Monday, January 30, 2006
This is your author clay pigeon shooting - or more accurately blasting away at the Derbyshire countryside whilst a tiny clay disc whizzes past, unharmed. One of my oldest friends from back home (in both senses) was celebrating his 30th over the weekend, so a few of us went to Manchester to see him. After driving over from Preston on a bright Saturday morning we linked up in a convoy and drove into the Peak District - which I learned recently is the second most visited National Park in the world behind Fuji-Hakone NP, where I was on a very un-bright weekend a few months ago.
We rolled through to Glossop, and then on to Crowden - half a dozen scattered houses in a wind-swept but striking valley. Up the hillside was the Boar Shooting Ground, overlooking the Torside Reservoir. Thankfully a misnoma - the only things we'd be shooting would be clay pigeons (and bracken, in my case). Now I've never held a gun in my life, so was looking forward to it - but also a bit nervous as to whether I'd hit anything. As it happened I hit the very first one I aimed at - but then nothing for a long while. We had split into groups of four, and as my mate Oliver goes shooting all the time (he brought his own ammo) the owner let him look after three novices - me and old schoolfriends Alex and Phil. Stages were marked out with scaffolding poles stuck into the ground like fenceposts (so you didn't wheel around and shoot over other people), and the clays were launched with a hand-held button (we still shouted 'PULL' instead of 'PUSH', though).
Oliver goes shooting practically every weekend, and is - and I'm sure he'll take this as a compliment - a ruthless machine. Clay after clay shattered into fragments, shrapnel spinning into the long grass in every direction. The rest of us were somewhat less effective, and managed to hit a few - I got 7 out of 30. Not too bad for a first go. It's difficult though - for a start the gun is longer than I was expecting, and pretty heavy. You lean into it, pressing it into your shoulder. This automatically tenses you up, so when the clay flings out of the bushes, you jerk around and try to follow it. Being smooth is the best way to hit one, and you follow the trajectory of the disc until you can't see it behind the end of the gun, and squeeze the trigger.
At this point, the shotgun kicks upwards and there's a earplug-shaking BANG. If you're lucky (or Oliver), the clay explodes into shards. If you're me, it continues to spiral merrily onwards and plops into the heather fifty feet away. I did get better, we moved around to different stages - designed to replicate a different kind of bird. I was pretty good at the one which comes directly at you at about 20ft in the air. I don't know what kind of bird that is (apart from suicidal), but using Oliver's special semi-automatic shotgun "Don't put your finger in the chamber, it'll take it off", I hit 4/5 (and more importantly retained all my fingers). At this point, a real-life pheasant wandered over to see what we were up to - which is as unadvised as a rabbit turning up to watch a greyhound race. The gunshots didn't seem to concern it, and after a while it hopped through a farm gate and away, unflustered...
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I'm from Lancashire - so I like pies. Admittedly, I'm not from Wigan - the centre of the pie universe - but near enough. I was eating a Steak pie supper from the local chippy the other night, when I thought I should blog something about the greatness of the pastry case full of odd meat and vegetables. I should start by saying that this is a British blog - so all references to the p-word are involving 'savoury' pies, not fruity imposters like you get over the Atlantic. Try ordering Pie and Chips in the US, and see what you get. Apart from odd looks.
After a quick Google, I discovered that pies were invented by the Ancient Egyptians. Despite being fruit-based, I was delighted to learn that ...drawings of this can be found etched on the tomb walls of Ramses II, located in the Valley of the Kings. Ah, if only Indiana Jones had broken into the Temple of Pies ("I've got a bad feeling about this, Shortcrust"). I hope the hieroglyphics have side-on men with bird-heads holding a deep-filled Pastie. Later on, the first meat-based pie was created by the Ancient Greeks - a flour/water paste wrapped around meat to seal in the juices. When the Romans conquered Greece, they brought back the pie as one of their spoils of victory. "Hail Ceaser! We bring you this gift of Steak and Kidney!".
