Wednesday, October 31, 2007

DSC_8430 - The Raleigh Phantom[Edit: That didn't take long did it? I mean, it's only the thirteenth hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month by the time I've finally got round to publishing this. Yes, it needs editing, heavily towards the end, but that would take yet longer. So whatever-the-Dutch-for-voila-is. Pics, still being uploaded]

Once more I've done spiffingly well on the updates thing. Firstly, irrelevantly for the rest of the post, while looking stuff up related to photographs I found a funky little site which shows shipping round various parts of the UK. Geeky, faintly pointless, yet intriguing.

And now onto tonight's main feature, One Man and his Strippenkaart.

Once upon a time there lived a boy in a happy land of yellow trees, where all was dull with the world. But late at night this boy sent secret messages to a very special man who lived in an ever shifting land. In this land trams full of Jacks and Jills rolled down the hills, wind blew cities down and kangaroos swam in canals.

So it came to pass that the boy set off to visit this magical land, wherever that land happened to then be. Carrying a bag he could live in, the boy waited by twittering iron for the speaking boxes to carry him off, rocking luggage like cradles.

And so he found himself in a skyless city, full half-wheeled couples, short and stout partners clattering and skittering behind their lovers. But the boy, for he was a nervous boy, had come to this barren maze much too soon, so found himself trapped between wandering the grey outer-world or the beige inner-world, spying fellow travellers trapped in eddies of perpetual behaviour.

After days of walking the realm of the living dead, he was invited to meet the Czech king. Waiting before the great man he was much concerned that a new group had grown beside him, filled with a great many men, women and mysterious beings, all seeking to pay homage to a recently ascended usurper. Yet the boy's belief in the true Czech king was repaid as he was called forward to pay tribute to the regal young man sitting upon his great Venetian throne. Laying forward his offering of bag even the most noble countenance could live from and within, the King asked kind questions of the boy and favoured the boy greatly with a most majestic wink. The boy left the court of Czech king with his heart filled with great cheer and his head filled with concern of the rest of his quest.

The boy passed through many trials, running gauntlets of luridly tabbarded youths mingled with sombrely dressed stern men. He took his belt off to scare the guardians, who, thinking it a snake under the command of the boy, let him pass before he could urge the attack. And so with lowering trousers he strode past the unshod more unfortunate, and, with a flick of book smaller than a Ladybird, entered into the largest motorway service station in the land.

By this time our youthful traveller was weary with thirst, all fluids which aren't Advocaat being forbidden in that strange realm. The boy's quest for the fount of eternal water came to nought and so the boy sought out new attractions and distractions from his aridness. At length he found a trail to the Wall of the Wondrous Field, though through many lands it took him. Perchancing upon his grail, his mind thought of other grails, so the boy was reduced to begging for alms at a hostelry owned by a mythical Yates. With great fortune the boy received the waters of the land, in palimpsest jar. These were to prove maligned by sorcery, for although the liquid was pure, and as colourless as Persil's Shroud, they did taste much of beer.

Stowing his quenchpot handbound, he sat in the hall of voyagespy (yeah, I don't know when the simple children's book theme became Beowulfian instead), sipping his mock-shandy, watching Tesco Value tins alight from the sky.

Much later the boy skipped (well, tripped and recovered) off to the Palace of a Thousand Gates, where after much travelatorage and walking along broken travelators, he lowed and beheld the anointed portal. Showing his magic beans once more he passed into the inside of a Clark's shoebox, where he was to remain, futilely attempting to extract the precious life blood from a stone-coloured drinking fountain. Much boredom did ensue and so it came to pass that the boy joined the rest of the merry horde in perusing the twin delights of Metro, a journal of no little repute (and no great repute either), and London Lite, a publication whose frothy USP is purple.

After the ice age ended we were called forth, with the chosen ones, all descendants of Speedy Gonzales, ushered through first (ah, the joys of friends who waste money), to stand knocking on the door of the great white tube. Thence forwards, the boy slipped into the farthest, nearest seat. Being our lonesome hero no one sat next to the boy, although a man took the grey-headed seat on the end of the row, just as three more did on the opposite row.

After the great unwatched traipsed through the Red-Bull quaffing dildo (look, this whole third person adventure thing is bloody tedious to write) sauntered round a car park, then huffed and puffed and blew the world away. Eventually the seatbelts were extinguished and the boy catalogued every passing cow and cloud, Sheppey and ship. This caused much mirth amongst the cabin crew, who thought they had Barcelona next, and were flirting with the grey antimacassars, who'd all flown there being stick-tuggers.

And so the boy passed over great seas and great shoals and great ships, most of which were moored in a grid, then down into the gathering clouds, to burst over the shore, dunes and orange greenhouses flitting past, gerdunk into the tarmac, swing round and stop on a bridge in a traffic jam while the road below flowed smoothly.

As the boy was one of the first into the fresh air off the plane he was the first to take the path less trod, thus was last to the baggage reclaim, although about third to collect his bag. Then through to the station, where the boy collected his coinage gathered in a land without euroes, loitering with intent to maim by the only cash ticket machine (as the fee to use the only usable card was more than the ticket), as people ahead struggle to buy tickets to Delft. The boy knows it was Delft because after buying his ticket to Centraal he found the receipt was not. Bloedige toeristen.

