Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pink Week

According to the papers today, Scotland is headed for it's warmest April since records began. This weekend the weather was dry and sunny, and as the Brits tend to do, everyone piled outside to make the most of it. Edinburgh is currently going through 'Pink Week', so the sun was much appreciated. Unofficially named by local students, it's the few days every Spring where the city parks explode into life with tree blossom. It's not just the Japanese who love the 'sakura', we've got it over here as well. The two best Pink Week viewing locations are the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens (fairly obviously), and the Meadows park towards the south of the city centre. I lived just off the Meadows for many years, and never tired of the spectacular floral show at the end of each April. The Japanese see them as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of existence - and with good reason, as within a few days all these blossoms will be gone.

White blooms near my office

Students 'studying' in the Meadows

Arthur's Seat hides behind a pink hedge

Closeup from the botanic gardens

Jawbone walk, the main pathway across the Meadows

Another closeup - note the blue sky!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hair Crimes

Your author, circa 1997. Curtains!

So I was getting my monthlyish haircut over the weekend, during which I learned that the girl who regularly attempts to hack into my spiky shagpile comes from the same Polish city as my Aunt (hello Gosia!!). Slightly odd, as I thought she was Spanish (the hairdresser, that is). But then, I've only been going there for eight years. I managed to impress her with my awesome pronunciation of Wroclaw, which I'd be willing to bet you can't take a shot at*. It's the second-largest city after Warsaw, and is in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, as I'm sure you all appreciate. That's a word my spellchecker returns as 'Volvo dealership'. Anyway, we talked about our collective knowledge of Poland for a while - her twenty-odd years compared to my pronunciation of one urban area. I'm glad my Auntie isn't from Bydgoszcz, or I'd have had nothing to say at all.

Haircuts are peculiar things, it's the single thing you get someone else to do that has a major impact on how you look. Hence the trepidation many people feel about them. Tonsurophobia is what you have when things get really bad. The 'International Hair Directory' has an article about the subject, written by a Psychosocial Therapist. In it, she postulates fear of getting a haircut may be a sign of a greater problem, such as social anxiety disorder or personality issues. There are dozens of hairstyle websites out there, many trying to help those with haircut anxiety by featuring stunning pictures of knockout celebs, like the lovely Scarlett Johansson. Thankfully Hairfinder has a Hair Chooser where you can upload a photo of yourself (men and women both) and generate all kinds of wacky do's - but alas it costs US$15, so you'll have to make do of the photo of me above.

Firstly, I was obviously pale and drawn because of all the hard academic work and all those hours in the gym working on my six-pack. Secondly, center partings were all the rage in the mid-90's. They were hard to keep up with, though, far more complicated than my current "shave round the back and chop into the top, prosze." I remember once getting some old duffer in a place outside of Stirling, who hacked into the back like a pensioner going at a privet hedge, then blowdried the front until I looked like George Michael. But hey, I bet there's not one of you out there who doesn't have at least one hair crime in their past. Student days are clearly the best time for these, as the new found freedoms kick in and either youthful exuberance or destitution result in cracking combinations of lengths and colours. I've never changed colour, but I've certainly changed my length (as it were), the time I got the whole lot shaved off was great fun, until I realised that I instantly resembled a pink kiwi fruit.

As I can't do a post without mentioning Wikipedia, I had great fun with their 'notable hairstyles' section (go to the link and scroll down a bit). Duck's Ass, anyone? I put that into an online Polish translator, and it came back wonderfully as 'kaczka osiol' "Kaczka" sounds like the noise a duck might make, if it had a heavy cold, and "Osiol", well... Worried waterfowl aside, there are so many different types and styles of haircut these days, that pretty much anything goes. Even mullets seem to have come back, every day I see some catastrophic alignment of edges and highlights. Kevin Pietersen has a lot to answer for, although it's worth pointing out Shane Warne had that hair surgically implanted, and it still looks like he's got a bird on his head. Maybe it's a kaczka osiol. Anyroad, the good thing with modern hairstyles is that if you are unfortunate enough to get a terrible haircut, it seems you will be in good company.

