turned out), then along a path for a few hours and the world's steepest railway back up (we both reckoned that going up was just about alright, but going down would have been a Very Different Matter). We missed a train back by about 5 minutes, so sat around for an hour in the station pub checking out the names of the various local bands - a regular night at the pub was DJed by a Flava Dave. And then back and very definitely sleep.
Australia Days 1-2 (Sun 9th-Mon 10th) The first day didn't start great - I'd caught the very start of some form of head cold on the plane and that combined with the jetlag to make me pretty punchdrunk.
We rose late and wandered the area we were staying (King's Cross, as seedy as its London namesake), then up northwards towards Mrs Macquarie's point. It's a noted place for a view of Sydney, but the to be honest it's not difficult to get good views on a good day (which it was) from any approach. We wandered through the Royal Botanical Gardens, home of many excellent trees (including an amazing array of different palms) and over to the Opera House, which was hosting a festival of First Nations art. We got to see some of the traditional dance competition, but I was fading fast. Home then, via a local Thai takeaway.
The night wasn't a lot of fun - between the cold coming on, my lower back (which has been giving me a bit more trouble recently), my shoulder (which has been on and off sore since I fell off my bike - which I've done twice since my last non-holiday update, remind me to tell you about it sometime) and the jet lag, it was a carnival of grim. About 4am I Googled the NHS exercises for lower back pain, and grunted my way through them on the floor of the hotel room, phone just out of sight of Jen's attempts to sleep herself. It did a little good and then I got back to bed - obviously the catch 22 is that sleep would have helped with any of them but they combined (together with a Jen that was both jet lagged and trapped in a bed with this horror show) to fend off sleep.
And so a slow start to the day, which was bizarrely warm for the trip, 10 degrees hotter than either side. We hid inside until way past midday then headed into Sydney Central and walked over to Darling Harbour to see the Aquarium, on the basis that if you have to be out, surround yourself with as much water as possible.
You'd probably guess that Sydney Aquarium would be good, and you'd be entirely right - squid and sharks and dugong and jellyfish and mantas and blue tang / clownfish or, as they are officially known now to pre-teens, Dories and Nemos.
We got the ferry back around to Circular Quay, to new views of the Opera House and the bridge, but my clock was ticking down, so while Jen went to a restaurant for pizza, I headed home to get a head start on a night's sleep.
Australia Day 0 Day 0 started properly on Day -2, last Wednesday, when Jen mailed me to say "So it turns out that you need a visa to go to Australia, they're easy to get on their Immigration website". I duly filled in my details and got my receipt of application.
The next day, I checked with her whether she'd received an indication of when the visa should arrive, and she said she'd got it within minutes. When I got home after work I rang the Australian Immigration people, and found out on the first instance that if they can't take your call, they'll just dump you off.
The second time I got the warning I had been fearing - can take up to 10 days, do not travel without it. I rang back a few hours later and reached the same lady, which was both embarrassing and suggestive of questions about staffing levels for what must be a fairly crucial service.
Anyway, she couldn't answer my main question - was there an active problem with the application or was it just in the (statistically small) pile that were selected for further examination - but she sent me the email of the expediting requests office, which I emailed feeling a little guilty. Reading what I do in the papers about Australian Immigration, I know that "my girlfriend may have to start her holiday without me" is unlikely to be in the top half of the most abject pleas they receive.
And then I woke on Friday and there was no mail, and I rang Jen and let her know. I came out at the appointed time with all my luggage, knowing that the chance of a reprieve was quite low (as it was into the Australian night by then).
And so I waited with her through the long long line, both pictures in misery. If someone got to look at the application on Monday in Australia, I could wake to a confirming email, and then go buy another ticket out and join her on Tuesday evening in Sydney - that was pretty much the best case.
And then we got to the top of the line and I left her to check in, and she called me back, as the puzzled agent had asked why I hadn't just bought a visa at the ticket service desk. It turns out one of the factors that can shield your application from the sight of whatever claw had plucked mine from the virtual mailbag, is "here is a receipt that this guy definitely paid us £40".
And then there was a rush for the delayed plane, and when we got to KL another rush for the next plane (which was also delayed as half its passengers were with us) and then we were in Sydney for Saturday evening and the very long Day 0 and its emotional rollercoaster was over.