And then the boy ran to find a train door still openable, scrambled aboard and nearly fell down the stairs. This caused much excitement in the boy who'd never imagined such a thing (well, he'd read about them, seen in them in films and photographs, but nothing quite compares to unexpected voids). Phototaxiing he arose, discovering the folly of wheeled baggage, which became luggage, when confronted with a hinged door at the top of the stairs. And so he sat and rested away, failing to see out as darkness had landed shortly after him, although le visage de l'homme français à côté de lui a compensé, then had his suave pretence, hopes and foot cruelly dashed by his free-wheeling, free-falling bag. Merde.

And so our happy little wandered arrived in a boarded-up station, and waited for his companion, who failed to see him, due to those cunning connivances known as pillars. Upon greeting and finding themselves emphasised by the slope, they then left Amsterdam Centraal on the bus to Borneo.

And so concludes that part of the tale, as while the great man says it is "ever so much more fun when one refers to oneself in the third person" (although the next line was "I am SO cracked out on drugs right now."), it is ever so tiresome.

Anyway, so we went back, dumped kit, headed back back, ate a one-of-everything in an Indonesian restaurant, wandered the streets peering through darkroom-lit windows, trying not point and laugh at the Burberry clad one (it's like a pet shop window; that air of abandonment, with a Romanian orphanage level of detachment) or she supported by cotton wool (some has told her it glows under UV, right? Just as they've told the lot of them that UV is excellent for showing up skin damage from sun and cigarettes, like that one she's currently dropping the ash from), brazenly checking out those doing the checking out (hang on he's looking at me, yet all his mates are looking at her; there's always one, fortunately), and slowly getting frustrated by everyone giving the canals an 8-foot berth while not wanting to be the one who dares to differ (it's not the canal; it's the people).

And then after that I can't quite remember. I think we just went home. And that's not from the drink (how can one get drunk on Hoegarten or however it's spelt [Hoegaaaarden apparently]? It's vile, but the American friend thinks it's the done thing in Amsterdam so it shall be had [and never mind that it's Belgian]). It's just I was wandering slightly lost behind someone who knew where he was going and I just remembered being shown Dam Square with the surprise fair (for me? Oh, you shouldn't have). Anyway, there were wanderings around a dark city, not knowing any of it. Then home, television for some reason (nothing on in any language), then bed far too late.

The next day brought breakfast, then going out for breakfast, where I discovered that I should always order whatever... he need a blog name doesn't he? I could call him Brian, after Blessed for being both large and loud, and also as in Are The Peacemakers as he is a UN-junkie. I could follow the model of the Alabamarite and call him, er, the San Franciscan, the Melbournite, the Brummy Boy, the Chicagan, the Kosovan, the Amsterdammer, the... we could be here a long time. I could call him Frank after San Francisco, which reflects his westernised name, or I could just call him Key, because he has a habit of making things spring open, regardless of whether anyone else knew they were there.

Anyway, he had an apple pancake and I had a cherry one because I'd managed to translate that. Turns out the apple on has the apple cooked into it, and the cherry one has cold tinned cherries dumped on top.

So we wandered the town a bit more, with Key commenting on my lack of shopping instinct (his last guest - yes, there is a production line of them - had apparently been drooling over shoes, which sounds like a perfectly good way to ruin the leather). And then we went on a city boat cruise tour type thing, with Key picking the one that left soonest, which seemed to make no difference to the cost and route.

So off we growled, slowly being taught Dutch, French and German, as English came last, which meant we'd normally passed whatever it was they were talking about (hence understanding the French meant I could match words and pictures), most of which seemed to be on the wrong side of the boat anyway, so I sat taking photographs of myriad reflections, getting muddled about geography, fighting the film crew in front for window space, irritating the Korean girl behind by opening the window fully again, after half closing it due to her protests (look, I made sure I was sitting by the openable portion of the window and it's not my fault you didn't think to do the same. I will not be held responsible for the stupidity of other humans. Your short-sightedness got you into this situation so I'm afraid you'll have to lump your now scuffed and smeary vision [of course I didn't actually say any of this, just kept edging the window back when I thought she'd be distracted]). Key fell asleep repeatedly. I wondered if he did this tour every weekend with a new visitor in tow (the Indonesian the night before is a known fixture), so his life was filled with groundhog weekends, as he is told the once-a-week-car-canal factoid yet again.

Then we walked down to bits of the university, and a nature photography exhibition and a flower market and sorry, I really have no idea where anything is in Amsterdam, which makes working out the order of things even harder, oh, and he cruelly took a picture of me on the Pont Alexandre III (locally called the blue bridge because it's not), which he oh so kindly promptly stuck on Facebook. It would seem straight into the sun is not my best look. That's not a smile, it's just a side effect of shoving my cheeks over my eyes to block the light. And then it was probably home again, because that's just how things work.

Home, add more layers, leave, attentively stamp the correct amount, and then into town to find the underground. Yes, Amsterdam has an underground (and they're apparently building more of it). It's quite disconcerting to see heads in a gap above a wall that has water rippling against it while waiting above for a bus. Anyway, so we take the underground and underwater railway and trundle beneath grachts and then suddenly pop out above a canal. Amsterdam isn't one of the most attractive cities I've seen. Slightly puritan, joyless take on buildings. Twee centre, prosaic everywhere else.

