Sunset in Tasmania With the rapidly approaching Junggesellenfest nearly upon me, and properties up and down the street literally fenced off against what I can only imagine will be hoards of rioting yoof, I thought a refreshing break and hearken back to more peaceful times may be in order. And for a relaxing peaceful place, it’s hard to imagine somewhere nicer than Tasmania, or Tassie as it is affectionately known down under.

First off, a brief piece of geography. Tasmania is an island state, about half the size of England (not, I hasten to add, the UK) located 240km off the south coast of Australia. It was a part of Australia until as recently as 10,000 years ago, when the last ice age ended.

That was brief enough I think. Hopefully you have the image of Australia in your mind with the triangle shaped bit of Tasmania floating around at the bottom, separated by the bit of sea called the Bass Strait. And that bit of sea makes quite a lot of difference, because Tasmania feels almost entirely unlike Australia.

Tasmanian wheat field

When we arrived in Tassie, via a rather exciting vehicle ferry experience, it was summer,  which I am reliably informed is about the best time to go because the weather for much of the rest of the time is not really suitable for a life under canvas. And it felt, having come from the Australia mainland, like we had floated back fifty years somehow. Gone were the highways and hustle and bustle of Melbourne, replaced by a land that seemed worryingly similar to Hobbiton. And we weren’t even in New Zealand. Rolling hills, roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Quaint villages dotted the rolling valleys, hand drawn signs on the roads advertised local produce. Corn literally swayed in the wind. If someone had drawn a picture postcard of an idyllic location, then we had somehow stepped into it.

Painted store front

Ok, this probably all seems a little bit over the top. And yes, our first actual encounter with life in Tasmania involved sitting in the McDonalds just next to the ferry port at 6am waiting for the nearest K-Mart to open so we could buy some jumper leads as our magnificent steed’s battery had given up the ghost entirely. But even that experience was pretty cool. The tourist information opened at 7am, and we were given careful advice as to which parts of the country sold the best cheese. The elderflower cheese, we were advised, was not worth trying. Then the K-Mart man took pity on our battery needs, and for no reason at all, gave us twenty dollars off the price of a new battery and then fitted it for free. This friendliness is perhaps not an entirely Tasmanian exclusive fact, Australians all over the place were wonderfully welcoming and friendly, but it certainly started our Tasmanian trip off well.

So what is there to do in this land you wonder? Well, there are two major cities in Tasmania, the northerly Launceston, home of the Boags brewery, and Hobart, home of the Cascade brewery. More on Australian beer here.  These are both very pleasant cities, and as Tasmania was one of the first places to be settled (admittedly largely as a penal colony), many of the buildings are genuinely old. Which is quite a rare sight for much of Oz.

Rocks at the Bay of Fires

But the main draw of Tasmania is not in it’s cities, it’s in its outdoors, and over a third of  Tasmania is made of up parks, reserves and world heritage sites. The western and southern parts of the island are almost inaccessible, unless you are into long distance hiking or happen to have a helicopter to hand. Tasmania is the place where you can walk up that most iconic of Australian mountains, Cradle Mountain. The place where you can trek for six days on one of the worlds most celebrated walking tracks, the Overland Track. The place where the rocks are mysteriously red, in the incredibly picturesque Bay of Fires. The place where you can find the second tallest tree in the world (and seriously, a nearly 100 metre high tree is a sight to behold). The place where, unlike the rest of Australia, a 100km drive can take far more than an hour because the roads are designed in a manner that forces you to take your time and take in the views.

Sunset over Lagoon Beach

There is more. Tasmania just has some absolutely mesmerising scenery. Endless waterfalls. Beaches of white sand and sparkling blue sea and, unfortunately, water that is as cold as if it had come from the Antarctic. Which it most likely did.. Like the incredibly picturesque Wineglass Bay in the Freycinet National Park. It has mountains galore to climb up, and giant cliffs like those at Cape Raoul to peer off. It has it’s own mythical creature, the Tasmanian tiger, sadly hunted to extinction (although rumours of the beast still existing continue to percolate) and it’s own rather scary carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil. Star of it’s own TV show, no less. There are local arts and crafts galore. Homemade stuff practically oozes out of the seams of life here.

I will stop there before I explode with hyperbole or turn this blog into some kind of Tasmanian tourist board brochure. In summary though, Tasmania really is a fabulous place, with something to offer pretty much everyone, and it is therefore one of my absolute highlights of Australia. I would in fact go so far as to say that no trip to Australia is entirely complete without a stop over in Tassie. Just try to go in Summer if you can.

Memories of Oz: Tasmania

Sunset in Tasmania With the rapidly approaching Junggesellenfest nearly upon me, and properties up and down the street literally fenced off against what I can only imagine will be hoards of rioting yoof, I thought a refreshing break and hearken back to more peaceful times may be in order. And for a relaxing peaceful place, it’s hard to imagine somewhere nicer than Tasmania, or Tassie as it is affectionately known down under.

First off, a brief piece of geography. Tasmania is an island state, about half the size of England (not, I hasten to add, the UK) located 240km off the south coast of Australia. It was a part of Australia until as recently as 10,000 years ago, when the last ice age ended.

That was brief enough I think. Hopefully you have the image of Australia in your mind with the triangle shaped bit of Tasmania floating around at the bottom, separated by the bit of sea called the Bass Strait. And that bit of sea makes quite a lot of difference, because Tasmania feels almost entirely unlike Australia.

Tasmanian wheat field

When we arrived in Tassie, via a rather exciting vehicle ferry experience, it was summer,  which I am reliably informed is about the best time to go because the weather for much of the rest of the time is not really suitable for a life under canvas. And it felt, having come from the Australia mainland, like we had floated back fifty years somehow. Gone were the highways and hustle and bustle of Melbourne, replaced by a land that seemed worryingly similar to Hobbiton. And we weren’t even in New Zealand. Rolling hills, roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Quaint villages dotted the rolling valleys, hand drawn signs on the roads advertised local produce. Corn literally swayed in the wind. If someone had drawn a picture postcard of an idyllic location, then we had somehow stepped into it.

Painted store front

Ok, this probably all seems a little bit over the top. And yes, our first actual encounter with life in Tasmania involved sitting in the McDonalds just next to the ferry port at 6am waiting for the nearest K-Mart to open so we could buy some jumper leads as our magnificent steed’s battery had given up the ghost entirely. But even that experience was pretty cool. The tourist information opened at 7am, and we were given careful advice as to which parts of the country sold the best cheese. The elderflower cheese, we were advised, was not worth trying. Then the K-Mart man took pity on our battery needs, and for no reason at all, gave us twenty dollars off the price of a new battery and then fitted it for free. This friendliness is perhaps not an entirely Tasmanian exclusive fact, Australians all over the place were wonderfully welcoming and friendly, but it certainly started our Tasmanian trip off well.

So what is there to do in this land you wonder? Well, there are two major cities in Tasmania, the northerly Launceston, home of the Boags brewery, and Hobart, home of the Cascade brewery. More on Australian beer here.  These are both very pleasant cities, and as Tasmania was one of the first places to be settled (admittedly largely as a penal colony), many of the buildings are genuinely old. Which is quite a rare sight for much of Oz.

Rocks at the Bay of Fires

But the main draw of Tasmania is not in it’s cities, it’s in its outdoors, and over a third of  Tasmania is made of up parks, reserves and world heritage sites. The western and southern parts of the island are almost inaccessible, unless you are into long distance hiking or happen to have a helicopter to hand. Tasmania is the place where you can walk up that most iconic of Australian mountains, Cradle Mountain. The place where you can trek for six days on one of the worlds most celebrated walking tracks, the Overland Track. The place where the rocks are mysteriously red, in the incredibly picturesque Bay of Fires. The place where you can find the second tallest tree in the world (and seriously, a nearly 100 metre high tree is a sight to behold). The place where, unlike the rest of Australia, a 100km drive can take far more than an hour because the roads are designed in a manner that forces you to take your time and take in the views.

Sunset over Lagoon Beach

There is more. Tasmania just has some absolutely mesmerising scenery. Endless waterfalls. Beaches of white sand and sparkling blue sea and, unfortunately, water that is as cold as if it had come from the Antarctic. Which it most likely did.. Like the incredibly picturesque Wineglass Bay in the Freycinet National Park. It has mountains galore to climb up, and giant cliffs like those at Cape Raoul to peer off. It has it’s own mythical creature, the Tasmanian tiger, sadly hunted to extinction (although rumours of the beast still existing continue to percolate) and it’s own rather scary carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil. Star of it’s own TV show, no less. There are local arts and crafts galore. Homemade stuff practically oozes out of the seams of life here.

I will stop there before I explode with hyperbole or turn this blog into some kind of Tasmanian tourist board brochure. In summary though, Tasmania really is a fabulous place, with something to offer pretty much everyone, and it is therefore one of my absolute highlights of Australia. I would in fact go so far as to say that no trip to Australia is entirely complete without a stop over in Tassie. Just try to go in Summer if you can.

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This weekend the tiny village I am living in is hosting what I have been informed is a giant bachelor party. This would appear to be one of the villages sacrosanct traditions, involving many single men, and like pretty much all of the traditions of the village that I have been informed of, largely appears to revolve around heavy drinking. Cars are being removed from the street as I type, to avoid inevitable damage.

I am pretty sure we won’t be attending the festivities, what with me not being an eligible bachelor. I’ve also been told that the villagers are somewhat traditional in their way, and rocking up with dreadlocks may result in some kind of pitch forks and tar reaction. Although that could make it worth going in and of itself. Whatever happens, as the marquee where the festivities are occurring is about thirty metres from our front door, I am pretty sure we will be part of the action even without lifting a finger. I will let you know how that goes.

We went for a fairly extended walk yesterday through the forests around the rear of the village. I thought I was quite brave with my self belief in heading off in a vague direction and hoping to find my way back on previous walks, but it turns out that my dear girlfriend take bravery to new levels. We walked a fairly long way, largely in the rain, through forested canopies, with no real idea of where we were going or where we were going to come out. Sounds rather like my life actually. Still, often the walk is not the important part, it is the company and the space to converse. I’m not sure why, but I find walking to be an excellent lubricant of conversation, or thinking. Maybe the external stimuli wakes the brain up. Or maybe the extra blood flow sends those thoughts a-tumbling. If you find yourself stuck on a problem, I can highly recommend a good walk to tease a solution out.

So we walked. I am a tremendous fan of the activity, and it’s one of the reasons I am so looking forward to heading to New Zealand. Prior to the New Zealand expedition I am heading over to the UK for a couple of weeks, where I will say hello and farewell to many of my friends, and also introduce Vera to my parents, who I am hoping are looking forward to our whirlwind visit. The corner of the world they currently live in, North Wales, is spectacularly beautiful and quite ideal for walking in, what with it being part of the Snowdonia national park. I can only hope that the weather holds out while we are there so we can conquer a few peaks and get our leg muscles on the road to being in shape for some of those rather higher New Zealand mountains…

More tales from Germany

This weekend the tiny village I am living in is hosting what I have been informed is a giant bachelor party. This would appear to be one of the villages sacrosanct traditions, involving many single men, and like pretty much all of the traditions of the village that I have been informed of, largely appears to revolve around heavy drinking. Cars are being removed from the street as I type, to avoid inevitable damage.

I am pretty sure we won’t be attending the festivities, what with me not being an eligible bachelor. I’ve also been told that the villagers are somewhat traditional in their way, and rocking up with dreadlocks may result in some kind of pitch forks and tar reaction. Although that could make it worth going in and of itself. Whatever happens, as the marquee where the festivities are occurring is about thirty metres from our front door, I am pretty sure we will be part of the action even without lifting a finger. I will let you know how that goes.

We went for a fairly extended walk yesterday through the forests around the rear of the village. I thought I was quite brave with my self belief in heading off in a vague direction and hoping to find my way back on previous walks, but it turns out that my dear girlfriend take bravery to new levels. We walked a fairly long way, largely in the rain, through forested canopies, with no real idea of where we were going or where we were going to come out. Sounds rather like my life actually. Still, often the walk is not the important part, it is the company and the space to converse. I’m not sure why, but I find walking to be an excellent lubricant of conversation, or thinking. Maybe the external stimuli wakes the brain up. Or maybe the extra blood flow sends those thoughts a-tumbling. If you find yourself stuck on a problem, I can highly recommend a good walk to tease a solution out.

So we walked. I am a tremendous fan of the activity, and it’s one of the reasons I am so looking forward to heading to New Zealand. Prior to the New Zealand expedition I am heading over to the UK for a couple of weeks, where I will say hello and farewell to many of my friends, and also introduce Vera to my parents, who I am hoping are looking forward to our whirlwind visit. The corner of the world they currently live in, North Wales, is spectacularly beautiful and quite ideal for walking in, what with it being part of the Snowdonia national park. I can only hope that the weather holds out while we are there so we can conquer a few peaks and get our leg muscles on the road to being in shape for some of those rather higher New Zealand mountains…

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Clouds on Mount Bogong

Europe is continuing to astound with its ongoing comedic definition of summer, which whilst being bad news for me and my desires to explore more mountains, may be good news for you in that I can continue on from yesterdays post on the Northern Territory, and talk further about parts of my trip around Australia. Today, some mountains, and walking on them.

Three great Australian walks

Clouds on Mount Bogong

Europe is continuing to astound with its ongoing comedic definition of summer, which whilst being bad news for me and my desires to explore more mountains, may be good news for you in that I can continue on from yesterdays post on the Northern Territory, and talk further about parts of my trip around Australia. Today, some mountains, and walking on them.

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NT Tree Well, the dreams of a glorious summer in Europe have slightly faded this week, and been replaced by a rather wet and grey summer in Europe. I’m sure this will pick up, but since it is raining, there isn’t a whole lot of exploring to be done, so I will instead wax lyrically about some of the parts of Australia I visited on my trip. .

I am often asked which parts of my trip were my favourite, and this is a tricky one to answer. A 60,000km road trip lasting a year is going to have a lot of highlights. But invariably I find my mind being cast back to the few months spent in the Northern Territory.

Some quick facts for you. At around 1.3million square kilometres, the Northern Territory is over five times the size of the UK. But it only has two hundred and twenty seven thousand inhabitants. In other words, there is a lot of space. Admittedly a lot of this space is taken up by vast swathes of empty nothing, the classic scorched earth outback that you would imagine or remember from films like Crocodile Dundee. And key scenes from that film were indeed filmed in the Northern Territory, mostly in the Kakadu National Park. A further bit of scale for you, Kakadu National Park, one of seventeen major parks in the Northern Territory, is the same size as Slovenia. The idea here being that Australia is a big old place.

IMG_7323

So why was this giant bit of largely nothing counted amongst my highlights?  Well, this was the part of the trip that really showcased the sort of Australia that I had always imagined existed. The red earth accompanied by the scrubland of the bush extending forever. Giant eagles soaring in an endlessly vast and otherwise seemingly empty sky. The roads that you could drive on for six hundred kilometres, passing only a road train and some rather squished looking roos. The way that, in the dry season at least, clouds became mythical creatures, beings that you rarely saw. The fact that if you didn’t plan your food shopping correctly, you would end up on a 1000km round trip just to do a bit of re-stocking.

It is rare to find so much vaguely accessible wilderness in the world today. All you need is a fairly decent four wheel drive, a good set of provisions and a slightly gung ho attitude, and you can go and get seriously far away from everything and everyone. Apart from the flies it should be mentioned. Those follow you everywhere. Bring a fly net.

IMG_6540

The other major highlight of the Northern Territory were the quite frankly awesome waterholes. As most of the rivers are filled up with five metre long man eating crocodiles, swimming is not generally seen as a viable option, which is often a pity as it is a rather fine way to relieve oneself of the grime and sweat accumulated from the outback lifestyle. Luckily, crocodiles aren’t so  good at climbing up waterfalls, so there are spots all over the place where you can get a refreshing dip in a beautiful rock pool without fear of being eaten alive. Kakadu National Park has more than it’s fair share of these, from the rockpool under the mighty 200m high Jim Jim falls, to the more serene Maguk falls, to the large pool at Gunlom, which incidentally, was the scene of the fish catching incident of Dundee fame. And nearly all of the other National Parks are as beautiful, and slightly less crowded (if that word can be used), than Kakadu.