I only slowly unwound over the course of the day as more steps confirming that this might actually work came through - the first then the second boarding card, the electronic machine at Sydney that scans your passport and gives you a slim printed slip to hand in with your customs declaration. As we were waiting to pick up luggage, just before handing those in to the agent who dropped them unread into a basket, my phone went ping and I got an email confirming the success of my visa application.
I have the same views as mostly everyone you know about the current state of the world - the last week's been largely been a nightmare on that front, comedy Macbeth from the Tories aside. The options are disaster now or disaster later, hate crimes are on the rise, the Labour party is engaging in startlingly ill-timed convulsions that can't end anywhere good, and a cloud is spreading over pretty much everywhere.
So, here's some stuff I've been doing to distract myself:
[Jen] Hanging out with Jen has been been a regular thing for a while now of course, but we're in the middle of an interesting week - her parents came into London last week (having come down from Perth to babysit her niblings in Kent while her brother and his wife went off on holiday) and we went out for a meal, and to meet each other for the first time. And this evening I'm getting a train to Gatwick (okay, two trains as the direct one has been cancelled), meeting her there, and then we're to Dublin to meet my sister Brenda and her partner, and on to Navan tomorrow to meet Josephine, her family, and Mum. I'll be a little calmer once the weekend's over, for sure. But I'm a little calmer around her anyway. We've been hit differently by Brexit - her post-doc is paid-up for the next two and a half years, but everything after that is ????, whereas I'm securely paid in a company that may just fade away if the word "passporting" appears in future EU-UK negotiations. Plan C (or D) is "go to Edinburgh, wait a few years, maybe don't even leave the EU" - it's a big step but these look like big times. The weekend will be the first time we've shared a bed two days in a row - all practice for the Big Trip this October, a wedding of a friend of hers which we'll expand to a Sydney->Melbourne road trip.
[Trinity Buoy Wharf / Longplayer] And then on Sunday, we had some time to spare, so we went on a trip, by train to London Fields and on by bus to the area between the Isle of Dogs and the Excel centre, where the roads belie the original use of the land (Oregano Drive! Saffron Avenue! Nutmeg Lane! Clove Crescent! All just south of East India Dock Road). There's a lump of land there, where the final contortions of the River Lea (now containing the souldead 'New Manhattan', London City Island) meet the Thames. And on that lump is London's only (ex-training) Lighthouse, and a lot of art, and several buildings made of shipping containers.
And up in that lighthouse, is Longplayer, a music experience intended to run for 1000 years. It's a 20-minute piece by Jem Finer, played on Tibetan Singing Bowls, and a series of rules on how to modulate the piece which will guarantee it doesn't repeat over the duration. It's a little conceptual - it can be played anywhere, there are computers you can listen to it on, you can probably find out "what will be playing on 21st May 2135" - but it's also a lovely soothing sound.
The sound is best heard in the listening gallery, which is a small room at the top of the lighthouse (where the bulb would have been), with two nice chairs in it. And so we sat there for a bit, and took it in. The view is interesting - the cable-car over the Thames to the left, the Dome in the centre, Canary Wharf etc to the right - all potent signifiers of evil if you're that way inclined. But also all part of London by now, drawn into the city. I spent some time just watching a cable car crawl up and across the river, which with the chiming score reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi, which we'd tried to watch a few weeks before (but you need to be in the right mood). There was a sky with every different type of cloud in it, and the occasional roar of a jet overhead, and I felt something profound but (as you can tell) difficult to communicate.
[Sexy KC] And then on Monday, the mighty Karaoke Circus made a return. I wrote a little while ago about the revival of this live-band night of Karaoke for comedians and punters, which had been brought back specifically to mark the death of David Bowie. They unwisely ended that one with "See you all when Prince dies" - so here we were.
I was a little concerned - David Bowie has a lot of songs that are a good singalong, while Prince's stuff is frankly fiddly - but all involved did well (except the girl whose schtick was being terrible and screechy). Two of my friends got up - toriar for Little Red Corvette and operacat for Starfish and Coffee. The comedians did okay, a certain amount of over-egging is probably understandable under the circumstances (though I'd have felt better about it if there was a single non-white person on stage apart from possibly the violin player who came on for two songs) - the surprise was "Tall Prince" aka Tim effing Vine, who did a perfect rendition of Sign of the Times, sans lyrics sheets, while dressed as a slightly-modded Elvis. The modification was adding a third lens to a pair of purple sunglasses, in the style of Twitter Prince, and worked quite well.