We got off at Ajax North (it's not actually called that, but I can't remember the real name), then wandered round the outside and underskirts of a great grey bowl. I think it probably needs lighting other than late overcast autumnal afternoon, as it felt big, cold and windswept. And empty because we'd come early for a meal and were early for that. We soon found the other end of the stadium had shops, although it all felt a bit like an out of town shopping centre near closing, which is pretty much what it was. Key left me to take photographs while he browsed. Unfortunately there's not much to be done with poor light on insipid architecture and browned off looking people, so I stood outside a shop looking bored, and thus was indistinguishable from the multitude.

Then came a meal at Soccer World, where regrettably the food was not all black, white and green. About the most interesting thing to happen was confusion over whether "the first two drinks are free" meant two each or two between us. I said the first, Key, the scrupulous [and money-wasting], said the latter. I also realised I was stuck with chicken satay for the second night in a row. And other than boots pinned to the wall, the most footbally thing about the place was the salt and pepper pots, which where masquerading as footballs [yes, I did just write 'football balls'], although whoever had planned the transfer didn't understand geometry as there were a couple of implied squares between the black pentagons.

After discovering they expect customers to pay to use the loo, we headed, fairly urgently off to our seats, a discovered that the signs are designed for people who know where they're going, thus are in the right place to see them. We get in, with me discovering the normal fun of vertical turnstiles with a rucksack, which then got checked and aroused suspicion. It turns out they're not keen on Sigg bottles, although my effortless guilelessness, and the inclusion of pears in the same bag, persuaded them it was just water (if only I'd thought to fill it with rum I could have got it through). Appearing slightly batty does wonders for passing security. The pears were in there from earlier (as I'd not planned on a second breakfast), as Key asked if I wanted anything special for when I arrived, and being me I'd replied "fruit". Being an American who eats out he bought apples (Golden Not So Delicious), pears (one of which is only just ripening a fortnight later) and oranges.

So we found our seats, and sat, and sat, and sat. Beer was bought, beer was knocked over, beer was dropped impressively despite which one pint on the tray survived (I was not doing the carrying nor the dropping, nor was I suddenly rained upon or flooded, but it still managed to be the most entertaining part of the evening). Dutch songs were sung, although by unseen football crowds up in the cheap seats, and in Dutch, so we'd not idea what they said and who they were supporting. I spent most of the time trying to take photographs and generally failing. Football is a remarkably dull game. It's duller still when game is part of league competition so despite neither side bothering to score by the end they all just trundled off to mass ambivalence (although about a third of the spectators had already left). The best bit was watching the boy in front who we presume was there with his uncle. The uncle smoked near continually and it was obvious the boy did not appreciate either the plumes wafting around him or the ash dropped in his hair. Added to which came the ever increasing squirming, as is the wont of small boys out past their bedtime. It's pretty stunning just how far a child can defy gravity.

What other entertainments were to be had at a football match? There's the fun of dodging anything lobbed or dropped from the upper tier, although some enterprising fans were making paper aeroplanes which either dived into the crowd below (including those retossed by the lower crowd; the small boy's gained effort dove in the back of a guy's head three rows in front), those which spiralled into the crowd below and very occasionally those which wafted out over the pitch, earning sudden interest, comment and applause (which possibly confused the players on the pitch who wondered what they'd missed). Oh, and there was the fun of watching the French guys directly behind us get incredibly stoned, to the extent that the nearest one's eyes were Ajax red.

Anyway, so other than Key being ever alert for the call of moderately good looking men (the pickings was meagre; presumably all the cute guys were watching the rugby), being far too American and therefore excessively enthusiastic - "Woah yeah!" is not an appropriate response to a Wilkinson-style kick soaring over the crossbar - and maintaining a PMA when everyone else is getting cold and going home, not much else happened. The children brought out at half time played more entertaining football. The best bit of the game proper was a miss so bad it shot into the ranks [ok, rank singular] of photographs, who all ducked, but someone's beer, left on top of the pitchside ads did not, and so scattergunned into the VIP/disabled section. Woah yeah indeed.

So much running round was done by people in red and white (which would be both sides - it was Ajax, of Amsterdam, versus NEC, of Birmingham presumably) and then suddenly they finished, thus proving I know nothing about football as I'd hastily explained away the over-run as extra time and then gone on to explaining [read: moaning about] penalty shoot-outs. Which it turns out don't happen if it's only a league game. So basically nothing of any interest happened throughout the entire game. Which wasn't wholly fun. My comment at the time was "I missed the rugby for that?" along with "well, that's done now; I don't need to watch football for at least another six years" (technically four if we're following the decreasing trend, five if averaging). No score draws are not very thrilling.

Then onto the not-the-Tube, with my superior crowd manipulation skills ensuring seats in the least full carriage (well, Key is old[ish] and was cross with me for rubbishing his idea of leaving early).

