The most realistic story ever told.

Category: Musing (page 1 of 4)

The birds of Gibraltar

You knew they were there.

The keening and gulling was a distant but ever-present backdrop to the relative serenity of our balcony – punctuated sporadically by the rattle of a 35 year old exhaust train as the vehicle raspily exhaling through it ka-bomped over the speedhump placed thoughtfully outside the hotel.


We’d selected a “rock view” room, which I’d suggested based on the fact we’d seen ocean before – and our mountain-facing room in Cape Town had paid dividends.  Cursory research would’ve revealed that it was less a rock view, and more a strategic/defensive concern, what with the cementlike face of the Rock of Gibraltar looming vertically on the other side of the road.  Admittedly more interesting than a brick wall: although at least with a brick wall those bloody birds wouldn’t have been able to find purchase.

Friday – our first day in the curious little territory – we decided the best thing to do would be to get the bus from the stop immediately in front of the hotel (on top of the speed hump, now I look down at it) around to “town”.

As we stood on the footpath looking around wide-eyed at our new surroundings for the next few days the volume increased, and the air was transformed from the usual placid backdrop of the avian mob to a more urgent and frenetic sound.  We looked up to the sight of thousands and thousands of seagulls taking wing.  Whilst the normal scene might have a couple of hundred of them soaring and flapping listlessly and stupidly about, this was more like some sort of silent whistle had gone off to signal the start of a new seagull work day.  Or a particularly charismatic one had just squawked the seagull equivalent of “WE RIDE!”, before leaping from the cliff face and sparking a chain reaction.

Whatever the cause, the air was now thick with the things – urgently flapping their way out to sea, then some turning back in to begin circling.  There was no logic or pattern you could see.  No unity of purpose, no sign of a goal.  They must’ve covered a couple of thousand feet of height in airspace – their wheeling about very much making me think of the armada of winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

I pulled out my phone and tried to think of the best way to document this poetic motion in photo form, when a rusty old pickup truck approached the speedhump, and as it slowed a weathered tradesman proffered his head from the window to issue some advice.

“I wouldn’t stand under ’em”.

As I sit writing this from our hotel balcony I can state conclusively that the mass taking wing does *not* coincide with the bus timetable.


And as I gaze out over the midnight-blue canopy over the hotel walkway – seemingly decorated to resemble some sort of deep-galactic starfield – I can therefore conclude that seagulls aren’t smart enough to have developed a sense of humour.

It all seems so obvious, until you ask someone.

I’ve got something of a fixation with plumbing interfaces.

Growing up I became fairly accustomed to the standard arrangement of hot/cold shower and bath taps, or in the case of the 2nd bathroom at Mum & Dad’s place, an extra knob to open the channel to the shower head or from the tap spout.  Intuitive, sensible, logical.

Moving to the UK I was exposed to a variety of other possibilities, and then upon my various travels around Europe I’ve often considered putting together a photographic essay on different ways people have to control the flow of warm water – and generally it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.

But there’s another plumbing interface which has confused me for a while, and it turns out to be not so obvious.

My first recollection of a dual-flush cistern featured a control surface that looked something like this:

dual_flushFairly straightforward stuff, nothing complex there.  The visual indicators on the buttons tell you pretty much exactly what’s going on.

Where it gets more complex – as I learned during a quick straw poll last night – is setups like this:


I showed this picture to the other people I was having dinner with, and they all looked at me oddly.  Unanimously their faces (and for the most part, voices) said “What part of this isn’t completely obvious?!”.  And then proceeded to all contradict each other.

The permutations as I see it are:

  1. The size of the button correlates to the volume of the flush, so the smaller button represents the half-flush / water saving option.
  2. The button is sized proportionally to how often it’s likely to be used.  So generally as reducing water use is seen to be popular/desireable, so the half-flush would get a much larger button and provide the user more opportunity to select that option – with a smaller button available for the rarer instances where full-flush is required.

Option 2 sounds a bit like overthinking, however it’s borne out in practice by interfaces such as this:


Customarily in this case pushing the smaller button will take the larger button down with it, thus representing the full flush even better.  So safe in this knowledge, we’re suddenly presented with this:


The addition of a number 1 and 2 on this does NOTHING to improve clarity.

