Thursday, June 22, 2006

Travel: Monday, 29 May 2006: Agley

When the best-laid men and the best-laid mice compare plans, there is (or was) a thought in certain Highland parts that they can aften ‘gang agley.’ ‘Gang agley’ is mouse for ‘up the skirting board’ and can be compared to the human, ‘going pear-shaped.’ As in the example, “I married a supermodel, but she’s gone pear-shaped.”

The intention was to pop in - on the way to l’aeroporte Gatwique - on old friends of mine and their two kids. Liz and Shaun had independently been two good friends when one day they upped and married each other. Since then they have started producing bright and beautiful babies.

Alas their assumption was that myself and The Lady Catherine would be up at the crack of dawn. And my assumption had been that we would speed through the roads that yesterday we crawled through in the other direction and have enough time to have a cup of tea before we dumped the car back with the rental firm. Naivety on both parts.

In fact, we were lucky to get to the airport before the time they shake their heads at us.

Gatwique - or Wique de la Gat as the French call it - is smaller than the metroports of Schiphol and Heathrow. Yet it too is getting a bit flabby round the waist. Flights to Amsterdam leave from what is politely called Gates 114-119. It’s an outhouse / extension of the main terminal connected by a bridge into which is constantly piped bird song. This is despite the fact birds avoid airports and the plentiful sucking-skinning tubes that adorn most of the planes there.

Wasn’t it Rabbi Burns who said, “The best-laid nests of birds aft gang ajet?” Or something like that.

Travel: Sunday, 28 May 2006 (4): The Funny Side

After the seven trials of seven brothers, or whatever the myth is, we made it to the venue. Most London comedy venues are either upstairs in a pub or they are downstairs in a pub. This one was downstairs in bar I would describe as trendy, that is large and characterless. It was a reminder, after a few days of drinking “real ale,” that in more popular places the bitters tend to be simply lagers with a little colouring and flavouring.

The space was a great one for comedy. A long cave-like room with a bar at the back so that it doesn’t interfere with the stage. You’d be amazed how many times the bar is almost in the way of the stage or so close that anyone ordering a drink or cleaning glasses disrupts the comedian.

First up was Gordon Southern, a consistent comedian (based on one performance) who had the crowd from the word go. He was followed by John Gordillo, who is one of those comedians whose ideas are often better than the realisation. It made him less consistent but he did well and I expect does great with highly intelligent audiences. Not to denigrate the audience this night. They were pretty smart for a bunch of drunken Brits.

The headliner was Jason John Whitehead, a Canadian who for a long time has been running around these shores. He was late due to driving in London, so John Gordillo filled in for a bit. Jason John Whitehead’s act is that of a drunk Canadian in awe and bemused at thing British. It’s a good stance to take here. And I am sure if the audience had been more forgiving for his tardiness and he had had more time to mentally prepare himself rather than being stuck in traffic, it would have gone a whole lot better. As it was the Bank-Holiday audience was up for it and enjoyed it but not as much as it had earlier.

When the audience has left and the first two comedians had gone home or onto their next gig, the organisers could start breathing again. It was time to head out and have a final beer or two. Now, in my absence, I am sure I had been told that there was now 24-hour drinking in the UK. As a result of this, the sleasepapers had predicted drunken riots on our streets 24-7, under-age girls drowning in seas of vomit, etc. But you try finding a bar open after 11 pm. We couldn’t. Sure it was a Sunday, but it was a bank holiday, thus of a similar status to Saturday. Where is the 24-hour beer culture? Where are my riots? Where is the sea of vomit? Tsk.

The return journey was uneventful. A medium length tube ride followed by a very short bus ride to get to the half-closed station and finally a brief walk to get to the hotel where we collapsed in out 4-star wardrobe.

Should you wish to go to a The Funny Side show, check out:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Travel: Sunday, 28 May 2006 (3): Grey Anatomy

Getting around in London is one of the main problems I have with the city. It’s vast, over-filled and there are always bits of the transport infrastructure that are bunged up or just plain broken.

Driving is nearly always a bad idea except late at night.
Buses are plentiful and their redness likens them to the life-blood of London However London is grossly overweight and smokes heavily so that clotting and coronaries are frequent.
Black cabs are expensive and tend to be driven by people for whom Margaret Thatcher was a liberal.
Minicabs are driven by murderers, rapists, hijackers or if you’re very lucky merely someone without a driving licence and with no idea of the geography of London.
The underground on the whole is pretty good, if a tad expensive. It goes to most places and is quite efficient when it is running. Mostly it is running, but every now and again there is a hiccup. Because of the colour and general cleanliness of the underground trains, the underground could be considered the intestines of London. However London is a bizarre body where the intestines are a much better way to get around than the bloodstream. Unfortunately there are definitely times where the system gets very constipated.