I used to eat a fair few pies at school, where Butter Pie was on the menu at least once a week. I could only find one mention of proper Butter Pies on Google - here - the rest being Butter pastry pies or Peanut Butter Pies (?). Essentially potato and onion pie, it probably was less than 50% butter. Good hearty food for schoolkids. So that's where I get it from, I suppose. Of course, pies are supposedly unhealthy, so I only eat them as part of a balanced diet of course - which in Wigan is a pie in each hand. Had to get that in somewhere. What's a kebab in Wigan? A pie on a stick. Hoho. Pies also go with football - I can remember one match at Blackburn where the half-time rush (which starts well before half-time) were queueing under the stand when Rovers scored. They were asking us what had happened, but of course didn't relinquish their spots in the queue.
As part of my research for this post - yes, you read that correctly - I looked at a few of the UK's major pie producers (or pieducers, if you will). As you should know, the number 1 branded pie in the stadia market (according to their website) is Pukka Pies (motto - 'Don't Compromise'). They only use 'young lean bullock beef cut from the forequarter. No head meat, no mechanically recovered meat and no cow meat. This has always been the case.' Honest. Although their range does include something called 'Catering Sausage'. Yum. Hollands Pies (motto - 'Every Pie has it's moment') have five pages of pies on their website, including the Cheese and Onion Pastie which contains '8% Cheese and 4.5% Onion' - and obviously a lot of something else. However, they claim a blind test of 'over 30 people' found their pies to be the best - 'The new Steak and Kidney pie has the edge...in the two most important areas - taste and texture'. On the other side of the pie lid, as it were, are Square Pie (no motto) - a London-based posh pie chain with fillings like 'Jerk Chicken' and 'Wild Mushroom and Asparagus'. Set up in 2001 because 'we believe the world needs better pies. The word pie had become synonymous with rubbery pastry and dodgy fillings you didn't trust', their website has poems and 'pie-stories'. No Catering Sausage here.
So it seems pies are here to stay. As bad for you are the chippy pies (cooked by being dropped into the chip fat), upmarket and gourmet pie sellers are putting the upper back into the crust. The rise of the middle-class foodie has meant an increase in popularity of regional variations like the Bridie and Cornish Pastie. Hopefully meat pies are making an impression in the tricky North American market - Steak and Kidney pie seems to be a euphamism for the perceived nastiness of British food. Pies are certainly going strong in Australia - the classic Pie Floater (a pie drowned in mushy peas) is a delight, and I sampled a few at Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Sydney, something of a national treasure. So I urge you all to enjoy your pies. If you need inspiration, have a look at the quite brilliant I Like Pies who have a 'Piemate of the Month'. So I'll be tucking into one of those soon. I still draw the line at Black Pudding, though.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
At the moment I've only got one pair of shoes. And you thought you had problems. When I was leaving Sydney, weight and amount of baggage became a priority - so I jettisoned anything I didn't immediately need to make it easier. Worn-out pairs of shoes were an easy loss, so in the bin they went and as a result when I leave the flat in the morning I've got one less decision to make. Of course, being a modern-man that state of affairs can't last forever, so I went shoe shopping today to put it right. I reckon that's about as far as most of you will read, and I can't say that I blame you. Still, I found out some interesting stuff.
I was in a couple of sports shops trying to buy some trainers (sneakers/runners/le pumps etc)(I don't know what the French really call trainers). What grim places they are - have you been in a Footlocker recently? The teenage staff lord it over the teenage customers, dressed in stripey outfits modelled on American Football referees - which only make them resemble prison commandants. After a quick glance at the shelves, I confirmed I didn't need any help to at least three of them - I think I actually apologised the third time - and fled for the safety of Inter Sport, or something similar. Here there were no staff at all, so I could look at the shoes in peace.
