Monday, February 09, 2004

First off: completely random blog, on Blogger's FP. Apparently by an author (or should that be authoress? But that looks too clumsy), no idea what she's the author of mind, as I haven't explored that far. Main selling point seems to be the bizarre and enigmatic name. How exactly does one end up begin viciously marzipaned? Is it a solo activity, does it require a special friend, or is it fun for all the family [for groups of four and over]? Is it actually an enjoyable experience?

Belated apologies for not doing much at the weekend - but circumstances arose. Well, I got an email asking if I was interested in a potential dinner at a friend's in London on Saturday (the dinner not the email), and then had fun failing to communicate until about half an hour before the only train that would get me there on time.

Why is it, of all the people I know who use mobiles, it's those who use them in London that get the worst performance? If you ring someone who's standing in the middle of some field, miles from anywhere, there's no problem. Phone someone who can see the phone mast, and you're treated to a stunning array of crackles, dead air, weird pixelation effects (think that awful Cher thing from a couple of years ago), and eventually they fall out of the system.

Oh and apologies to some poor couple out there. I tried ringing said friend [Let's call her Lets for clarity's sake] on mobile in the middle of the afternoon - it rang, then after five rings it switched to voicemail. I later found out Lets was at a wedding during the afternoon. I hope she'd put it on silent, but I have a hunch she didn't. Oops.

I wonder what her ringtone's bound to be something really happy and chirpy, and therefore incredibly distracting and annoying. Oh well.

So, eventually off to London I scurry. By the way, when did trains start running, and more importantly, leaving early? I'd looked up the train times on both SWT [aka Sorry What Train/Timetable?] and the trainline, and each gave a different answer, mostly one claiming to be 3 minutes later than the other set.

Somehow I manage to do my panicked packing in record time, and thus get to the station a while before I need to. Well if you've started doing things rapidly you can't just stop and wait, can you? So go in, buy ticket (since when did Young Person's Railcard discounted prices start sounding like full-blown adult prices?), and go and loiter with intent on the opposite platform. And strangely start noticing lots of little details about the station - like the four grime-coated panes of glass beneath the facing platform, that are meant to let light into the tunnel beneath. They don't, of course, being opaque brown, except for where one has dropped out and now lies intact, at an angle against part of the frame. This creates the curious effect of providing fleeting head-shots of the occasion users of the tunnel, each apprehensive about the turn they are approaching at the base of the steps, each expecting someone coming the other way.

Then I get distracted by the houses one doesn't normally see, or something that looks different about the Catholic church. But I suppose the world always looks like that on a sunny day in early February. It's just that way parts of normal life will suddenly seem odd for no reason, things just stand out.

So I'm standing round in sun, and whilst deciding that I'm too cold to worry about hat hair, when I hear a train coming. That's odd it's ten minutes before it's due. It must be a fast one that doesn't stop - except it's a Saturday, and they don't normally run. And it's making the wrong noise to go straight through. The train appears, slows and stops. I get on. There's slight wait whilst there's the usual delayed slam of a door, and then the train leaves. The train leaves, and it's eight minutes before it's due to turn up. Hmm, it's not just the Catholic church that is being a little odd today. I think there could be some rather annoyed people, especially as the next direct train is in an hour.

So the train trundles up, taking 20 minutes longer than it used to (but all the timetabled trains seem to do), most of which is expended in going very slowly through parts of outer-London, including parking in Wimbledon, allowing us to contemplate why there is door a random point along the aide wall of a train shed, and why exactly it needs a lock, when the ends of the shed are open, and have no apparent means of ever being covered. It also leads us to ponder who designed Wimbledon Traincare Depot, and how they decided to place this solitary door here, as it has been punched straight through the corrugated side of the shed, including part of one of the sections of clear plastic. Presumably it has to be so many metres from one point, and that's where it went, regardless of anything else. Quite why it must be at that height and that exact position, I still haven't worked out.

The train pulls into Waterloo, having induced a third of the carriage to check their watches when they first spy Big Ben. I get off, and somehow remember where the walkway that punches through the middle of various buildings is (I haven't used it since my father took me to the office on in-service days, which was both a long time ago, and when I was quite little).

I remember the wind on the bridge across the road though - that's always been bitterly cold.

And does that mean there's two Shell centres in London? There's this courtyard thing by County Hall and the Eye, but I'm sure there's another courtyard with a tower surmounted by a Shell flag, further round the bend beyond the National and the IBM experiments in modernism. Or maybe my brain has gone haywire. Hmm, I don't know, I'll have to check this now, and I'm not sure I can.

Thinking about it, I've probably forgotten how far I'd walked, and thought the grass went further back. And that won't make any sense to you, but basically I think I'm wrong (and can I blame the fact that the last time I saw it was in mid-summer from by the Thames, and this time it was a wintry dusk, and I walked through the middle of it?).

Anyway, so come off the end of one bridge, walk through a car park, and up onto the end of another. London looks very pretty from upstream Hungerford footbridge (so much nicer than how I remember the old, walking beside a railway, one) on a damp wintry dusk. It's all lights and reflections (well except for the Houses of Parliament being bathed in lighting that matches normal streetlights). Then on up Northumberland Avenue (strangely this is that place that makes me think most of Monopoly, probably because it's the only one I've so far discovered that I'd only previously heard of through the game).

