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Category: travel (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.

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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.

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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.

Formidable photographic prowess

It’s fair to say that point-n-shoot compact cameras are good, but they’re not completely idiot proof.  As I discovered on my recent trip to South Africa.

autofocus

Thankfully, not *all* of my photos of the Rhino & Lion Park near Johannesburg were quite so, well, frigging useless.

One person I showed these to commented that it’s a shame that you can see the wire fences in some of them, and speaking as someone who was standing about 7 feet away from a huge muscular predator – I didn’t find the fences in the slightest bit offputting.  In hindsight it’s only a shame I didn’t take a more “contexty” shot of the fences to illustrate just how token they actually were.

Pushing the boundaries of airport excellence

There’s a metaphysical thing out there which friends of mine refer to as “The Jason B. Standing Transport Effect”, which is the name for the gestalt of the seemingly limitless variety of transportial cockups that surround and accompany me wherever I choose to roam.  It’s seldom anything critical (I’ve only ever missed 5 flights – 3 from Perth airport), and what’s more though the whole thing seems to serve no purpose than to make me a nervous wreck until I’m on the plane it seems that despite my best contingency planning there’s just no escape.

“But Jason”, I imagine you saying, as the well-informed and up-to-date person of distinction and taste that you undoubtedly are, “didn’t you fly from London to Glasgow just the other day?”.  Well, yes.

So, flight from Gatwick at 11:50.  Checked in online already.  30 mins from Victoria to Gatwick on speedy expensive train.  Easy, right?

Liz & I met up at Gatwick in the North terminal after a tiny amount of confusion about where our flight left from and made our way to the South terminal, where our flight was leaving from.  We joined the bag drop queue to put our checked bag in and were mildly startled to hear an employee walking up & down the queue shouting “last call for people flying to Glasgow!”.  Scurrying forth we popped our bag on the scales and found that it was 7kg over (PING!): cue the frantic removal of things from bag, stuffing into other bags, and the wearing unnecessary layers of clothing which no longer fit in the other bags (we know the world record for wearing t-shirts is at least 224).  We got it down to 1.3 kg over, and the girl who was checking our bag in went off-shift, so told us to go to the desk next door – and just before we threw our bag on the scale, the inevitable family group with 8 suitcases trundled up (PING!)…  with employee still hollerin’ “LAST CALL FOR FLIGHT TO GLASGOW” behind us.

But eventually the bag was allowed on, and we hoped nobody would pick us up on having oversized hand luggage (my red backpack now very much resembled an Angry Bird, sans beak and wild stare).  Executing some neat dodgem-work, we found a security entrance with no queue and presented the guy with our iPad with PDFs of the tickets on.  “We don’t accept iPads, sir – you need a printed ticket” (PING!).  We briefly tussled about the merits of online checkin if you don’t have a printer, and then it turned out that the thing the lady at the bag drop desk had given me was a boarding pass, and not a baggage receipt (as I’d incorrectly assumed: she’d only given me one of them).  But that one was just for me, and Liz needed to go & get another one (PING!).  So we belted it back to the EasyJet desk and managed to frantically get a pass printed out, then back to the security dude who let us through this time.

That’s the “hard” part, right?  Once you’re in the line for the scanners (and in this case, a short line) you can relax and let it all happen, right?  Well, not if you’re wearing jeans – as we both were – as clearly the amount of metal used to rivet & zip a pair of Levis is just over the tolerance factor for what airports have deemed that terrorists might be able to hijack a plane with (to be fair – if I was going to hijack a plane I’d more likely to be shoving a pair of sweaty boxer shorts in the pilot’s face than fashioning a rudimentary knife out of my zipper), and so we both got the hand-scan, frisk and pat-down (PING!).  For added comedy bonus points, Liz also got the random explosives screening (PING!), which may have been in part due to the frenzied look that she’d now taken on (but may have also been triggered by being with a companion with a visibly overstuffed backpack who was now looking nervous and probably uncommonly sweaty).