So up to Leiden Square (which in Dutch sounds like it's named after Leipzig), where the bar we had planned to watch the end of the rugby in had crowds eight deep at the windows; instead we walked down the road and round a corner past several nearly empty restaurants and bars all showing the same match. Key plumped us for Argentinian. And then plumped me for beer, despite me saying I didn't want any and searching the menu for alternatives. Sometimes assured assertiveness is bloody irritating. Yes, I seethed silently slowly evaporating the too-cold lager. Like some bizarre twist on that Paxman quote, you do not threaten to overrule me, and you most certainly do not overrule me. How bloody dare he*? I know I'm indecisive and people find that irksome when they're not finding it amusing, but there's a difference between guiding acquiescence and contradicting me. A clearly stated prior objection for a start.

* Oh yes, he paid for the flight and much else. Right. Um. But still...

Anyway, so I didn't attempt to ask for a rum and coke without ice, Irishified hot chocolate, find out if there's an Argentinian brand of ginger beer (with added Dutch courage) or if it was too early in the year for mulled wine. Instead he ordered fajita's, or attempted too as the waiter feigned incomprehension (it's strange how my ability to find amusement in the misfortune of others increases wantonly shortly after they've just snubbed me). It turns out that even if one is Spanish in Holland the j=y is dominant, and so the word is not pronounced 'fa-hi-tas', but 'fy-tas'. Or it could just be the Dutch speak like the English, and so lose syllables along the way (a rule that applies to two-thirds of bus and tram-stop names; the other third gain syllables and entire words which never appear written in any form. Cruquiusweg was a favourite as it contains three different types of phlegm).

So he eats and I scavenge while England fail to recover, and we explain to the English couple asking about when the match starts that they've forgotten change their watches. After the game the television changes channel, which makes for interesting conversations based on silent images as there are three channels being shown in the same room, which took us quite a long time and a rather novel discussion to figure out. Following that wonderful example of "I'm not really gazing over your shoulder but what on Earth is he doing?" we tried the mutually viewable poster of flags as a prompt sheet. Works really well until I tried testing his knowledge of flags and he couldn't find, then recognise, then read FYROM. Which reminds me, that "less from" option on the Facebook news feed doesn't work very well. How's it remind me? Because one of my contacts joined the group 'Makedonia is Greek', which prompted me to tire of her brazen stupidity (Hellenic Macedonia is region of Greece. Bulgarian Macedonia is part of Bulgaria. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a sovereign country, reasonably and commonly referred to as Macedonia, on the grounds that it's daft for a place to have a name bigger than the actual country. Only the Greeks care and they seemingly still haven't forgiven the Romans [or the Carthaginians]. And let's not mention the 40-minute standard diatribe that spools forth at the merest mention of the Turks, which is the equal yet inverse of Peace Be Upon Him) and daily ungrammatical aphorisms hijacked into the status updates, so turned up the equivalent of her personal squelch button. Only all my other friends are so dull (or perhaps not dull, hence don't detail everything on FB) that there's no other news and so Little Miss Treble E (yes, she's that highly strung) invariably pops up.

Meanwhile, back in liberal Holland... we were pretty the last paying customers out of the Argentine place, although that's because they had been turning people away near constantly after the game. I think we wandered a bit and then went home, whereupon Key channel surfed for good lookers, eventually alighting on Things to do in Denver, which he feel asleep to, then awoke, denying he'd been asleep, while I struggled to stay awake and realised that although I'd never seen the film, there are probably better times and places to watch it. And so to bed.

Where it turns out I stayed quite a long time. Oh, and before barging into a room to demand a reason for not waking me sooner, do check that the person you are addressing is not currently on Skype and thus broadcasting the bedraggled pjyama-being and its curiously croaky voice to persons unknown. So, um, breakfast, which had been cooked an hour earlier, was had in pyjamas. A quick unSkyped conflab later it was decided Key had work to do and so I was to amuse myself until after evensong, unless I wished to sneak into Mass and risked being denounced as a heretic (and a lapsed - not that there ever really was much beyond what was obligatory for Scouts and school choir members - one at that).

So off into town I went, my little legs carrying me as fast they can because I could hear the tram coming. Of course I got to the stop to see it disappear over a bridge, and cursing myself walked towards the city centre in the hope of finding other routes in. Whereupon I passed a nervous looking man standing in doorway, who as I passed ducked inside the house to shout up the stairs, and then up to the person now leaning out of an upper window. Children spilt out behind me as I broke into a run towards the distant tram-stop. I could hear fast retreating cries in Dutch which I took to be enjoining the stragglers to get their shoes on and for the tallest shod child to run to the stop to hold the tram up. So I arrived shortly before the tram, as did the eldest sister, and while we boarded and sort out tickets and great stream of flustered, giggling things, all with cheeks just pinker than their hats, deluged the tram. There's nothing quite like a tramful of Dutch children to make one feel truly monolingual. Oh, and it was the tram I'd missed earlier, having only previously caught it in the dark when guided, so not realising the direction of nearest tram stop.

So into town, off by the museums, climbing over the marathon to a purple beat, onto Museumplein, which was fairly plein, then struggling to find the entrance to the Van Gogh Museum.