IMG_6430

If four wheel driving is more your thing, then the northern territory has that in spades. This was where we cut our teeth on river crossings, boulder descents, mud driving, sand driving, winch rescue… well, all the good stuff really. It was also, I should point out, where we wrecked our rear differential, imploded our radiator and became experts at tyre changing. We also streamlined the vehicle somewhat, all that stuff that sticks off the side of a truck being mostly just fodder for the trees to rip apart (wing mirrors anyone?). Learning, it turns out, can be an expensive process.

So, those are my memories of the Northern Territory. There was a lot of driving, a lot of swimming, a fair bit of time spent in that oh so wonderful of Australian establishments, the roadhouse (think service station cum pub full of rough and ready outback characters), a lot of camping under the stars and generally enjoying life. And I've not even mentioned Uluru, Alice Springs… I could go on and on. But I will save all that, and talk of my other favourite parts, including Tasmania and Western Australia, for another post and another rainy European day.

Memories of Oz: The NT

NT Tree Well, the dreams of a glorious summer in Europe have slightly faded this week, and been replaced by a rather wet and grey summer in Europe. I’m sure this will pick up, but since it is raining, there isn’t a whole lot of exploring to be done, so I will instead wax lyrically about some of the parts of Australia I visited on my trip. .

I am often asked which parts of my trip were my favourite, and this is a tricky one to answer. A 60,000km road trip lasting a year is going to have a lot of highlights. But invariably I find my mind being cast back to the few months spent in the Northern Territory.

Some quick facts for you. At around 1.3million square kilometres, the Northern Territory is over five times the size of the UK. But it only has two hundred and twenty seven thousand inhabitants. In other words, there is a lot of space. Admittedly a lot of this space is taken up by vast swathes of empty nothing, the classic scorched earth outback that you would imagine or remember from films like Crocodile Dundee. And key scenes from that film were indeed filmed in the Northern Territory, mostly in the Kakadu National Park. A further bit of scale for you, Kakadu National Park, one of seventeen major parks in the Northern Territory, is the same size as Slovenia. The idea here being that Australia is a big old place.

IMG_7323

So why was this giant bit of largely nothing counted amongst my highlights?  Well, this was the part of the trip that really showcased the sort of Australia that I had always imagined existed. The red earth accompanied by the scrubland of the bush extending forever. Giant eagles soaring in an endlessly vast and otherwise seemingly empty sky. The roads that you could drive on for six hundred kilometres, passing only a road train and some rather squished looking roos. The way that, in the dry season at least, clouds became mythical creatures, beings that you rarely saw. The fact that if you didn’t plan your food shopping correctly, you would end up on a 1000km round trip just to do a bit of re-stocking.

It is rare to find so much vaguely accessible wilderness in the world today. All you need is a fairly decent four wheel drive, a good set of provisions and a slightly gung ho attitude, and you can go and get seriously far away from everything and everyone. Apart from the flies it should be mentioned. Those follow you everywhere. Bring a fly net.

IMG_6540

The other major highlight of the Northern Territory were the quite frankly awesome waterholes. As most of the rivers are filled up with five metre long man eating crocodiles, swimming is not generally seen as a viable option, which is often a pity as it is a rather fine way to relieve oneself of the grime and sweat accumulated from the outback lifestyle. Luckily, crocodiles aren’t so  good at climbing up waterfalls, so there are spots all over the place where you can get a refreshing dip in a beautiful rock pool without fear of being eaten alive. Kakadu National Park has more than it’s fair share of these, from the rockpool under the mighty 200m high Jim Jim falls, to the more serene Maguk falls, to the large pool at Gunlom, which incidentally, was the scene of the fish catching incident of Dundee fame. And nearly all of the other National Parks are as beautiful, and slightly less crowded (if that word can be used), than Kakadu.

IMG_6430

If four wheel driving is more your thing, then the northern territory has that in spades. This was where we cut our teeth on river crossings, boulder descents, mud driving, sand driving, winch rescue… well, all the good stuff really. It was also, I should point out, where we wrecked our rear differential, imploded our radiator and became experts at tyre changing. We also streamlined the vehicle somewhat, all that stuff that sticks off the side of a truck being mostly just fodder for the trees to rip apart (wing mirrors anyone?). Learning, it turns out, can be an expensive process.

So, those are my memories of the Northern Territory. There was a lot of driving, a lot of swimming, a fair bit of time spent in that oh so wonderful of Australian establishments, the roadhouse (think service station cum pub full of rough and ready outback characters), a lot of camping under the stars and generally enjoying life. And I've not even mentioned Uluru, Alice Springs… I could go on and on. But I will save all that, and talk of my other favourite parts, including Tasmania and Western Australia, for another post and another rainy European day.

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IMG_7118There is nothing quite like toasting marshmallows on an open fire underneath the stars. Ok, so for the purposes of this particular piece of visionary excellence I must ask you to ignore the orange streetlight pollution and threats of rain, but hopefully you get the general gist of the idea.

I mention marshmallows because we had another BBQ last night. It turns out that it is more than acceptable to hold multiple birthday celebrations in Germany. The girl (woman? I guess 33 probably qualifies her as being in the latter camp) who had her actual birthday and minor celebration on Thursday followed this up with a more full on experience last night, with a BBQ,fire-with-accompanying-marshmallow-toasting, many beverages and much jollity.

Some further observations should be made regarding the BBQ culture over here. If you are a pig in Germany, you are basically screwed. You will end up on a BBQ in some form or another. Cows, on the other hand, seem to get off lightly, to the point that when I decided I wanted a burger, I had to create my own from some mince. I quite like doing this, as it has a wonderful habit of getting excessively messy. Previous attempts at burger creation had resulted in a slightly dry finished creation. This time I was determined that this would not be the case, sadly I may have somewhat over-compensated. Burgers, I am pretty sure, should not be runny when placed on the grill.

One of the guests at the party last night arrived with some giant beasts in dog shape, which the cats were staggeringly unimpressed about. They retreated to the barn for the majority of the evening,appearing from time to time to see if the danger had passed. The danger did not pass, so the barn was deemed to be an acceptable refuge until the madness was over. Presumably a letter of complaint was penned.

I have mentioned table football before. It is taken fairly seriously here, and last night gauntlets were thrown down and the table football table was unveiled. I did not entirely disgrace the nation, and there were inevitable comparisons drawn between my performance and that of a certain national squad and a recent tournament, but overall it was not a damning indictment of my footballing capabilities.

On a final BBQ related theme, I did learn something of a religious nature recently that I had previously not been aware of. It turns out that if you are a Jehovah's Witness, not only are you likely to be feared for your doorbell ringing prowess, but you are also unlikely ever to be seen at a birthday party, as attending these celebrations is not allowed. I learnt this because the birthdayee goes out with one of said denomination, and he was remarkably absent over the whole affair. I am not sure what to conclude from this, other than putting up some form of permanent birthday celebration sticker on my door to enjoy some quality peace and quiet.

I will now briefly hearken back to the wedding we attended last week,as I received some feedback that I had not adequately covered certain aspects of it. In particular, the drinking. I have this theory with drink, which is that it doesn't matter how drunk and silly you get at a party, as long as someone else is more drunk and more silly, and thus carrying the attention away. This theory runs along similar lines to the "who was the second or third man on the moon?" question. No-one remembers.

Anyway, in this case, Vera's sister magnificently carried the day for me. Unlike previous sibling stories, this one sadly does not end in a buffet incident, even though there was a rather fine buffet to launch oneself into. And perhaps I had rather more to do with the inebriation, what with the plentiful champagne refills. Because I am a giving sort of chap. No, this time the story ended rather sadly the next day, in a cold, sober manner, asleep on a sun lounger in the blistering heat, resulting in a rather fascinatingly striped effect. In conclusion, if you need to sleep off a hangover, find somewhere in the shade.

Further BBQ action

IMG_7118There is nothing quite like toasting marshmallows on an open fire underneath the stars. Ok, so for the purposes of this particular piece of visionary excellence I must ask you to ignore the orange streetlight pollution and threats of rain, but hopefully you get the general gist of the idea.

I mention marshmallows because we had another BBQ last night. It turns out that it is more than acceptable to hold multiple birthday celebrations in Germany. The girl (woman? I guess 33 probably qualifies her as being in the latter camp) who had her actual birthday and minor celebration on Thursday followed this up with a more full on experience last night, with a BBQ,fire-with-accompanying-marshmallow-toasting, many beverages and much jollity.

Some further observations should be made regarding the BBQ culture over here. If you are a pig in Germany, you are basically screwed. You will end up on a BBQ in some form or another. Cows, on the other hand, seem to get off lightly, to the point that when I decided I wanted a burger, I had to create my own from some mince. I quite like doing this, as it has a wonderful habit of getting excessively messy. Previous attempts at burger creation had resulted in a slightly dry finished creation. This time I was determined that this would not be the case, sadly I may have somewhat over-compensated. Burgers, I am pretty sure, should not be runny when placed on the grill.

One of the guests at the party last night arrived with some giant beasts in dog shape, which the cats were staggeringly unimpressed about. They retreated to the barn for the majority of the evening,appearing from time to time to see if the danger had passed. The danger did not pass, so the barn was deemed to be an acceptable refuge until the madness was over. Presumably a letter of complaint was penned.

I have mentioned table football before. It is taken fairly seriously here, and last night gauntlets were thrown down and the table football table was unveiled. I did not entirely disgrace the nation, and there were inevitable comparisons drawn between my performance and that of a certain national squad and a recent tournament, but overall it was not a damning indictment of my footballing capabilities.

On a final BBQ related theme, I did learn something of a religious nature recently that I had previously not been aware of. It turns out that if you are a Jehovah's Witness, not only are you likely to be feared for your doorbell ringing prowess, but you are also unlikely ever to be seen at a birthday party, as attending these celebrations is not allowed. I learnt this because the birthdayee goes out with one of said denomination, and he was remarkably absent over the whole affair. I am not sure what to conclude from this, other than putting up some form of permanent birthday celebration sticker on my door to enjoy some quality peace and quiet.

I will now briefly hearken back to the wedding we attended last week,as I received some feedback that I had not adequately covered certain aspects of it. In particular, the drinking. I have this theory with drink, which is that it doesn't matter how drunk and silly you get at a party, as long as someone else is more drunk and more silly, and thus carrying the attention away. This theory runs along similar lines to the "who was the second or third man on the moon?" question. No-one remembers.

Anyway, in this case, Vera's sister magnificently carried the day for me. Unlike previous sibling stories, this one sadly does not end in a buffet incident, even though there was a rather fine buffet to launch oneself into. And perhaps I had rather more to do with the inebriation, what with the plentiful champagne refills. Because I am a giving sort of chap. No, this time the story ended rather sadly the next day, in a cold, sober manner, asleep on a sun lounger in the blistering heat, resulting in a rather fascinatingly striped effect. In conclusion, if you need to sleep off a hangover, find somewhere in the shade.

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I have now witnessed the phenomenon of having a birthday in Germany a few times, sufficient that I can report as to the particulars of how they are celebrated over here. Well, ok, these particular rituals and customs may be limited to people having birthdays in the house I am living in, but a larger testing body was not immediately available.

As you may have imagined, the customs of celebrating another year of passage around the sun (a pretty amazing feat in itself) are not too dissimilar. A card is created, in this case by my girlfriend, who has a lot of talent with both glue and words. Flowers are always procured and presented to the birthdayee; yesterdays batch were a fine and upstanding bunch of sunflowers. Then there is much singing of happy birthday (which is sung in English for some reason, except the “dear” bit is sung as “liebe”) and cake is cut and eaten. A present is usually bestowed also. Then beer or other beverage is consumed. All in all, pretty nice.

In conclusion though, they are not that much different. You probably didn’t expect them to be. Although it is always nice to get everyone together for any reason. In this case the person in question was 33, a number which is referred to in German as a Schnapszahl. Seriously, they have a word for everything in German. A Schnapszahl is a number which is made up of the same digits, for example 11 or 22. I felt that we couldn’t be missing out on this term in the English language, following the earworm debacle, and after a small amount of internet research later, I learnt that we have a name for this sort of number in English too, it’s called a repdigit. I think I prefer the German version, it sounds vaguely alcoholic.

Speaking of numbers, and moving on from birthdays, I notice this week that Facebook have cruised past five hundred million users. That is a lot of people. I have no idea what made Facebook so popular when others fell tragically by the wayside (myspace / bebo / orkut anyone?), but popular it has certainly become. Almost invasive in fact - it’s hard to go anywhere on the internet without the Facebook logo appearing somewhere on the page. This site included. It does seem to be a handy way of democratizing the internet, in terms of finding popular content that your friends like (assuming you have similar tastes to your friends of course), and it works for sites too in terms of being free marketing, assuming your content is of sufficient quality to interest folks. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a fad that fades away, or if the facebook juggernaut will continue to roll onwards to a billionth user. Check back in 2011.

Finally, for today at least, another English lesson has been scheduled in for Monday. Clearly the experience was not as bad as I had thought. I have more time to prepare at least. Which, knowing me, will not happen, I will just look about as confused as usual come Monday. Wish me luck!

Birthdays in Germany

I have now witnessed the phenomenon of having a birthday in Germany a few times, sufficient that I can report as to the particulars of how they are celebrated over here. Well, ok, these particular rituals and customs may be limited to people having birthdays in the house I am living in, but a larger testing body was not immediately available.

As you may have imagined, the customs of celebrating another year of passage around the sun (a pretty amazing feat in itself) are not too dissimilar. A card is created, in this case by my girlfriend, who has a lot of talent with both glue and words. Flowers are always procured and presented to the birthdayee; yesterdays batch were a fine and upstanding bunch of sunflowers. Then there is much singing of happy birthday (which is sung in English for some reason, except the “dear” bit is sung as “liebe”) and cake is cut and eaten. A present is usually bestowed also. Then beer or other beverage is consumed. All in all, pretty nice.

In conclusion though, they are not that much different. You probably didn’t expect them to be. Although it is always nice to get everyone together for any reason. In this case the person in question was 33, a number which is referred to in German as a Schnapszahl. Seriously, they have a word for everything in German. A Schnapszahl is a number which is made up of the same digits, for example 11 or 22. I felt that we couldn’t be missing out on this term in the English language, following the earworm debacle, and after a small amount of internet research later, I learnt that we have a name for this sort of number in English too, it’s called a repdigit. I think I prefer the German version, it sounds vaguely alcoholic.

Speaking of numbers, and moving on from birthdays, I notice this week that Facebook have cruised past five hundred million users. That is a lot of people. I have no idea what made Facebook so popular when others fell tragically by the wayside (myspace / bebo / orkut anyone?), but popular it has certainly become. Almost invasive in fact - it’s hard to go anywhere on the internet without the Facebook logo appearing somewhere on the page. This site included. It does seem to be a handy way of democratizing the internet, in terms of finding popular content that your friends like (assuming you have similar tastes to your friends of course), and it works for sites too in terms of being free marketing, assuming your content is of sufficient quality to interest folks. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a fad that fades away, or if the facebook juggernaut will continue to roll onwards to a billionth user. Check back in 2011.

Finally, for today at least, another English lesson has been scheduled in for Monday. Clearly the experience was not as bad as I had thought. I have more time to prepare at least. Which, knowing me, will not happen, I will just look about as confused as usual come Monday. Wish me luck!

Read More

IMG_3725 Yesterday I was picked out of a crowd of literally one to provide English practice to Vera’s goddaughters sister. The theory presumably being that I speak English, therefore am qualified to impart some kind of knowledge on the  subject.

My conversational skills with thirteen year old girls are not, it must be said, entirely brilliant, (even if said conversationalist were to have English as their first language) so suffice to say, the experience was rather like paddling through thick treacle. We discussed all manner of things, none of which I am sure she had the slightest interest in discussing with me. Travel. Music. You know.. the usual.

If this continues, I would hope it would improve, the good news being I fail to see how I could get any worse at it. If anyone out there happened to be a thirteen year old girl at some point in their life, do let me know quite what it was you liked to talk about so I can enhance the whole experience for everyone involved. In good news, i did learn a couple of new German words. So it wasn’t a total disaster.

English lessons aside, life continues to be good. For example, I spent quite a lot of yesterday evening chatting with the cat. She can’t speak English either. Mostly this covered the benefits of her not eating the wax rind off the cheese that had been left in the ash tray. She seemed unconvinced as to my arguments, but restrained herself, presumably out of courtesy to my ramblings.

Vera popped out to see a friend perform some form of stand up / cabaret act recently. i was invited along, but then it turned out that a) there was no space in the car and b) it was all going to be in German, as you would expect. I am all for new experiences, but watching a lot of people laugh at the cunning wordplay of the stand up whilst I peered, confused, into a pint glass didn’t seem like the sort of life affirming experience I was looking for. I stayed at home and conversed at further length with the cat. Talking of beer, I have learnt that there is a beer festival happening this upcoming weekend in Bonn, where something like eighty beers will be represented. I think these will need to be investigated, in the name of science and erm, journalism. For you dear reader. Yes.