I skirt up the right of Trafalgar Square, finally figuring out where the national portrait gallery is. And here is where things start to go awry. I was going to do my traditional following the string of obvious points, so that's Trafalgar Sq, Leicester Sq, Piccadilly, Oxford Circ, and so on (in a very "I'm a pigeon" way [a few days ago much press coverage of the discovery that pigeons follow human-made land marks, like roads]). Except for continuing straight on instead of veering left, because the pavement was too crowded. And then thinking I ought to drop back to the left, and following another branch, crossing a junction, happening to catch a sign that says Charing Cross Road. Hmm, that's not right, I think that goes off north-east somewhere. So I take the next left, and follow that. Maybe this isn't right either, I should have hit Leicester Square by now. But being me, I won't stand on a busy pavement checking my A-Z, so I carry on down until I can find a suitably quiet place. What's that sign say? Dean Street, where is that...Right so I think I'm here, so all I need to do is carry on along [craning neck to read] Old Compton Street, and then bang a right up to the scabby end of Oxford Street along Wardour Street.

I carried on, trying to figure out why those names sound familiar. Wasn't there a bomb somewhere round here? Oh, yes, what was that all about? IRA? ... Oh. Ladies and gentlemen I think we just passed Soho. I think we just past Soho and didn't notice. Hmm, perhaps my father's suggestions that it is a horrendous vile place that one should avoid at all costs aren't completely accurate. Then again last year he was scandalised when he found out I was going to visit someone near Warren Street tube station. He apparently knew it as a seedy area full of prostitution, whereas I found a series of empty glossy corporate plazas, and a Starbucks. Which is the only Starbucks I've ever felt inclined to go into, and it was bloody well closed.

Getting back to Soho, and my impressions that you'd be lucky to get out alive, um, well it didn't seem much different to anywhere else. Ok so there were a couple of sex shops - but you get those in Exeter. But it was full of tourists, and distinctly normal looking people. Perhaps slightly above the norm for fashionable young people, but that's just the effect of the merest hint of urbanisation.

I think I'll have to conclude that my father is rather narrow-minded, naive, and paranoid. Ok so I know the last one to be true. It's just rather worrying the way what one's parents think can unintentionally become what one doesn't realise one is thinking.

So after the "is that it?" feeling of discovery, I continued on down Oxford Street. Which wasn't as hard work as it normally is. Although I could feel my brother would be shouting at me about it. He has this fascination with not following crowds, which extends to using the back streets wherever possible. Unfortunately most of the time I try this either I find a dead end, get pushed off course by inconsiderate buildings, or, of course, am trying to follow him, when he knows where he's going. So he shoots off at high speed, and I try to follow. But he's the one in front, he can see what's coming, and I can see the back of his head and his shoulders. So he can see situations developing, and judge things finely, so anywhere there might be a problem he can deftly just avoid. I however can't, so spend my time colliding with people, bouncing off vehicles, and barrelling round street furniture. Each of which delays me more, so I have go even faster to catch up, and so enter the next accident with more momentum.

Eventually after quite a lot of walking I get to flat of Lets. Ring the doorbell. A voice appears - my god people actually use entryphones to speak to people? Virtually all the ones I've ever come across are responded to with someone upstairs picking up the receiver, pressing the button that unlocks the door, and putting the phone down, all in silence (well occasionally a "Hi" to accompany to buzz-clunk). This one speaks, or rather says "er...".
Me: Hi it's [me].
Her: Oh Hi [me], come up. The door buzzes, I push on it and it doesn't move. I lean hard against it, it still doesn't move. I even try the my patented garage side door hip movement [it has seasonal affected disorder, it gets more stubborn when it rains]. Still nothing. The buzzing stops. Oh. I press the button for her flat again.
Me: Um, hi, I can't get the door open.
Her: it's not bolted is it?
Me: I'm not sure [how exactly am I supposed to see the other side of the door? Except obviously I didn't say this, as greeting your host with sarcasm isn't the greatest start to an evening].
Her: Well try it again, and if it's bolted I'll come down. The door starts buzzing, and she hangs up. Still won't move. Right, well I'll just sit and twiddle my thumbs until she figures out I've not come up then.

A while later she appears, and seems a little annoyed with me for daring to try and use a bolted door. Which given I'm 20 minutes late, and there's at least four more people due, and apparently I'm the first to arrive ... well it all seems a little odd.

We go up, she complains about the stairs - how long has she been living here now? We go in, as I shed assorted layers. There's a bit of brief chat, and then the doorbell rings again. I realise it's a videophone, and so the odd reaction I got was probably due to me wearing a hat and facing the wrong way.

The other guests arrive, and we mill a bit in the kitchen, attempting to help. Initial reactions are that there doesn't seem to be much food, considering it's a supposed dinner party, and it doesn't looks very cooked. Oh well. We convince Lets not to put the bread in the oven to warm up whilst the roast potatoes are still looking less than roasted.

I start remembering the last time I ate her cooking. I did the polite thing and ate it quietly without complaint, and then everyone else sitting at the table decided that putting theirs in the microwave to cook the chicken a bit more might be a good idea. I'm still not sure what the covering of crushed crisps was supposed to represent. Other than soggy pulp with the odd shard of pain.