And then there was Lisa, who apparently walked up during the first interval and asked to sing, who may well have been there by herself (she had to park her backpack on the stage), and who nailed Kiss. I don't think there was anything exceptional about her voice (though I'm no expert), but she rode the rails of the song expertly and brought us with her. And then when she was acclaimed as the (punter-only) winner, she was just as suited to Purple Rain, which was inevitable as the last, sing-along, track. I like the idea that she had a train on to Amsterdam later on, a great and implausible story to take with her.
I've been emerging from hibernation a bit - back on the bike more, out contacting people and being social. I went back to Ireland at Easter and took a few extra days just to see friends in Dublin - by pleasant co-incidence caught up with all three of my ex-flatmates from 20 years ago - gentle good-humoured sharp Eamonn (at whose house for lunch I met leedy and her mob), cynical warm pacifist leftie Micheal, and Keith, expansive in house and collection of dogs and cats and just in Keithiness. It was gooood.
The drama with my house is all sorted out now, the taps mechanically can't overflow, and a surveyor has come and looked at the damage to downstairs, my regular handyman has come to make an estimate, and that amount of money has been paid to the downstairs neighbour-man, who will probably get his mates to do it cheaper but that's his business. For now, all things are calm and I've stopped being frozen with fear at random times on thinking that maybe I've left the gas water running.
I'm going to go on a cycle around the city, I've seen some films (useless recommendation for Civil War), my PC is buggered again, myself & Jen went to Leeds and had a lovely time with glitzfrau and biascut, myself & Jen are still having a lovely time together, the sun is out okay now we are CAUGHT UP.
Reasons why I should not be mistaken for a grown-up, part 300. My washer/dryer has been off its food for a while - the fabric softener hasn't been lessening with each load. The tray that is the only easily-removable part of the machine has bent a little, and there's a knack for getting it back in, so I've spent some time foostering at that, wondering if the bend is creating a seal (or breaking one?) that is stopping the water getting at the lovely softener. It's not the settings, as I never change the settings.
And without softener, my clothes have been getting harder, sometimes transforming t-shirts into canvas - it's not good, and so I've been carrying around the same "Maybe it'll get better" / "I know that it won't" feeling that I had for the pain in my side a few years ago.
Today, though, I got to the clothes just as they were ready to be taken out, and realised that something was very wrong - the clothes were actually painfully hot to the touch, some of the plastic buttons had melted on the duvet cover (one which is due to be replaced soon, though), and I actually burned my hand a bit touching the inside of the drum.
A quick Google of 'Indesit washer dryer too hot' indicates that they have in fact been bursting into flames, and a link to a page which will tell you if yours is due for the recall / repair. The waiting period is expected to be March at this rate, the link warns - but my make isn't apparently affected?
Anyway, I ring the number, confirm that I'm not in warantee (There's a sticker on it for 'Ring to start your 5 years spare parts guarantee' - it would probably be a bit cheeky to try to start that now rather than five and a half years ago). They put me through to someone, we start to discuss when it would be possible for someone to come out, and then I start swearing, including calling myself a fucking muppet, on the phone to a stranger.
The machine has a dial on the right, with all the possible things you can do on there, and in the centre of that dial is the knob you turn it round by - it's symmetrical but there's a little raised bit with a smudge by it.
Except what I've just spotted, on the phone to the support organiser, is that the smudge isn't on that side, it's on the other side, and the machine's not set to the regular wash and dry, but to 'Dry (Cotton)'. For the last few weeks, I haven't actually been washing my clothes at all - I've just been really really really drying them.
First quote for replacing five sash windows with uPVC: Big company (Anglian), lots of attention, driven out to see a show house, terrifying amount reduced in the same breath by 50% discount, and then further by Finance, £8,630.
Second quote: Smaller firm (all covered and insured by the same regulator though), quick, businesslike, gave me a quote a few days later for £4,200.
And since then, largely a failure to get a third quote - every fortnight or so I'd go onto checkatrade and look for glaziers who came up when you enter my postcode, and inevitably they'd be based way out of town, but had added 'London' in the pretty rough filter they'd been given. So I'd ask for a callback, and not get one, and then the general end of year business turned up.