Today it wasn’t constipation causing problems but surgery. Surgery on a busy section during a bank holiday weekend. Lancaster Gate was finally having some repairs / renovations, probably first recommended in the 1940s. Quite possibly the gasmask cupboard was having a new door fitted or something like that. Consequently, the station was open... but it was closed. I’ll repeat that: it was open... but it was closed. That is, you could walk in and buy tickets but not go down to the trains and actually use them. If you made a move towards the barriers, one of the four-or-so London Underground Ground Staff (LUGS) hanging around there rushed over and told you the station was closed. After a while, they cottoned onto the idea of telling people before they went into the station and bought a ticket. Fortunately London’s transport systems are a little bit integrated and if you bought an underground ticket there is often provision to use them on buses, especially when chunks of the intestine is blocked or being operated on by the good doctors at Laing. Anyway we had a travelcard each which works on any public transport. Thus we were able to hop on one of the intermittently frequent buses to the next working station.

All this happened after we were already one hour late so we were not very “chuffed” as they say. Eventually, after riding the underground, which has not changed one bit in the 5 years I have been away, we arrived at Covent Garden, Tourist Market and collection point for London’s street performers.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Travel: Sunday, 28 May 2006 (2): London Fine

After a long lunch, it was time once more to hit the road. This time to head for the sprawling metropole of London. We made good time until we hit the confines of “Greater” London and then I remembered everything I hated about driving in that huge car-trap. From then on things took twice as long as expected. There’s just too much traffic in London and too little space between the traffic lights. It wasn’t clogging up, just running slowly and of course the fact that in London there are four traffic lights for every person, or so it seems. It was a bit of a surprise as I was expecting the streets to be empty as everyone was in Brighton. Clearly the people heading to Brighton were not from South London.

We had booked a hotel at the last minute, realising the folly of not staying in London for that night only once we had arrived in the country. We booked on Actually we nearly didn’t book it as we were not given any details about where the hotel was exactly or what it was called until we had booked making it seem very dodgy. All we knew was its approximate location, cost, its facilities and the number of stars. Only upon coughing up the readies did its name and address get revealed. It turned out to be a 4-star student halls with rooms that were fully equipped if a little small. But as it was just somewhere to crash out, all it needed was a bed anyway, but you do get used to hotel rooms of being a certain size.

In the time it took to check in and swoop the stuff up to the room and fly back down to put the car somewhere more legal, – a matter of a few minutes – a uniformed henchman of the local council had shot out of hiding on his motorbike and was already producing a written demand for money from his Fine-o-matic and had already added his α to it.

It took me a few seconds to realise he was producing the aforementioned ‘PENALTY CHARGE NOTICE’ for my vehicle which had been there for no time at all. He must have been hiding in the bushes just down the road or under a pebble.

I explained that I hadn’t been in long and was in part asking where I could park. But once the Fine-o-matic has printed a ‘PENALTY CHARGE NOTICE’, there is nothing a mere Pouncing Form Printer can do. To placate me, he lied that I could call the number on the ‘PENALTY CHARGE NOTICE’ and have it cancelled. In fact I had to write a letter, which is
here. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

I was somewhat annoyed by this incident, but didn’t really blame the hiding motorcycle guy. I know how those jobs work. The guy is paid per fine placed regardless of if they are overturned or not. So swooping out of the undergrowth to slap a fine on a car that is still warm makes sense to the guy than hanging around and seeing if this is really the car or a parking offender or not. The council, of course, sets the rules. They make them simple so they do not have to employ skilled traffic wardens with the patience and experience to assess the situation correctly rather than taking on kids with motorbikes who slap a ticket on anything that doesn’t move. I blame the “arms-length,” dumbed-down world we live in.

Travel: Sunday, 28 May 2006 (1): Brighton Flock

Another meet-up with my nephew and his parents and grand-parents. Not that I got much of a chance to discuss modern music, philosophy or the decline of literary standards in the celebrity era as the little feller was asleep most of the time. When he was awake, he eschewed beer, pub grub and conversation in favour of ultra-fresh milk. Not very sociable, but I guess it’s hard to be sociable when you can’t focus and most of your life’s experience so far has been closed up in a warm place and fed through a tube.

The garden of the pub we chose was at the base of a large hill steep enough for handgliderers to throw themselves off. Several were doing it as we arrived. Along one side of the garden runs a stream that springs from, well, a spring. The garden is on a slope that would be impossible in The Netherlands, possibly even illegal.