People chat, mostly about jobs, and apparently (judging by what was said and what very obviously wasn't being said) no-one there was really all that happy. There was still a vague attempt at false optimism, almost like bravado, but it was too obvious none of us were convinced.

I'm dispatched to lay the table, glad to be out of the room. As people slip from one to another, the tension drops, and people switch to other topics of conversation. Mostly commenting on the worst aspects of their current housemates, but that's normal.

People start sitting down, knowing full well that food is still miles off. And then the preparations for the long awaited game began. The Game? Oh, just a very silly one. With a silly name. A silly name based on my being silly (but realising it). I was silly in writing down the silly name of a possibly silly town in Devon. The silly town in question? Budleigh Salterton.

See I told you it was a silly name. Anyway (cutting out a large amount of the back story, which would happen to prove that given the circumstances I wasn't that silly), basically each person present writes down a set amount of answers on slips of paper. The answers can be anything well-known, like New York, Travis or even beetroot (or possibly quirkily named places in Devon).

The slips are then folded, and placed in a bowl or basket, or pretty much anything you damn well feel like. The group splits into even size groups of two or more. The point of the game is to get the other members of one's team to guess the answer on the bit of the paper that's been unfolded. Fairly easy right? During the first round the picker has to describe the answer using any words but the ones on the paper (or related words, so it's London Bridge you can't say Londoner, bridges or bridging).
The next round: the picker is only allowed to say one word (and there's debate as to whether mime is allowed, to which I say: of course), so if the answer's Trafalgar Square one might say pigeons, lions or Nelson, all being vaguely related.
The final round: the picker must induce the other team members to get the answer without speech (obviously recognisable sound).

During each round one team plays for a certain fixed period [anywhere between 30 seconds-2 minutes], and in this period they have to try and guess as many as possible (whether or not the team rotates or varies the picker is also debatable [meaning debate was had, we played rotating it, and possibly further debate will occur the next time the game is played]). There is no option to pass. If you pick something you can't get your team mates to guess, you have to keep going with that answer until they get it or time runs out [hence the Budleigh Salterton thing]. At the end of this period the unanswered slip is returned to the bowl, and the next team have their go for the same length of time.
This continues until the bowl is emptied. The number of slips each time have completed is counted and recorded. The slips are folded and returned to the bowl. The team that starts the next round is the team that was playing last, or the team that was losing (again there is some contention on this point).
Repeat for each round, and obviously the team that gains most correct answers overall wins (prizes are discretionary).

It doesn't sound very fun, but it can be, often far too amusing. Especially when people have to mime aforesaid town in Devon. I don't know what all the fuss is about though, I wasn't the one who put "Leicester Tigers RUFC". Have you tried getting people to say that when they've never heard of it?

Though this time no-one dared put that seaside place (even though we all expected everyone else too). Strangely Ottery St Mary crept in (can't think how that happened). Cue people trying to mix carrying flaming barrels, fireworks and flooding (it's always the wrong guesses that are more revealing and funnier).

This time we seemed to have a Napoleonic theme going, with Waterloo (I think we can guess the mime that wasn't based on trains), Trafalgar Square, and wellingtons. And just to make it more confusing we also had Paddington - station or bear? Who just happens to be known for his wellies and his hat (well have you tried miming sawing bits of the legs of a table to stop it wobbling, even though you suspect that your audience wouldn't know the story). I think I resorted to pointing to an A-Z (bit dubious), and then pointing to the tube map on the back of an A-Z and happening to be very precise about where I was pointing (possibly outright cheating). And then I got cabbage to mime. Time ran out on that one.

So having run out of ways to cheat (that didn't involve actual bodily harm), we moved on to Pictionary.

Hmm, somehow I've jumped ahead of myself here. First we prepared for Budleigh Salterton, then came food, then playing both games.

The meal itself: Chicken warmed in a cornflour sauce, a selection of vegetables and the lightly crisped roast potatoes, with warmed and cooled again bread. Ok so I'm not being very flattering to Lets's cooking, but it wasn't exactly stunning. Not least because there wasn't very much of it. And one half of the meal could have done with another half hour in the oven, and the other half much less cooking (though it turned out the vegetables were left over spares from something she'd helped with earlier in the week).

And there was the bottle of wine. Between six people. I think most of the people there had checked whether they were meant to be bringing anything, and been told everything had been taken care of.

So that's one glass of wine, a bit of French bread, half a half-cooked chicken breast, three little mostly-boiled potatoes, and some rather dead carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, all served in a slightly chilly room, by a rabid Christian. Not your typical Saturday night then. If only she'd asked people to help out and bring things.

So people eat, talk, release they'd cleared there plates quite quickly, and are now setting about removing every piece of food from the serving dishes, eating that, and talking more. We then set about clearing the table, and discover that there is going to be a pudding (Hooray).

Somehow Lets, another friend (who we'll call Blinkboy), and I end up in the kitchen making it. It involves steaming pears in lemon, sugar and rosemary, then in another saucepan making caramel, and beating in cream and brown sugar [and more rosemary], to make a thick glossy sauce. The first attempt at making caramel was with a very small amount of sugar in the bottom of a saucepan, waiting until some of just start to melt, and then adding the cream. Er...the proto-caramel has set on the bottom of the saucepan. Oops (maybe you're not supposed to add a pint of chilled fluid all at once). Lets decides start again in a different saucepan. So this time quite a lot more sugar, and waits a bit longer for it to melt. it nearly all has but it hasn't started caramelising yet, and she repeats with the now slightly warmed cream mixture, whilst stirring frantically. She the returns it to the heat and cooks it more whilst stirring.