How badly made are trainers these days? Ahhhh - that's the first time I've ever used that phrase. I am nearly 30, after all. Don't get me started on Top of the Pops. Anyway, the footwear on display looked like an explosion in a polyurethane factory - swooshing and swirling shades of black/white/grey/blue, clear bits, plastic, metal. Honestly - you knew where you were with Air Jordans. Showing my age again there. I had just about given up, when I saw one that made my eyes light up - the Adidas_1, the 'World's First Intelligent Shoe'. Eh?
I seem to have missed an entire evolutionary level of footwear, as to my knowledge shoes have yet to master rudimentary tools - but there it was - a sentient being, sitting there on the shelf, priced (brace yourself) at a whopping £175. Must have been Harvard-educated, at that price. At first glance, it looks like any other poorly-made running shoe with crinkly bits, but turn it over and it appears to have a motor and gear system built into the heel. Clear plastic panels give you a view of cogs and sprockets, with a small control panel (looking like a volume control) mounted to the outer side, halfway along. I put it back, as obviously I wasn't going to pay that much - telling the shoe why (as an intelligent being it deserved an explanation).
Later on, I used the internet to find out what makes this brainy brogue so special. The spectacularly garish Adidas_1 website was the place to go of course (someone went overboard on the Flash there). You have to enter your name and shoe size before you can look at anything (I'm not making that up, honest). So after typing in 'Javier' and '6' I was in. I certainly learned something, I can tell you. The Adidas_1 has a "Built-in microprocessor capable of 5 million calculations per second" - something it uses not to warn you if there's dogshit approaching, or to bleep if you pass a pub, but to cushion your step irrespective of terrain - "put them on and only four steps from your front door the Adidas_1 has already analysed your speed, weight and the terrain underfoot and have determined the perfect level of cushioning for your needs." It can tell how much you weigh? Is that safe? Does it steer you away from the crisps aisle in the Supermarket? Maybe so - as the website also menacingly threatens "Adidas_1 is the first shoe that can think for itself and then do something about it". So no sneaking Creme Eggs on the quiet, fatty.
Having looked at all the fancy data, essentially the shoe can tell between concrete and sand, and tightens the springyness in the heel depending on what you're running on. The motor has "153% more torque", and the shoe is fitted with a "LightStrike™ EVA with adiPRENE®+ insert in the forefoot.", whatever that is. Maybe if you drop something on your foot, the shoe reacts and flings your leg to safety. Anyway, just as I was beginning to come round to the idea of footwear that you can converse with* I noticed a short and unflowery sentance hidden away in the tekky stuff - "So the change is undetectable to the user". What? So after all that - you can't actually notice if anything is happening? You just let the shoe get on with it, I suppose. Just don't ever throw them away - they'll hunt you down...
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I was looking over some old posts today, and saw this photo again from the post I did recently about beaches. At first glance, it looks like a fairly normal (if stunningly beautiful) sandy beach. But looking at it I remembered a story I discovered about that beach, which is unimaginable when you simply look at the picture. This is City of York Bay on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia. I was wandering around the island and stopped here to eat my sandwich - after dodging the screeching seabirds that were obviously nesting nearby and were wheeling overhead. Those are my footprints, of course, and that black lump that breaks the horizon is actually a large craggy boulder with an Osprey nest on top. If you right-click the image and open it in a new window, you might just be able to make it out. I wasn't worried about the seagulls, but when the Osprey launched off from the nest and flew overhead, I scurried along out of range quickly. I think that's why my footprints start zigzagging around.
The other thing you can see from the picture is how pristine the beach is. Rottnest isn't exactly a crowded island, and this particular bay was off the beaten track enough that I saw nobody else the whole time I was there. The water is brilliantly clear, and you can see the volcanic-looking rocks in the water. These rocks are where the secret history of the beach starts, as I learned later that 137yrs ago 11 men were killed in that very water - drowning a hundred metres from the shore. Having sat there, I can't imagine people fighting for their lives in such a stunning setting. So after a bit of internet research, I found out the story of what happened.