And what this is supposed to mean is anyone’s frigging guess.

impulse imperial button.jpg.opt418x313o0,0s418x313

And then there’s whatever happens in Japan.


Maybe it’s just different in Australia because water’s scarcer than platinum, so there’s an ingrained cultural bias towards using less of it wherever the opportunity arises.

So, does anyone have a canonical answer?

There is a third possibility which occurred to me this afternoon –

  • The flushes bear no resemblence to the size of the button and are purely based on how the installer felt like rigging them up.

Phones 4 me. Smart phones, apparently.

About 5 years ago I put together a sort of retrospective of all of the mobile phones I’d ever owned along with my thoughts on each, and judging by the web stats it’s a topic that lots and lots and lots of people are interested in reading about.

The main gamechanger in phones has been the development of the touchscreen, and where the race used to be towards the smallest phone possible now the idea is to get the largest yet most robust screen around whilst still being sensible enough to hold alongside your head.

The last phone I listed there was my at-the-time pristinely new iPhone 3G, and it occurred to me the other day as I was struggling to cram podcasts onto its miniscule 16gb of storage that there have been a few phones pass by since the arrival of the iPhone, and that it would be silly not to capitalise on the opportunity to get a blog post out of it at the *very* least.

So, picking up where we left off…

  1. Work Phone: O2 XDA Atmos – This was a phone very much thrust upon me by my employer at the time.  The whole company was kitted out with them, and being a Microsoft Gold Partner we very much bought into the whole Microsoft corporate solution bit.  The phone ran a version of Microsoft Office for productivity on its Windows Mobile 6 operating system, which I’d already sworn I’d never use again.  As luck would have it this was a self-solving problem insofar as the frequency of program crashes made it nigh on impossible to transfer a document onto the phone, and once it was there there was a vanishingly small possibility you’d ever be able to successfully open the thing.
    atmos-623-80The presence of a hardware keyboard seemed an initial boon, however it didn’t take long to realise that every single button contact in that keyboard was a potential new point of failure.  In this case, the catalyst to that failure was the interface between the phone and the contents of a bottle of Evian… but it was never really right to begin with.The other thing I hated about that phone was that as with most new hires in a corporate, your number is recycled from a previous employee, and this led to me getting some incredibly disturbing text-based banter from the previous guy’s contacts.  I tried to let them know that this was no longer his number, but that’s not always possible when none of the keys in your hardware keyboard are working because some berk’s spilled water all over it.
  2. HTC Desire: It’s really difficult to overemphasise how much I liked my iPhone.  However after a few years of having it (including the ongoing battle about filling the memory up to the brim with allsorts, spending ages and ages re-encoding video to watch on it, and the steady creep of applications out of the scope of an older HTC-Desire-1model’s capability) it occurred to me that I was still paying full tote odds on my monthly plan for the thing even though it had gone out of contract some time ago (at least 12 months).  Android phones were the big new thing on the horizon, and I liked the sound of the openness of the platform.  So it was sort of out of a kind of enraged spite that I ditched that phone provider (who outright refused to “come to the party” on a new contract, despite my having been a customer of theirs for 7 or 8 years) and signed up for a shiny new HTC Desire Android phone.Such an impressive bit of kit!  With so many possibilities!  And DESKTOP WIDGETS!  Why stop what you’re doing and start up another app if all you want to do is look at a piece of information?!  Unfortunately the versatility of this new frontier was also its own Achilles’ Heel, as the designers elected to only fit the thing with 576mb of memory – so you’ve the promise of all manner of software to improve your life and that of those around you, but only room to install 3 things on the thing at once.  Provided you don’t need to upgrade too many things.  The ONLY way to get around the memory limitation was to install apps to the SD Card rather than the internal memory, but under the provided operating system this wasn’t possible – so I had to install the Cyanogen custom ROM on it, which I think made a difference, but ultimately it was like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
  3. HTC Desire (work phone): the day I took delivery of the HTC the IT Dept in my office were busy researching what phones to get to replace the O2 XDA, and the arrival of this smooth, sleek pebble of a thing was of much interest among them.  They borrowed it for a couple of hours for a quick testdrive, and 2 weeks later a box of 120 of the things turned up at work.  By then I hadn’t quite gotten sick of mine, but quasi-amusingly I now had 2 of the damn things.  Latterly this became useful in that I was able to install apps to my phone and do any web browsing on the work one – a quirk of having barely any memory to work in was that once your browser cache filled up the phone more or less ground to a halt, so at least keeping the work phone reasonably clear meant that I could browse 5 or 6 web pages before having to manually clear the cache rather than doing it on an almost page by page basis.  Happily I never went over my monthly data use cap on my personal phone – typically because the thing just could NOT figure out how to jostle things around in memory in order to connect.  Simple.
  4. desire-s_2_2HTC Desire S: resorting once again to eBay I picked up the slightly beefier cousin of the Desire, the Desire S.  Not a huge difference between them other than the removal of a weird “optical nipple” on the front, general ensleekening, and a memory bump.  Oh, and the key thing was that the operating system now natively supported installing (“some”) apps onto the SD card rather than the internal memory.  When it first arrived it was like having a ball&chain removed, and once again I could DO STUFF with my personal phone.  Same processor though, same camera with same craptastic design which meant the glass lens protector was almost permanently smeared with skin oils so that all photos took on a dirty, bland soft focus effect.I think at one point I installed a custom ROM set on my personal one of these, too.
  5. HTC Desire S (work): As night follows day, so too the IT Department at work went with my next phone selection as well.  Not as much use this time as web browsing seemed to work ok after the spec bump.  Both phones’ cameras were still greasy & crappy though.
  6. Google Nexus 4: Following a tipoff from a family member about the cheap availability of the Google Nexus 4 and unable to continue with the farcical performance of the Desire S by this stage, in June 2013 I continued along the Android route with the massive-screen-presenting Nexus.  Loads of memory (although no SD card, irritatingly), and for the first time I can ever recall an ACTIVELY GOOD CAMERA!  Now of course my phone photo gallery is more or less an endless parade of whisky bottles from tastings we’ve held, interspersed with borderline-amusing signs and typos, and things which in the heat of the moment I thought I might blog about and then never got around to.  Quite frankly, if this phone had a battery life longer than about 40 minutes it would be the perfect bit of kit for me.
    nexusIt works well as a wifi to 3G hotspot (provided it’s plugged in to a power source), it appears to make phonecalls sensibly most of the time, the web browsing works, the email functionality works…  and after a year of use it seems to perform as well as ever, and the screen still seems large & clear enough not to start coveting other phones.