We deciphered from the screen which gate our flight was boarding at, saw we had 5 minutes til the gate closed, and realised that the airport advised passengers to “allow 10-15 minutes to reach gate 55”, and as we employed our expert London-learned dawdler-dodging skills and sped towards our gate, I felt an unwelcome sensation in my calf muscle and realised that I’d just partially torn it (PING!).  Just what the doctor ordered.  We now speed-limped toward gate 55 to find that it was an EasyJet special – in order to reduce enjoyment and relaxation, Gate 55 is actually Gate 55A, 55B, 55C, D, E, F, H, I, J and K, but there’s one ticket-scanning bottleneck that everyone uses – resulting in a huge army of people backed up in a queue (PING!), which must constantly emit the smell of fear.  We got to near the head of the queue only to get blocked by a guy who was holding an argument because their scanning thing wouldn’t scan the barcode on his iPhone (PING!).  Quite how he’d been able to get past security in the first place using an iPhone wasn’t clear, and  one can only assume it’s because the security dude we went to had decided not to accept iPads rather than it being an actual policy.  But then when you ask a security dude any sort of question about why something’s the way it is, they just grunt and gruffly non-answer “security”.

Somehow – I don’t really know how, because I’m sure some of those people are still stuck in that line – we managed to get through and heard a final final last call for 4 passengers on the Glasgow flight at Gate B, so we sprint-stumbled down there (PING!) only to find that it was the BA flight for Glasgow, not the one we wanted – which was Gate K (PING!).

So, happily, we managed to make it on to the flight by what we thought was the skin of our teeth – leaving time only for about another 40 people (including a stag do) to saunter on after us.

And the GOOD news is that we didn’t have another travel-related hitch.

Until we decided to follow the 2nd of the routes from Tarbert to Carradale that Google Maps suggested to us.  The one which the instructions describe as “Turn left (8.0 miles)”, but could more accurately sum up as “Turn left and follow windy steep dirt track that comes within about 50 feet of a frigging WIND FARM, which will be impossible to travel faster than 15mph for the majority of”.

Or, to put it a slightly different visual way:

It was all a bit “War of the Worlds”.

Happily, we’re here now, and the view out the front window that we’ve got to put up with is this:

We’ll manage.  Somehow.

Strap the plank on and get down le montaigne!

Since 2005 every time I’ve had the food fortune to speak to my lovely chum Elisa in France, the sentence has popped up like the chorus to some sisturbingly long Proj Rock song: “You should come to the snow with us & stay at my Grandfather’s chalet”.  It turns out that the play length of that song, my fans of a desperate metaphor, is about 6 years.

Or, to put it another way: We went to the snow. – Note: We went in February. It has taken a little longer than I expected to get this post out.

Flying with BA to Nice (from Heathrow – one of London’s more sensibly accessible airports) Liz & I were seated next to a charmin & impeccably groomed middle aged French diplomat who – had we met on a train – wouldn’t have seemed out of place discreetly relaying information via encrypted cell phone to James Bond.  He told us that Nive was famous for its pizza, being a former party of Italy but gifted to France by the King of Sardinia in thanks for Napoleon III’s efforts in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria.  Bet they’re kicking themselves now for giving THAT away.  Still, it gave the bloke something sensible to talk about.  He was off to visit his mum for the weekend, and probably didn’t need an Australian idiot wittering on about what a massive fortress the US Embassy in London looked like.

Arriving in Nice we had 5 hours to kill before our bus to Valberg so we headed in to check the place out.  First impressions were that based on weather the city should be more accuraltey named Pissy-sur-Mer.  We wandered about didging rain before deciding to bus it back to the airport.  No jasonbstanding holiday is complete without a massive transportial cockup, so in this case our bus pulled into Nice airport in time to see the back end of the bus we were meant to be on turning out of the carpark, which left us – as they say -in the merde.  After briefly investigating options like chasing the bus in a taxi or hiring a car to drive up, we resigned to staying overnight & heading up the next day on teh bus.  Pausing only for a quick photobooth opportunity to record our downcast demeanour we headed back into Pissy-sur-Mer and checked into the majestic Hotel Ellington : selected primarily for its keenly priced deal on lastminute.com, but also due to its lofty claims of “extensive whisky range in our ‘Bar Jazzy'”.