On the 11th of July 1869 the 1,100 tonne iron barque City of York was approaching Fremantle docks, after sailing from San Francisco with a cargo of wooden doors and a crew of 26. The ship had crossed the Pacific in it's fastest recorded time, but as it approached Fremantle a heavy sea brewed, and blinding rain cut visibility dramatically. The Rottnest Lighthouse sent up a flare asking if the ship needed assistance. The man in charge of the City of York, Captain Jones, thought the flare had come from a pilot boat - so responded with a flare of his own before heaving the barque around and sailing towards the safety of the other ship. Tragically, the Lighthouse had sent up the wrong flare - and the unwitting Captain Jones was now steering directly towards it.
With the visbility almost nil, the ship's crew checked their depth and found they were in only 9m of water. Being so close to the reef, there was nothing they could do, and the City of York struck, and was swamped with water. Jones ordered the lifeboats out, but the ferocious waves overturned both of them almost immediately. Eight men managed to reboard the stricken ship, but the others were not so lucky. After four hours, seven had made it to shore - possibly on the very beach above. Two of them ran to the Lighthouse to raise the alarm. Eleven other crewmen - including Captain Jones - drowned. The next day a tugboat called Dunskey took three trips to rescue the eight survivors still on the wreck.
So that's the story behind the photo. At an inquiry, Captain Jones was criticised for 'gross carelessness and want of judgement', but after an appeal the actions of the Lighthouse keepers was questioned and the fault found with them. As a result, the shipping company was awarded £5000 damages, and the signalling system on Rottnest Island overhauled. The doors were later salvaged, and it was found that on the same night another ship - the Carlisle Castle - had been sunk in the storm, and a further 26 men killed. Today a small plaque marks the spot, which I walked past on my way back to Rottnest village to catch the ferry. I can't imagine what it must have been like on the day the City of York sank, as conditions were so very different to when I was there. I just couldn't comprehend that something so terrible had happened in a scene from a picture postcard.
Here's a second photo - taken in 1869. It's the City of York, before the waves broke it to pieces.
Further details on the sinking of the City of York can be found here.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
I was reading a piece in the paper the other week about the possibility of darts becoming an Olympic sport. Apparently it's unlikely, as the squabbling regulatory bodies have fallen out - and also there's uncertainty as to whether it's actually a sport. The argument goes that if you include darts, then you've got to consider snooker, fishing, ballroom dancing, stamp collecting, trainspotting and other 'hobbies'. I'd actually like to see trainspotting in the Olympics - the 'athletes' lined up on the platform edge like sprinters (behind the yellow line at all times), Nike notebooks in hand, peering eagerly down the tracks for the first locomotive. "And the Greek competitor spots a lovely Class 75 diesel there! Oh I say! The Germans have dropped the pencil!"
I mention darts because I've just finished watching the World Championships on the telly. It was live on the BBC, as are all the other parlour games played by pensioners/drunks such as snooker and bowls (Sky having stolen the proper sports years ago). I'm not a fan of darts, but if the alternative is watching Heartbeat or the Antiques Roadshow, I'd happily sit through anything. They should combine the Antiques Roadshow with Biathlon in the Olympics - Russians in spandex skiing around, shooting Delft pottery and Auntie Nora's Wedgewood dinner service. I'd definately watch that.