Having smuggled myself in on Key's museumkart, I then proceeded to spend about four hours going round it all. Worryingly I remember his views from Montmartre, because I could recognise places in them, assorted Japanese illustrations and bits of furniture from Barcelona, the last two coming from unrelated exhibits in the same building. So other than getting distracted by an Italian tourist that was basically most of the day. Did a little shopping afterwards, where the guy on the cash register happily switched between English, Dutch and Norwegian while selling the woman in front a Sunflowers tin. And then because it was cold and dim went into the external shop further up the road, which also stocked the highlights of the in-progress Rijksmuseum, so not only did I get to find I wasn't missing much, but also found some magnets they didn't have in the proper shop.

Oh, and never walk down Schapenburgerpad to see whether there's anything interesting down there. You get to the far end and discover someone has inconsiderately stuck a building across the far end, blocking access rather well and making the one-way-street sign at the start slightly misleading. And when you have to get back to meet Massboy being the wrong end of an uninteresting dead-end suddenly doesn't seem quite so much fun as it might have been.

A short march up to the academic bookshop corner of Leidseplein and Herengracht later, having been tinged off by a tram for walking just beyond the space it needed, I found myself decorating a shopfront, slightly bored, as the half-dozen shots of passing trams probably demonstrate.

Up to somewhere on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, a name I never managed to conquer, for authentic Dutch cooking, where I ordered the leek soup and the monkey. The leek soup turned out to have chicken in the bottom, and the monkey was pork and beans - well, a boned pork chop, a token bit of bacon, and mounds of beans whose name in every language but English is something like capuchins. Very brown, which considering I thought it was going to be a variant of cassoulet was slightly surprising. But then everything they served seemed to come in brown or brown, which displeased Key somewhat and caused consternation on both the French table and the faltering-French-speaking Japanese tourist table.

Key's a slightly odd guy. Not only is he reputed to a be under the employ of the CIA (yeah right; they don't pay that much), but he thinks it is fine to suddenly start quizzing someone across a dinner table about the colour of occasional furniture and fittings. It turns out my brain doesn't process "wood" as a colour (hence went slowly spare trying to fit a word to what I perceived as an absence) and that extrapolating from half-remembered photographs is not very reliable I could see a metal rim between two patches of black, knew the halogen cooker had a metal rim, and so forgot the shot was of the kettle reflecting the hob). But then he also denied he had post sitting next to the kitchen sink, which was later shown to be untrue.

After dinner came shopping, of the cleaning suppliers type. Then back out, with me photographing to fill time and because it's the last night and I've failed to do so thus far. This works fine at a bus-stop waiting for the bus, less fine walking. In the end I dispatched him back to his, while I struggled to get a good shot of the famous, architect-designed, gorgeous, unwalkable bridge. Nice shape, except if you try to make steps fit it. They have no rhythm, and a few of the lights had gone, so there there occasionally bouts of unexpected acceleration.

So after the mystery of the German woman (I know he's good with languages, but voices too?), I go back in and then to bed.

The next morning while I dress and pack he once again cooks breakfast (no potato scones this morning, after tactlessly revealing it's not just a Dutch idea the day before. Did that in Scotland too). Instead scrambled egg and smoked salmon. I'm beginning to wonder if he even has any Weetabix in the place.

And then out to the Anne Frank Museum which Key couldn't find because he thought it was Metro stop, and then which we ignored having seen the length of the queue, then found a couple more blocks of queue, and so set out to wander towards a bank, which turned out to be closed, then into Magna Plaza for him to browse and me to seek out the stairwells, sniper-like.

Out and down to a bakery-cum-cafe, where the chocolates worried me to the extent that I had to run away and take photographs of nice calming reflections (Key promptly bought me some), then swiftly back to the flat to meet the cleaner, ship out, cart the luggage bus-trashingly up to the station, where Key insisted on leaving it in left-luggage for a mere hour, most of which was taken up by him being roped-in to help a Norwegian with a cash problem (the lockers don't take cash) and then a locker problem. Then lunch in grotty tourist trap of a place, back up bloated, to fleeting goodbyes as he assured me that the train should stop before it got to The Hague, upstairs once more, then failing to find the planes at Schipol, bounding through check-in, through thoroughly pleasant security, down corridors with the novelty of both daylight and a view of the planes, down to the gate, to stand ranked by importance, not quite sure where to look as the passengers pouring off what will be our plane leave the disabled people stranded, and the outside world suddenly becomes a goldfish bowl, then out and up the steps, into what is now my seat, front right - got window, got legroom - so round an airport, up and over the channel, cloud building on the way, into a grim and dismal Gatwick, with passport queues onto the concourse, then out where the joy of timetabling means an hour-long wait, in cold, damp, greyness, trying not to watch staff officiate around a fallen man, then down onto a platform, only just realising in time the shortness and other-end-of-the-platform-ness of the coming train, and so home, ish.

And that was about it. I'd like to go back, but I'd also like there to be a couple of hills that I could climb to triangulate from.

BTW, when did Orange change their "thank you for calling" woman? The new one is awful. I'm not sure if it's a computer glitch made but tacking syllables together, or whether the woman actually skips the d in 'credit', but it's a ghastly sound, especially as during the call the accent skips up and down the course of the Thames, and the tone between slutty and sultry. Bring back the Charlotte-Green-wannabe.