In other, site related news, I’ve migrated to a custom domain, so the site is now to be found at findingtheuniverse.com rather than the old blogspot address. Hopefully nothing is broken, and everything should just magically migrate across with no changes noticed (although some of the facebook like history has mysteriously disappeared), but if you do spot anything, just let me know!

And finally, a friend of mine has recently been employed by no less than the swearing chef himself, Monsieur Ramsay, at one his of London restaurants. Hats off to Martin for that. He cooked for Vera and I whilst we were out in Oz, a fine meal of steak and caramelized onion sauce, and a more deserving person to get this job I cannot imagine. Drinks all round.

English lessons

IMG_3725 Yesterday I was picked out of a crowd of literally one to provide English practice to Vera’s goddaughters sister. The theory presumably being that I speak English, therefore am qualified to impart some kind of knowledge on the  subject.

My conversational skills with thirteen year old girls are not, it must be said, entirely brilliant, (even if said conversationalist were to have English as their first language) so suffice to say, the experience was rather like paddling through thick treacle. We discussed all manner of things, none of which I am sure she had the slightest interest in discussing with me. Travel. Music. You know.. the usual.

If this continues, I would hope it would improve, the good news being I fail to see how I could get any worse at it. If anyone out there happened to be a thirteen year old girl at some point in their life, do let me know quite what it was you liked to talk about so I can enhance the whole experience for everyone involved. In good news, i did learn a couple of new German words. So it wasn’t a total disaster.

English lessons aside, life continues to be good. For example, I spent quite a lot of yesterday evening chatting with the cat. She can’t speak English either. Mostly this covered the benefits of her not eating the wax rind off the cheese that had been left in the ash tray. She seemed unconvinced as to my arguments, but restrained herself, presumably out of courtesy to my ramblings.

Vera popped out to see a friend perform some form of stand up / cabaret act recently. i was invited along, but then it turned out that a) there was no space in the car and b) it was all going to be in German, as you would expect. I am all for new experiences, but watching a lot of people laugh at the cunning wordplay of the stand up whilst I peered, confused, into a pint glass didn’t seem like the sort of life affirming experience I was looking for. I stayed at home and conversed at further length with the cat. Talking of beer, I have learnt that there is a beer festival happening this upcoming weekend in Bonn, where something like eighty beers will be represented. I think these will need to be investigated, in the name of science and erm, journalism. For you dear reader. Yes.

In other, site related news, I’ve migrated to a custom domain, so the site is now to be found at findingtheuniverse.com rather than the old blogspot address. Hopefully nothing is broken, and everything should just magically migrate across with no changes noticed (although some of the facebook like history has mysteriously disappeared), but if you do spot anything, just let me know!

And finally, a friend of mine has recently been employed by no less than the swearing chef himself, Monsieur Ramsay, at one his of London restaurants. Hats off to Martin for that. He cooked for Vera and I whilst we were out in Oz, a fine meal of steak and caramelized onion sauce, and a more deserving person to get this job I cannot imagine. Drinks all round.

Read More

IMG_6869 Now for the second and concluding part of a two part post on travelling with technology. The first part covered computers, software and backup, and can be found here. This part covers the remainder of the technology that you may want to consider when going on a prolonged trip, as well as thoughts on insurance and keeping everything charged. The experience is based on a year long trip around Australia that I recently undertook. First up today, cameras.

Being into photography, I decided to take along a digital SLR on my trip. Obviously this is heavier and generally more burdensome to carry around than a point and shoot digicam, but overall I decided it would be worth it. The benefits, in my case, outweighed the hassles. I also took a small digicam, and looking back, I probably took the wrong model. If I had the choice again, I would pick something that was fully shock and water proof. Still, it was handy to have as a backup, and for times when you don’t want to lug around the whole SLR shebang. Regularly backing up photos when possible, in my case to my netbook (see part 1), and backing your favourites up to an online site if you can, are highly recommended.

If you are into a lot of walking, then a GPS device could come in handy. I didn’t have one on the trip to Australia, but if you are considering doing anything more than a day hike, then it may be something you find to be useful. I’d recommend something that is weatherproof with a good long battery life as carrying additional batteries is just more weight that you probably want to avoid.

Music on the trip is another necessity in my opinion. I took an iPod Nano with me, but any kind of mp3 player would suffice. Some come with external speakers so you can share music whilst sitting on the beach. Load it up before you leave, as you may not have access to get more tunes on the road. It’s also worth taking spare headphones, as I found headphones just don’t seem to be designed to cope with the rigours of life on the road.

If you are into reading, and you will probably find yourself with time to spare to get through some books on your trip, you could save yourself some bag space with an eReader. I don’t have any personal experience with these, and as I was travelling by vehicle we had no problems carrying books, but they are certainly a lighter alternative to carrying a lot of novels if you are doing more backpacking than driving. Amazon’s Kindle is a good option for the worldwide traveller, as it has worldwide network coverage, allowing you to get more books on the go.

A mobile phone is likely to be on everyone’s list of things to take, but definitely do some research as to coverage. We bought a Vodafone sim in Sydney, and discovered to our dismay that it only really worked on the East coast and major urban areas, and oddly, on Uluru. Everywhere else we travelled without any real means to contact anyone. This was probably, in hindsight, slightly foolish. If you are going to Australia and travelling remotely, your best bet is the Telstra network, which has decent coverage across much of the outback. Alternatively, you can hire a satellite phone if you are really going deep into nowhere and want the peace of mind of being able to summon the cavalry at a moments notice.

As well as actual talking, a recent model smartphone such as an iPhone or Android could double up as a number of other devices, thus saving you weight. If may be that you find it suitable for use as a GPS device, or eBook reader, or for e-mail on the go, or for listening to music. Convergence is a great thing, so before buying anything specifically for a trip, check to see if there is one device out there that could cover multiple purposes, and save you both money and bag space. Over the next couple of years, I expect smartphones will become powerful enough to cover nearly all of your technology needs in one handy package.

Keeping everything charged can also be a challenge. You will want to check, before you leave, that you have the right adaptors for your kit, and that the electrical supply in the country you are visiting will work with your hardware. This is less of a problem these days as most adaptors auto-switch to the correct voltage, but it’s always worth checking, particularly when moving from 110v to 220v, or vice versa. If you are travelling by car, you can get an invertor, powered from the cigarette lighter, and charge all your kit when you are on the road. There are also solar charging options available, but often these can take a long time to get sufficient energy to keep your kit going. Still, it is free energy. Otherwise, grab power where and when you can.

Finally, you’ll want to consider insurance. Insurance policies that cover expensive equipment for prolonged periods of time are pricey, and often have a lot of small print that may actually mean your kit isn’t covered. After a lot of research, I concluded that insuring my kit for the full year was going to cost nearly as much as replacing it all, so I figured I would just do my best not to lose any of it. Sensible precautions such as not leaving it on display, and keeping items either on your body or locked away in the car, are pretty effective.

So that is the concluding part of travelling with technology. I would advise taking the bare minimum, consider what you really need, and more importantly, what you would not be devastated to lose / have stolen. Anything you take should complement your trip, and not become a burden to you that causes you hassle, because the whole point is to get out there and have fun. Let me know if you have any thoughts on travelling with technology in the comments below. More travel tips from the blog can be found under the Travel Tips label.

Travelling with technology part 2

IMG_6869 Now for the second and concluding part of a two part post on travelling with technology. The first part covered computers, software and backup, and can be found here. This part covers the remainder of the technology that you may want to consider when going on a prolonged trip, as well as thoughts on insurance and keeping everything charged. The experience is based on a year long trip around Australia that I recently undertook. First up today, cameras.

Being into photography, I decided to take along a digital SLR on my trip. Obviously this is heavier and generally more burdensome to carry around than a point and shoot digicam, but overall I decided it would be worth it. The benefits, in my case, outweighed the hassles. I also took a small digicam, and looking back, I probably took the wrong model. If I had the choice again, I would pick something that was fully shock and water proof. Still, it was handy to have as a backup, and for times when you don’t want to lug around the whole SLR shebang. Regularly backing up photos when possible, in my case to my netbook (see part 1), and backing your favourites up to an online site if you can, are highly recommended.

If you are into a lot of walking, then a GPS device could come in handy. I didn’t have one on the trip to Australia, but if you are considering doing anything more than a day hike, then it may be something you find to be useful. I’d recommend something that is weatherproof with a good long battery life as carrying additional batteries is just more weight that you probably want to avoid.

Music on the trip is another necessity in my opinion. I took an iPod Nano with me, but any kind of mp3 player would suffice. Some come with external speakers so you can share music whilst sitting on the beach. Load it up before you leave, as you may not have access to get more tunes on the road. It’s also worth taking spare headphones, as I found headphones just don’t seem to be designed to cope with the rigours of life on the road.

If you are into reading, and you will probably find yourself with time to spare to get through some books on your trip, you could save yourself some bag space with an eReader. I don’t have any personal experience with these, and as I was travelling by vehicle we had no problems carrying books, but they are certainly a lighter alternative to carrying a lot of novels if you are doing more backpacking than driving. Amazon’s Kindle is a good option for the worldwide traveller, as it has worldwide network coverage, allowing you to get more books on the go.

A mobile phone is likely to be on everyone’s list of things to take, but definitely do some research as to coverage. We bought a Vodafone sim in Sydney, and discovered to our dismay that it only really worked on the East coast and major urban areas, and oddly, on Uluru. Everywhere else we travelled without any real means to contact anyone. This was probably, in hindsight, slightly foolish. If you are going to Australia and travelling remotely, your best bet is the Telstra network, which has decent coverage across much of the outback. Alternatively, you can hire a satellite phone if you are really going deep into nowhere and want the peace of mind of being able to summon the cavalry at a moments notice.

As well as actual talking, a recent model smartphone such as an iPhone or Android could double up as a number of other devices, thus saving you weight. If may be that you find it suitable for use as a GPS device, or eBook reader, or for e-mail on the go, or for listening to music. Convergence is a great thing, so before buying anything specifically for a trip, check to see if there is one device out there that could cover multiple purposes, and save you both money and bag space. Over the next couple of years, I expect smartphones will become powerful enough to cover nearly all of your technology needs in one handy package.

Keeping everything charged can also be a challenge. You will want to check, before you leave, that you have the right adaptors for your kit, and that the electrical supply in the country you are visiting will work with your hardware. This is less of a problem these days as most adaptors auto-switch to the correct voltage, but it’s always worth checking, particularly when moving from 110v to 220v, or vice versa. If you are travelling by car, you can get an invertor, powered from the cigarette lighter, and charge all your kit when you are on the road. There are also solar charging options available, but often these can take a long time to get sufficient energy to keep your kit going. Still, it is free energy. Otherwise, grab power where and when you can.

Finally, you’ll want to consider insurance. Insurance policies that cover expensive equipment for prolonged periods of time are pricey, and often have a lot of small print that may actually mean your kit isn’t covered. After a lot of research, I concluded that insuring my kit for the full year was going to cost nearly as much as replacing it all, so I figured I would just do my best not to lose any of it. Sensible precautions such as not leaving it on display, and keeping items either on your body or locked away in the car, are pretty effective.

So that is the concluding part of travelling with technology. I would advise taking the bare minimum, consider what you really need, and more importantly, what you would not be devastated to lose / have stolen. Anything you take should complement your trip, and not become a burden to you that causes you hassle, because the whole point is to get out there and have fun. Let me know if you have any thoughts on travelling with technology in the comments below. More travel tips from the blog can be found under the Travel Tips label.

Read More

IMG_5976.CR There was a time, in ye olden days of yore, when all one needed to go travelling was a boat ticket, a toothbrush, and a hearty sense of adventure. Crocodile repellant was presumably optional. Oh, and one of those awesome pith hat things.

These days of course, one cannot leave home without a few bits and bobs of technology. In this post I will cover some thoughts I have on what can be handy to take with you on a prolonged trip. Part 1 will largely cover travelling with a netbook, and part 2, which can be found here, covers other bits and pieces that you may find handy.

Travelling with technology can really be a bonus to your trip. From being able to keep in touch with friends and family over the internet, to capturing and recording every detail of your travels for later reminiscing, to having access to information when you need it, there are definite advantages to taking at least some electronical wizardry with you. So what considerations should you make when travelling with technology?

First off, the destination you are picking, and the type of holiday you are going on, are pretty important. If you’re going for a week away to Ibiza, chances are you’ll not want to be lugging around a heavy camera or a laptop. A lightweight point and shoot digicam with enough memory to cover the week should suffice.

Similarly if you are off on a hiking trip and it’s likely to be raining, you’ll not really want to be carrying anything that is going to get upset by the weather. A GPS unit may come in handy, but it could be that a map and compass are suitable for the job, and less likely to run out of batteries at a key juncture.

I will, therefore, advise common sense when deciding what to take where. Let’s think instead about a longer trip. I’ll use my trip to Australia as a template to work from, and share what I learnt.

The trip itself lasted a year, with significant amounts of time spent away from civilisation. This meant no easy access to power points or internet access. Internet access, when we could find it, was often slow. We travelled through hot, dusty, bumpy environments, and moist, cold ones. Quite a number of factors to consider therefore, when deciding what to travel with.

I decided that I would need some form of laptop, for a number of reasons. I was going to be taking a lot of photos, and I wanted some way to be able to store them. I wanted to be able to keep in contact with folks back home, via either e-mail or skype (free calls can’t be argued with). I was going to be writing a journal, and doing this on paper seemed like a bit of a hassle.

After some research, I concluded that a netbook was likely the answer. These are designed to be portable, with sufficient battery power to last for a while when away from power. The model I chose, the Samsung NC10, has a ten inch screen, nearly full size keyboard, and most importantly, a five hour  battery life. Great for use on the road when power isn’t so available. More recent models, such as the Samsung N210, have batteries which last for over ten hours, which would be brilliant for extended periods away from the road.

I would advise, prior to purchasing one of these small netbooks, to pop into a store and try one out. I had a go on a friends 8.9inch Asus model, and found the keyboard was too small for my sausage like fingers to handle. Additionally, if you are doing a trip where you expect the netbook to get a bit of rough handling, consider a solid state drive over a hard drive, as these are much less susceptible to damage from physical knocks and bumps.

Speaking of damage protection, wherever you are going, some form of case is going to come in handy. I already had a bag, so just wanted something to cushion the laptop from knocks and bumps in transit. A neoprene sleeve, such as this one from Belkin, does the trick just fine, keeping it safe from most everyday knocks that may come it’s way.

I would additionally advise that you take some kind of external hard drive and keep your data backed up. Hard drives can and will fail, and losing a trips worth of data, including all those precious photographs, would be tragic. There is the option to backup your data online, and a variety of online cloud storage services exist, but when travelling in remote areas without good internet access, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep your backups up to date. A decent, possibly ruggedised external hard drive, could be a godsend if the worse should happen. £66 for something like this is worth every penny in my opinion. My external hard drive actually failed at the end of the trip, but as I had taken the precaution of additionally backing everything up to a friends external hard drive also, I was ok. You can’t have too many backups. A lot of good software is available for easy backups - I used the powerful and free Syncback tool from 2BrightSparks.

In terms of software, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Picasa, from Google, for free photo management.
  • Thunderbird, from Mozilla, for reading your e-mail offline
  • Feeddemon, from Newsgator, for reading RSS feeds offline
  • Skype, for making free phone and video calls

So that is the netbook. It can be handy for all sorts of things above and beyond what that I have discussed, such as keeping electronic copies of your insurance, passport and other documents, in the event that these are lost or stolen. And if you are really bored at an airport, you can always fire up a copy of solitaire to pass the time.

The concluding part of the post can now be found here. It covers other pieces of technology you may want to consider travelling with, including phones, GPS devices, and eBook readers, as well as thoughts on keeping it all charged and insured.

Travelling with technology part 1

IMG_5976.CR There was a time, in ye olden days of yore, when all one needed to go travelling was a boat ticket, a toothbrush, and a hearty sense of adventure. Crocodile repellant was presumably optional. Oh, and one of those awesome pith hat things.

These days of course, one cannot leave home without a few bits and bobs of technology. In this post I will cover some thoughts I have on what can be handy to take with you on a prolonged trip. Part 1 will largely cover travelling with a netbook, and part 2, which can be found here, covers other bits and pieces that you may find handy.