Anyway, the final was won by Jelle Klaasen - a 21yr old Dutch player (thrower? dartsman?) who started out as a 100-1 outsider (should have put my £50 on him) and wound up beating the multiple champion - also a Dutchman. Lot of pubs in the Netherlands, obviously. To be fair, darts has moved away from the stereotyped grotesquely obese lumps quivering as they flick metal arrows at the board, before downing half their pint. I've got a lot of respect for darts players - and not just because most of them look like East End gangsters who could get you concreted into a flyover if you spilled their drink. It's the maths. They are lightning-fast at working out what they have to aim for, and they do it counting backwards. Say they have 116 left to get, and they hit a treble 20. They instantly seem to know if they get a single 20 next, they have double 18 left. I have trouble just hitting the board. If you want to take on these mental giants - go here to take the BBC's darts arithmetic quiz. I did so badly, Jim Bowen refused to show me what I could have won. (It was probably a speedboat).
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Crab restaurant, Ebisu-bashi, Osaka
Not much has been happening these past few days - well, nothing blogworthy anyway. For those of you following my wacky gambling exploits, I reverted to my measly £2 bet yesterday instead of the £50 craziness. Good job too, as I got half of the games wrong and lost. So lucky me for doing the coupon equivalent of putting money on one spin of the roulette wheel and walking away. So, in an effort to cobble together something worth reading (in theory), I'm going to address the question of how expensive it is to visit Japan, as prompted by a comment on my last post.
Yes, it is expensive - but I'm convinced you can do Japan on the cheap. Staying in cheap ryokans, eating cheap bowls of ramen and so forth. Ramen are one of those things that tastes too good to be that cheap - like pickled onion Space Raiders, which I think are still 10p a packet. Just a bowl of noodles in broth maybe, but bloody good all the same. Another tip would be to eat your 'big meal of the day' at lunchtime (or dinnertime for us Northerners) instead of at dinnertime (teatime). Most restaurants have lunch specials, so you can find cheaper deals - especially if you go to a department store restaurant floor. You will have to queue up sitting on a row of chairs outside the door, like in some kind of waiting room, but it should be worth it.
Visit parks and gardens, they are almost always free or have a small fee. Wander about at night looking at the neon madness that is Shinjuku or the Dotonbori area of Osaka. Admire the restuarant signs, like my runaway favourite above for a famous Giant Spider crab restaurant. Hard to tell from the picture, but the crab there had moving legs and eyes. My number one tip for free in Tokyo would be (of course) the Tsukiji fish market - although you need to get up at a daft hour of the morning to see it in it's full glory. Another great thing to do is just wander around looking in all the magnificent shops. This can be financially dangerous though, of course.
Other blogs out there on the interweb have similar suggestions, like PingMag's 10 things to do for free in Tokyo. I missed the department store massage chairs, but highly recommend the nuttiness of Akihabara's manga shops and looking for a rubber stamp every time you visit somewhere. That can become addictive though. Another free activity in Japan is looking for people sleeping in public. Not the homeless, but people who miss the last train and doze off in the street in very odd places. Sleeping on a moped must take some balance. Finally, the Quirky Japan Homepage has a great long list of how to travel around the country cheaply, with tips on discount trains, ferries, hostels, and food. My personal favourite is to eat 'Challenge Ramen'. 3...2...1...go!
CHALLENGE RAMEN--Some Ramen shops have 'Challenge Ramen'. It's free if you can eat it within 15 minutes. CAUTION: a Challenge Ramen bowl is 3x larger than normal. If you don't finish it's about 1500 yen.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I've now been back in the UK for three months since my year of travelling about ended - and back at work for two months. I still think about it every day, though. I've got a fairly good memory, but some of the details are starting to fray at the edges. On the bus to work this morning I was trying to remember the number of the bus I used to catch from the QVB to North Ryde in Sydney, but couldn't. Odd things, memories. I can picture exactly what the driver looked like (almost always the same bloke each day), the whirring sound the ticket machine made whilst it was reading my pass, the point at the start of the Harbour Bridge where we'd come out of the shadows of the CBD and the sun would make me squint - but I forget the bus number. I suppose eventually those recollections will be harder and harder to retrieve.