So there we are – that was riveting, wasn’t it?

What’s the next thing?  Inevitably it’s got to be 4G – although plan prices for the much faster connection are still a bit ouchy.  Looking at current offers the Samsung Galaxy range seem to be the heroes although it’s not immediately apparent how one of these would benefit me over the current arrangement.  Prices for new ones are in the £500-600 range, and there’s something galling about paying as much for a telephone as you would for a laptop.

Especially comparing that against my $20 Nokia 2010.

The Nokia Lumia range looks innovative-ish with their rather robustly specced camera features, although it’s a Windows mobile and though I know the OS has completely been reinvented since the HTC Tytn days, I still don’t trust it.

The only conclusion I can draw really is that you – dear reader – don’t need to be put through another phone-related retrospective now until 2020.  Hooray!

Well, it’s been ten years and maybe more since I first set eyes on you.

me_boboOn this day, 10 years ago, I landed in London.

I landed without a plan, other than wanting to do something a bit different with my life.

Lots of things have changed for me.  I own property.  I have a magnificent lovely girlfriend who I’ve been with for nearly 4 years. I can snowboard.  I’m not connected with the Scout movement at all.  I have a red hat. I run a whisky tasting club with over 400 people on the mailing list, which has held nearly 90 tasting sessions.  I’ve visited 21 countries that aren’t Australia which I hadn’t been to before, and every county in England. I have loads of awesome British and European friends. I’ve been within touching distance, and a couple of times met, idols of mine like John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Robert Plant, Dawn French, Bobby McFerrin, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall, Terry Jones, Bill Oddie, Patrick Stewart, Lenny Henry and Geoffrey Robertson QC. I buy Apple laptops. I’ve seen lots of bands that I love, and lots of bands I’d never heard of – notably (for me) Spinal Tap and also Pink Floyd. Many of my friends have kids now – sometimes several. I’m a British Citizen.