Travelling with technology can really be a bonus to your trip. From being able to keep in touch with friends and family over the internet, to capturing and recording every detail of your travels for later reminiscing, to having access to information when you need it, there are definite advantages to taking at least some electronical wizardry with you. So what considerations should you make when travelling with technology?

First off, the destination you are picking, and the type of holiday you are going on, are pretty important. If you’re going for a week away to Ibiza, chances are you’ll not want to be lugging around a heavy camera or a laptop. A lightweight point and shoot digicam with enough memory to cover the week should suffice.

Similarly if you are off on a hiking trip and it’s likely to be raining, you’ll not really want to be carrying anything that is going to get upset by the weather. A GPS unit may come in handy, but it could be that a map and compass are suitable for the job, and less likely to run out of batteries at a key juncture.

I will, therefore, advise common sense when deciding what to take where. Let’s think instead about a longer trip. I’ll use my trip to Australia as a template to work from, and share what I learnt.

The trip itself lasted a year, with significant amounts of time spent away from civilisation. This meant no easy access to power points or internet access. Internet access, when we could find it, was often slow. We travelled through hot, dusty, bumpy environments, and moist, cold ones. Quite a number of factors to consider therefore, when deciding what to travel with.

I decided that I would need some form of laptop, for a number of reasons. I was going to be taking a lot of photos, and I wanted some way to be able to store them. I wanted to be able to keep in contact with folks back home, via either e-mail or skype (free calls can’t be argued with). I was going to be writing a journal, and doing this on paper seemed like a bit of a hassle.

After some research, I concluded that a netbook was likely the answer. These are designed to be portable, with sufficient battery power to last for a while when away from power. The model I chose, the Samsung NC10, has a ten inch screen, nearly full size keyboard, and most importantly, a five hour  battery life. Great for use on the road when power isn’t so available. More recent models, such as the Samsung N210, have batteries which last for over ten hours, which would be brilliant for extended periods away from the road.

I would advise, prior to purchasing one of these small netbooks, to pop into a store and try one out. I had a go on a friends 8.9inch Asus model, and found the keyboard was too small for my sausage like fingers to handle. Additionally, if you are doing a trip where you expect the netbook to get a bit of rough handling, consider a solid state drive over a hard drive, as these are much less susceptible to damage from physical knocks and bumps.

Speaking of damage protection, wherever you are going, some form of case is going to come in handy. I already had a bag, so just wanted something to cushion the laptop from knocks and bumps in transit. A neoprene sleeve, such as this one from Belkin, does the trick just fine, keeping it safe from most everyday knocks that may come it’s way.

I would additionally advise that you take some kind of external hard drive and keep your data backed up. Hard drives can and will fail, and losing a trips worth of data, including all those precious photographs, would be tragic. There is the option to backup your data online, and a variety of online cloud storage services exist, but when travelling in remote areas without good internet access, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep your backups up to date. A decent, possibly ruggedised external hard drive, could be a godsend if the worse should happen. £66 for something like this is worth every penny in my opinion. My external hard drive actually failed at the end of the trip, but as I had taken the precaution of additionally backing everything up to a friends external hard drive also, I was ok. You can’t have too many backups. A lot of good software is available for easy backups - I used the powerful and free Syncback tool from 2BrightSparks.

In terms of software, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Picasa, from Google, for free photo management.
  • Thunderbird, from Mozilla, for reading your e-mail offline
  • Feeddemon, from Newsgator, for reading RSS feeds offline
  • Skype, for making free phone and video calls

So that is the netbook. It can be handy for all sorts of things above and beyond what that I have discussed, such as keeping electronic copies of your insurance, passport and other documents, in the event that these are lost or stolen. And if you are really bored at an airport, you can always fire up a copy of solitaire to pass the time.

The concluding part of the post can now be found here. It covers other pieces of technology you may want to consider travelling with, including phones, GPS devices, and eBook readers, as well as thoughts on keeping it all charged and insured.

Read More

P1010651 Well, it seems only natural, after two posts on German love, that I run the full gamut of the experience and attend what some would believe is the natural outcome of the silver birch and padlock shenanigans, that being marriage.

The wedding we attended this weekend was held in Dusseldorf, just under an hour away on the still scarily fast autobahn. We were driving in Vera’s brothers Audi, which is more than capable of hitting speeds in excess of that which would normally catapult you through time itself, but in this case merely transported us in comfort and speed to the wedding venue. This took place in a Church near the centre of the city, and there was, before the service even began, oodles of champagne to be had. A great start.

The wedding service was overseen by two (two!) priests, one from the Catholic side, one from the Protestant side of the Christian faith. I’m not entirely au fait with the differences in these particular sects, but I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t battle it out on the altar to see who would get to do the actual wedding. As it was they rather politely took it in turns to read bits from their books. Most congenial.

After the actual service, and my rather poor attempts to sing along to the German hymns, we all stood outside the church and drank some more champagne. At this point the main difference between English and German weddings became apparent. It seems that the bride and groom are set a number of tasks throughout the course of the day. Some of these are common to most German weddings, like cutting out a heart shape from a giant piece of cloth, and then the groom carrying the bride through it. Others are specific to the couple, like throwing darts at heart shaped balloons. It certainly gave us all something to laugh at anyway. These tasks and games went on throughout the entire wedding, and included a full on pantomime performance. Impressive stuff.

After the church the whole wedding party assembled into their cars and formed a rather raucous convoy through Dusseldorf to the actual hotel where the evening party was being held, which was a bit like a cross between a farmhouse and a castle. Here serving people wandered around with giant platters of beer, balloons were released, and then we were let into the dining room where food was almost upon us. Some speeches in German later, and we were unleashed upon the buffet.

I am aware that there are various schools of thought as to wedding dining, such as whether or not a full on table service system is preferable to the buffet system. Personally I prefer a decent buffet as trying to serve 100 people with hot food all at the same time can be a bit of a challenge, whereas a buffet is self heating. Plus you can eat as much as you want. The food was entirely excellent. Of course, the downside to eating my own body weight in duck breast and crayfish was that I wasn’t really capable of moving in any great manner on the dance floor, but given that wedding dance music seems to be even worse in Germany than the fare you get in the UK, (and my inability to dance with any form of co-ordination) this wasn’t a bad thing. I quietly slumped in the corner and drank more beer. Waiters wandered around with trays of Grappe. After a few refreshing shots, I finally made it to the dance floor to er, bust out some moves, before we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. A wonderful wedding experience. The following day I restored myself to my natural health with a giant pile of fried food. Bliss.

So that was weddings in Germany. Tremendous fun all around, with the added bonus that I may never need to eat again.

In other, completed unrelated news, in a bid to reduce his worldly possessions before his move to tropical destinations, my brother currently has a number of items of his life for sale on ebay. If you are interested in snapping up some relative technological bargains (there’s a PSP for a mind boggling £20 at the moment), head on over to his page on ebay to check them out. Enjoy your day folks!

German weddings

P1010651 Well, it seems only natural, after two posts on German love, that I run the full gamut of the experience and attend what some would believe is the natural outcome of the silver birch and padlock shenanigans, that being marriage.

The wedding we attended this weekend was held in Dusseldorf, just under an hour away on the still scarily fast autobahn. We were driving in Vera’s brothers Audi, which is more than capable of hitting speeds in excess of that which would normally catapult you through time itself, but in this case merely transported us in comfort and speed to the wedding venue. This took place in a Church near the centre of the city, and there was, before the service even began, oodles of champagne to be had. A great start.

The wedding service was overseen by two (two!) priests, one from the Catholic side, one from the Protestant side of the Christian faith. I’m not entirely au fait with the differences in these particular sects, but I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t battle it out on the altar to see who would get to do the actual wedding. As it was they rather politely took it in turns to read bits from their books. Most congenial.

After the actual service, and my rather poor attempts to sing along to the German hymns, we all stood outside the church and drank some more champagne. At this point the main difference between English and German weddings became apparent. It seems that the bride and groom are set a number of tasks throughout the course of the day. Some of these are common to most German weddings, like cutting out a heart shape from a giant piece of cloth, and then the groom carrying the bride through it. Others are specific to the couple, like throwing darts at heart shaped balloons. It certainly gave us all something to laugh at anyway. These tasks and games went on throughout the entire wedding, and included a full on pantomime performance. Impressive stuff.

After the church the whole wedding party assembled into their cars and formed a rather raucous convoy through Dusseldorf to the actual hotel where the evening party was being held, which was a bit like a cross between a farmhouse and a castle. Here serving people wandered around with giant platters of beer, balloons were released, and then we were let into the dining room where food was almost upon us. Some speeches in German later, and we were unleashed upon the buffet.

I am aware that there are various schools of thought as to wedding dining, such as whether or not a full on table service system is preferable to the buffet system. Personally I prefer a decent buffet as trying to serve 100 people with hot food all at the same time can be a bit of a challenge, whereas a buffet is self heating. Plus you can eat as much as you want. The food was entirely excellent. Of course, the downside to eating my own body weight in duck breast and crayfish was that I wasn’t really capable of moving in any great manner on the dance floor, but given that wedding dance music seems to be even worse in Germany than the fare you get in the UK, (and my inability to dance with any form of co-ordination) this wasn’t a bad thing. I quietly slumped in the corner and drank more beer. Waiters wandered around with trays of Grappe. After a few refreshing shots, I finally made it to the dance floor to er, bust out some moves, before we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. A wonderful wedding experience. The following day I restored myself to my natural health with a giant pile of fried food. Bliss.

So that was weddings in Germany. Tremendous fun all around, with the added bonus that I may never need to eat again.

In other, completed unrelated news, in a bid to reduce his worldly possessions before his move to tropical destinations, my brother currently has a number of items of his life for sale on ebay. If you are interested in snapping up some relative technological bargains (there’s a PSP for a mind boggling £20 at the moment), head on over to his page on ebay to check them out. Enjoy your day folks!

Read More

eversion1

I figured, as I have a moment, I would talk briefly about gaming. This has nothing to do with travel, so feel free to wander off, confused, if that is your want. On the other hand, if you’re yearning for something to pass half an hour of your life, you could do worse than getting hold of a copy of Eversion. It’s a free game that starts off in a delightfully whimsical manner, reminiscent of an old Mario game, but rapidly spiralling into a darkly disturbing beast. It’s short, will probably run on anything given it’s simplistic graphical nature, and best of all, it’s free. What more could one want.

In other gaming news that I have read this week, I am saddened to hear that the UK gaming magazine PC Zone is closing up shop this month, after 17 years. I actually subscribed to this from about it’s second or third issue (well, ok, my parents subscribed for me, but you get the idea) and loved it’s dark, irreverent and usually amusing take on gaming. It was where Charlie Brooker cut his teeth (he now writes good stuff for the Guardian), and well, everything I knew about gaming from about the age of 12 was sourced from this magazine. I guess the huge availability of online free review sites killed it off. RIP.

In not entirely game related but still on the technology page, I also see that Apple have fessed up on the iPhone 4 antenna thing. If you weren’t aware, from the last 22 days of hysterical media reports, if you hold the new shiny toy from Apple in slightly the wrong manner, the signal goes tragically out of the window. Apparently this is common with pretty much every phone, but obviously Apple took it in the throat, as flaws in their products are clearly going to spawn a media frenzy. I’m not a massive Apple fan, other than an owning an iPod Nano, but they seem to have done a pretty good job on the keeping-their-customers-happy-whilst-garnerning-loads-of-free-press front, admitting that there is a problem with antenna design, pointing out it is common across all phones, and offering everyone who has bought an iPhone a free case to resolve the problem. Sure, it’s not a fix per-se, but again, free stuff is free stuff right? Given most people will probably be buying a case to keep the shininess shiny, if it’s going to be free, well, party on.

So, that was a minor aside on some gaming / tech stuff I’ve picked up on. It may or may not have interested you. More may… or may not… follow.

Update – As per feedback, a more detailed game review of Eversion follows:

Game under review: Eversion.
Summary: A 2D side-scrolling platform game in a similar vein to the original Mario games, with a darker twist.

Cost: Free (normal version) / £3.49 (HD version on Steam)

Review: 
I played the free version of Eversion, a cutesy looking 2D platforming game. The game plot is pretty simple, (Princess is captured. you must save princess), and in order to rescue the princess you must roam across seven worlds, doing the usual gem collection, platform jumping and monster avoidance gameplay that will be familiar to anyone who has ever played any kind of side scrolling platform game.

The twist, and it's a pretty clever one, involves the use of "everting", where you change the mechanics of the level between one of seven states. This changes the behaviour of the monsters, the physicality of the blocks, and even the music - which is pretty spooky in itself. Everting is necessary to complete the game, as for example blocks which are impassable in one mode become passable in another mode. Cunning. The game starts out wonderfully twee and cutesy, with fluffy clouds and pretty plants, but it's not too long before you are being chased by walls of blood. Don't be fooled by the way it starts off, by the time you hit the third or fourth level you realise that this game is dark. The music cleverly matches the tone, becoming more and more disturbing as you progress, and the difficulty level ramps up carefully as you progress, so that by the time you reach the last two worlds, you really are having to think and react pretty quickly. It even features two different endings, depending on your prowess at gem collection.

The Good: An interesting take on the platforming genre that should pass half an hour of your life.

The Bad: Well, it is pretty short. Like this review was.

Score; 7.5/10

Something about gaming

eversion1

I figured, as I have a moment, I would talk briefly about gaming. This has nothing to do with travel, so feel free to wander off, confused, if that is your want. On the other hand, if you’re yearning for something to pass half an hour of your life, you could do worse than getting hold of a copy of Eversion. It’s a free game that starts off in a delightfully whimsical manner, reminiscent of an old Mario game, but rapidly spiralling into a darkly disturbing beast. It’s short, will probably run on anything given it’s simplistic graphical nature, and best of all, it’s free. What more could one want.

In other gaming news that I have read this week, I am saddened to hear that the UK gaming magazine PC Zone is closing up shop this month, after 17 years. I actually subscribed to this from about it’s second or third issue (well, ok, my parents subscribed for me, but you get the idea) and loved it’s dark, irreverent and usually amusing take on gaming. It was where Charlie Brooker cut his teeth (he now writes good stuff for the Guardian), and well, everything I knew about gaming from about the age of 12 was sourced from this magazine. I guess the huge availability of online free review sites killed it off. RIP.

In not entirely game related but still on the technology page, I also see that Apple have fessed up on the iPhone 4 antenna thing. If you weren’t aware, from the last 22 days of hysterical media reports, if you hold the new shiny toy from Apple in slightly the wrong manner, the signal goes tragically out of the window. Apparently this is common with pretty much every phone, but obviously Apple took it in the throat, as flaws in their products are clearly going to spawn a media frenzy. I’m not a massive Apple fan, other than an owning an iPod Nano, but they seem to have done a pretty good job on the keeping-their-customers-happy-whilst-garnerning-loads-of-free-press front, admitting that there is a problem with antenna design, pointing out it is common across all phones, and offering everyone who has bought an iPhone a free case to resolve the problem. Sure, it’s not a fix per-se, but again, free stuff is free stuff right? Given most people will probably be buying a case to keep the shininess shiny, if it’s going to be free, well, party on.

So, that was a minor aside on some gaming / tech stuff I’ve picked up on. It may or may not have interested you. More may… or may not… follow.

Update – As per feedback, a more detailed game review of Eversion follows:

Game under review: Eversion.
Summary: A 2D side-scrolling platform game in a similar vein to the original Mario games, with a darker twist.

Cost: Free (normal version) / £3.49 (HD version on Steam)

Review: 
I played the free version of Eversion, a cutesy looking 2D platforming game. The game plot is pretty simple, (Princess is captured. you must save princess), and in order to rescue the princess you must roam across seven worlds, doing the usual gem collection, platform jumping and monster avoidance gameplay that will be familiar to anyone who has ever played any kind of side scrolling platform game.

The twist, and it's a pretty clever one, involves the use of "everting", where you change the mechanics of the level between one of seven states. This changes the behaviour of the monsters, the physicality of the blocks, and even the music - which is pretty spooky in itself. Everting is necessary to complete the game, as for example blocks which are impassable in one mode become passable in another mode. Cunning. The game starts out wonderfully twee and cutesy, with fluffy clouds and pretty plants, but it's not too long before you are being chased by walls of blood. Don't be fooled by the way it starts off, by the time you hit the third or fourth level you realise that this game is dark. The music cleverly matches the tone, becoming more and more disturbing as you progress, and the difficulty level ramps up carefully as you progress, so that by the time you reach the last two worlds, you really are having to think and react pretty quickly. It even features two different endings, depending on your prowess at gem collection.