The experience promted me to begin pondering the merits of what makes a “good” whisky bar, however of more importance was what to do for dinner, and we opted for the ever-sincere option of asking the concierge.  In this case however the advice was goot.  No, great – we had an epic milestone of a meal at Villa d’Este: and Italian restaurant of such vibrancy & high quality that we’ve considered returning to Nice just to go there.  It really was staggeringly good.

The next morning we discovered just what a superb idea it had been to ramaing in Nice rather than driving up, as our bus (a *local* bus, no less, costing €1 each!) wound its way up through the breathtaking but ridiculously curvy red-walled gorge into Les Alpes Maritime.  Our presence on the bus seemed to amuse some of the locals, who came over to say hello and to talk about England, triggering my now all-too-familiar reflex to feel guilt & helplessness at only being able to speak one language as the elderly French woman spoke falteringly but well in English using words she’d not used in quite some while.  C’est la vie.

The French gang of Wilfried, Luc, Charlotte, little Nahel, Harmony, Cedric, and the ever-fabulous Elisa are a genuine hoot, and always a pleasure to hang out with.  Also, pretty handy in the kitchen – for while Liz & I were out on the slopes working through an introduction to the ludicrousness of snowboarding, they whipped up a sensational raclette: leading to the inevitable pioneering of the grilled quail’s egg omelette.

Valberg’s not the biggest resort in France but there were enough pistes to keep us busy for a while, and a few great beginners’ pistes.  The snow was surprisingly good given that we never really had a decent snow drop the whole time we were there, and daytime temperatures averaged about 10 degrees Celcius.  There’s some fairly new lift gear up there: Elisa explained how many new lifts had gone up in the last 4 or 5 years, so it’s probably just as well we hadn’t gotten organised enough to head up before now as I totally suck at button lifts.

Without the mild & gondola-served snow ramp of Zell Am See or the huge blue bowl of Solden, Valberg is still well served for beginners, with a couple of nice short green runs (the French grading system goes Green >> Blue >> Red >> Black), next to a fairly shortish straightish wide-ish blue.  This guaranteed Liz had no shortage of 6 year old kids to feel envious off as they careered past on their boards without a care.  Evening up the talent balance, the French Foreign Legion were on site that week as well doing snow training.  It seemed apparent that their curriculum consisted of saying “C’est ci ton surf!”, and addressing any further questions to Madame Gravity.

Every day we’d venture out to a different part of the resort’s piste system.  That is to say, Liz & I would – the Frenchies would hop on the button lift near the chalet first thing in the morning then ski their way across the entire resort and back: looking fabulous and barely raising a sweat in the meantime.  The bastards.  I managed to cover off most of the red and blue runs, plus one black run which Wilfried got me onto through vile underhanded duplicitousness, and nothing at all to do with a lack of concentration or map reading on my part.  Liz’s progress across the pistes was occluded fairly severely when she twisted her ankle during a tricky dismount from a chairlift, so she played bench for the last few days and actually got a relaxing holiday out of it.

Cuisine for the week was nothing short of fantastic: it worked on a daily raffle draw system.  We opened with the raclette (not sure the world really needs quail egg omelette, now I think of it).  We also had meat fondue, “roti” (a creamy veal potrost) with “socca” (a local-made chickpea pancake coated liberally with pepper), spaghetti carbonara, 10pm savoury crepes, and finished with “resto”: a trip to a “mountain food” restaurant in Valberg where we hit the Cheese Overload button BIG STYLEE, with Wilfried and Luc getting stuck into a real raclette, Liz and Elisa sharing a cheese fondue, and I tried a variation on Tartiflette which is essentially a baked cheese.  There was no escape from cheese.  At all.