It had taken a longish time to get to the pub because the world, his wife, their kids and dog were heading down to Brighton. A continuous plod of cars heading sarf meant that anyone else had to find their moment to get across a key roundabout.

Apart from the fame of the beach, and that Brighton itself is well know for its aging and homosexual population, today was also the list day of the Brighton Festival. And arts and theatre festival which is lower key and less commercial that its Edinburgh counterpart.

Friday, June 16, 2006

On Me 'Ead, Son!

During the World Cup, the whole world gets turned on its head. Ordinary womenfolk not only develop an interest in football, but suddenly can also talk endlessly about the subject. My greater half, who is American and therefore grew up thinking "football" was that wussy version of rugby they play in the states, has now registered her Fantasy World Cup football team on the official FIFA site. Personally I am not sure how happy I feel about my girlfriend listing 11 athletes in some fantasy list on a public website, but as I said, during the World Cup, the whole world gets turned on its head.

The other thing that happens at this time is that things change in the toilet corridor. All of a sudden there is a huge queue for the men's and the girls go straight in their door without delay. Can football really be reversing traditional gender roles like this? Huh! I'm so annoyed I could cry.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wereld Kampionschap

I am becoming a little more Dutch. I have taken to using WK as shorthand for the World Cup in my agenda (appointments diary). In English, we don’t have an abbreviation for World Cup because we don’t need one. World Cup is only two syllables. In Dutch they do need one as WK (Vay Kay) is only 2 syllables where as We-rel-d kam-pi-on-schap is about ten.

The other reason we don’t have one is that the abbreviation would be WC. (Which in English is actually 4 syllables.) Using this, my diary would have entries such as “WC: S&M Ho” and “WC: Bra Aus.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Travel: Saturday, 27 May 2006: 100 Great Aborted Walks

Since we arrived it had been a plan to go for a walk around this pretty village. Not a difficult thing to squeeze in, you’d think, but somehow this simple plan was not to be realised. There’s an appropriate expression for these situations about the best laid men and mice. There simply wasn’t a spare hour where we weren’t somewhere or exhausted.

Probably just as well given the dampness of the season. Neither of us had the appropriate bootage to be able to step out of the main parts of the village and into the more interesting yet marshy bits.

We did, however, manage a short wander up to the house my parents are trying to acquire. We could only look in through the windows and at the large garages where I could store sooo much stuff. Only kidding.

After that we drove out to where my parents are currently living - in a campervan (RV) in a large caravan (trailer) park. Well they don’t live there for more than 5 days at a time because of the local regulations designed to stop the deadly menace of gypsies. It’s not very helpful for those people who are actually trying to take some pressure off the housing market by breaking up the chains, but that’s what you get from reactionary legislation.

The whole family!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Travel: Friday, 26 May 2006 (2): Gastrology is predicting the smell of farts based on what your eating now

In the evening, my immediate family gathered at the flat of my brother who now lives in Brighton. He was proudly parading his first-born son now three weeks old. He is the first of the children to sprog and this has made my mother very happy and decreased the pressure on my sister and myself to increase the world population of Mores.

Being a guy, when I am forced to hold it I do so as if it is a load of compressed half-digested milk held together with tissue paper, frightened that my rough skin will cause it to rupture or at the very least leak a little.
In fact babies are tougher than most men think. However if the wind changes direction they develop a rash.

The only picture with Kian where I am not looking terrified.

Dinner was barely touched by Catherine and I. Once you’ve tasted Sardine on Toast Sorbet, even Sino-Indian isn’t going to seem the slightest bit interesting.

Brighton Pavilion - One of Islam’s holiest sites outside of the Middle East and Bradford.

Travel: Friday, 26 May 2006 (1): Gastronomy is not studying farts through a telescope

Since she first read about it, my better and more significant other half has been raving about the ideas and ideals behind The Fat Duck restaurant. Its owner is one of cuisine’s innovators, forcing flavours into textures and forms not normally associated with each other. His menus read like the unlikely foods of twisted future. His plans, such as attempts to make leather-flavoured chocolate, sound like the plans of a demented scientist. Or culinary dominatrix.

With such an interest expressed, we could not go back to the UK without visiting the place. Even on the plane over there was an article in the in flight magazine on the place and Catherine re-expressed that it was her dream to go there, but in a way that suggested it was impossible. I said “oh” the same nonchalant way men do when they haven’t really forgotten that today is an anniversary. I already knew that there was a table for two waiting for us the morning after our arrival.

Sample Menu (similar to what we had).