20140502_200533Lots of things haven’t changed. I like beer. I hoard things under the optimistic notion that it’ll be less painful to reacquire them if/when I need them than it will be to haul them around the place with me or put them into storage. I like wearing ridiculously coloured trousers. I have a vague feeling I’m not in the right line of work. I love meeting & connecting with new people. I don’t feel like I miss my friends and family because my life is full of richness and part of that is when I get to reconnect with them. I have loads of t-shirts. I don’t care if the glass is half full or half empty, because I drink from the bottle. I find myself gravitating towards the organising end of extracurricular groups I get involved in. I don’t do anything sensible regarding exercise. I have loads of awesome Australian friends. I don’t trust – or pay any attention to – weather forecasts. I’m not very sensible with money. I write blogposts with no sense of where it’s going to go and feel like I ought to probably start out with a conclusion in mind. I’m usually late. I tend to live in a house for about a year and typically stay in a job about the same time. I don’t have a plan.

It’s tempting to gaze at milestones and ascribe significance to them, but the milestone’s not important – it’s just a reference point for measurement.

Sometimes there are interesting points of serendipity or chance – for instance at the end of the month I’m moving to Bristol, nearly 10 years exactly after moving to London – but then the human brain has evolved to become very good at finding patterns.

Everyone’s life should have changed a lot over the course of 10 years.

Still, as irrelevant as the milestone is – it doesn’t mean I won’t point and say, “Hey look, a milestone!”.

Nope, no conclusion in sight.  I think Eric Idle (the only remaining Monty Python member I’ve not seen live, but that’s set to change come July) summed it up best:

Not been in much, lately…

It’s probably an obvious statement at this point that I’ve let my blog fall by the wayside, somewhat.

7 posts this year, and 3 of those were about something that happened last year.

I was thinking about this earlier this evening, and it struck me that it’s got less to do with not having anything to write, but more of having fallen out of the habit of writing.  It’s certainly not through lack of things to talk about – this year’s seen through a snowboarding trip, countless whisky tastings, me and a friend organising a whisky festival of our own, and plenty more besides.  If you could see into the admin console in fact as of now you’d be looking at 41 blogposts in Draft status – things I’d started and gotten to a point with, but not finished: usually either through not being happy with the way something was worded, feeling like I’d gone on too long about something, or writing a load of stuff then realising I had lost sight of any sort of conclusion.

I really do enjoy writing.  Well, did enjoy it, I guess.

One question which comes up more & more lately, particularly as my leisuretime focus tends more towards total occupation by whisky-related endeavour, is “Why don’t you start blogging about whisky?”.

The thing is – I don’t want to just write about whisky for its own sake.  I wouldn’t consider myself a “nose”, and henceforth my tasting notes are typically short on detail and fairly uninspiring, and I don’t think the world needs ANOTHER blog by an uninspired wordcount-expander.  I’d much sooner write about something new or interesting I’ve learned about whisky, or a thought I’ve had about it.  But then that extends to the rest of the world about everything else, too.  Hence the 41 draft posts (and the 30 or so I deleted in a recent cleanup which I finally reached peace with this idea of not being finished).

I know for a fact that I want my blogging to be less of the Travel Report stuff which I’ve written lots of (“And then we went here, and then we went there, and then we saw this, which was nice”), and more opinion and/or fact: but have to get into the habit of narrowing the focus of a piece enough that it doesn’t balloon out into 4000 words and leave me staring at another non-conclusion.  Those wordy drafts are such a waste of time.  I wrote a timely piece rounding up my favourite whisky auction sites following the news that eBay was to ban the trading of whisky on their platform, but so much time’s elapsed that the piece feels extemperaneous.  Is that the word I mean?  Meh.

Maybe the solution – as with so many things – is to just do it.  Adopt the JFDI Methodology.

I guess we’ll see what happens, eh?  I think I’d like to give it a try.

Art, opportunity, and favouritism

Nothing makes you an expert on modern/contemporary art like becoming an international traveller.  There’s something about art galleries which is a bit of a draw – a combination of being able to see one-of-a-kind works by humankind’s revered creative minds, having one’s mind expanded by trying to work out what it all might mean, and the ability to critically view a work and discover one’s own boundaries.