Yes, it has taken me ages to notice this, which shows how much I use that phone. But then either Orange are being very kind and giving me free stuff, or 453 seems to be broken, because my balance isn't changing. No doubt they'll take it all off later and charge me interest too.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

DSC_5393 - BottlebrushSo, er, that whole "I'll blog later" thing worked out well. In summary:

- There was an "I'm better" party (the I was not me. I'm never better, except possibly than anyone else if I've lapsed into arrogance mode).

- In a champagne bar. Woohoo! Or rather £300400! (Sideways and upside-down but only on a calculator: cunning). The cheapest drink was £5 for a piddling glass of something possibly piddled. For £6 one could have dye added to make it a bimini (hang on, that's the invariably too low pushpit canopy, isn't it? Bellini then, with freshly dolloped peach sludge), although if one only wanted fizzy Ribenna that was £5.50, but you would have to put up with the French barçon affecting not to hear you repeatedly until he relents and just corrects the pronunciation of 'kir'. Bear in mind we were the only people in the bar at the time - the party was shifted forward to avoid the rugby - so the loudest thing was me trying to order. I of course did not laugh when later he decapitated many glasses with a single champagne cork. It appears he met Mr Rick O'Shay).

- Apparently the done thing when complimented on a particularly fetching Rohan jumper* one is wearing is not to reply "Yes, I know. Thank you though". The complimenter then lectured me on the correct degree of false naivety to deploy, only to answer my later compliment (which admittedly was said after failing to find anything else to say, "you look good in black; it makes you looked slimmer" having to be predacted by the evenimnothatdaftoscope), albeit a slightly weak, distracted comment on the prettiness of the pattern of her skirt (well, the cut wasn't the optimum for her), with "well, it ought to be; it cost enough". Gracious lot, aren't we?

- Oh, and never get a mediocre haircut shortly before meeting people, because, not only will the barber A. refuse to believe I can be anything but Tunisian. B. threaten to shave off all my hair on the grounds that I'm being indecisive and it'll work as well as anything else on me (yeah right, said the Dorset nose as it made plans to annex my entire head), but also the people one then meets will comment on it, saying it looks good, which leads me either to suspect they were using the adult translation of "you got haircut; you look like a coconut" (I always looked like a cross between a kiwi and a rambutan [yes, that's retrospective fruit]) or they actually meant it, in which either they don't know what a good haircut looks like, or they thought I was deliberately going for the bursting pillow look.

- Oh and should one get into an argument (well, unambiguous discussion) about going for food, somewhere cheap please, which runs over the course of about an hour as people don't move (lunch was a cox), only to then hear the dreaded words tapas-bar, it is socially, culturally and legally permissible to depart before the others arrived at the eatery-cum-teasery (they got a taxi, we walked, we beat them) on the premise of finding a Lloyds, only to discover the nearest cashpoint is in the tube station opposite a Sainsbury's currently selling reduced sandwiches, saunter in, assess which sandwiches have the greatest percentage reduction (rejecting the all-day-breakfast on the grounds that it's now night and the bacon seems to be covered in coffee-grounds making me wonder if the yellow stuff is egg or concentrated orange juice), buy two and then return to the tapas-bar via the park and happening to alight at a bench along the way, and after having consumed the sandwiches, continue to the aforementioned establishment, with occasional experimental 30-second exposures along the way, rejoining the group to find everyone's already ordered and I'll be stuck for the duration of their meal next to a guy watching the rugby, someone who has not spoken to me yet and has given no indication she intends to do so, and someone I've know for a long time and distrusted for about 3 months less. So much Wilkinson was watched by all, including the Spanish staff (it's amazing how long one can stare at cute barstaff while their attention is averted). More sangria? Oh, why not?

- And when after all this the not-dead-yet friend demands the inner coven return to the earlier bar because she's left her card behind (code for fit [in her view] barman) and then buys a bottle of champagne because it's better value than by the glass, remember to make good your public transport necessitated escape (oh, I forgot to rant about ticket offices which close because there are no trains despite the replacement bus service requiring tickets and yes the woman leaning on the ticket office counter to tell me this could very well have nipped round the back to serve me in the time that it took her to hand me a form and tell me to come back in a few hours which eventually resulted in me ringing up for a lift to a railway station that actually ran to trains thereby beating all the poor lesser-mortals waiting for a coach to get round a bend it can't fit round) immediately after draining the first glass otherwise you'll be guilt tripped into helping finish off the bottle, and as we all readily discovered champagne can not be drunk quickly and most certainly cannot be bolted, becoming instead crampain. And why does Earl's Court tube station never make sense?