* It's pronounced rotswoff. Gold star if you got it...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fancy a pint?

The Pike Bar, Seattle

The blogging Spring cleaning continues apace - with DUaB sorted out in it's new look (unless you happen to be viewing in Internet Explorer, but I'll get on that soon), attention has been turned to the brand new kid on the block - The BeerCast. A new blog from a panel of enthusiastic amateur boozers (myself included), we aim to offer an interactive forum for lovers of all types of ales. Come over and see for yourself, as we take one country at a time and review some of the choicest - and not so choicest - beers on offer. As we have to record our tasting sessions for notetaking and soforth, we may well cobble together a podcast (the BeerCast of the title), so watch this space. Or rather - watch this space...

The BeerCast

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good for what ails you


I've been thinking a lot about beer over the last few weeks. Not just on an amateur level, either. The new beer blog (still not finished, but getting there) gives us plenty of opportunity to increase our knowledge. Of course, when you dabble with the drink, it can come at a price. Hangovers - or 'vesalgia' to give it the proper medical term - are never fun, and yet many of us are happy to take the trade-off they involve to have a decent night out. Several times a week, if they are students. But how to combat them? Wiki has a list of possible remedies that vary from the reasonable - drinking water and taking paracetamol, to the bizarre - eating cactus fruit, swimming in cold water, masturbation (the old 'It's for my hangover, dear!' excuse).

Scotland has it's very own ready mixed Hangover cure, of course - the mighy Irn-Bru. Due to a high sugar content and freakish combination of minerals and who-knows-what, it does help with the headache and dehydration. But it's not enough, so it's advisable to combine it with that other great British invention, the All-Day Breakfast. I love the introduction to it's page on the aforementioned Wikipedia - 'Fry-ups are no longer an everyday occurrence in most British households although they occupy an important place in the English concept of the morning meal. They are the predominant business of many greasy spoon caf├ęs as well as generally being offered to tourists as traditional fare in hotels, guest houses and Bed and Breakfasts.' Quite.

A proper home-cooked fryup is a joyous thing - golden free range eggs, perky mushrooms, thick floppy bacon. The list of alternatives is almost endless, and up here you have the added complication of haggis, black/white/red pudding, potato scones and so forth. Take the time to find the right ingredients and cook it yourself, and it's a world beater - and not necessarily unhealthy. But what if you don't have the ingredients to hand, or an easy shopping trip away? Bearing in mind that with a pounding hangover you aren't likely to be down the local organic market sourcing fresh produce. You need to turn to convenience, to the easy option. And what could be easier than having the entire fryup pre-cooked, and in a tin?

Hunger Breaks - The Full Monty just screams out from the supermarket shelf, with the fake tablecloth pattern and glistening photo of goodness within. Produced by HL Foods of Spalding, Lincolnshire, it falls under the considerable umbrella of Premier Foods, who seem to manufacture almost everything for sale in the UK - they own Cadbury, Sharwoods, Hovis, Mr Kipling, Branston, Oxo, and many others. But Hunger Breaks is surely the jewel in their crown - just a quick glance at their product range and you can feel your arteries harden. They have five tinned delights - All Day Breakfast, Chicken Curry, The Big BBQ, Sausage n' Wedges, and The Full Monty. Yes, you read that right - tinned sausages and potato wedges. Lovely.

So what wonderments make up the latter of these? The enticing blurb on the back of the label reads - 'Baked beans in tomato sauce with large sausages, potato chunks, button mushrooms, mini bacon steaks and a mini chopped & shaped beef & cereal cutlet.' In reality, this consists of - baked Beans (22%), water, tomatoes (15%), pork sausage (13% - themselves made up of a whopping 49% pork), potato (9%), button mushrooms (6%), bacon slice (5%), beef chop (3%), sugar, and then various flavourings and extracts. Polishing off the 410g lot will rack up 340 calories, 16g of fat and 3g of salt. The first thing that happens is the 'chopped & shaped' beef and cereal cutlet dissolves under the most gentle of stirrings, so small pieces of mince fragment into every mouthful.