The meal starts with a palate cleanser. Not a glass of mineral water or crisp salad or anything as conventional like that. No, of course not. It was an infusion of ice cream, tea and vodka solidified in liquid nitrogen - the waiter solidifies it at the table in front of you. And the thing is, it really works. From now on I demand my palette cleansed this way every time I eat.

The surprising thing is how much of it works. Bacon and Egg Ice Cream is a true wonder of modern culinary technology and Snail Porridge should become a standard on any serious restaurant’s menu. The other thing is how playful a serious chef can be. There were rounds of Orange and Carrot Lollypops, Pine-Flavoured Sherbet Dib Dabs and Parsley Flakes served with Radish Milk in the style of a breakfast cereal.

I have never paid so much for a meal in my life but on the other hand this was no ordinary meal. If most cafés are a bus ride, a good restaurant a limousine ride, this was a full luxury adventure holiday for the tongue. The sitting took 3.5 hours and was finished off with tea which was hot on one side of the glass and cold on the other.

Travel: Thursday, 25 May 2006: Touk

When airports grow beyond a certain size, planning becomes a strain to a point where the cracks can be seen. Checking in to Schiphol for a flight to the UK, we found ourselves directed to Departure 3. “That’s odd,” think we, “isn’t it normally Departure 1? I guess we must be departing from the other end of the complex.”
Alas, no. Departure was from the same bunch of gates UK flights normally escape from, much nearer (although still some distance from) Departure 1. Are airports trying to make us slimmer so that they can even further reduce the width of chairs?

Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where they loop the background so that they don’t have to draw so much during a long moving sequence? Airports are like that. After a few hundred meters or so, the shops start repeating themselves. And quite frankly if you didn’t want 3 litres of Chanel No 5 150 meters back, it’s unlikely you have changed your mind now. And even if you did it is only 150 meters back to the shop that was selling it. I have a theory that the shops in airports are really just a sort of 3D wallpaper. Some of them, like the perfumeries cannot be real shops. Nobody wants 3 litres of Chanel No 5, and even if they did they wouldn’t buy it 20 minutes before going on a plane and they wouldn’t want to spend twice as much as it costs in a regular shop for it even if they don’t have to pay tax on it. I’d rather pay less and give some money to the government. After all, they always seem to need it more than I do.


The country is building up to the world cup. Every car seems to have one or two English flags flying from it. That’s the English flag of St George comprising a single red cross on a white backdrop.

These flags are attached to the car at the top of the door which means the window must be open a little bit. This makes the World Cup a bonanza time for car thieves and radio snatchers. Let’s hope people are insured against crime invited by acts of patriotism.


We were staying in an East Sussex village where my parents are camping on the outskirts of awaiting to buy a house there. (It’s a long-ish story.) East Hoathly is a cute village centred – it seems – around a wonderful pub with the kind of French chef that would be all but kidnapped in a Wodehouse novel.

We stayed in an extremely friendly B&B next door to the inn, and having checked in discussed local history with the informed proprietress. After this, we marched next door to devour a well-executed duck and salmon (separately) and to await the arrival of my parents who were delayed due to one of the complexities of moving out of ones old house before the new one is secured. Unfortunately they arrived shortly after the chef had hung up his toque and were forced to dine on “fried tuber thins in a cheese and onion flavour dusting served in a sachet plastique.”

It being super-quiet in the village, I slept like the proverbial log.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Yesterday was the 6th day of the 6th month of the 6th year (of the 3rd millennium). If ever a day was susceptible to the Revelatory implications of what 'Evil' is, this was it.

In one of the religious parts of The Netherlands, one fearful chap prayed from 6pm the previous day to 6pm the day itself. That's 24 hours of non-stop praying. Meanwhile in Germany, according to Dutch newspapers, thousands of people were in fear of their life. Clearly the fear was unfounded, or the 24-hour all-day prayer-a-thon did it's work (and let's face it, if that didn't work, then what hope is there for those of use only form of prayer is a quick, hopeful glance skywards?), because all that passed on that day was that Hollywood released another remade movie.

The fear aspect looks even more ridiculous when you ask yourself, "Does the Devil really use the Gregorian calendar?" The Jews, Moslems and even many Christians say not. In fact, I expect His Unholiness is just as likely to rise up on 7/8/6 or 10/3/7 as on 6/6/6. In fact there's a good chance the date of his uprising is the one indicated in the corner of your screen right now. Better start praying. I recommend at least 24 hours, if you don't want to be responsible for even more Hollywood remakes.

Left: One of the most feared people by members of the Christian faith. See also: Dan Brown.