The Good: An interesting take on the platforming genre that should pass half an hour of your life.

The Bad: Well, it is pretty short. Like this review was.

Score; 7.5/10

Read More

vetsymbolgreenborder2 Well, the parental meeting thing came and went. I’m not necessarily a tremendous judge of these things, but by the end of the meal I had been informed as to the most effective way of killing myself, which is surely a good sign against some measure.

We went out for dinner in a former train station, which may not seem entirely glamorous, but it was a former train station of the Kaiser, so was somewhat more palatial than your usual train station. You can’t expect these folks to hang around on platforms and the like with the common folk after all. A large outdoor courtyard, which had presumably once been part of the platform area, was the seating venue, and the fare was largely traditionally German. I was advised against the currywurst (curried sausage, no less), despite it looking to be the largest sausage I had ever seen, and so went with the breaded fried pork and chips. Which was served, oddly, with jam. Still, it worked, so who am I to complain.

As Vera’s father is a vet, we were invited along to watch a procedure he was performing on a dog, which we did today. I guess this is another sign of acceptance. I rollerbladed along (managing to fall over quite spectacularly en route, no major damage done though) and we got to the practice in time to watch a wonderfully sedated dog get shaven and implanted with bits of gold, which help out with arthritis. There is something awfully comic about partially sedated animals, with their tongues lolling out and a general look of sad acceptance about the whole thing. Horses, I learnt, stay standing up when sedated. I am delighted to be able to share this knowledge with you.

Tomorrow we are off to a wedding, which will naturally all be in German. It’s all about the new experiences. I got a quick overview of the German wedding process, which sounded somewhat similar to the English wedding process. There will be a church, some food, speeches, and a party. I’ll let you know how it all goes. If you’re lucky, there will be reports of dancing.

Today, incidentally, is my brothers birthday - many happy returns to him. No doubt some beers will be quenched. I would advise staying away from any large platters of food if possible. He celebrates being nearly thirty in fine style from what I can tell, by retiring and moving to a tropical paradise. Not bad going. My parents, I am sure, are delighted to have two sons who now have a primary goal in life of doing as little as possible. Pity it took all that education to get us to this point really…

On an entirely separate note, I have uploaded a few more photos from my Australia trip to my Photobox gallery, which can be found at the link below, should that sort of thing interest you. They look particularly nice on canvas I believe.

http://www.photoboxgallery.com/Laurence

Finally, I feel it is my duty to rectify a common misunderstanding with regards to dreadlocks, as I’ve now been asked the question multiple times. Yes folks, I do wash my hair. More information on the whole dreadlock thing can be found in previous posts, here and here, but in summary, dreadlocks do need to be washed. There is a common belief that dreads are formed by just abandoning your hair, and this can work, depending on your hair type of course, but the risk is that you just end up with one gigantic matted pile of fairly grubby hair.

Decent looking well maintained dreads, which are basically just better managed tangles of hair, no more no less, should be washed every couple of weeks (and at least once a month), with a residue free shampoo (something organic is probably best). Avoid conditioner, as it tends to work to detangle the hair, which would go against the whole principle. Dreads need to be washed because the oil that the scalp naturally secretes works to detangle them, and you don’t want that to happen. So that’s a dreadlocking myth hopefully, ahem, unravelled. Keep smiling.

Veterinary experience

vetsymbolgreenborder2 Well, the parental meeting thing came and went. I’m not necessarily a tremendous judge of these things, but by the end of the meal I had been informed as to the most effective way of killing myself, which is surely a good sign against some measure.

We went out for dinner in a former train station, which may not seem entirely glamorous, but it was a former train station of the Kaiser, so was somewhat more palatial than your usual train station. You can’t expect these folks to hang around on platforms and the like with the common folk after all. A large outdoor courtyard, which had presumably once been part of the platform area, was the seating venue, and the fare was largely traditionally German. I was advised against the currywurst (curried sausage, no less), despite it looking to be the largest sausage I had ever seen, and so went with the breaded fried pork and chips. Which was served, oddly, with jam. Still, it worked, so who am I to complain.

As Vera’s father is a vet, we were invited along to watch a procedure he was performing on a dog, which we did today. I guess this is another sign of acceptance. I rollerbladed along (managing to fall over quite spectacularly en route, no major damage done though) and we got to the practice in time to watch a wonderfully sedated dog get shaven and implanted with bits of gold, which help out with arthritis. There is something awfully comic about partially sedated animals, with their tongues lolling out and a general look of sad acceptance about the whole thing. Horses, I learnt, stay standing up when sedated. I am delighted to be able to share this knowledge with you.

Tomorrow we are off to a wedding, which will naturally all be in German. It’s all about the new experiences. I got a quick overview of the German wedding process, which sounded somewhat similar to the English wedding process. There will be a church, some food, speeches, and a party. I’ll let you know how it all goes. If you’re lucky, there will be reports of dancing.

Today, incidentally, is my brothers birthday - many happy returns to him. No doubt some beers will be quenched. I would advise staying away from any large platters of food if possible. He celebrates being nearly thirty in fine style from what I can tell, by retiring and moving to a tropical paradise. Not bad going. My parents, I am sure, are delighted to have two sons who now have a primary goal in life of doing as little as possible. Pity it took all that education to get us to this point really…

On an entirely separate note, I have uploaded a few more photos from my Australia trip to my Photobox gallery, which can be found at the link below, should that sort of thing interest you. They look particularly nice on canvas I believe.

http://www.photoboxgallery.com/Laurence

Finally, I feel it is my duty to rectify a common misunderstanding with regards to dreadlocks, as I’ve now been asked the question multiple times. Yes folks, I do wash my hair. More information on the whole dreadlock thing can be found in previous posts, here and here, but in summary, dreadlocks do need to be washed. There is a common belief that dreads are formed by just abandoning your hair, and this can work, depending on your hair type of course, but the risk is that you just end up with one gigantic matted pile of fairly grubby hair.

Decent looking well maintained dreads, which are basically just better managed tangles of hair, no more no less, should be washed every couple of weeks (and at least once a month), with a residue free shampoo (something organic is probably best). Avoid conditioner, as it tends to work to detangle the hair, which would go against the whole principle. Dreads need to be washed because the oil that the scalp naturally secretes works to detangle them, and you don’t want that to happen. So that’s a dreadlocking myth hopefully, ahem, unravelled. Keep smiling.

Read More

There are pivotal moments in a relationship. You know, the First Kiss. (And first other stuff that we won’t go into for fear of having to X-rate the blog.) The moving in together. The discussion about where the relationship is. The official confirmation of the relationship on facebook. Etc.. Lots of these are actually fun. However, today is a first that is usually not rated entirely highly as an activity, that being the first time I Meet The Parents. Capitalised, justly I feel. Naturally I am well prepared for the event. I have rolled my dreads. Topics of conversation are mentally prepared (What do you do? Not a lot. What do you intend to do with the rest of your life? As little as possible. And so on.) I can only see it going well.

That, I’m sure, is enough of a relationship update. No-one wants to read too much about this stuff I’m sure, unless it is of the going comically wrong nature. Naturally I will let you know when that happens.

I learnt yesterday that there is a giant gaming expo going on in Cologne towards the end of August, called Gamescon. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m quite a fan of gaming (although I have cut down my fix to the once a year review of the best games, as Chosen By Craig (tm)), so this will be a good opportunity to wander around and see all the latest developments before heading off to New Zealand for another year or so of technological hermitry. I am just making these words up folks. The spellchecker is having an apoplectic fit.

Otherwise it is back to business as usual in Germany. The sun is shining. The backgammon has been played. A giant thunderstorm nearly took the roof off yesterday. The sunflowers are flowering. The cats are slowly turning into puddles of cat fur in the heat. Summer continues to be pretty great. Enjoy! (apologies if you are reading this from the Southern Hemisphere in Winter. I can highly recommend a swallow like northerly migration.)

Oh, crikey

There are pivotal moments in a relationship. You know, the First Kiss. (And first other stuff that we won’t go into for fear of having to X-rate the blog.) The moving in together. The discussion about where the relationship is. The official confirmation of the relationship on facebook. Etc.. Lots of these are actually fun. However, today is a first that is usually not rated entirely highly as an activity, that being the first time I Meet The Parents. Capitalised, justly I feel. Naturally I am well prepared for the event. I have rolled my dreads. Topics of conversation are mentally prepared (What do you do? Not a lot. What do you intend to do with the rest of your life? As little as possible. And so on.) I can only see it going well.

That, I’m sure, is enough of a relationship update. No-one wants to read too much about this stuff I’m sure, unless it is of the going comically wrong nature. Naturally I will let you know when that happens.

I learnt yesterday that there is a giant gaming expo going on in Cologne towards the end of August, called Gamescon. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m quite a fan of gaming (although I have cut down my fix to the once a year review of the best games, as Chosen By Craig (tm)), so this will be a good opportunity to wander around and see all the latest developments before heading off to New Zealand for another year or so of technological hermitry. I am just making these words up folks. The spellchecker is having an apoplectic fit.

Otherwise it is back to business as usual in Germany. The sun is shining. The backgammon has been played. A giant thunderstorm nearly took the roof off yesterday. The sunflowers are flowering. The cats are slowly turning into puddles of cat fur in the heat. Summer continues to be pretty great. Enjoy! (apologies if you are reading this from the Southern Hemisphere in Winter. I can highly recommend a swallow like northerly migration.)

Read More

IMG_2740-1 I have now wrapped up my six day trip to the UK’s capital, during which time I met up with a lot of people, ate a lot of fine food, wandered around in the sunshine and, I admit, went through a veritable swathe of beverages.

On my last full day in the UK my brother and I felt it would be inopportune of us to miss out on spending at least a short amount of time in the pub. We popped out to one of his many locals in the afternoon, where I tried some of the further ale options, which Phil peered at suspiciously before continuing on with an expensive sounding premium continental lager.

Shortly before arriving at the pub, we stumbled across one of the new bicycle hire racks which are being installed all across central London, allowing people to pick up a bicycle, and for a very nominal fee, transport themselves to another bicycle stand somewhere else in the city. There are, I am led to believe, thousands of bicycles about to appear at these stands all over the city. Always nice to see more options for commuting or just cheap transport being opened up, although I have often suspected people willing to cycle on the roads of London to be a teeny bit mad. What with the buses and taxis and cars and, well, all manner of metallic objects that would usually beat a bicycle at a game of chicken. We debated the pros and cons of the bicycle hire scheme with a chap who was also inspecting the new system, before meandering our way to the actual pub.

Not a lot else seems to have changed in London since I was away. A giant new skyscraper is being erected over London Bridge, which looks like it will the shard tower 2be suitably futuristic. One of the artistic impressions renders an almost Blade Runner-esque view of the London skyline once this spire, shaped like a  shard of glass, is completed. I expect that to be pretty impressive when finally done. Otherwise, people have moved houses, or jobs, or had kids, or got engaged. Life is, therefore, going onwards as it is wont to do. The city, and indeed the nation, had not entirely ground to a halt in my absence, which was nice.

My final few waking hours on my last day were naturally spent in another pub, meeting up with a friend to say farewell. As we were leaving this venue, we re-encountered our friend from the bicycle rack, who, to put it mildly, had clearly already partaken of more than the odd glass of something. Swaying gently, he exclaimed how delighted he was to meet us again, and regaled us with stories of his saxophone playing life. His name, interestingly, was Charlie,  the same name as the Czech chef from the now infamous buffet incident. So the visit was rounded off nicely, finishing in much the way it had started, in a pub, talking to a stranger called Charlie.

I am now back in Germany after a lovely flight with Easyjet (I can confirm that it is possible to go from bed to in-flight within two hours from central London, but I would not recommend this as a course of action if you want a stress free travelling experience), and I have to say, it is nice to be back. Absence does, it seem, make the heart grow fonder. The weather is glorious, I have a wedding to go to (suit provided courtesy of my dear brother, I promise to look after it carefully), and everything continues to look, well, joyful. To everyone I saw this week, thanks for coming along folks!

Farewell Angleterre

IMG_2740-1 I have now wrapped up my six day trip to the UK’s capital, during which time I met up with a lot of people, ate a lot of fine food, wandered around in the sunshine and, I admit, went through a veritable swathe of beverages.

On my last full day in the UK my brother and I felt it would be inopportune of us to miss out on spending at least a short amount of time in the pub. We popped out to one of his many locals in the afternoon, where I tried some of the further ale options, which Phil peered at suspiciously before continuing on with an expensive sounding premium continental lager.

Shortly before arriving at the pub, we stumbled across one of the new bicycle hire racks which are being installed all across central London, allowing people to pick up a bicycle, and for a very nominal fee, transport themselves to another bicycle stand somewhere else in the city. There are, I am led to believe, thousands of bicycles about to appear at these stands all over the city. Always nice to see more options for commuting or just cheap transport being opened up, although I have often suspected people willing to cycle on the roads of London to be a teeny bit mad. What with the buses and taxis and cars and, well, all manner of metallic objects that would usually beat a bicycle at a game of chicken. We debated the pros and cons of the bicycle hire scheme with a chap who was also inspecting the new system, before meandering our way to the actual pub.

Not a lot else seems to have changed in London since I was away. A giant new skyscraper is being erected over London Bridge, which looks like it will the shard tower 2be suitably futuristic. One of the artistic impressions renders an almost Blade Runner-esque view of the London skyline once this spire, shaped like a  shard of glass, is completed. I expect that to be pretty impressive when finally done. Otherwise, people have moved houses, or jobs, or had kids, or got engaged. Life is, therefore, going onwards as it is wont to do. The city, and indeed the nation, had not entirely ground to a halt in my absence, which was nice.

My final few waking hours on my last day were naturally spent in another pub, meeting up with a friend to say farewell. As we were leaving this venue, we re-encountered our friend from the bicycle rack, who, to put it mildly, had clearly already partaken of more than the odd glass of something. Swaying gently, he exclaimed how delighted he was to meet us again, and regaled us with stories of his saxophone playing life. His name, interestingly, was Charlie,  the same name as the Czech chef from the now infamous buffet incident. So the visit was rounded off nicely, finishing in much the way it had started, in a pub, talking to a stranger called Charlie.

I am now back in Germany after a lovely flight with Easyjet (I can confirm that it is possible to go from bed to in-flight within two hours from central London, but I would not recommend this as a course of action if you want a stress free travelling experience), and I have to say, it is nice to be back. Absence does, it seem, make the heart grow fonder. The weather is glorious, I have a wedding to go to (suit provided courtesy of my dear brother, I promise to look after it carefully), and everything continues to look, well, joyful. To everyone I saw this week, thanks for coming along folks!

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P1010621 You know that relative or friend of the family that your parents don’t really talk about, who turned up every now and again out of the blue when you were a kid and you weren’t really allowed to go near? Possibly he looked fairly straggly and smelt a little, well, musty? He would usually sleep on the sofa and be regarded, overall, as a bad influence. Well folks, I’m proud to report that my first foray into being that slightly crazed friend of the family has now started, after I visited some friends of mine down in Sevenoaks who have a young son.

I will, however, start the tale a little bit earlier, as I went out to lunch with another friend who works on Whitehall, that bit of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, where our new Prime Ministers live. My other friend Craig, it turned out, despite living in London for countless years, had never seen Downing Street, where said leaders live, so it was a good opportunity for him to get a bit of the touristy thing done. Plus we were able to sit in the hour of sunshine that the weather gods deemed the day was going to have, quaffing a couple of fine ales in the process. Conveniently Kat’s lunch came with a free glass of wine, so we were all able to get started with the drinking just after midday.

Which brings me, conveniently to the title of my blog post. I had forgotten quite how ingrained the drinking is to the entertainment over here. Meet up with friends, naturally, the venue will be the pub. Want to sit in the park for the afternoon? No problemo, grab a few bottles of Pimms and pootle over. BBQ in the sun, you’ll find crates of Budweiser on hand. It’s certainly not a problem (well, quite the opposite, I have waxed lyrical about my love of English pubbery before), but I do suspect that when I head back to Germany I’ll be lying in a darkened room feeding my liver with herbal teas and the like to get over the week of excess.