And then New Year New Attitude (the attitude in question being "man, fuck this bullshit") - the Sunday before last I went back, picked 4 (the maximum you can ask for a callback), and three (3) of them responded! So I now have five (5) quotes!
Wednesday was Advanced Glazing Systems (I know, but all the good names are surely taken years ago), who came over and was very charming, a quick measurement and a chat - took pains to point out that one of the things to look out for is the cavity in the panels where the weights and cord were (it's all springs these days), which they take care to fill in to avoid noise and heat leakage. On a related note, he recommended that whatever I do, have ALL of the dust sheets in place when the old windows come down - he's seen the cavities up to 3/4 of the way up full of dust. He mailed me the quote later - £4,150.
Thursday was Homeglaze, a big enough operation (the person who booked my appointment is not who answered the phone to reschedule it is not who turned up). He's heard of Anglian, and mocked the "Big quote and immediate discount", but he also had a finance discount and a February discount (the workmen get paid anyway and apparently winter is a slow period?). But after all that it's still £8,664, and he didn't even have a brochure to demonstrate their technical superiority (he had a sample window - it looked like all of the other sample windows). He was a curious figure, he reminded me a bit (and I'm aware this is harsh) of Shelley from Glengarry Glen Ross / Gil from the Simpsons - pushing a rock up a hill using willpower he doesn't have.
And then on Friday I sent a nagging text to Taylorglaze, who had come in on Tuesday (similar to the second quote - quick, businesslike, took the requirements and left) - they grudgingly sent on the result of their deliberations which was £4,980.
I'm still a little surprised by there being two bands of price, but then the larger two are from much larger organisations. I am hoping that the £4k ones are as okay as they seem, if not they're insured for 10 years and I should in a position to shell out the £8k without as much worry by that stage.
For peace of mind I think I'm going to pick AGS I think, not just for the lowest quote but because they had a good salesperson and decent reviews on Checkatrade. And then soon I can stop thinking about this which will be nice.
Things standing between me and stopping thinking about this: AGS sending someone to survey properly, me booking dates, crucially and terrifyingly me talking to downstairs about possibly allowing access to their back garden.
Up to date. [New York 1] I freely admit that I wasted my first trip to New York - not entirely of course, I saw George's friends Daniel and Zeke, and I saw cartographer , all of whom were great.
Also I went out to an evening called Women of Letters, which is where they ask several female writers to write a letter on a certain theme.
Five of the writers were (from the Facebook blurb):
Acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of Academy Award-nominated 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' LUCY ALIBAR
Acclaimed rapper and 'Sisterhood of Hip Hop' star NYEMIAH SUPREME
Writer, former dominiatrix and author of 'Whip Smart' MELISSA FEBOS
Beloved actress/comedian, vlogger and host of MTV's Decoded FRANCHESCA RAMSEY
Moth-champion storyteller, comedian and writer MEG FERRILL
And I felt bad for all of them (particularly Melissa Febos, who was fantastic) because the sixth was Mallory Ortberg. She totally cheated on the theme ("Letters to my could have been"), but told an amazing story of an informational interview she had when she was in New York a decade ago. You will probably not be surprised to hear that her flat delivery was flawless.
[Philadelphia] In Philadelphia I mostly hung out with sinsense - I amused myself during the days by firstly walking around town finding a new pair of socks/underwear/t-shirt (because I'd miscounted what I'd brought over vs my access to a washing machine), and then secondly by limping not very far because I'd knackered a tendon near my ankle. But the evening was spent hanging about with her, which (sorry, Philly) was basically what I came to town for. I was introduced to the Bourne Ultimatum, she was introduced to Father Ted, we both spoiled ourselves for a crucial and controversial episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race (to the annoyance of her boy).
[New York 2] I got more done the second time in New York - mostly Art because why not Art?
The Japan Society had an exhibition of Experimental Japanese Photography of 1960-1970, which frankly 50 years has not done any favours to - "We can still take photos of buildings, but they can be shaky now to indicate the tremors tearing their way through society!" "I can take a camera on honeymoon with my wife, and we can move from formal looks to the more intimate relationship that thrives away from the public persona. Now, get your tits out, love. No, I'll stay fully dressed, thanks"
The MoMa PS1 has the triennial Greater NY exhibition, 60 current artists' work, a lot I enjoyed and one that I LOVED - a video of the work and craft that goes into making the horrific gewgaws that get passed out at the completion of big business deals - some of it available on the artist's site: http://www.benthorpbrown.com/Speculative-Presence
The Marian Goodman gallery has two shows: big photos from Jeff Wall of people in various stances of 'unreadable' and an amazing room wallpapered with the design drawings for the opera Lulu, currently on at the Met. Big bold blacks on newspaper (actually dictionaries!) expertly sketching people and completely covering the available area.