At this point I'm trying to get the set sugar of the bottom of the first pan, and Blinkboy is cutting up the pears. Our hostess then decides to go and see how everyone else is doing, leaving the saucepan of sauce on the stove. It's boiling over, and I rush over to sort it out, simultaneous covering the hob controls in sauce and washing up liquid foam. I manage to get some on my hand, and lick it off. It tastes a little odd, quite nice, but odd, but I'm not sure how well rosemary and lemon mix as flavours. And then I remember the sauce hasn't got any lemon in, as that's the pears. Oh. It doesn't taste like Fairy used to.

I continue standing guard, simultaneously cooking and cleaning the front of the stove. Lets returns to inspect the sauce. She want's to know if it's thick and glossy as per her verbally copied recipe. I take it off the heat so it stops boiling frantically (are you supposed to boil it?), and use the spatula to demonstrate a noticeable lack of thick or glossy. She takes over, and evidently losing patience, decides it's done. So going out with the pears, sauce and ice cream, dessert is served.

It actually tastes quite nice, if strange, and possibly not as intended. Though sometimes I get the impression that, for all the homeliness of Lets, she's not all that great at cooking.

After the food is finished and cleared away, it's on to the games, as largely described above. Pictionary - she's got an odd set, that has answers on both sides of the cards (yes during all-play the inevitable did happen), and it has a weird extra die (does one spell that in this context? The singular of dice). The die has symbols that indicate the drawer should either draw with their eyes shut, draw in one continuous line (like an etch-a-sketch), draw with their other hand (damned annoying if it's all-play and the other drawer is an ambidextrous girl), do two in the time allowed or merely draw normally. Strangely we decided that we'd only start using this once we got past the half-way point.

Is it cheating to guess an answer during an all-play from the opponent's drawings? Is it cheating to offer answers you know to be wrong during the opponents' go, in order to distract and confuse them, so they don't get it, so then it's your go?

Not that any of us would ever consider cheating (or maybe that should read "not that any of us would ever consider *that* cheating"), it's merely lateral thinking.

And then the game petered out (well started to, as we were both stuck at the end, doing all-play, and those whose go it wasn't kept winning, so it became stalemate, and then other side eventually won, but I don't count that as they hadn't been doing the bounce back thing).

About this point mention was made of the roof. Roof? You can get onto the roof? Apparently it's the flat's fire-exit. Group decision to go up.
Lets opens a cupboard door, taking out the ironing board, iron, bits of food processor, and other miscellaneous things. She emerges with a ladder, which she extends and props against the wall blocking the front door. Hmm, some fire-exit.

Up she goes through a hatch disappearing into the darkness. People follow, the sensible ones in coats. I go up last, out of politeness, and because then people won't notice when I get stuff wrong.

In the dark I find out there's an opened door about a foot up from the hatch, half a foot to the left. I scramble up placing my foot on where a joist ought to be, and go up through the door. Ah, someone has cunningly placed a skylight opposite the door, and I don't mean a modern sturdy Velux thing. I mean a sloping pane of glass, that doesn't look too securely held. So we are standing in the leaded lined base of a valley, which is about a foot and half wide, with slate roofs either side, penned in at the ends by the tops of the party walls and the chimneys. On the northern wall the fire-escape scrambles down a couple of stories onto the maze of roofs of the neighbouring building, but we don't know where it goes from there.

BlackBMW (well it's what he drives, and it sums him up) scrambles up the eastern side, as Lets walks up. The rest of us are hesitant to climb on the slates. BBMWGF tries to go up against the northern party wall. I go up by the southern one - but taking most of my weight on my arms which are hang onto the wall. It's fine until I hit an unsecured wire as it skirts round a piece of loose piping that comes out off the roof, and goes into the chimney. My foot slides, I feel rather worried, but fortunately I'm still taking my weight on my arms. I edge further up, and reach the top. A. Cold wind, B. Stunning view east towards the BT tower. C. There's a bay window on the northern side, but not the southern side. That means that if I slip here, I get three feet less parapet to stop me than anyone else. Maybe I'll just have one foot resting on the peak, and the other further back, and I'll just happen to hug this chimney pot. Oooh, photographs, being taken by the only person who hasn't tried getting up. Smile and wave, and ignore the fact there are people sitting on a roof doing the same, and they're leaning back.

Though it seems that BBMWGF and Blinkboy haven't had quite so much success using the other party wall. I hope they're not breaking the roof too much. It's very odd being so high but not enclosed. It's at least 6 stories up, and that's the flat, so add a bit on, and then quite a lot more as the first few are tall, and it's possibly best if I don't know precisely.