Drinking aside, (temporarily, I assure you) I then popped out to Sevenoaks to meet up with some friends with the aforementioned small child. I am not, by any means, a child person. We usually circle each other warily before realising neither of us has anything to offer the other one, and then quietly leave each other alone. Said child pretty much ran screaming from the room when I appeared. A tremendous start to the relationship, you will no doubt agree. Having concluded that I was not da-da, and some time of suspicious peering at my dreadlocks later, I was presented with a Postman Pat puzzle to complete. I rather foolishly picked the twenty four piece option, and then spent quite some time flummoxed by it’s complexity while Jesse looked on, rather pityingly I suspect. A look of pity from someone under two years old for a puzzle of ages four and up is not something you really want in your life.

Still, the afternoon was mostly sunny, so naturally we headed out to a beer garden to sample some of the local Kentish ales, before returning back to the house for a delightful steak and roast potato dinner. I stayed over, which was even better, as I was then presented with a full on English fry up. Jesse had a whale of a time with the fry up, particularly with the ketchup. i am starting to think that there are advantages to being small and innocent looking when it comes to painting the carpet with tomato sauce. I just can’t get away with it like I used to.

Then I left Sevenoaks and returned to London. Sevenoaks, incidentally, is the home of BP’s beleaguered CEO, who has recently been reported in the press as having installed some solar panels in his property. I’m not sure how many solar panels you need to install to offset the carbon footprint of 50,000 barrels of oil a day pouring into the sea, but i’m not sure a back garden in Sevenoaks is really going to cover it.

Today, my brother, who has spent the last five years of his life chained to his Blackberry, is adjusting to his first week day of unemployment. He has bought himself a copy of the aforementioned Split/Second racing game, and is relaxing on the sofa in front of the 43inch TV, wondering I imagine, why he didn’t get round to retiring sooner. My dear old mum has worked out that she can buy things from Amazon via my site and earn me about 20p a go, much easier than actually sending me money. At this rate I may even be able to afford to keep travelling. I’ll drink a glass of water to that! Enjoy your day folks.

What drinking culture…

P1010621 You know that relative or friend of the family that your parents don’t really talk about, who turned up every now and again out of the blue when you were a kid and you weren’t really allowed to go near? Possibly he looked fairly straggly and smelt a little, well, musty? He would usually sleep on the sofa and be regarded, overall, as a bad influence. Well folks, I’m proud to report that my first foray into being that slightly crazed friend of the family has now started, after I visited some friends of mine down in Sevenoaks who have a young son.

I will, however, start the tale a little bit earlier, as I went out to lunch with another friend who works on Whitehall, that bit of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, where our new Prime Ministers live. My other friend Craig, it turned out, despite living in London for countless years, had never seen Downing Street, where said leaders live, so it was a good opportunity for him to get a bit of the touristy thing done. Plus we were able to sit in the hour of sunshine that the weather gods deemed the day was going to have, quaffing a couple of fine ales in the process. Conveniently Kat’s lunch came with a free glass of wine, so we were all able to get started with the drinking just after midday.

Which brings me, conveniently to the title of my blog post. I had forgotten quite how ingrained the drinking is to the entertainment over here. Meet up with friends, naturally, the venue will be the pub. Want to sit in the park for the afternoon? No problemo, grab a few bottles of Pimms and pootle over. BBQ in the sun, you’ll find crates of Budweiser on hand. It’s certainly not a problem (well, quite the opposite, I have waxed lyrical about my love of English pubbery before), but I do suspect that when I head back to Germany I’ll be lying in a darkened room feeding my liver with herbal teas and the like to get over the week of excess.

Drinking aside, (temporarily, I assure you) I then popped out to Sevenoaks to meet up with some friends with the aforementioned small child. I am not, by any means, a child person. We usually circle each other warily before realising neither of us has anything to offer the other one, and then quietly leave each other alone. Said child pretty much ran screaming from the room when I appeared. A tremendous start to the relationship, you will no doubt agree. Having concluded that I was not da-da, and some time of suspicious peering at my dreadlocks later, I was presented with a Postman Pat puzzle to complete. I rather foolishly picked the twenty four piece option, and then spent quite some time flummoxed by it’s complexity while Jesse looked on, rather pityingly I suspect. A look of pity from someone under two years old for a puzzle of ages four and up is not something you really want in your life.

Still, the afternoon was mostly sunny, so naturally we headed out to a beer garden to sample some of the local Kentish ales, before returning back to the house for a delightful steak and roast potato dinner. I stayed over, which was even better, as I was then presented with a full on English fry up. Jesse had a whale of a time with the fry up, particularly with the ketchup. i am starting to think that there are advantages to being small and innocent looking when it comes to painting the carpet with tomato sauce. I just can’t get away with it like I used to.

Then I left Sevenoaks and returned to London. Sevenoaks, incidentally, is the home of BP’s beleaguered CEO, who has recently been reported in the press as having installed some solar panels in his property. I’m not sure how many solar panels you need to install to offset the carbon footprint of 50,000 barrels of oil a day pouring into the sea, but i’m not sure a back garden in Sevenoaks is really going to cover it.

Today, my brother, who has spent the last five years of his life chained to his Blackberry, is adjusting to his first week day of unemployment. He has bought himself a copy of the aforementioned Split/Second racing game, and is relaxing on the sofa in front of the 43inch TV, wondering I imagine, why he didn’t get round to retiring sooner. My dear old mum has worked out that she can buy things from Amazon via my site and earn me about 20p a go, much easier than actually sending me money. At this rate I may even be able to afford to keep travelling. I’ll drink a glass of water to that! Enjoy your day folks.

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P1010608 There is perhaps a view, if you have read the last couple of entries of my blog, that I have largely spent my time on my trip to the UK imbibing alcohol and propping up bars. I can report that this is not entirely the case. My brother, for example, has learnt two new things about the flat he has lived in for over two years. Firstly, that it has a roof terrace, and secondly, there is a garden outside that you can sit in. So, some knowledge has been gained at the expense of my liver. Sadly he is only in the flat for another month.

The knowledge involving the garden area was taken advantage of to fine effect yesterday, as the sun continued it’s blistering attack on London. A good friend of mine popped around to visit and ever so kindly brought with him a couple of rather fine bottles of wine. Well, the Rioja ‘99 was certainly delightful. We will perhaps extend the benefit of the doubt to the slightly sparkling rose. So we spent the afternoon, yes, drinking in the sun. But it was a high quality of wine, sitting under the former Hartley's jam factory chimney, so the experience was a little different at least.

Following the wine we moved upstairs and watched a game of football, largely from my point of view because I wanted to ensure Paul’s winning streak continued. He had predicted a Spanish win, which was delivered in extra time, following a decidedly less interesting game than the third place play off, the outcome of which Paul had also correctly predicted. For those of you interested in the odds, the odds of Paul being correct this many times in a row were 128-1, with a couple of assumptions. Not bad going for an eight legged tank dweller. I am still intrigued as to what he is going to be up to following the world cup, and if a betting investment strategy is something to consider pursuing.

Finally Phil cooked us all a tasty dinner, green curry with prawns, and then we went and wilted quietly in the ongoing oppressive heat, which, I am told, is going to go away shortly, so we can all get back to complaining about where summer is and how you just don’t get the heat you used to. I’ll drink to that.

Fine afternoons and discoveries

P1010608 There is perhaps a view, if you have read the last couple of entries of my blog, that I have largely spent my time on my trip to the UK imbibing alcohol and propping up bars. I can report that this is not entirely the case. My brother, for example, has learnt two new things about the flat he has lived in for over two years. Firstly, that it has a roof terrace, and secondly, there is a garden outside that you can sit in. So, some knowledge has been gained at the expense of my liver. Sadly he is only in the flat for another month.

The knowledge involving the garden area was taken advantage of to fine effect yesterday, as the sun continued it’s blistering attack on London. A good friend of mine popped around to visit and ever so kindly brought with him a couple of rather fine bottles of wine. Well, the Rioja ‘99 was certainly delightful. We will perhaps extend the benefit of the doubt to the slightly sparkling rose. So we spent the afternoon, yes, drinking in the sun. But it was a high quality of wine, sitting under the former Hartley's jam factory chimney, so the experience was a little different at least.

Following the wine we moved upstairs and watched a game of football, largely from my point of view because I wanted to ensure Paul’s winning streak continued. He had predicted a Spanish win, which was delivered in extra time, following a decidedly less interesting game than the third place play off, the outcome of which Paul had also correctly predicted. For those of you interested in the odds, the odds of Paul being correct this many times in a row were 128-1, with a couple of assumptions. Not bad going for an eight legged tank dweller. I am still intrigued as to what he is going to be up to following the world cup, and if a betting investment strategy is something to consider pursuing.

Finally Phil cooked us all a tasty dinner, green curry with prawns, and then we went and wilted quietly in the ongoing oppressive heat, which, I am told, is going to go away shortly, so we can all get back to complaining about where summer is and how you just don’t get the heat you used to. I’ll drink to that.

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IPhone_4 I am not a technology luddite by any means, in fact, I would say quite the opposite, but for various reasons, mostly involving living in a tent for a year like some sort of hermit, I have been away from changes, and in particular the rapid pace of Smartphone evolution.

I was, of course, aware of the iPhone - the book of Jobs is hard to ignore wherever you are - and certainly the technology has been available for longer than a year and a half. But quite how ubiquitous this device has become only became apparent when I got to London and met up with all my friends, where it turned out that everyone I know now seems to have one. And it was quite amazing really, a large group of people converging in London, and all it took for us to find each other was the Google maps location feature pinged between each other, and folks who weren’t so familiar with the intricacies of London parks were still able to locate us. No doubt the Google equivalent phone OS, Android, would have been just as good at this. Still, it was quite handy, and good to see that technology is moving beyond the gimmicky to the genuinely useful. The rest of the day, technology aside, progressed nicely, moving from park to bar, we even managed to take in a cocktail in one of my favourite London cocktail bars, the underground, and excessively warm Frevds. Worth checking out if you are ever in the area for the cheapest and deadliest Long Island Iced Teas known to man.

Whilst speaking of technology incidentally, I had some other encounters with its darker side. My brothers car, for example, vexed no doubt that he had left me in it whilst he went off on his final office based errand, severing his five year blackberry noose, decided to lock me inside and set the alarm off, convinced I must be up to no good. Phil returned and turned it off, naturally some time after some people had wandered past and given me odd looks. I was also nearly thrown out of Tesco's for using my camera, apparently capturing images in store is against store policy. Rock and roll folks.

The final piece of the technology update was a rapid fire walkthrough of some of the key Playstation 3 games that my friend Craig had acquired over the last year or so. I used to be an avid gamer, so it was nice to get a quick overview of what had come out. A quick blast through Heavy Rain, a game which is essentially an interactive film (and therefore hard to blast through, but we touched on some of the more interesting parts, such as where I had to hack my characters own finger off), some platforming fun with Nathan Drake in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and then a bit of a beat-em up in the massively huge scale God of War 3 (the scale really is quite dizzy in the game, as you battle the gods themselves. Also fairly violent it must be said, as I pounded Poseidon's Head into a bloody pulp.)

Finally we all settled down to some racing in the frenetically paced Split/Second, which seemed to involve less actual racing, and more blowing everything up around us. Tremendous fun.

This was all set to the backdrop of the hottest day of the year and the smells of gently barbequing meat, which we enjoyed at Craig’s new house, which was lovely. We sat outside for the rest of the day, and partook of some American beer to keep ourselves cool, before settling in for the evening to watch Germany defeat Uruguay in one of the better games of the tournament, keeping Paul safe in his tank to face another prediction day. He has tipped Spain to win tonight as I understand it, in a dramatic break from his usual role of only predicting Germany games. I expect a lottery prediction helpline to be set up shortly.

After this we had fun watching Zombieland, an enjoyable road trip movie with Woody Harrelson (and a brief cameo with Bill Murray which really made the film) and distressingly dark humour, before I hopped on the night bus back to my brothers house, and enjoyed listening to the leather capped Special Brew clutching passenger wax lyrical on a number of topics close to his heart. Night buses clearly have not evolved since I left.

Today will be a relaxing Sunday, watching the British Grand Prix, perhaps some scrambled eggs and then Phil plans to whip something up for dinner tonight. Should be good. Enjoy yours, whatever you are up to.

Technology – brilliant stuff

IPhone_4 I am not a technology luddite by any means, in fact, I would say quite the opposite, but for various reasons, mostly involving living in a tent for a year like some sort of hermit, I have been away from changes, and in particular the rapid pace of Smartphone evolution.

I was, of course, aware of the iPhone - the book of Jobs is hard to ignore wherever you are - and certainly the technology has been available for longer than a year and a half. But quite how ubiquitous this device has become only became apparent when I got to London and met up with all my friends, where it turned out that everyone I know now seems to have one. And it was quite amazing really, a large group of people converging in London, and all it took for us to find each other was the Google maps location feature pinged between each other, and folks who weren’t so familiar with the intricacies of London parks were still able to locate us. No doubt the Google equivalent phone OS, Android, would have been just as good at this. Still, it was quite handy, and good to see that technology is moving beyond the gimmicky to the genuinely useful. The rest of the day, technology aside, progressed nicely, moving from park to bar, we even managed to take in a cocktail in one of my favourite London cocktail bars, the underground, and excessively warm Frevds. Worth checking out if you are ever in the area for the cheapest and deadliest Long Island Iced Teas known to man.

Whilst speaking of technology incidentally, I had some other encounters with its darker side. My brothers car, for example, vexed no doubt that he had left me in it whilst he went off on his final office based errand, severing his five year blackberry noose, decided to lock me inside and set the alarm off, convinced I must be up to no good. Phil returned and turned it off, naturally some time after some people had wandered past and given me odd looks. I was also nearly thrown out of Tesco's for using my camera, apparently capturing images in store is against store policy. Rock and roll folks.

The final piece of the technology update was a rapid fire walkthrough of some of the key Playstation 3 games that my friend Craig had acquired over the last year or so. I used to be an avid gamer, so it was nice to get a quick overview of what had come out. A quick blast through Heavy Rain, a game which is essentially an interactive film (and therefore hard to blast through, but we touched on some of the more interesting parts, such as where I had to hack my characters own finger off), some platforming fun with Nathan Drake in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and then a bit of a beat-em up in the massively huge scale God of War 3 (the scale really is quite dizzy in the game, as you battle the gods themselves. Also fairly violent it must be said, as I pounded Poseidon's Head into a bloody pulp.)

Finally we all settled down to some racing in the frenetically paced Split/Second, which seemed to involve less actual racing, and more blowing everything up around us. Tremendous fun.

This was all set to the backdrop of the hottest day of the year and the smells of gently barbequing meat, which we enjoyed at Craig’s new house, which was lovely. We sat outside for the rest of the day, and partook of some American beer to keep ourselves cool, before settling in for the evening to watch Germany defeat Uruguay in one of the better games of the tournament, keeping Paul safe in his tank to face another prediction day. He has tipped Spain to win tonight as I understand it, in a dramatic break from his usual role of only predicting Germany games. I expect a lottery prediction helpline to be set up shortly.

After this we had fun watching Zombieland, an enjoyable road trip movie with Woody Harrelson (and a brief cameo with Bill Murray which really made the film) and distressingly dark humour, before I hopped on the night bus back to my brothers house, and enjoyed listening to the leather capped Special Brew clutching passenger wax lyrical on a number of topics close to his heart. Night buses clearly have not evolved since I left.

Today will be a relaxing Sunday, watching the British Grand Prix, perhaps some scrambled eggs and then Phil plans to whip something up for dinner tonight. Should be good. Enjoy yours, whatever you are up to.

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mr satoshi Yesterday was my first day back in London for over a year, and I think it is fair to say that the return was celebrated in style. The details are a little murky, we started off around lunchtime with a quick refreshing ale in the previously referred to Woolpack, with a vague idea of taking a wander around London and re-visiting old haunts - by the evening we had acquired a Czech chef on his fourth day in London who tagged along with us to a book launch in Angel, where I then had to extricate my dear brother from a buffet that he unfortunately fell into. Rock and perhaps indeed, roll. Or rolls. More food themed jokes to follow.

I’ve never been to a book launch before, and I suspect that seeing one through a slightly befuddled haze does not perhaps add to the whole thing (or maybe it does? who knows), but it did remind me a little bit of a wedding. There were speeches, everyone was being congratulatory to the author, beverages were being consumed and a fine buffet was laid on. Until it was laid on. (I’ll stop now.) After the buffet experience we made a fairly hasty exit back into London, where we said fond farewells to our new culinary friend, whose fourth day in London had presumably met all of his expectations for entertainment, and retreated to the safety of a local pub.