I missed the gallery the first time around, as it's in the Gallery Building, containing a bunch of them crammed in on different floors - I ended up walking around the block and was directed to the internal elevator by some of the gentlemen that carry stuff about. When I had to ask for directions to the Jeff Wall from the drawings, the NY Art Receptionist said "Oh, did you come up through there? Unusual." which added a spring to my step for the rest of the day.
And finally the Morgan Library was showing two exhibitions recommended by Anthony - Martin Puyeur is a sculptor but the show is of his drawings - but past sketches from his early life, they are mostly of his sculptures, several of which are also present (some in miniature). And there's an excellent exhibition about Matisse's history of illustration for books, including one which was nixed by the publisher after it became clear that he'd never actually read the book - the author was completely in favour, but then it was Ulysses.
[Jordan & Hamilton - not just race car drivers] And then the last three days were spent in Canada - my friend Katharine has a house not too far from Brock University where she teaches, and as with the last time I made this trip 6 years ago, I largely spent it reading and eating and napping and generally relaxing - the night of the Friday aside, of course. And on Saturday I headed over a little further around Lake Ontario to Hamilton, where I met Anthony and hung around with him for a few hours, seeing his newish life there, visiting a waterfall, eating a Butter Tart. And then home, and seeing that Clovember has returned several of you (incl. sinsense!) to LJ, and good thing too.
Also last night the Planetary Scientist, who had been back home in Scotland for the last week of my trip, came back and came around. After a while we fell to talking, and while I was gone she got notification that she has both a proper post-doc next April in London, and some sort of bridging money until it starts, which she can use to stay down here and write up her corrections. And after a while we fell to talking again, and now I have a girlfriend! Her name's Jen.
Catching up! Hallo! I have been rushing around for reasons that I'll get to in a bit, but I thought I would jot some stuff down.
I have been to hospital - but not in a terrifying way, I went to my local GP because I had a cold then just a cough then a cold then just a cough, so I was being reminded of the last time this happened, which ended up with the removal of a polyp from my vocal cords. Anyway, I went, got a general going over and decent bill of health - including a stand-alone shiny computer that you put on like the usual blood rate monitor, which displays the figure on top in what is frankly a Star Trek font (long ramble deleted about how Star Trek's unfussy use of tech ruined the impact of a lot of actually impressive advances for generations).
Anyway, the doctor said they couldn't see anything wrong, but just to be on the safe side, why not have an X-Ray? Now, like - just across the road. Now, I've never been across the road, to the St. Ann's Hospital, partly because it's not got a walk-in centre, but also I know it as a Mental Health facility - and also a full hospital it turns out. It's an enormous blank spot in my view of the neighbourhood, and it felt a little like wandering around backstage - there's the big chimney that I don't think of as nearby - there's the back of the Sainsbury's! In actual experience it's a little surreal - a lot of red brick like a town or a holiday camp, but nearly everything non-brick is available in white and NHS blue, like a computer graphics glitch. Anyway, I did the thing and I haven't heard back, and they were quite clear that this is good news.
Oh and old news - I got a second quote in for my windows, thinking it would calm my mind - it did no such thing, as it is fully half of the first quote. Third quote ahoy, then.
Also I went up to Leeds, do celebrate glitzfrau's 40th, and see her and biascut and the nearly-one Edith. I had the excellent whatsagirlgotta as a travelling companion, and met the amazing sorenr, radegund and chiasmata - I genuinely can't remember the last time I went to a party and harvested three LJ names! I'd decided (at some pain to my rucksack-carrying back) to bring up my suit, and the first outing for the excellent moleskine that I got from George's folks a Christmas or two ago. There were a couple of interactions that seemed a little odd - not unpleasant! - and I was telling Glitz the next day that it took me a while to realise that I'm at a stage of life where it's not clear, if I have scrubbed up, that I don't wear a waistcoat down to the shops. Sez I "I feel like I should have a badge saying 'I'm in fancy dress'". Sez she "You were dragged up!"