And then people begin to go back down. I clamber back using the same hand and foot-holds, and then through the hatches sticking arms and legs at random angles as necessary. I even get complimented on my clambering abilities. Er? But...well I suppose I've done quite a lot lugging stuff in scout hut and sail lofts, and quite studiously not falling off boats of many different sizes, and going round various shores, clambering over where they've had the cheek to erode one's regular route, and then round the inevitable fences that are put there to stop people trying to use that route (but I've used it all my life, so why stop now, and I know I'm not the only one. Plus they are only there to stop people walking unintentionally off the edge). And there was the doing proper climbing when I was younger including demonstrating what was described as "amazing stamina" whilst being on Portland Bill long enough to get sunburnt (I hit a layer of dry clay, that was just crumbling. The guy ahead of be bounded up, figuring he'd bounce, and so had enough momentum to get past, and the girls had the guy on the other end of the safety line leaning back to help. I didn't have either, and so couldn't get past. And there was no way I was letting go completely).

So back down we go and so on to more talking, and then the inevitable, the television came on. And the Playstation came out. Hmm, two player games amongst six.

And then people started leaving to catch trains and buses. We all go out, as one of the other guys (4X for simplicity's sake) and Lets want to go and find out about a pub that she's only just heard of, despite it being nearly in back garden. At which point I stay when the people who live two stops closer to London than me leave. But I'd already been told staying was ok (well it saves scurrying to catch the tube at chucking out time, and then hoping everything is fine with the last train home).

The pub: near empty, near closed, and with cheap beer, but expensive anything else.

We go back to the flat, have a brief blast of playstation, and chat to the flatmate that just appeared. And then bed. this it then? Oh well.

The next morning. It being a Sunday, and the hostess being a rabid Christian (and employed by a local church) is off to lead the prayer discussion session. On her weekend off. At 7:30 on Sunday morning. The two who stayed over [4X and Me] are "encouraged" to go with her. It's cold, I'm tired, and we get to the church, having been asked by the flatmate if we're Christians. 4X: no. And I don't reply, and then when asked reply: C of E agnostic. We are instructed that we don't have to take communion, and that we probably won't. Er? Surely that's supposed to be up to us? Even if we might only be going through the motions. Anyway it's just bread and wine, and I fed communion bread to the ducks in the park up the road the last time I was here (possibly this attitude could be why they wouldn't want to waste communion on someone like me).

I then get asked when was the last time I went to church. Me: Church parade ... in scouts. And I still remember the bruises just inside the right hip bone from misjudging the height of the flag staff and the doorway of the church. But from the number and shape of the marks in the wood, it wasn't just me, although it was mainly the scouts and guides (they have flat finials, most of the others have orbs, drops or square spikes). I also remember the noise the chandler in the aisle made when the flags didn't dip to the side (but I only did that once, and that's because I had to stop in the wrong place). Strangely that too has dents. How on earth pike-men coped I don't know.

So in we go, and off down to the side, where there is cluster of people, and the flatmate appears to be aiming straight for the front, but fortunately veers of to the back row of the end-most block. We are handed cards bearing the order of service. People go quite and a man speaks. He reminds of a maths teacher. Trying to be happy and enthusiastic,
but knows some of the audience aren't going to understand or agree.

He reads of various things printed on the card, complaining about some, and skipping others. Lets comes on. Lets starts speaking, and sounding like a primary school teacher (well she did train as one). She says "Let's", a lot. Because she's my friend I try to pay attention. She's talking about Isaiah, and burning away his lips as his sins or something, getting the audience to follow in their own bibles. She appears to be treating the bible like a scientific paper, and arguing points backed up with references. It's a bit odd. And then she says, of something in the old testament, "which reflects Christ's sacrifice for us". Er, chronologically speaking, does not the old testament precede Christ (hence it being nearly the same as the Jewish torah [sp?], which kind of by definition precedes Christ). So given A precedes B, do you really think A reflects B? You're arguing it as a science when you can't do simple logic?

About this point I switched off and tried to work out which tube line runs underneath the church.

Then she finishes, people clap, the maths teacher starts again, still reading from the same card.

There then follows what in any other church would be the news section, but it's done as a prayer ("And we pray for a successful XXX on the 23rd, for which tickets go on sale next Saturday, at £6.95 and can be purchased from any of the lay assistants. We pray that we will see many of the young people there. We pray also for XXX, who is in hospital undergoing an appendectomy ... Amen"). The ritualised stuff continues, including the Lord's Prayer, but it's without all the thy's and trespass's. And that's it (well there was communion in there somewhere, but there wasn't room, so the decision became void).

It's very odd. It's full of all the worst bits of church. Church is somewhere were there's proper choral singing and a chance to stare off into space thinking about whatever you like without being pestered. But instead they do devout and zealous, which I'm not really into, especially at 8am on a Sunday. There's nothing worse than enthusiasm, especially early in the morning (just as day is, possibly the Postman Pat reference isn't quite where I intended to go with this).

So it finishes, we go back to her flat (did I mention she pays £60 a week rent, in what would normally be a £500 per week flat? Bloody Christians). Have breakfast, and Lets looks surprised that I don't consider one Weetabix to be quite enough (three's normal, and that's only because four is greedy [and they don't taste very nice after a while]).

More talking, getting ever more stilted. We give up and turn the television on. It feels like we've been up for ages and then Pop World comes on. But that's early morning TV. 4X gets volunteered into fixing the flat's computer, and after he's done that looks up train times and realises he has to go soon, as the trains are still taking far longer than they should.