There’s something perversely good about revelling in the relaxation rituals of another culture, and we both fully embraced the decadence of dipping our breakfast brioche into our morning coffee (which not only results in a great taste, but also covers up the fact that your brioche went whistling past its best-before date about 4 days ago), or taking the opportunity for a tipple of pastis any time someone optimistically said “Apero?”.  Equally impressive was the tenacity & effectiveness of the French postal system, where it turns out it’s possible to get a DVD delivered to your house by making up an address, then jury-rigging a rudimentary mailbox out the front of the house from an old fence post, an old cardboard box with a hole cut in, and a marker.

Sadly we had to make our way back so farewelling the cadre of crazy Gauls we boarded the meandering bus back to a much sunnier Nice.  With a bit of sunshine about the relative merits of the place suddenly become abundantly clear!  And back once more to the welcoming bosom of the Hotel Ellington.  Our firm resolve to visit Villa d’Este again was scuppered by our success in finding a great little wine cave, and then the blissful embrace of a mid-afternoon nap.

Thankfully the London arrival portion of the trip saved us from any residual sense of happiness by providing utterly fucked trains back from Heathrow.  And suddenly life was back to normal.

Snowboarding trips are awesome.  You should try.

(The rest of the photos are on Flickr.  There was some video footage too, but I can’t seem to find what I’ve done with it.)

Eedinborrow?

We’re back up in Edinburgh this year for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – this time Marty’s over from Australia, and he’s joined Liz, Billy, Myk, Kat & I in a nice centrally-placed apartment for a week of theatrical excess and mayhem.  So far we’ve seen (I suspect I’ll edit this list a few times in the next couple of days to add detail as I get time & inclination):

If there’s a link there, it’s to a review of that show I wrote for Whatsonstage.com

More detail to follow.

Time to bite the Bulleit

Seeing as I’m on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to usual, and the opportunity presented itself, I thought it might make sense to break with tradition and do a little bit of a bourbon whiskey tasting instead of focusing on scotch whisky.  You know, broaden the horizons, and all that…

Via the highly excellent organ of information called NYC Whisky I learned that there was a Bulleit tasting going on at Union Square Wines, so it took very little motivation to get on down there and see what was going on!

The first thing I learned – due to absolute lack of preparation on my part – was that the Bulleit “range” is comprised of two whiskies: Bulleit Bourbon, and more recently, Bulleit Rye.  At least this wouldn’t take too long…  And leading us along this short but immaculately appointed garden path was Diageo Reserve Brands’ mixologist extraordinaire & bourbon aficionado, Elayne.

Though bought into the Diageo group around 1999 (and prior to that, Seagram’s), Bulleit is a family-run company originating from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.  My notes say that Tom Bulleit started distilling commercially based on an old family recipe in the mid 1960s, with the bourbon hitting the shops in the mid 1970s.  It is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, which means that it must satisfy a few criteria – it must contain at least 51% corn liquor, and be aged in the state of Kentucky in new charred American oak barrels, going into the barrel at a max of 120 proof (62.5% abv).  Even though the terms are fairly prescriptive there’s still plenty of room for variation, which is why Bulleit’s able to present the taste profile it does.

For starters, the constituent parts of Bulleit Bourbon are 61% corn, 27% Rye, and remaining 12% Malted Barley.  I didn’t think to ask whether those proportions were mixed liquor at the end of distillation or whether they distill a rye load, a corn load, and a malt load & then mix the liquors afterward, or if it’s just the mixture of grain proportions that goes into the initial mash.  The 3rd option sounds least hassle.  Additionally, the Bulleit recipe calls for only the “heart” of the distillate to be used.  Whereas some bourbons apparently use elements of the heads (high alcohol distillates) and tails (lower alcohol distillates) which can be employed to give the drink a “kick”, Bulleit specifies that they only use the “heart” run, or the part taken out after all of the dangerous wood spirits have been taken out of play.

Smelling my glass gave away scent of honey, spices, and a waft of leather.  Swishing it around in the mouth added a presence of oak.  It’s a fantastic and well-structured drink – the main thing for me was that it didn’t suffer from the over-sweet character that many entry-level bourbons certainly have (which I now know is due to heavy presence of corn in the mash!), but wasn’t achingly dry either.  It’s a perfectly solid have-on-your-bar bourbon!  After swallowing the taste tapers off politely with an aftertaste that’s congruent with the liquor you’ve just had in your mouth – it’s not a big bold in-your-face “feel the burn for a week” whiskey, but nor is it an insipid apologetic thing that disappears with no trace.  Great stuff.