And then the reason I'm in a rush - a holiday, from Saturday morning to the morning of Sunday 15th - Boston (wwhyte)! Philadeplhia (sinsense)! St. Catherine's just over the Border in Canada (thorngirl)! Hamilton a little closer to Toronto (anthonyeaston)! And some time in New York seeing the sights (and cartographer)! It will be sweet.
I might cycle a bit less over the winter, not because of the cold and rain, but because of Cycle! Super! Highway! 1! which appears to entirely match my cycle into work - I'm just off Vartry Road as seen in this picture (and wow, I have not really seen a Public Consultation in all its engorged majesty before), So (based on my cycle in this morning) this will be a great great thing .. next spring, and an almighty pain in the arse until then as every part of it will be being done up in one way or another. I may have to take the A10 straight down through Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, Dalston, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Bishopsgate (which gives me the willies) and approx. a million traffic lights.
The jacket being deployed in a non-cycling manner in the photo is because the laptop is larger than the average lap, and so I have to head home with it via public transport (feeling a little awkward and worrying about losing it).
And the jacket being worn is because when you cycle in, you don't (I don't) bring a jumper or a coat, so the thermal top and reflective jacket are helping keep me warm.
And that's a big deal because I've been kicked in the bronchials by a cold since last Wednesday, wiping out that day, and taking a shine off the rest of the week, including less hanging around with the Planetary Scientist, and not getting down to the excellent evening of talks that George and her co-conspirator are putting on down in Brighton as part of the excellent Art-Tech thing she's been doing. I did get to go see the Thing last Monday and it's excellent - if you get the chance before it closes on the 20th I highly recommend it.
And now I should get to bed, to hopefully see off the last of the cold, and to rest before getting up tomorrow to clear out the bedroom before the handyman arrives - my evenings this week will be largely shifting whole rooms around (and judiciously shedding crud in the doing so).
It's not really a briefcase, it just looks enough like one for me to be self conscious in different ways.
It's a laptop case, loaned from work for the next few days.
[because because] The D-rings, (not so visible on this photo, they're just at the top of the sides) giving the impression of a slightly kinky briefcase, are because when they gave it to me, they didn't manage to give me a strap for it, so I am carrying it self consciously, remembering not to lose it.
I have it because it's Plan B - what I use in case I can't work from home on my own personal computer for the next three days.
Working from home is necessary because someone's coming in for the next three days to sand down and revarnish all the rooms in my house, and I'd like to be there.
The sanding is happening now because it's been five years that I've lived here, and it hasn't happened before, except for the first bit of it, that planted the seed, on the floor under the office chair in the old study, because that Really Really needed sanding.
The sanding is also happening now because I am trying to wrench this year back to being The Year Of Doing Things - I forced myself into my occasional review of my Great Archive of Paper Things To Keep, and it was more brutal than most years, but also I found a receipt that reminded me that the increasingly wheezy washing machine in the bathroom that could maybe be on its last legs, but what are you gonna do, it came with the flat - didn't. It was bought by me not long after moving in, and if I've been neglectful of any upkeep then that's on me, it's my washing machine - and would be even if it did come with the flat, I'm not the fucking janitor (much love and respect to janitors).
The laptop, though, is Plan B because I got a new PC and it has Windows 10 on it, and Windows 10 possibly does not work so well with the VPN software that lets me work from home - but the laptop's intentionally not been upgraded to Windows 10.
My new PC has Windows 10 on it, high incompatibility risk included, because it came with Windows 8, and to hell with that.
The laptop, though, is only the second Plan B (which really makes it Plan C) - the initial Plan B was that if I still couldn't get the VPN working tomorrow morning, I'd ring my boss and arrange a three-day holiday on the spot - I have a lot of them to take, and my work's kind of fluid at the moment.
But the initial Plan B fell through, because something happened last Friday in work that we needed to get a handle on - and though I couldn't do much over the weekend, today I've been getting a handle on it and reporting to my boss's boss, including being called into a meeting on short notice with her and two of the more terrifying senior partners. She wrote a note to me and my boss at the end of the day, saying that she was impressed by how I owned it - the next time I get the chance to see her in person, I might mention that it was one of the few days I get per year where I can tell everyone else to bugger off and stop bothering me, and thank her for that:)
Which is basically what happened after my last post - work stepped on my head for about a month.