Both of us having packed, he leaves, leaving Lets and I. I give up on trying to convince anyone to do something like visiting one of the museums or galleries. So then it's that odd feeling of not wanting to go, and getting the impression your host doesn't want you to go, but neither of you can think of anything to do. And so once again we resort to Playstation. It's some hit-buttons-randomly beat-em-up. I duly get trounced. We keep playing. I eventually begin to learn to do better. I start beating Lets. She decrees "let's do something else".

We opt for a walk round Regents Park, but with me lugging kit as she's going straight to church afterwards. We wander around, and I remember how little knowledge she has in certain topics. Like calling all birds anywhere near water "duckies". that including the heron? Repeat after me: coot, moorhen, duck, goose, heron, grebe, swan, gull, tern, pigeon, magpie (and that's avoiding all the complications of further definitions, and carefully glossing over that I can't tell from here if that's a cormorant or shag). And yet she's trained to be a primary school teacher. I think even infant children can cope with more than "duckies".

Then she starts on the flowers. Which are "pretty" and flowers". I try explaining but end up yabbering on about saffron (is it any old crocus, or is it a specific species or variant?). Thank god there wasn't much out.

How do people end not learning these things?

And then just when I thought me trying not to be patronising, and her trying not to be ignorant was painful enough, she decides to bring religion into it. You already dragged me to church, what more do you want?

Cue talk on the meaning of life (with no self-awareness, and no Monty Python references). Is this going to happen every time I see her? And she seems a little put out when in answer to "why are we here?", I go for the selfish gene approach, of "we are merely carriers that enable better reproduction of the replicants we contain". And she doesn't take to kindly to the suggestion of anything else being incidental and futile. She seizes the word futile, and argues that anyone who believes that should kill themselves now. Which would slightly negate the replication issue, which she doesn't get. She's also a bit miffed that I don't seem to care that life does not necessarily have a point.

I'm not sure how many people have responded to her religious promotion with "does it matter? why does there have to be a point?". She seemed a bit stumped.

And so she went off to church, and I went of to shop. Except when I got to Oxford Street I found most of the places don't open till 12. So I idle up popping in and out off anywhere that's open. This includes Tie-rack - More dull than hideous but where are people supposed to buy ties nowadays? Eisenegger (not sure of the spelling) - the place where everything is always in a sale at 10% of it's "original" price, but where one never finds anything the "original" price. Nearly buy stuff, but there were too many little details that aren't right. Repeat this process of seriously considering stuff in various shops, but don't buy anything. Though looking to see if it's A. (mostly) cotton, B. machine washable on something reasonable, and C. can be tumble-dried (still have broken heating, therefore it's really hard to dry clothes normally), rules out virtually all the clothes out there [though personal taste rules out the most].

Eventually end up in Selfridges just after it opens. Go round: no, no, and god no. Find the sale clothes, Oooh, that's a nice jumper, bit of an odd finish, is that why it's in the sale? Hmm, not sure it would fit me, well I' I'l check it washes OK first, before I find I like it. Um, there appears to be a basin of water with a cross through it. And a circle with P in the middle. That's dry clean only isn't it? Damn, though actually that finish does look a bit dodgy (a bit like someone's got PVA on it). And that bit would irritate my neck. Oh well. Who's it by? Er...I don't know, I just got distracted by the fact that while it's £20 now, it was originally £195 or £295, but I can't read the writing. Ok, as a £20 jumper it's dodgy, as a £300 jumper it's crap. Hmm, and you can kinda see why everything else on these rack haven't sold.

I continue on, and find that eating in the in-store cafe probably wouldn't be a good idea. Their chefs don't wash their hands after they go to the loo (ok I hope there's a proper sink in the kitchen for it, but still, a pretence of washing would be nice).

Somehow end up in the basement, checking out the gadgets and things (no, no and what the...?). Happen to enter the in-store HMV. They happen to be doing 3 CDs or DVDs for £20. I happen to go "Oh", and happen to notice I kept meaning to buy such and such. So I go and inspect. Do I want music or films or both? Seen that and that, are they were both good, so which other, hmm, not sure, and do I want the films for all eternity? I never watch the ones I've already got. But they are good films. Well I'll see what music there is. Oh, I forgot I wanted that. And there's that too. So if I get those, and the films then I'd have to get two more to make six. Oh, oh, oh, is this the recent one? 2003, I think so. Hmm, and there's that. [It continues on for a while].

I end buying 6 CDs and no films (figuring I can get them later [but I won't], but £60 is a bit much to be spend). They are: Vehicles and animals by Athlete, the latest Radiohead one (Hail to the thief?), Coldplay's Rush of Blood one, The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi battles the pink robots, The Polyphonic Spree's recent one, and The Thrills with jangly Monkees derived stuff, and I decided to pass for the time being on the Manic's best of (seeing as I have the ones I know and like by them, and buying a CD solely for a complete copy of Suicide is Painless is going a bit too far [well maybe not, but only if you haven't just bought 6 other CDs]).
Of these, I probably didn't need to buy (need being relative) Coldplay and TFL. As the former it constantly being played by my next door neighbour (although I discovered he must always skip to the second track when he puts it on). The latter, well it's officially online in its entirety (but I don't yet have the competence to make a useful copy, and that would be bad seeing as they've been so trusting, and they seem a less than mainstream band[1], who are quite nice, so i don't mind spending money on their CD [as long as it's just under £7])

[1] If you can say that of a band who got Justin Timberlake to play bass in a furry blue rabbit suit.