This is a pity, as it makes it all taste very similar and limits the fun of plucking out the 'bacon slices' - which have indeed been chemically formed into the shape of a rasher of bacon (it must be the Sodium Diphosphate 'stabiliser'). After the first few forkfuls, you can feel it sitting there in the stomach like a lead weight - but picking at the bits becomes addictive, and soon the whole thing has gone. The best bit - probably the sausages, which of course don't taste like anything else. The worst bit - the feeling of creeping dread that you've just done something very wrong, something that you really shouldn't have. As you waddle back into the kitchen with the plate, the authors of your fresh and exciting cookbooks look down on you from their sea bass and endive-pictured covers, with a look of disgust. That's the worse thing. Oh, and the nausea.

Monday, April 09, 2007

DUaB Mark 2...

Hello again! Sorry for the downtime over the last few days, I've been wrestling with the wonders of html and blogging tools. Or rather, finding lots of free template sites and doing a fair bit of cutting and pasting. Anyway, after three years of using one of the default Blogger templates, it was time for a change - and this is the result. Hope you like it, I certainly do. Thanks to Final Sense for the ready-to-go templates, although of course the header I had to cobble together myself. That's what bank holidays are for, of course - DIY. In these modern cyber times, it's not just phsyical things you can do up, online property can be smartened. Plus it's my 300th post, so another reason to mix things up a bit. The layout might have changed, but the content won't too much (so apologies for that).

Before I get back to posting normally, here's a story I read about over the Easter break. A 25yr old Croatian man was arrested at Zagreb airport when customs officials saw his suitcase bulging. When they opened it, surprisingly it contained 175 chameleons. The man, named by the Guardian as Dragos Radovic, bought them in SE Asia when told by a local that they become invisible. Smuggling invisible animals sounds like the perfect get rich quick scheme - but unfortunately when plonked en masse into a suitcase they don't all take on the colour of the bag lining. Instead of an empty case, the officals saw 175 green chameleons (which don't change colour when stressed), and promptly arrested him for smuggling and animal cruelty.

So once again, as if proof were needed - crazy schemes never seem to work out in the end. Speaking of which, if you're a fan of beer - check out The Beer Cast. An amusing look at the most popular drink in the world. Hopefully we'll get it online by the end of the week, so if you get the dreaded 'private only!!!!' message, check back in a few days.


Edit - it seems there might be a slight formatting problem with the blog if you use Internet Explorer. I'll try and sort it out as soon as I can...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bonus London photos

My short period of shooting about over Europe has sadly come to an end, as I'm back in Edinburgh working away again (until the Easter break on Friday, of course). Here are some photos I took last Saturday afternoon in London, which was superbly busy on a sparkling Spring day. I walked around two great buildings for picture takers - the Old Bailey and St Paul's Cathedral, before crossing the wobbly Millenium Bridge and walking along the south bank of the Thames for a while. The last photo is the relaxing end to a hectic week - I just about recovered from the 4:30am start - and celebrated with a well-earned complimentary G&T on my BA flight back to Scotland. I don't usually - but well, when it's BA, and it's free - one might as well, eh?

St Paul's on a sunny London afternoon

The Cathedral peeks out from buildings on Ludgate Hill

A seagull wheels past Lady Justice, the Old Bailey

London's oldest courthouse looking imposing

St Paul's as seen from a busy Millenium Bridge

Finishing off a successful trip in style


It's a cut and thrust world, this blogging lark - you need to innovate, or you stagnate (or something - I was never very good at motivational management-type speak). So over the Easter long weekend, changes will be afoot for DUaB. After several hundred posts and almost three years - it's time for a change. So in a frantic burst of Spring cleaning, after Easter DUaB will return invigorated, with a new look. Also - and hang on to your hats - a new blog will spill forth from these tired, Wikipedia-abusing fingers. Yes, your author is branching out into another blogging sector. More soon, more soon....