Things Various I only thought to check during the week (I thought it was later in the month), but Thursday gone is five years since I got the keys for 22 Heysham Road - I still have on my phone the photo of them that I send to George. I have plans for it over the next while, though so far it's just been furniture moving - the bureau over here, that bookshelf out into the dining room, swap the couch and the desk. But it's edging on for halfway into the year, and I should probably get on with that.
My cycle home leads me down the West Bank, a side of a non-descript railway that was presumably named that before Stamford Hill became a centre for Hasidic Judaism. There's two removal vehicles (the type you would use to take away cars) usually parked on that street, and even odder two cars permanently up on the stirrups that protrude from the back of the vehicles. My only explanation is that perhaps, in order to encourage correct handling of these unwieldy monsters, the drivers are encouraged to drive their own cars home like this.
I was watching a trailer recently - I do this a lot, I seek out at least 10 trailers of films I never end up seeing for every one I do - where Jason Segel, of variously varieties of 'lovable' man-child (and also the Muppet Movie) plays a genius writer who is being joined by Jesse Eisenberg, as a nervous journalist and aspiring writer who's travelling with him on his book tour to write an article about travelling with him on his book tour. It seems pretty terrible, Segel at one point says "I think if the book is about anything, it is about the question of 'Why?' - Why am I doing it and what's so American about what I'm doing?" - and it completely doesn't earn the spark that it get when REM's Strange Currencies screams and shimmies in about halfway through. But it did remind me to go listen to the song a half-dozen times, so thanks, I guess..
Except on rewatching the trailer, I realised that I'd missed that this was based on a true story, and Segel's character is actually David Foster Wallace, touring Infinite Jest. I don't honestly know how I feel about this - I've never read a word of his work as far as I know, but I've had a lot of people tell me that I'd like it. Here's the trailer, and any thoughts or recommendations on DFW are welcome. I assume that unlike Pynchon, the test is just to dive into his most famous work, Infinite Jest.
Well, I was planning on getting something done today I didn't go home to vote - it was only on Thursday that I was asked if I had been over here too long to do so. I hadn't really thought about it to be honest, I think apart from anything else it would feel odd, having just voted in the UK general election a fortnight ago.
But today, so much joy - I don't have access to RTE and so I took to Twitter, ended up posting there for the first time in ages. And there's a torrent of joy, 20/40/60 tweets on the #MarRef tag every time I finished reading one.
And great results across the country, the rural as well as the urban. And the study of these has been great too - it's not a fair comparison because I wasn't experiencing the English general on Twitter (and also because I am overemotional at the moment), but I am feeling a pride in all the tweets of box counts, photos of tallies and per-county totals, a feeling that I'm from a country that just has more interest in democracy than the one I live in, the one where it seems like people by and large want it to bugger off for another five years and leave them alone.
The one that got me sobbing though, was one that just read "Off to buy a hat" - this is an extraordinary day, but tomorrow will be an ordinary day in a new world for a lot of people.
Addendum 1: I am aware that the populace of Ireland didn't wake up today as beings of pure light, and even 2:1 is 33% too high. There's much to be done, but man, what a day.
Addendun 2: For the sake of our economy, probably a good thing that Ireland didn't make it through to the Eurovision semifinals - the grim spectre of victory would have loomed pretty large.
When I cycle to work, I travel over London Bridge as all Londoners must by law - you can see the river on the north of the map here. I get to the south end of the bridge, and then head left (east) down Duke St Hill, which rolls gently down towards work. You can see a tree just a little down the hill, and there's a traffic crossing next to it at the top of the hill - particularly in the morning, passengers pour forth from the many exits of London Bridge Station and swell on the little peninsula just to the south.
There's also, as you can see, a lot of buses on the bridge, clogging the lanes up and slowing things down to their speed, and so I'm nearly always waiting at the traffic lights at the end of the bridge, while the traffic flows west up the hill and on north / south as it will. And then the lights change there, and the buses head into the station, south of that peninsula, and the bikes head down Duke Street Hill - except that the pedestrians have spotted that while their light is red, the light for traffic coming up the hill has just switched from green to red, so they pour over the road, unaware that the approaching bikes have a green light, becaue you know what bikes are like, right?