So far I've listened to Athlete (me like, if only for the utterly cheesy, pre-chorus shout of "Chorus"), Coldplay (still kicking myself for not going to see them pre-widespread fame, still liking their stuff), Radiohead (it's Radiohead, continuing their OK Computer theme [spot who didn't like Kid A and the other one when they came out, didn't buy them, and is now wondering whether they were as awkward as I remember]). Listened to most of the The Thrills, who sound like they do on the radio (but I haven't had a chance to hear it all in one go, which I always try to do with albums). Had already heard TFL's Yoshimi, and know I like it. So that just leaves The Polyphonic Spree in the still hoping it's good category.

Back to the Sunday, having bought many CDs I start feeling guilty for spending money, and go back down Oxford Street treating it like a museum - look but don't touch. I go into John Lewis's because it's traditional (um, that's a recently created by me tradition), mainly in search of a postcard (they did a very good corkscrew one a while ago, but there's to much background to explain). They've got less than they used to. I meander round the rest of it (also in part so I can use up the remains of the film in my camera, by going as high as I can get and taking a picture of the view up Harley Street), and discover that it doesn't change much.

Still wracked by Post-Consumption Guilt, I pass up seeking out somewhere to eat, and go over the road to the Tesco Metro (Tesco food at Sainsbury's prices). I rediscover how useless I am at making decisions (I invariably take long enough to attract the attention of the security guard), whilst simultaneously discovering that according to Tesco milk is cheaper than water. Continuing on the miser theme, I grab some French bread and a bag of doughnuts over a sandwich which costs more than them combined.

I wander down towards Trafalgar Square, and finally get round to noticing where all the advertising hoardings are in Piccadilly. I think the reason I've never noticed before is I'm usually too busy trying to cross roads, or trying to think if I need anything in Boots.

I discover how immensely dim pigeons are in Leicester Square (whether they have special breed for the square, or whether the dimness is universal I don't know). Walking past a building that was funnelling the wind at street level, I narrowly avoided a slowly descending pigeon that shot past. It was being swept along by the wind, and was tumbling mostly along the ground as it frantically tried to gain control. Of course if it had just closed its wings, it wouldn't have anywhere near as much windage and would have simply be on the ground being blustered a bit, and so would have been able to regain control. But the silly thing kept trying to regain control while cartwheeling along, and the more it flapped that faster it went and the less control it had. I lost track of it when it passed down a street on the other side of the square, and few seconds after it passed me.

I go and sit in the square (having managed to find the only empty bench is right outside the men's toilets). I get out the French bread and the pigeons look interested. Well, tough they can stay looking interested but I'm more concerned with feeding me not them, and anyway I'd get fined. Which given I hate the bloody things, doesn't really seem worth it.

It's very odd there's men in fluorescent vests who keep blowing whistles, presumably whenever a tourist does something a bit too touristy. It makes it feel like one big school playground (albeit one where ball games are banned).

I sit, I eat, I get odd looks. Whether it's do to with me drinking milk straight from a carton or what, I have no idea.

And then I notice that one of the fluorescent jackets has big bird on his arm, which the pigeons are hesitatingly ignoring. He then moves his arm slightly so the bird wobbles, and flaps its wings to keep its balance. The pigeons vamoose. Cool, I want one. I'm not sure what bird it is exactly, it's definitely a raptor, and looks like a huge hawk. Quite a flat square head, and reddy-brown plumage that's quite dark. The human tree carries on round the square, as I decide another doughnut wouldn't hurt (well it is cold).

I pack up and wander down Whitehall, trying to use up film along the way. I buy an awful 10p postcard, showing a big red bus driving through Piccadilly Circus. Unfortunately Piccadilly Circ looks like it's had a particularly bad night, with battered and broken road signs, and several bulbs in the hoardings and shop signs being out. Just right to continue the tradition with the Alabamarite (I get The Keystone State and Kentucky Stills, she gets the Spanish Armada of the Dorset coast done in fetchingly crude oils. It's a long story, don't ask).

Down past the houses of parliament (complete with tourists checking their watches and waiting for the bongs [free with any £10 or more order of hash]).

Having been rude about people checking their watches, I check the time and decide to go further down and see if I can find the Tate from anywhere other than Pimlico Tube Station.

So there's a small park on one side (complete with a Victorian monument with an unfortunately colourful roof), and the building various news people use to get their Westminster background shot. Further down, and I finally get round to discovering why this bit never makes sense: it's because I forget Lambeth Bridge exists, and tend to try and place Vauxhall here instead.

The other side of the bridge is the MI5 building, looking studiously nondescript. A bit further down is Millbank Tower, which actually looks quite nice (provided one looks at light and shape, rather than how tatty the window frames are).

And then it's the big portico of the Tate, with modern gardens to the north. I cross over and go up. In search of somewhere to sit I discover that there's little alcoves either side of the portico, and sit down to write the Alambamarite's postcard. I look up to find I have stunning view right up the arse of some guy clutching the medusa's head. Possibly I'm meant to know who this is, but strangely I don't (and can't remember despite reading the caption). Whilst sorting out my possessions I realise that anyone who walks in via this entrance and does the supposedly innate thing of scanning to the right, would get the same view through a large window.