Increasingly, smaller things I never really paid much attention to keep coming back to me. When I was in Monkey Mia, Western Australia, I met up with an Aboriginal bushman (who's name I've forgotten). He showed me round a patch of red desert and taught me a huge amount about how they interact with the natural world, and maintain a balance with the plants and animals that live there. Anyway, I was in Tescos the other day standing at the poultry section - thinking uninteresting thoughts about what to cook - when it suddenly popped into my mind what the Aboriginal guide said to me about how they cook emu (they throw the entire bird, feathered and all, onto a massive fire and then eat what's left when the fire goes out). It just appeared in my mind - causing me to get some funny looks as I was stood there holding a pack of chicken breasts with a quizzical expression on my face. Tescos don't sell emu, incidentally.
I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say here, other than I keep forgetting parts of my travels, but other bits keep coming back to me when I don't expect them. It's good, I suppose, as thinking about it brings it all back. Also every time I read something in the paper, or online, or see something on the TV I get instantly transported back to when I was there. The other night I watched a programme about a British writer on a light-hearted attempt to become a samurai. He visited Kyoto and the Golden Pavilion, and as soon as I saw it I had a daft grin on my face, imagining again the stillness of the lake, the eagerness of the pushing schoolkids, and the stunning golden building. That, surely, is the best thing about travelling.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Apologies if you don't like the sport, but this post is mostly about football. And betting. On Saturday I had almost the perfect football day, which saw the 3rd round fixtures in the English and Scottish FA Cups played. Traditionally these Cup competitions provide excitement and upsets, as teams from all leagues are drawn against eachother irrespective of the quality of their divisions. So you get lesser teams playing bigger ones, and the prospect of them winning and being 'giant-killers'. Phrases like 'The magic of the Cup' and 'The Cup's a great leveller' are bandied about as everyone roots for the plucky underdogs (in theory).
As regular readers of DUaB will know, I'm a sucker for the football coupon. In fact, you can read a previous entry about what the coupon is, and how I won £21, by going here. (Yes, I've remembered how to do HTML links). All week I'd been thinking of a strategy for this particular special coupon - the only one of the year with lots of good teams against lots of lesser teams. As a result, the odds were so short that if I'd put my normal £2 on, I'd have only won £11 back (if the 5 games I predicted had gone correctly). So I decided to put a bit more on to give me a better chance. So Saturday morning found me standing in the bookies with the thin slip of paper containing my choices, and £50.
Admittedly, I knew that was a daft amount of money for someone of my financial clout to risk on a few men kicking an air-filled bag around - but hey, nothing ventured etc. This was always going to be a one off (honest Mum). So the bet was placed, and off I went. At 1pm I went along to see my local team - who I have to say I'd never heard of until last week, Spartans FC. They had made it to the 3rd Round of the Scottish Cup against 3rd Division Queen's Park - a great achievement. They play at a tiny sloping pitch in North Edinburgh, next to a Morrisons Supermarket carpark, and surrounded by grey housing blocks. The 'stand' for seated spectators holds 120 - although there were about 30 people in it. Everyone else stands on the grass banks around the field.
Nobody expected Spartans to win - they are part-time footballers after all, but astonishingly they did, 3-2, in a cracking game that was full of good football, hard tackles, and outstanding swearing (you can hear everything when you're 20ft from the pitch). The crowd of 711 were into it too - I would guess a 50:50 split between Spartans fans and those who had travelled over from Glasgow to support Queen's Park. As it turned out, they had a long drive back, as non-league Spartans outplayed them and were deserved winners. It was amusing listening to their anguished cries as time was running out, and general shouts of things like 'Ach! That was SHITE, man!', as another Queen's Park pass went astray.
Anyway, so I'd seen a great game of football, and made it back to find out that 4/5 of my games had gone the way I predicted, with only one to go for a (sizeable) win on the coupon. That game was Luton Town v Liverpool, and I'd picked Liverpool to win. It was live on telly, and I sat through it with a couple of friends. Blimey - if you saw it you might have an idea of what I went through - but after Luton held a shock 3-1 lead, Liverpool eventually wound up 5-3 winners, and after a frantic double-checking of the bit of paper in my shaking hands, I'd won the coupon again, but off a stake fifty times higher than I normally bet.