- Although the somewhat inebriated state helped with the train back, which featured seat-pinching singers (I got up to answer the phone; it would appear that comments along the lines of "which number am I meant you use for you, because I've got three in three different countries and I'm not sure where any of them are" cause a variety of entertaining reactions in the surrounding eavesdroppers, which I regrettably could not fully appreciate due to trying not shout "echo!" in the face of Skype's bouts of feedback (golly, we were imaginative Scouts). Also it's probably indicative of that railway line that I got a thumbs up as I mentioned knowing we won the rugby but not having a clue about the football [not technically true, but I cared about the rugby]) who thought Johnny Cash was Scouse, liked Oasis but knew fewer words than I, the more Blur-fan if I'm anything, though that whole either-or thing was silly, sang an inaccurate second world war version of ten green bottles, which at least has the mitigating attribute that it must come to a prearranged end, and generally irked, amused, scared, bemused or flirted with the rest of the carriage. It's quite impressive the camaraderie that arises amongst the non-singers as they smirk, wince and otherwise meekly mock, all the while endeavouring to be discreet in the undermining of the raucously big guys. I even said "Night" entirely unthinkingly to the Caribbean couple in evening dress whose giggles I'd desperately been trying not to catch earlier as they alighted (and we won't mention some of their giggles were induced by me, suddenly seatless, on the phone, leaning against the nearest ledge only to discover how swing bins work). Shortly after which I loped from the train out to the queue for the replacement buses, thereby ditching the Alzheimic quaffers, bounced onto the wall to sit feet-twiddlingly, discovered the coach by the wrong sign was the one I wanted, got on grabbed a seat next to a woman of a certain yet intangible age (for she was likely to be quiet, sober and generally dull) who upon deigning to notice me said "Simply, there is someone sitting there". Realising she meant someone other than me (damned small; can't we share? I haven't felt him yet), I skipped back (verily, I did. Only in recovery from an errant umbrella though. Jolly lucky the skylight was precisely there though) grabbing an empty double and wincing as my legs attempted to push the boundaries (bloody school children sized seats). Cue merrily loud guys seating in front, dropping the seat backs back, despite them being non-adjustable, turning round to cheer the existence of someone behind them, ruffling my hair with yells of "yeah buzz-cut baby!", which as it was longer than it normally is after being cut and excessively fluffy leads me to suspect they haven't... there's only about one way to end this and it's too lewd for now. On which "ooh stubbly, ooh velvety, ooh like GA's dog, ooh that's not a good thought right now" note I think I'd better stop.

And what I actually meant to say is that if I haven't got your current address then it's not my fault if you don't get a postcard. Addresses on a postcard... er, no. Addresses in the comments... er, if you do then it's not just me you'll be getting post from. Addresses to either email address.

Really ought to pack sometime.


* They were samples; don't worry, the versions sold in the shop had been made suitably undesirable by the addition of orange piping, so it's hardly as Rohan are betraying their roots by making clothes people want to wear rather than need to wear. I just happen to be pleasingly lucky their mock-up size is the same as I am.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

DSC_5169 - Stand in the corner and do not think of an orange penguinI've just been sent an email, following negotiations very much along the lines of "You're coming to Amsterdam. Booking reference is...". The email reads:
From: "" <>...

Now there's comforting email address. I'm guessing Customer Service already had pitofdoom@eJ. Still I suppose it's more pleasant yet intuitive than DO-NOT-REPLY@eJ. Although Brian Lackhole must be quite annoyed though with all the spam he inevitably will be getting.

That is all, for now (I will dwell upon the correct pronunciation of kir at a later date).


Thursday, October 11, 2007

IMG_1194I've been... I'm not sure naughty is quite right. Essentially, basically and briefly, cutting to the chase with brevity, I've just gained the new Radiohead album.

It's really strange listening to something one has never heard at all before. I've no idea if any of it has been on the radio, because I've largely stopped listening, mostly because my radio sits unplugged due to the resident poltergeist, who thinks sending clattering Morse from the MD [yes, it's that old; it would have got away with it too if it weren't for those pesky internet routers] drive and who also thinks it's jolly amusing to blast Xfm/BBC World Service filling Radio 4* out at any old AM.

* You might think Xfm doesn't sound remotely like Radio 4 or the World Service, which is predominantly true except at 2.39 AM while on the cusp of conciousness from about three foot above the bed.

Being me, once unplugged forever shall it stay until I want to see if the fuse works for scavenging purposes. So the radio in the kitchen sits permanently on Radio 4 and that's about as far as listening to anything gets (I could listen online, but that's silly when I've got a perfectly good, albeit fearsomely temperamental, radio nearby); unless the music gets used in the News Quiz, I haven't a hope of hearing it (and my token yoof seems to have given blogging).

Anyway, because the BBC and the Guardian and the New York Times and - actually, no, I haven't seen anything on Flickr covering this - Co. were obsessing about it, and also because it would appear I have all the preceding albums (seventh, what do they mean seventh? I already have seven. See, there's... oh no, that one's Portishead. But the name's the same length in that font, sits right above Radiohead and even is roughly the same shape) I decided I may as well investigate.

Click BBC link. Click download. Click buttons to find out what they do. Um and er over a price. Pick one. Lower it to take into account the transaction fee. Lower it yet further for being 160 kbps MP3 format (I know I routinely listen to stuff recorded at 128, but I have the option of reverting to CDs should I feel I'm missing something). Click buy. Discover I must register. Discover this requires name, address, mobile phone number as well as email address. Fail to find the T&C or privacy statement. Realise it wouldn't be sensible to use my normal spambaiting answers if I'm actually buying something, but the address listed in the bar shows no mention of Radiohead, so handing over more details than I would in a shop, to persons unknown, who fail to indicate what they will do with them? Well, my answer was somewhat akin to that of a veteran actress rebuffing rumours of yet another impending marriage [via GfB].