Or, sometimes, they just represent a light, airy room that isn’t too expensive to get into for a while and where it’ll be anice temperature & have plenty of nice things to look at.

On this particular day it seemed a fine idea to visit New York’s famous Museum of Modern Art (known by many by its acronymmial designation, MoMA).  I’ll readily confess that I’d done no research whatsoever into what it was I’d see in there, which is sort of how I usually stumble into these things.

This is possibly going to go down in memory as the most prat thing I’ve ever said on this blog, but my chief response to the collection was one of mild disappointment – only insofar as MoMA is a name which people always speak of in reverent tones, and yet it turned out to largely be a collection of galleries venerating the same group of guys (Warhol, Duchamp, Brancusi, Picasso, Man Ray, Matisse, Mondrian, Rothko, Pollock, Moholy-Nagi, Modigliani, Dali, and soforth).  It could entirely be that this is the world’s foremost collection of such works, and my only problem is the order in which I’ve visited places…  to be sure, there were plenty of other really cool things in there – I very much enjoyed the industrial design and typography sections, and spent a good long time nosing around there.  Also, on the top floor there was an excellent exhibition by Mexican-based Belgian artist Francis Alÿs which really grabbed me.  There was one video piece where they filmed a guy in a clapped out red VW Beetle who had been told to drive up a muddy hill, but only engage the engine when he could hear the music playing in his headphones.

There was also a quite large piece by British contemporary artists Gilbert and George, which was typically self-referential and which took the form of a wall-sized piece of prose directed to MoMA, which left you wondering whether it was meant to be a letter, or art.  But then they claim that everything they do is art, so that answers that question.  It left me wondering what substance the letter was painted in, however (based upon materials used in their other pieces).

In a way the experience made me realise what a risky move the Saatchi Gallery took with the YBAs exhibition, but then that gallery started out displaying the usual suspects, so maybe that’s irrelevant.

But, the piece I wanted to share here was one from out in the sculpture garden, by Yoko Ono – it’s Wish Tree for MoMA.


As the instructions suggest, you write a wish down on the parcel tags provided at the nearby table then tie the wish to the tree.  Every so often (daily, I’m guessing) the tags are taken down and put in a glass box upstairs in another part of the collection.  I read somewhere that they’re then shipped off to the Peace Tower in Iceland, but can’t confirm that bit.

Anyway, usually when offered an opportunity to participate in something like this I’ll have a go (for instance, adding my tribute to Richard Feynman to the gaggle of other Feynman tributes at the Who Is Your Favourite Scientist? wall at the Royal Society), and after queueing briefly behind a couple of girls to whom wishes didn’t seem to come naturally, my wish was added to the collection.

You can see it there about halfway up the trunk of the wish sapling.

I know that the way wishes work is that you’re not meant to tell anyone what yours is or it won’t come true.  Doesn’t matter: this wasn’t a real wish.  I got caught up with the idea of being in a modern art gallery, and how the seemingly mundane can have great meaning.  So the tag I put on the trunk was this:

Think about it… it’s got levels!  Is it the wish of a person, and why do they want to be taller?  There’s the notion of correlating height with success – both economically and biologically.  Why is it halfway up the trunk?  That suggests that the person who put it there was only 4 feet high.  Was it a child?  If so, why waste a wish on something that’s inevitable.  Or was it the tree that wished it?  Wit?  Dissatisfaction?  A sign of the unlimited and ultimately superficial wants of mankind?  Pure brilliance – that’s what that is.

I gauged the (immense) popularity of my work by wandering around the sculpture garden and upon returning noticing a few people taking photos of it.  Art is the audience.

Look, my point is, if fucking Banksy had put it there, it’d be worth about 25 grand.

In which Jason tries out his new toy, and muses upon a bit of social commentary…

(The other risk – if you’re dressed even slightly non-confirmist – is that if you go in there you might actually wind up on peopleofwalmart.com.  Or is that just me worrying about that?)

Da da dada da daaa, da dum! Da da dada da daaa, da dum! (Birthday retrospective – something we elderly farts do…)

Is it time for a Birthday Retrospective?  Y’know, one of those “what were you doing 1, 2, 5, 10, 15 etc. years ago?” things?  I think so.  Game on!