I have not as yet read the book who’s launch we attended, but the jacket did make it sound interesting, themes of self discovery and intrigue against  the backdrop of Tokyo. I think we may have received some signed copies, so I probably will read it, but I can’t give you my opinion of the actual content. Based solely on the party and speeches (this is a pioneering new technique for book review I am developing, work with me) I have every hope that it will be a winner. It is available on Amazon, and no doubt, at all reputable book stores. It’s the first novel by a chap called Jonathan Lee, and I hope it does well, because I can only imagine the effort required to actually turn an idea into a book, and then get said novel into actual print and onto shelves. If you want to check it out for yourselves, here is the Amazon link to the novel, which is titled: Who is Mr Satoshi?.

As for me, today will largely follow the same overall themes as yesterday I suspect, meeting people and catching up, perhaps over drinks. My brothers girlfriend is a saint of a person, having plied me with a variety of restorative cups of tea and delightful slices of toast to get me fighting fit again, despite the fact I wandered around the flat in the middle of the night making a lot of noise in an attempt to create toast. An interesting drinking fact for you, two slices of toast in the middle of the night do not ward off a hangover. I will leave you with that thought for now, as I go to enjoy Englands hottest day of the year to date, with a heat wave warning issued, and temperatures set to hit thirty one degrees. Toasty. Enjoy.

Who is Mr. Satoshi?

mr satoshi Yesterday was my first day back in London for over a year, and I think it is fair to say that the return was celebrated in style. The details are a little murky, we started off around lunchtime with a quick refreshing ale in the previously referred to Woolpack, with a vague idea of taking a wander around London and re-visiting old haunts - by the evening we had acquired a Czech chef on his fourth day in London who tagged along with us to a book launch in Angel, where I then had to extricate my dear brother from a buffet that he unfortunately fell into. Rock and perhaps indeed, roll. Or rolls. More food themed jokes to follow.

I’ve never been to a book launch before, and I suspect that seeing one through a slightly befuddled haze does not perhaps add to the whole thing (or maybe it does? who knows), but it did remind me a little bit of a wedding. There were speeches, everyone was being congratulatory to the author, beverages were being consumed and a fine buffet was laid on. Until it was laid on. (I’ll stop now.) After the buffet experience we made a fairly hasty exit back into London, where we said fond farewells to our new culinary friend, whose fourth day in London had presumably met all of his expectations for entertainment, and retreated to the safety of a local pub.

I have not as yet read the book who’s launch we attended, but the jacket did make it sound interesting, themes of self discovery and intrigue against  the backdrop of Tokyo. I think we may have received some signed copies, so I probably will read it, but I can’t give you my opinion of the actual content. Based solely on the party and speeches (this is a pioneering new technique for book review I am developing, work with me) I have every hope that it will be a winner. It is available on Amazon, and no doubt, at all reputable book stores. It’s the first novel by a chap called Jonathan Lee, and I hope it does well, because I can only imagine the effort required to actually turn an idea into a book, and then get said novel into actual print and onto shelves. If you want to check it out for yourselves, here is the Amazon link to the novel, which is titled: Who is Mr Satoshi?.

As for me, today will largely follow the same overall themes as yesterday I suspect, meeting people and catching up, perhaps over drinks. My brothers girlfriend is a saint of a person, having plied me with a variety of restorative cups of tea and delightful slices of toast to get me fighting fit again, despite the fact I wandered around the flat in the middle of the night making a lot of noise in an attempt to create toast. An interesting drinking fact for you, two slices of toast in the middle of the night do not ward off a hangover. I will leave you with that thought for now, as I go to enjoy Englands hottest day of the year to date, with a heat wave warning issued, and temperatures set to hit thirty one degrees. Toasty. Enjoy.

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Paul the psychic octopus Well, I learnt a few things tonight. One of these things is always to check the safety of the reclining chair before sitting in it with a beer in hand. The second is always to check when informed that beer is going to be available, that it is the normal beer with actual alcohol in. And the third was to trust in predicting cephalopods, as Paul, the so called psychic octopus, who has now correctly predicted every game that Germany has partaken of in the world cup, correctly divined tonight's defeat against Spain. Hats off Paul. Perhaps you will avoid that Spanish paella dish for a while to come yet.

I had heard of a rival to Paul, some sort of radio show based hamster (clearly football punditry is open to random species in Germany), who had predicted a German win. I suspect he may be re-evaluating his career options.

So, Germany went out. To be honest, watching the game, they never really felt like they were in it. The team that destroyed England and Argentina didn’t seem to be on the pitch for most of the game. Spain were, from my point of view, the team that deserved to win it all the way through, and it could have been by a larger margin.

This, therefore, should mark an end to a lot of the football related news on this site. The German flags will come down, the car horns will be dampened, the street sounds of vuvuzelas will ring no more. Sad, but a semi final finish is nothing to sniff at. Next up, the world croquet championships. Assuming such a thing exists to report on…

German tragedy, octopus victory

Paul the psychic octopus Well, I learnt a few things tonight. One of these things is always to check the safety of the reclining chair before sitting in it with a beer in hand. The second is always to check when informed that beer is going to be available, that it is the normal beer with actual alcohol in. And the third was to trust in predicting cephalopods, as Paul, the so called psychic octopus, who has now correctly predicted every game that Germany has partaken of in the world cup, correctly divined tonight's defeat against Spain. Hats off Paul. Perhaps you will avoid that Spanish paella dish for a while to come yet.

I had heard of a rival to Paul, some sort of radio show based hamster (clearly football punditry is open to random species in Germany), who had predicted a German win. I suspect he may be re-evaluating his career options.

So, Germany went out. To be honest, watching the game, they never really felt like they were in it. The team that destroyed England and Argentina didn’t seem to be on the pitch for most of the game. Spain were, from my point of view, the team that deserved to win it all the way through, and it could have been by a larger margin.

This, therefore, should mark an end to a lot of the football related news on this site. The German flags will come down, the car horns will be dampened, the street sounds of vuvuzelas will ring no more. Sad, but a semi final finish is nothing to sniff at. Next up, the world croquet championships. Assuming such a thing exists to report on…

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Sunset over London Millenium BridgeI sadly don’t have a time machine, so can’t visit London as the Romans built it 2000 years ago, but I am popping over to London tomorrow for a few days to catch up with a whole variety of people. The wonders of cheap flights mean that somehow I can get from the nearest airport to us, about 15km away, to London Gatwick, and back again, for about thirty British pounds.

It will probably cost me more to get the train into London than the flight from Germany.

Admittedly, for this price I am not allowed any actual luggage, the luxury of a pre-booked seat and well, I'm probably just holding onto the wing rather than travelling inside the fuselage with everyone else, but such is life travelling economy.

I really like London, it is certainly one of my favourite cities as cities go. Two thousand years of culture and various civilisations attempting to either build it or flatten it have left their mark, and you definitely get a sense of history as you walk around it.

To Londinium

Sunset over London Millenium BridgeI sadly don’t have a time machine, so can’t visit London as the Romans built it 2000 years ago, but I am popping over to London tomorrow for a few days to catch up with a whole variety of people. The wonders of cheap flights mean that somehow I can get from the nearest airport to us, about 15km away, to London Gatwick, and back again, for about thirty British pounds.

It will probably cost me more to get the train into London than the flight from Germany.

Admittedly, for this price I am not allowed any actual luggage, the luxury of a pre-booked seat and well, I'm probably just holding onto the wing rather than travelling inside the fuselage with everyone else, but such is life travelling economy.

I really like London, it is certainly one of my favourite cities as cities go. Two thousand years of culture and various civilisations attempting to either build it or flatten it have left their mark, and you definitely get a sense of history as you walk around it.

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The ongoing review of stuff that Vera owns is still ongoing, I can report. This is actually reaping some dividends for me, it turns out that having a girlfriend who is taller than me means that most of her clothes fit me. Transgender dressing aside (only on the weekends), my clothing range has expanded. I even have some new trainers. The g-strings do chafe slightly however.

It turns out that stuff collection is a pretty big sport over here. Tomorrow a truck will pootle through town and pick up all the extra spare stuff that people no longer want (the pile outside our house is growing rapidly), and it seems that the piles outside other peoples houses are at least equal to the mountain outside ours. Is everyone from Walberberg about to up sticks and head to New Zealand I wonder? It seems unlikely. Although if anyone is in the market for an ancient pair of skis, there are some outside the house opposite. Bargain hunters are already roaming the streets, searching for choice items in other peoples discarded items. It’s like a giant furniture sale, except everything is free. Bring your own trailer.

In football related news, Germany take on Spain tomorrow in the semi-finals. Word has reached me that the psychic octopus, Paul, has predicted a Spanish victory. Thus far he has predicted every outcome of Germany’s world cup career successfully, so clearly his predictions cannot be taken with a pinch of salt. Even if the Argentineans suggested Paul may be better off being served as a paella. Bless. Still, hopes continue to be high, and we’ll be watching the game carefully. With any luck, both Germany and Holland will qualify for the final, then Europe will casually fall into war. Excellent.

More stuff

The ongoing review of stuff that Vera owns is still ongoing, I can report. This is actually reaping some dividends for me, it turns out that having a girlfriend who is taller than me means that most of her clothes fit me. Transgender dressing aside (only on the weekends), my clothing range has expanded. I even have some new trainers. The g-strings do chafe slightly however.

It turns out that stuff collection is a pretty big sport over here. Tomorrow a truck will pootle through town and pick up all the extra spare stuff that people no longer want (the pile outside our house is growing rapidly), and it seems that the piles outside other peoples houses are at least equal to the mountain outside ours. Is everyone from Walberberg about to up sticks and head to New Zealand I wonder? It seems unlikely. Although if anyone is in the market for an ancient pair of skis, there are some outside the house opposite. Bargain hunters are already roaming the streets, searching for choice items in other peoples discarded items. It’s like a giant furniture sale, except everything is free. Bring your own trailer.

In football related news, Germany take on Spain tomorrow in the semi-finals. Word has reached me that the psychic octopus, Paul, has predicted a Spanish victory. Thus far he has predicted every outcome of Germany’s world cup career successfully, so clearly his predictions cannot be taken with a pinch of salt. Even if the Argentineans suggested Paul may be better off being served as a paella. Bless. Still, hopes continue to be high, and we’ll be watching the game carefully. With any luck, both Germany and Holland will qualify for the final, then Europe will casually fall into war. Excellent.

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IMG_3532 Isn’t coffee wonderful stuff? The people here certainly seem to think so, there are no less than five Cafetières for general use plus an espresso maker and some other complex looking electronical devices that do interesting things to the powder to turn it into, well, something highly drinkable. Recent studies have shown that more than four cups of coffee (I’m not sure if a litre equates to more than four, I will assume it does) a day protect against heart disease (although another study has shown that it many hinder your short term memory. I had a joke to insert here, but I've forgotten it. Ho Ho.)

In Australia, coffee comes with a whole separate language to the one I had learnt in order to converse with the ubiquitous Starbucks baristas in the UK. (Another thing, Starbucks hardly exists at all in Australia. I think I found one in Sydney, and that was about it.) Pretty much every coffee you buy is based upon a shot or more of espresso, then changed to suit. An espresso, incidentally, is not referred to as such, instead it is called a short black. What I would refer to as an Americano, a shot of espresso with hot water added to make it a long drink, is a long black (although sometimes they form this by just adding espresso shots until the cup is full. These really wake you up.) A flat white is a froth free mixture of hot milk and an espresso shot, whilst a latte is the same with froth. A Cappuccino, as far as I understood it, is a latte with a lot more froth, whilst a Macchiato is shot of espresso with a bit of froth.

Easy really.

So that is coffee. A universally available and wonderful drink. I like mine black, sugar free and in large quantities. More to follow of a non coffee related nature shortly.

Coffee

IMG_3532 Isn’t coffee wonderful stuff? The people here certainly seem to think so, there are no less than five Cafetières for general use plus an espresso maker and some other complex looking electronical devices that do interesting things to the powder to turn it into, well, something highly drinkable. Recent studies have shown that more than four cups of coffee (I’m not sure if a litre equates to more than four, I will assume it does) a day protect against heart disease (although another study has shown that it many hinder your short term memory. I had a joke to insert here, but I've forgotten it. Ho Ho.)

In Australia, coffee comes with a whole separate language to the one I had learnt in order to converse with the ubiquitous Starbucks baristas in the UK. (Another thing, Starbucks hardly exists at all in Australia. I think I found one in Sydney, and that was about it.) Pretty much every coffee you buy is based upon a shot or more of espresso, then changed to suit. An espresso, incidentally, is not referred to as such, instead it is called a short black. What I would refer to as an Americano, a shot of espresso with hot water added to make it a long drink, is a long black (although sometimes they form this by just adding espresso shots until the cup is full. These really wake you up.) A flat white is a froth free mixture of hot milk and an espresso shot, whilst a latte is the same with froth. A Cappuccino, as far as I understood it, is a latte with a lot more froth, whilst a Macchiato is shot of espresso with a bit of froth.

Easy really.

So that is coffee. A universally available and wonderful drink. I like mine black, sugar free and in large quantities. More to follow of a non coffee related nature shortly.

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IMG_4252 Some serious cultural happenings are occurring in the village of Walberberg this weekend, which conveniently happens to be the village I am living in. As we live on the main street, not much effort is required to actually observe the culture, other than peering out of the window, as you can see from the photo. The housemates and I are reluctant to get any more involved than this in the goings on, but this does seem sufficient to draw suspicious stares from those actually taking part. I stood outside the house for a brief moment of time to observe the passing parade of people dressed up, flag bearers, band members and so on, but the looks I was given did not indicate that I was welcome to be doing so. Traditional German culture and half naked beach bum sporting camera do not perhaps mix too well.

Still, it was interesting to watch. There is some reason for the parade, involving some weekend long festival occurring in the village, but we have not ventured further into understanding beyond that. It is sufficiently warm to just laze around feeling happily tickled by sun beams and ponder the delights of an afternoon swim in the lake, the culture is a nice bit of icing on a perfect cake, one doesn’t need to lick it to know that it tastes good. I have no idea where I was trying to go with that metaphor. If in doubt, change the subject.

We watched Germany trounce Argentina yesterday, a result which was somewhat unexpected, certainly with any of the German folk I know over here. Hopes are however starting to tentatively increase, the feeling is that Germany appearing in the final is no longer a distant dream. England being knocked out of the cup by the champions would somehow make that defeat feel slightly less tangy. Perhaps. Now that I am supporting Germany however they are doomed to failure. Ah well. We watched the game in the outside area whilst a tremendous lightning storm raged overhead, with accompanying torrential rain. Perfect BBQ weather you will no doubt agree. We then had a BBQ in the covered area, which resulted in a lot of smoke inhalation. So a classic BBQ all around, if lacking in sausage.

Finally, for now, I am popping over to London later this week to meet up with a whole swathe of people I have not seen in sometime, which I am really looking forward to. I expect there will be some drinking, some eating, and some merriment. Hopefully I’ll see some of you then :)

Village culture

IMG_4252 Some serious cultural happenings are occurring in the village of Walberberg this weekend, which conveniently happens to be the village I am living in. As we live on the main street, not much effort is required to actually observe the culture, other than peering out of the window, as you can see from the photo. The housemates and I are reluctant to get any more involved than this in the goings on, but this does seem sufficient to draw suspicious stares from those actually taking part. I stood outside the house for a brief moment of time to observe the passing parade of people dressed up, flag bearers, band members and so on, but the looks I was given did not indicate that I was welcome to be doing so. Traditional German culture and half naked beach bum sporting camera do not perhaps mix too well.

Still, it was interesting to watch. There is some reason for the parade, involving some weekend long festival occurring in the village, but we have not ventured further into understanding beyond that. It is sufficiently warm to just laze around feeling happily tickled by sun beams and ponder the delights of an afternoon swim in the lake, the culture is a nice bit of icing on a perfect cake, one doesn’t need to lick it to know that it tastes good. I have no idea where I was trying to go with that metaphor. If in doubt, change the subject.

We watched Germany trounce Argentina yesterday, a result which was somewhat unexpected, certainly with any of the German folk I know over here. Hopes are however starting to tentatively increase, the feeling is that Germany appearing in the final is no longer a distant dream. England being knocked out of the cup by the champions would somehow make that defeat feel slightly less tangy. Perhaps. Now that I am supporting Germany however they are doomed to failure. Ah well. We watched the game in the outside area whilst a tremendous lightning storm raged overhead, with accompanying torrential rain. Perfect BBQ weather you will no doubt agree. We then had a BBQ in the covered area, which resulted in a lot of smoke inhalation. So a classic BBQ all around, if lacking in sausage.