I also come to realise that both the M16 building and MI5 building are within an RPG range of each other. I begin to wonder how the US postal system would react to that thought should they happen to read the very random postcard. [I've also just noticed that according to Vauxhall House (aka the MI6 building) is merely a "Govt. Off.", which given they let James Bond been seen blasting out of the side of it ... well possibly it's a bit late to try and keep that secret].

I go in and in trying to find the cloakroom, to dump my stuff, I end up in a room of pictures of London. I get distracted by trying to work out where things are in one of them (oh, so that's the top of Whitehall, and Nelson should be there...and yep he is), and so decide that walking past national treasures clutching a Tesco's bag isn't so odd.

I continue going round, and find that I much prefer Victorian sculptures to Victorian paintings, and that some of them are laying it on with a trowel (both physically and metaphorically). And exactly did Victorian painters do when they wanted to paint the rich and sinful, before red velvet was invented? Evil plus money equals red velvet, equal plus no money equals sackcloth, good plus either equals floating white clothes. And drunkards must always appear in mustard and purple (though strangely some of the people paying for the pictures are depicted in mustard and purple). In some ways I think I prefer modern art. At least it tries to make you think, rather than telling what to think. Or maybe I found a section that drew inspiration from pantomime.

And then I realised I had to leave to get the train, so I scurry past the Lynn Chadwicks doing their pre-Star Wars Darth Vaders (well if you ignore the breasts). Across the road, across Lambeth Bridge (so that's where Lambeth Palace is, and I never realised how close the railway gets to the river). I get a bit worried when approached fast by a guy on a bike in a balaclava, except I think he was just cold (and trying to work out why everyone near him was cowering). And then I try running up beside the river, which with bulky clothing, rucksack and flailing carrier bag, is not entirely successful. I also make the mistake of following the pedestrian signs for Waterloo, and therefore end up trying to follow signs that aren't there.

I eventually find my way onto the footbridge, and run past all the people coming the other way. Why do they have to make the departure signs so far down the station (or rather, why do they have to make the station so damned long)? Out of breath, and wearing far too many clothes, I try to find my train on the screens. This is not good, there seems to be collection of trains whose time is labelled as 00:00, and which don't have platforms. I catch a fleeting glimpse of information on the train I want, just as it scrolls off the screens. I scurry to the right platform, but it's empty.

Damn. And I'm tired, and about to collapse. I go and sit down for all to dig out some drink, and figure out what to do now. The next train is in an hour.

So I mill for bit, get bored and wander off to look at the pretty sights. Or the not so pretty, but rather interesting, sights. Which means that once again I'll have to say, London looks good at dusk. Though terrorism is bloody annoying, as it means there's no bins around to leave your rubbish in.

So I loiter round Waterloo, then idle beneath and across Hungerford Bridge, up Northumberland Avenue, and into Trafalgar Square. Where I get accosted by people wanting me to take their photographs against the backdrops of the National Gallery, St Martins, or Big Ben. I give up trying to explain to them that they should not hand strangers their cameras, as someone might run off with it, as it takes longer than just taking the picture and handing it back to them.

But whilst looking round I find something I wasn't expecting. I know amongst certain groups that it's traditional to go to Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve. I, like many others, have never seen the point of doing so, being under the belief that you can only see Big Ben from a small section of the square. Which makes counting down to midnight a bit pointless when you can't tell when midnight is. Except you can, as there's at least 3 illuminated clocks on buildings around the square. One on St Martin's in the Fields [what fields?], but it's a bit hard to read, and two on two buildings off to the south (I think one is on the Canadian Pacific building). Yes, it's not the same as Big Ben, but it's still a functioning publicly visible clock.

And while standing staring at clocks, I somehow manage not to notice the time, and have to run back down Northumberland Avenue, and across the bridge. I come down the steps to fast to turn round at the bottom, and assume I can take the path that runs the other side of the car park. But I then discover there isn't one, and so have to make do with traipsing across the lawn, jumping down a bank, and then dodgy through a car park. Who on earth designed this? Judging by the routes of people, I'd say most using Hungerford Bridge wanted to use the walkway into Waterloo, and yet to do that you have to turn 180o at the bottom of one set of stairs and then pick you way through a car park and round thoughtfully planned flower beds (which they've had to put temporary barriers across to stop people walking through them). Surely there could have been some way of continuing the bridge so it meets the walkway? Or at least making an obvious pedestrian route across the ground in between? It's as if whoever planned the new bridge didn't even know the walkway through the Shell Centre was there, and assumed it would only be used by people wanting walk along the bank. Very odd.

Anyway, so I go and find my train, run up the platform and get on as the whistle blows, grabbing the one remaining seat in crowded carriage. I then discover why it was remaining - the people in the three accompanying seats are all boarders at a local public school, and behaving like it.

And so I go home, and that's pretty much it for this little tale.

Did you know Word does not know the word "balaclava", but then neither does it know "hoardings".


Sports is one of the best things to do in life, not only gives you the enjoyment it also provides the point that it helps maintain a good stability of your health.Archery
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