1 year ago – 2010 (34) – Hannah, Paul, Kathryn & I went for a frightfully civilised dinner at The Athaeneum on Piccadilly, quite a lavish hotel with a quite extensive whisky selection.  As it happened, the people working that night didn’t know their whisky-arses from their whisky-elbows, so that part of the evening was a shambles.  But the rest was lovely.  Also, that morning on the way in to work I ran into Tim Minchin in Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road.  Chickened out of saying hello though, for reasons I don’t fully understand.

CORRECTION – vis-a-vis Michelle’s comment below, she’s utterly correct. Last year I *did* convince a load of friends/subjects/victims to participate in a no-holds-barred karaoke extravaganza.  My only excuse was that I’d paged back in my google calendar to see what I did the week of my birthday, forgetting that I’d organised karaoke for about 3 weeks afterwards (for some reason).  This however ties in with a fairly important correction relating to my 30th birthday as well.

2 years ago – 2009 (33) – Very nice afternoon lunch session at The Old White Lion in East Finchley, where we took over most of the main room and generally had a splendid elongated Sunday chill, pint, lunch & dinner.  I’m going to get the list wrong, but I think Dave, Michelle, James, Libby, Bushy, Rach, Brett, Rachel, Richie, Hilary, Kat, and Belinda were definitely there.

And the Saturday was a bit of win too, with a few beers with Lizzie at The White Horse on Parsons Green, and a night of cabaret with the statuesque and amazing Hannah Waddingham & Friends accompanied by Belinda & Tom.

5 years ago – 2006 (30) – A merry band of folk (from memory: Charlie, Dan, Hannah, Richie, Craig, Kate & Paul) accompanied me to the rarefied surroundings of Boisdale of Belgravia where we had a delightful meal accompanied by some live jazz, and the odd whisky or 3.  It was notable for being an excellent meal, a grand old time, and being the first meal I’d perpetrated that resulted in a bill for an amount greater than the cost of a car I’d bought.

ANOTHER CORRECTION – whilst the above was what we did on the actual date of my birthday, things have been more complicated of late with my penchant for celebrating the damn thing whenever I like (and sometimes more than once a year), and it occurred to me that despite my birthday being in June I held a joint 30th with the ever fabulous and long suffering robo-babe Roie Paris in Adelaide in the November of that year, as well.  Seems odd to forget a party which coughed up a gallery of 130 photos.

10 years ago – 2001 (25) – In June 2001 I think I was living in the flat in Torrens Park.  I’m pretty sure this was the one where we went go-karting out at Dry Creek, but typically my birthday involved a slap-up Mexican binge, and I’m a bit stuck on detail of whether this was the one where we rocked along to Montezuma’s (where DB was working at the time).  Might have to confer with the others.

15 years ago – 1996 (20) – so 2011 isn’t the first birthday I’ve had in the USA.  In 1996 I was working at Camp Binachi in Mississippi when my birthday took place.  The lads were awesome and we had a cake & bit of a shindig in the dining hall, and hooked the Playstation up to the massive TV for a Tekken tournament.  Only frustrating aspect of this year was that the local paper did a story on me (they don’t get many Aussies in Meridian, MS) and so I found it impossible to get a beer in that town, because they’d all seen in the paper that I was under 21.

Camp Binachi 1996 - when I still had a waistline, and a leather bumbag to go around it (as all good International Travellers did have at this point)

20 years ago – 1991 (15) – holy shit, what was I doing at 15?  1991 was my first year in Gang Show Cast, first year in Venturers, year 10 at school…  My guess is that it was probably something like a video night with a bunch of folks from Cross Road Bowl.

25 years ago – 1986 (10) – I’m pretty sure that to commemorate the highly significant milestone of reaching an age with double figures, my Mum finally acquiesced to my relentless campaign of harassment and let me hold a birthday party at Downtown: the video game arcade palace on Adelaide’s sophisticated entertainment drawcard boulevard, Hindley Street.  At the age of 10 there was no place cooler than Downtown.  Bizarrely, I’ve got some pretty clear memories from this day – there was my repeated frustrated playing of the Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom video game (which I was rubbish at), a failed attempt to play the massively ambitious & justifiably unpopular roleplaying game Thayer’s Quest (which had a full keyboard as control input – rare for an arcade game – and was completely bewildering to my 10 year old eyes), and getting grease all over my hands & tracksuit pants after tripping over on the dodgem car rink.