I think it's a very English situation, and indeed a very London one - no attention paid to the red lights by the commuters, but nothing more than scathing glares from them when the bikes try to get through a green light (there's something stronger than glares generally coming from the bikes. Well, from mine, anyway).
ANYWAY, that's my commute frustration - what's yours?
The general tone of last year was a little sedentary - we got Virgin Media in late January, and I spent a fair amount of time with it on in the background while at the computer. I think I'll do less of that this year, but I don't regret it at all.
[Adventure Time]Adventure Time: The list's alphabetical, but this is still the best - 10 minutes of candy and surrealism and occasional feels. They're shown in what appears to be 2-3 random episode chunks on Cartoon Channel, so my TiVo still picks up about 20 of them per week, and I'll always end up watching some of them over and over (I Remember You in particular, where there is generally something in my eye). This is the funniest and most inventive thing I've seen all year.
[Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.]Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: This is solid background TV, a covert team trying to make sense of a world where superpowers exist, and are being weaponised by various nefarious organisations, who may or may not have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. There are twists, there are counter-twists, there are feelings and explosions.
[A Touch Of Cloth]A Touch Of Cloth: I begrudgingly took this on, I've not been an enormous fan of Charlie Brooker's output - but it's great! If any of you remember Police Squad, the TV series that became The Naked Gun, this is that, but for Shouty UK Police Miniserieses. It is the sort of script where Julian Rhind-Tutt's none-more-posh Max Boss gets a lot of joy out of interrupting John Hannah's Jack Cloth for re-emphasis: "By now she could be half way to Monterey" "Aye sir, but.." "Monterey, Jack!". It's one 'failing' is that it's not great background TV, because, like its antecedent, it's full of visual gags as well.
[Babylon 5]Babylon 5: This turned up on Watch - naturally in the middle, so I had to wait until the end, and then they started again. It is still completely great - the acting isn't always great, but to me just makes me appreciate the towering achievement of one person manhandling into existence this 5-year 110-epsiode epic with the materials to hand, an enormous sci-fi story of the galaxy's future, set still among the echoes of wars long since past. Here's a question though - there is a lot spoken about it as the precedent for today's Long Term TV, but even with things like The Wire, it seems a lot like they make a great series, look at where everything's ended up, and see what they can do from there next series. Babylon 5's main adversary turns up in episode 5, and it isn't until about a season later that they really come to light. And so much of the long-term character advancement is plotted in long term - is there actually any other series that actually does do that with so much chutzpah, making a years-long bet?
[Lost Girl]Lost Girl: I need to get back to this, I've only really seen to the end of the second series (in fact being a bit too spoiler-happy, I didn't really realise until just now that I stopped just before the end), but it remains solidly entertaining - a lady who learns that the reason her sex partners keep dying is that she's a succubus, at the same time as learning that there is a whole 'fae' world, and that it's split along Light and Dark lines that she has no time for. PI hijinks and a great sidekick ensue.
[Resurrection]Resurrection - I don't know if I talked about this? It came up during an adbreak on one of the other shows, and I thought "Oh that looks interesting", and interest paid off. The show opens with Omar Epps as a US Immigration agent, returning a lost kid back to their home town. The kid's parents have no idea that he's coming though, as he drowned 20 years ago. It's very short by US standards, and so is probably the least episodic thing on this post - it moves quickly, and when it escalates it does so dramatically. Also bonus point for not a final scene but a final shot that may well cause you to flip your wig.
[Sherlock]Sherlock - I went and properly watched a few of these this year - The Hounds of Baskerville / The Signs of Three / His Last Vow - as well as seeing half of A Scandal of Belgravia in G's. I don't know that I have much to add to common wisdom: they're well-plotted, well cast (Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads, is particularly great as the Napoleon of Blackmail, and I should really get around to House of Cards if he's playing the Russian premier), well acted (Freeman and Cumberbatch's comic timing in particular is well-suited to the gags), and oh lord I hope Amanda Abbington and Lara Pulvey end up in big roles not written by Stephen Moffat.
[Sleepy Hollow]Sleepy Hollow - as per previous, fish out of historic water + very silly supernatural goings-on + Relationship Peril. It veers a little towards "Were you aware that 200 years after we sat down at the continental congress, society still has problems?", but as long as the kids aren't getting their history entirely from it, it remains good fun - and impressively diverse (though the subtext appears to be Never Trust a German).