Realising it's only MP3s which are bound to have already turned up elsewhere, I go back, stick a couple zeroes in the requisite holes, feel faintly guilty as I plug in spurious details (apologies to the residents of 29, Acacia Avenue, HE99 9LP (if I'd been thinking I'd have used CRx xOW) and say 'hi' to Ericis when you see him. I only used that because I'm sure a certain Devonish halls of residence must be sick of getting my junkmail, assuming it hasn't been demolished as promised annually yet) except for the blog email, click through to a page which tells me I'm in a queue, my custom is valued and has a slowing filling bar across it. A browse of BBC News later and there's a red link, which starts downloading file (and an email to do the same).

And that's it. Unzip and start listening. Forty-two-minutes and thirty-four-seconds later, having heard it once, it's Radiohead, not immediately grabbing, but much of the rest of their work has had a similar initial impact. OK Computer nonplussed (ok, scared) me, Kid A bewildered then under guidance beguiled. Oddly the first thing I think of is track 8, Idioteque which is more of an Amnesiac track anyway. And the latter album has always run aground with Pulk/Pull. Can you tell I'm flipping through them now and discovering they're not nearly as, er, specialised as I'd remembered. It appears only the difficult pieces sink in.

So how guilty do I feel for not paying anything? Faintly. But then I haven't bought full-price CDs since pre-Amazon. I tend to wait till something turns up in a sale, much reduced before I'll consider it, although places like Fopp only encouraged me not to buy, on the grounds that if DVDs get sold for £3 why is the starting price of cheap CDs apparently £5? And if I forget about the music between it coming out and it becoming cheap then I probably didn't want it anyway.

But had I paid any price, let alone new album price, I think I'd be disappointed by now. It's 42-minutes. That's the length of an hour-long American program minus the adverts. It takes longer to cook pasta (this assumes the normal complications of finding/cleaning a saucepan, waiting for the water to boil, getting distracted and putting the pasta in late, getting further distracted so pasta ends up overcooked, draining, leaving to vent awhile while finishing off whatever's going with it, and serving it). It's non-grabby. It doesn't come with scratchable packaging one can fret over and blurb one can never get out, or back in, pristinely intact. It's the refined product, and as such rather anticlimactic. I haven't yet recognised it as good music, thus it's value to me is low. Hopefully this'll change and I'll find a much on-offer copy a few years hence through which I can negate the by then mounting guilt. Hopefully.

So no true guilt yet.

Music playing while I wrote this: Radiohead - Hail to the Thief.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Greece 4 600 - 17Damn Facebook. Thanks to one of my contacts, this is showing up in my news feed (membership needed). Ils sont très distracting. And malheureusement, thanks to photographic training by the University of Adult Ed, I can't help noticing the judicious bits of dodging. And equally unfortunately I know detail is often hidden in the depths of the chiaroscuro, which might mean... No. Photoshop bad. Naughty brain. Mais, ils sont très agréables.

I'm not sure what else I can say after that. Apologies to those whose social ineptitude and technical incompetence prevents them from viewing that, but I can't help it if you are utterly devoid of friends and yet have still failed to be a geek. I would try to tackle an explanation of the subject matter to fill you in, but I'm not sure how well it would convert to text. But as about the only other thing bouncing round my head is the song from the Italian Job, as used in last night's Top Gear (Matt Monro - On days like these [mp3]) I think that will be all for now.

Questi giorni quando vieni il belle sole.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

DSC_2058 - Uneven SurfaceAs you may have noticed, I've rejigged the sidebar slightly, weeding out the defunct blogs, knocking down those blogs which have abandoned their links here and other such fun. Which of course just serves to emphasise the results of infrequent and intermittent posting; I may [as] well start a new section titled "I was loved once too". I don't suppose it's helped that the behemoth that is Flickr is gorging itself on ever more time (the backlog is perpetually mounting), and that because reaction is far more forthcoming there than here, I tend to gravitate towards that site first. I know I've taken the Sin stance in the past and protested that the awareness of my readership is inhibiting (though rarely more so than the restrictions imposed by my potential audience, who largely, though unwisely, I ignore), but I have a hunch I'm not quite as misanthropic as I occasionally imagine or sporadically would wish to be.

Anyway, to help wean me off the permanent refreshing of Flickr (not terribly likely), will you suggest a blog or two you feel I may like or ought read?

And just to completely countermand that, I'm considering changing the icon I use on Flickr, partly because I've had the same shot since the beginning, but mostly because I've just seen someone else's shot of the same building, and it's better, damn it. Also the poor quality of the original shot is discernible in the icon, which restricts the efficacy of the inherent invitation to explore beyond the icon. You have 6,000+ images to choose from. Those I like most (except the more recent uploads, which I haven't sorted yet - I told you there was a backlog) are available in this immensely imaginatively titled set, which slims it down to less than a thousand. Oh, and because it's the icon, it doesn't have to be quite the same crop as the thumbnails (actually I think one can even vary the aspect ratio, but let's not get weird). So your current quest is to find an image within my collection that represents Anyhooness. Good luck.

Anyway, I'm off to reincarnate jalfrezi.


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