30 years ago – 1981 (5) – at the age of 5 you’re pretty easy to please, so par for course is to invite a few mates around, load up on sugar, and run around the backyard breaking things and shouting.  In many respects, this is what birthdays after about 33 involve, as well.

I loved that mustard-coloured velvet waistcoat.

So, there you have it.

By way of completeness – this year’s birthday effort was to go into New York City and meet up with my esteemed colleague Dr Love at a modest little steak emporium called Keens on W36th St (recommended by Mr Colin Dunn – a chap who can reliably figure out which direction is up), for a couple of slabs of meat and a cheeky ale or 3, a wee dram or 2 (Talisker 18 and Longrow Gaja Barolo), and some enlightened free-ranging discussion.  Classic.  And also working on responding to the 196 birthday messages I got on Facebook.

Tales from The Other Side (of the Atlantic)

Here’s a quick update of what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks – work have sent me over to the USA, and though I’m nominally in “New York”, I’m not situated in an office block on the corner of 42nd and Madison, or anything.  Despite not being in the thick of it though, I’ve had a little bit of opportunity to get in there & have a look around.

So, for starters…

I’m in White Plains NY, not New York City.  It’s not really “upstate New York” – the state’s northern border is about 370 miles away.  Still, it’s about a half hour walk to White Plains station, plus a good 40 minute train ride in to Grand Central Station, so it’s doable.  More on White Plains later, I guess.

From previous visits it’s struck me before, but no less so this time, that NYC has an incredibly familiar feel to it.  Every direction you look there’s some striking view and it feels like something you’ve seen before.  Principally this is because you have seen it before, due to about 2/3 of the USA’s TV and film output seemingly being set in the city.  So here’s a shot which grabbed me of the Chrysler Building, as I was trekking back to Grand Central to get my train home the other night.

As with any large city that people flock to there’s bound to be all sorts of historic fabric about the place – and you could spend hours delving through Wikipedia learning about it – however this plaque caught my eye on the way past.  So presumably NYC didn’t have the air of easy familiarity about it to tourists prior to 1896.

Somewhat irrelevantly, whilst shopping at a local supermarket I was perusing the “World Foods” aisle, and had to acknowledge the exotic content of the Britain section.

You’ve got to love a vehicle with wood panelling AND a white vinyl roof.  Oh yeah.  Sadly, it’s a lost aesthetic.  I suspect I know why Doc Brown didn’t use one of these to mount his Flux Capacitor in.

Space is at a premium like in any big city and this appears to be one solution to maximising its use without spending lots on construction or presumably having to worry too much about permits – it’s a carpark seemingly made of shelves.  No idea how they get the cars in & out – possibly some sort of forklift.  Just up the road from here I walked past a bunch of improv theatre types improvving in the street.  You know you’re not in London…

My longtime partner-in-crime & fellow beer connoisseur Spiro and I caught up for a cheeky beaker or two the other week, and it seemed silly not to take a picture of the highly commendable selection we made our way through that night.  Tastebud nirvana, seriously – especially the Mikkeller Black and Schlafly Reserve Stout.  Wow.  It’s beer Jim, but not as we know it.

And finally, whilst wandering about the East Village I stumbled across this tastefully named establishment.  Turns out it’s a sports bar (where sports are watched, not played, such is the custom) and not named after some forward-thinking pioneer of the day or hero of the 1880s.  Still, they had about 7 beers on tap there and it wasn’t altogether unpleasant.

That’s it for now – doesn’t really tell you much, but dem’s da breaks.  Carry on!

Nature can pull off some pretty impressive shit sometimes…

My biggest kodak moment

Originally uploaded by *ice

What happens when you combine the occurrence of the Aurora Borealis with an erupting volcano, and manage to be in the right place at the right time? Flickr user *ice managed to get what can only be described as “a fucking startlingly good photo”, based on these 3 ingredients.

Click on the image, or this link, for larger version on Flickr.  Then stare at it for 20 minutes or so, like I just have been.

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