Finally, for now, I am popping over to London later this week to meet up with a whole swathe of people I have not seen in sometime, which I am really looking forward to. I expect there will be some drinking, some eating, and some merriment. Hopefully I’ll see some of you then :)

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There are some things that are pretty much guaranteed, no matter where you are in the world, certain truths that are inescapable. Well, ok, this particular truth only usually applies to the UK, but I can now confirm that if one plans a BBQ in Germany, whatever the weather forecast may be divining, rain is going to appear sooner or later.

Today is Germany’s worldcup battle against Argentina in the world cup quarter final. I know, I said I wasn’t going to talk about football following the England departure, but it’s all around me here still, so it is almost impossible not to mention. The game is at four, on a Saturday, which means we planned to have a BBQ, enjoy the heat and watch the game over a few beers. A fine plan.

The day dawned rather beautifully at around 5.24am. I know this because it was far too hot too actually sleep, so instead I watched the sky turn to crimson out of the skylight. Yes, it is hot. Over thirty six degrees now, with some intense humidity to boot. People are wandering around perspiring gently. Unfortunately, it seems, the intense heat in leading towards some kind of huge thunderstorm. The humidity is oppressive, add a few crocodiles and we could be in the deep South of America, swatting mosquitoes and chewing on dead squirrels. Or whatever it is they do down there. My experiences are largely drawn from watching The Waterboy, and that episode of top gear.

So, intense heat, building thunderstorm, planned BBQ. A perfect combination. Luckily there is a large covered area so the BBQ can still go ahead, even if the rain comes (it has come, with accompanying giant rips of thunder, as I type). We popped to the shops to get supplies for the BBQ. I rather foolishly thought that doing this on blades would be a good idea. I can now reveal that exercise in this weather that doesn’t involve a large body of water is a serious error. Rivulets of sweat literally poured off me. I think I made a fine sight wandering around the thankfully air-conditioned supermarket.

Speaking of lakes, I went for a swim in the lake yesterday with Vera’s sister and one of the housemates (slight Big Brother moment there, my apologies), where we decided to swim across the lake and back. This is a little over 1000m total distance, which I can now confirm is a long long way to swim when there are no sides or bottom. We didn’t even get to have a break on the far shore as a swan family looked at us rather threateningly. And swans do seem somewhat more threatening when they loom over you. Anyway, lake swim complete, death by swan avoided.

I now sit under the covered area pondering the rain, chewing on water melon, pretending it is chunks of squirrel, and thinking that perhaps it may be about to cool down a bit, possibly even dropping below thirty five for a time, which would be ok by me.

Finally, I spent a while sorting out some of the videos from the Australia trip, and these are now on youtube for your viewing pleasure. Find them on my youtube channel, here.

The realities of life

There are some things that are pretty much guaranteed, no matter where you are in the world, certain truths that are inescapable. Well, ok, this particular truth only usually applies to the UK, but I can now confirm that if one plans a BBQ in Germany, whatever the weather forecast may be divining, rain is going to appear sooner or later.

Today is Germany’s worldcup battle against Argentina in the world cup quarter final. I know, I said I wasn’t going to talk about football following the England departure, but it’s all around me here still, so it is almost impossible not to mention. The game is at four, on a Saturday, which means we planned to have a BBQ, enjoy the heat and watch the game over a few beers. A fine plan.

The day dawned rather beautifully at around 5.24am. I know this because it was far too hot too actually sleep, so instead I watched the sky turn to crimson out of the skylight. Yes, it is hot. Over thirty six degrees now, with some intense humidity to boot. People are wandering around perspiring gently. Unfortunately, it seems, the intense heat in leading towards some kind of huge thunderstorm. The humidity is oppressive, add a few crocodiles and we could be in the deep South of America, swatting mosquitoes and chewing on dead squirrels. Or whatever it is they do down there. My experiences are largely drawn from watching The Waterboy, and that episode of top gear.

So, intense heat, building thunderstorm, planned BBQ. A perfect combination. Luckily there is a large covered area so the BBQ can still go ahead, even if the rain comes (it has come, with accompanying giant rips of thunder, as I type). We popped to the shops to get supplies for the BBQ. I rather foolishly thought that doing this on blades would be a good idea. I can now reveal that exercise in this weather that doesn’t involve a large body of water is a serious error. Rivulets of sweat literally poured off me. I think I made a fine sight wandering around the thankfully air-conditioned supermarket.

Speaking of lakes, I went for a swim in the lake yesterday with Vera’s sister and one of the housemates (slight Big Brother moment there, my apologies), where we decided to swim across the lake and back. This is a little over 1000m total distance, which I can now confirm is a long long way to swim when there are no sides or bottom. We didn’t even get to have a break on the far shore as a swan family looked at us rather threateningly. And swans do seem somewhat more threatening when they loom over you. Anyway, lake swim complete, death by swan avoided.

I now sit under the covered area pondering the rain, chewing on water melon, pretending it is chunks of squirrel, and thinking that perhaps it may be about to cool down a bit, possibly even dropping below thirty five for a time, which would be ok by me.

Finally, I spent a while sorting out some of the videos from the Australia trip, and these are now on youtube for your viewing pleasure. Find them on my youtube channel, here.

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I may have mentioned yesterday that my girlfriend collects stuff. I was perhaps kind with this description, yesterday I was given a brief overview of some of the things that she has acquired over the years, and I can reveal that the content includes IV stands - those things you get in hospitals to hang drips from. You know, just in case. Rest assured therefore, that if something happens to me out here, the ambulance people will not be short of a saline drip stand or two.

I bring this up again because from time to time a hidden gem appears from the mountainous piles of things that are being mined through. Yesterdays gem was a fine pair of Italian made Roces rollerblades, which for some convenient reason, fit me perfectly. A bit of cleaning later (I subsequently lost housemate points for not entirely cleansing the shower of rollerblade mud, points I recouped with other housemates in the form of making dinner, it’s a complex system) and some lubricant applied to the wheels (ABEC5 bearings, 92A compound, for those interested in such things), it was time to see if I could still remember how to blade.

For those wondering, I did used to do quite a lot of wandering around on eight wheels, I started at uni with a couple of friends and we transported ourselves nearly everywhere on them. So I had some faith that I wasn’t going to entirely smear myself across the road. And it turned out that rollerblading is much like riding a bike, you don’t really forget. The cycle roads here are perfect for it, nice and smooth and car free (although the classic tree root under the road problem is certainly in effect), so we went a whole 8 kilometres, with me on blades and Vera on her bike. Which was nice.

In other non rollerblading news, it’s pretty warm over here at the moment, the kind of heat you really wouldn’t want to be going to work in. The thermometer is registering 36 in the shade, which is certainly toasty warm. There is the possibility that I will be getting to grips with the lawnmower and maybe even trimming some vines that have grown up the side of the house. In case people thought I just sat around all day being of no value. Or I could just look forward to the Nadal v Murray game. Choices.

I’ve also just about completed uploading a number of videos from the Australia trip onto the internet. We spent a year travelling around the country, and as well as taking a very large number of pictures, we also from time to time did video spots. We never found anywhere in Oz with sufficiently fast internet to enable us to upload them, but now I have, so a bit more sorting and a link will be posted shortly. If that is the sort of thing to interest you. Keep on smiling folks!

Rollerblade your life away

I may have mentioned yesterday that my girlfriend collects stuff. I was perhaps kind with this description, yesterday I was given a brief overview of some of the things that she has acquired over the years, and I can reveal that the content includes IV stands - those things you get in hospitals to hang drips from. You know, just in case. Rest assured therefore, that if something happens to me out here, the ambulance people will not be short of a saline drip stand or two.

I bring this up again because from time to time a hidden gem appears from the mountainous piles of things that are being mined through. Yesterdays gem was a fine pair of Italian made Roces rollerblades, which for some convenient reason, fit me perfectly. A bit of cleaning later (I subsequently lost housemate points for not entirely cleansing the shower of rollerblade mud, points I recouped with other housemates in the form of making dinner, it’s a complex system) and some lubricant applied to the wheels (ABEC5 bearings, 92A compound, for those interested in such things), it was time to see if I could still remember how to blade.

For those wondering, I did used to do quite a lot of wandering around on eight wheels, I started at uni with a couple of friends and we transported ourselves nearly everywhere on them. So I had some faith that I wasn’t going to entirely smear myself across the road. And it turned out that rollerblading is much like riding a bike, you don’t really forget. The cycle roads here are perfect for it, nice and smooth and car free (although the classic tree root under the road problem is certainly in effect), so we went a whole 8 kilometres, with me on blades and Vera on her bike. Which was nice.

In other non rollerblading news, it’s pretty warm over here at the moment, the kind of heat you really wouldn’t want to be going to work in. The thermometer is registering 36 in the shade, which is certainly toasty warm. There is the possibility that I will be getting to grips with the lawnmower and maybe even trimming some vines that have grown up the side of the house. In case people thought I just sat around all day being of no value. Or I could just look forward to the Nadal v Murray game. Choices.

I’ve also just about completed uploading a number of videos from the Australia trip onto the internet. We spent a year travelling around the country, and as well as taking a very large number of pictures, we also from time to time did video spots. We never found anywhere in Oz with sufficiently fast internet to enable us to upload them, but now I have, so a bit more sorting and a link will be posted shortly. If that is the sort of thing to interest you. Keep on smiling folks!

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We seem, in our lives, to accumulate a lot of stuff. And I don’t mean emotional baggage, although I’m sure that piles up too, I mean actual physical stuff. Here is an example. My girlfriend, who has lived in the house we are currently in for something like seven years, has a world of boxes around her. She is, admittedly, leaning further towards the “keep stuff just in case” war mentality then most, but you get the idea. As we plan to go to New Zealand in a few months, this amount of stuff is no longer a feasible thing to keep, so there is a large sorting effort underway. Many things are being referred to the waste pile.

My granddad had a thing about keeping stuff also. In his attic he had no less than five vacuum cleaners, none of which worked, all of which were kept just in case. A TV set from a time when TV was transmitted in a whole other format, just in case, presumably, something happened causing technology to go backwards and TV started being transmitted in a post war fashion again. We finally managed to get rid of it all, but only through the surreptitious means of the back windows of the house while he was napping downstairs.

Even today, in a seemingly digital age, we seem to have a lot of stuff. I try to avoid buying things that I can now rent or borrow, but I do have boxes of books and DVD’s lurking in lofts that nag at my soul as me needing to do something with at some point. I was speaking to a friend about this yesterday - he has recently moved into a new house, and is worried already about where he is going to put all his books. He is seriously considering getting an ebook reader so he doesn’t need to buy physical copies of the book, but hilariously he has discovered that often the electronic version of a novel costs more than the physical version. Plus you have to buy the device to read it on. And it doesn’t really solve the problem of the books you already have. I could suggest a library, but one often has to accept a time delay between release and availability that is not easy to accept when the hardcover beckons at you teasingly from every book store.

FIlms and music are also a challenge. Music is less so now, what with the format shift towards disk based storage rather than other physical media, although the question remains what one should do with all the compact discs, audio cassettes and vinyl one has collected over the years. You could certainly convert them all, but this is time consuming. It is nice to reflect one’s collection in multiple formats of course, but then you would need multiple devices to play it all on, and separate shelving systems to house it all.

Films are particularly annoying. I have a large collection of DVD’s in boxes in an attic. I’m not sure why I kept buying them, certainly in the last couple of years before I started travelling I realised the folly and moved to a rental system, but there is something wonderfully attractive about having a collection of things to look at, an external display to the world of your tastes. The format wars moved relatively quickly in the film world. Cassette to DVD to Blu-Ray happened rapidly, with some minor detours down some failed format routes on the way. I think Blu-Ray will mark the end of the physical media format wars thankfully, by the time the next generation of higher definition comes along we should have moved to a more digitally acquirable form of media.

So what is the point of all of this rambling. When travelling a lot, a lot of stuff is really a bit of a hindrance certainly. I recognise of course that not everyone travels a lot, or wants to, and having a lot of things is nice. But even then the fact that, in certain areas at least, we keep having to update our collections to keep abreast of modern technology, is galling. I have this belief, crazy as it sounds, that once one has bought a copy of something, be it a book, or a piece of music, or a film, you should be entitled to have future copies of said article provided to you either free or at a nominal fee, so you can keep up with the ongoing format evolution. Of course, this wouldn’t work so well for the companies who do so well selling you the same item over and over again in different formats, so it is unlikely to happen, but the vision can be utopian even if the reality isn’t.

Before I left I got rid of a lot of stuff, but I do admit to having boxes of clothes, books, films and CD’s hanging out across two attics. By the time I get back they will probably be either desperately out of fashion (critics would suggest that if something was not ever in fashion it can’t go out, I would have to agree) or of a format that nobody uses any more. Ah well. Life goes on. Let me know if you are overwhelmed with stuff or think I’m ranting unnecessarily in the comments below :)

Stuff

We seem, in our lives, to accumulate a lot of stuff. And I don’t mean emotional baggage, although I’m sure that piles up too, I mean actual physical stuff. Here is an example. My girlfriend, who has lived in the house we are currently in for something like seven years, has a world of boxes around her. She is, admittedly, leaning further towards the “keep stuff just in case” war mentality then most, but you get the idea. As we plan to go to New Zealand in a few months, this amount of stuff is no longer a feasible thing to keep, so there is a large sorting effort underway. Many things are being referred to the waste pile.

My granddad had a thing about keeping stuff also. In his attic he had no less than five vacuum cleaners, none of which worked, all of which were kept just in case. A TV set from a time when TV was transmitted in a whole other format, just in case, presumably, something happened causing technology to go backwards and TV started being transmitted in a post war fashion again. We finally managed to get rid of it all, but only through the surreptitious means of the back windows of the house while he was napping downstairs.

Even today, in a seemingly digital age, we seem to have a lot of stuff. I try to avoid buying things that I can now rent or borrow, but I do have boxes of books and DVD’s lurking in lofts that nag at my soul as me needing to do something with at some point. I was speaking to a friend about this yesterday - he has recently moved into a new house, and is worried already about where he is going to put all his books. He is seriously considering getting an ebook reader so he doesn’t need to buy physical copies of the book, but hilariously he has discovered that often the electronic version of a novel costs more than the physical version. Plus you have to buy the device to read it on. And it doesn’t really solve the problem of the books you already have. I could suggest a library, but one often has to accept a time delay between release and availability that is not easy to accept when the hardcover beckons at you teasingly from every book store.

FIlms and music are also a challenge. Music is less so now, what with the format shift towards disk based storage rather than other physical media, although the question remains what one should do with all the compact discs, audio cassettes and vinyl one has collected over the years. You could certainly convert them all, but this is time consuming. It is nice to reflect one’s collection in multiple formats of course, but then you would need multiple devices to play it all on, and separate shelving systems to house it all.

Films are particularly annoying. I have a large collection of DVD’s in boxes in an attic. I’m not sure why I kept buying them, certainly in the last couple of years before I started travelling I realised the folly and moved to a rental system, but there is something wonderfully attractive about having a collection of things to look at, an external display to the world of your tastes. The format wars moved relatively quickly in the film world. Cassette to DVD to Blu-Ray happened rapidly, with some minor detours down some failed format routes on the way. I think Blu-Ray will mark the end of the physical media format wars thankfully, by the time the next generation of higher definition comes along we should have moved to a more digitally acquirable form of media.

So what is the point of all of this rambling. When travelling a lot, a lot of stuff is really a bit of a hindrance certainly. I recognise of course that not everyone travels a lot, or wants to, and having a lot of things is nice. But even then the fact that, in certain areas at least, we keep having to update our collections to keep abreast of modern technology, is galling. I have this belief, crazy as it sounds, that once one has bought a copy of something, be it a book, or a piece of music, or a film, you should be entitled to have future copies of said article provided to you either free or at a nominal fee, so you can keep up with the ongoing format evolution. Of course, this wouldn’t work so well for the companies who do so well selling you the same item over and over again in different formats, so it is unlikely to happen, but the vision can be utopian even if the reality isn’t.

Before I left I got rid of a lot of stuff, but I do admit to having boxes of clothes, books, films and CD’s hanging out across two attics. By the time I get back they will probably be either desperately out of fashion (critics would suggest that if something was not ever in fashion it can’t go out, I would have to agree) or of a format that nobody uses any more. Ah well. Life goes on. Let me know if you are overwhelmed with stuff or think I’m ranting unnecessarily in the comments below :)

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