So, with a bit of thought about 'going big' with the weekly bet, and five games of football played all over the country, I'd won myself more money in one go than all my winnings put together, ever. Today I fair scampered along to William Hill, which thankfully was open on Sunday, and nervously handed over my copy of the coupon. It felt good to stand in the 'WIN' section of the counter, rather than the usual 'BET' side I go to when I hand the money over - even if the serial gamblers in there weren't paying attention to anything other than the greyhound results. The bloke behind the counter scanned my coupon and fished out a wad of notes, which he put on the counter top before turning back to his paper. I hurriedly snatched it, and trotted back to the flat for a celebratory cup of tea. I'd bet £50 on five football games, and won £378 ($670). Not bad for a day's work. I'll be back on the £2 bets next weekend though. Probably...
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Most people would rather be on a warm beach somewhere than typing meaningless-looking numbers into a spreadsheet, so here are some of the sand-filled paradises I wandered around in the last twelve months. I accept this might not improve your mood any - especially if where you are is cloaked in dense freezing fog (3C in Edinburgh the other day) - but it needn't be that bad, trust me. Simply look at the pictures, turn that desk lamp towards your face, and put your coffee mug to your ear and pretend it's a seashell. Probably best to wait until the boss is in a meeting first. And that the mug is empty...
City of York Bay, Rottnest Island, WA
Shell Beach, near Coral Bay, WA
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, QLD (2002). Edd still can't throw a decent forehand...
Castle Rock Beach, Sydney harbour
Palm Beach, of Home and Away fame
Curl Curl Beach, Northern Sydney
Freshwater Beach, Queenscliff, Northern Sydney
Manly Beach - king of all beaches...
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Well happy new year everyone - I hope 2006 is all you want it to be, and more. This is the third calendar year of DUaB, which wasn't what I bargained for when I started it all those months ago. Never mind, eh? What did you get up to on NYE? I've got to say, I'm not a fan of New Year's at all - the compulsory enthusiasm and such. I'm not a miserable git, either - I'm just not sure about deliberately having to enjoy something because it's traditional. You can't get much more traditional than Hogmanay in Scotland of course - in fact the Scots take it to heart so much that we're given two days off to recover - the 2nd/3rd January are Bank Holidays, so I'm not back to work until tomorrow.
Which is a good thing, as I've got a stinking cold, that sapped my willingness to party even more on NYE. Still, we had to do something, and went to one of our local pubs where I had a few medicinal pints of lager and the Edinburgh fireworks were shown on their widescreen TV. For some reason, I felt even worse on New Year's Day, so wrote the entire day off. I remember this time last year I watched the Sydney harbour fireworks - seems like such a long time ago now. Incidentally, today was the hottest New Year's Day in history in Sydney, reaching a staggering 44.2C (116F). That's one thing I don't miss about being there. That and the flies.
Unfortunately I also had to brave the sales today, as during my flight back from London I managed to rip a huge hole in my jeans (don't ask). There can't be a worse time of year to go shopping. On a bus going along Princes Street the other day, I did a quick count of all the shops to see how many had advertised sales in the window - 68 out of 72. The other four were twee Scottish shops that were obviously confident enough that people would buy their tartan tat at full price. Anyway, today I ventured out to Ocean Terminal - the world's only shopping mall with a Royal yacht bolted to it. True story - the yacht Britannia is a permanent fixture there, so you can pick up some pants at M&S and then go and see where the Queen used to sleep when she was being sailed around the world at our expense. Anyway, needless to say I didn't find what I was looking for, as everything had been replaced with 'sale items' and all the shoppers there were hormonally-crazed psychopaths. But it got me out of the house...