Moving on to the other half of the Bulleit lineup, we tried Bulleit Rye.

Historically, rye whiskey was a precursor of bourbon as the migrants to the USA knew how to distil from barley and hadn’t yet tried working with corn.  The rye spirit is drier and more complex than corn, however the yield isn’t as high.  The resurgence in interest in rye whiskey has come about because of mixologists realising what a great base for cocktails it makes, and this has precipitated the recent development and release of Bulleit Rye (coming to market in March 2011).

The mash bill is a very high 95% rye, with the remaining 5% malted barley.  The whiskey in the bottle is a result of mingling together barrels that are between 6 and 8 years of age, released at 45% abv.

As expected the whiskey is a lot drier than the bourbon but still sweet in a non-saccharine way (if that makes any sense). The name of the game here is “spices”, and it’s a flavour that seems to grow on you the longer you hold onto it.  The slightly musky floral characteristics in the bouquet don’t come out too much in the mouth – replaced by some vanilla in the background.  On balance I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as the bourbon on its own.

To showcase some of the reach of these whiskies Elayne also gave us a taste for how these things worked in cocktails – mixing for us a Manhattan (using Carpano Antica vermouth and Fee Brothers whisky-barrel-aged bitters), and a favourite of the Bulleit family, the “B&T” (2 oz bourbon, mixed with tonic water & a bit of lemon).  Not being a massive cocktail enthusiast thus far I wasn’t expecting much, but both were excellent (and aptly refreshing, on that particular day).  In my notes I’ve drawn a smiley face next to the B&T, so I must’ve been quite taken by it at the time.

So they’re not rare, and they’re not expensive, but they are very well-crafted and enjoyable drinks.  You’re not going to spend hours dissecting the flavour profile or speaking in hushed tones reminsicing about that Bulleit Bourbon that you had once… but if someone handed you one, you wouldn’t find yourself grimacing awkwardly and looking for a potplant.

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!

The picture-skew Lake District, and requisite silliness

The argument’s divided over whether the Aussies or Brits are more accustomed to lengthy drives to get to places – sure, in Australia we’ve got vast distance from nearly every point  in nearly any direction you care to start.  However in England a 100 mile car trip can take 6 hours, depending on traffic and how may flakes of “adverse weather condition” have fallen.  Nevertheless, our 7 hour drive from London’s Mile End up to Cockermouth seemed to absolutely zip by largely thanks to the excellent conversation of Belinda & Tom (not withstanding my appalling navigational prowess in the last hour or so), and before we knew it (but after a very mysterious lamb shank dinner in a services stop) we were supping Cumbrian ales in Bushy & Rach’s living room, along with the ebullient & effervescent Lizzie. And what a top beginning to a bizarre-yet-top weekend!

Cockermouth is a pictureqsue town in England’s stunning Lake District, and Bushy & Rach have set up house not far from there, in a small village called Brigham.

The nearby area’s replete with interesting hilly bits, so given my lack of any sort of physical activity in the previous week I felt a bit of a prick at the idea of not acquiescing to Bushy’s suggestion that we go for a walk up some scenery.  I didn’t catch the name of the one we picked (although it was close to something known as Skiddaw, I believe), but it was a clear & present reminder of how out of shape & touch I am with the whole “outdoors” thing these days.  Luckily Bushy had a spare polar fleece, so hastily donning it we set off up the hill, and as time wore on the sound of my wheezing & puffing got more Stephenson-esque (and the polar fleece came back off again).

Nearing the top we stopped at the snowline (totally awesome panoramic shot here) – I’m hoping the reason for that was because we were all getting cold, and not just because of my slipping about in my gripless, impractical shoes.  There was, however, time for Bushy to build a snowman(ish) and for us to perform a quick rendition of our new favourite song for the weekend – Trololo, by Mr Eduard Khil (Эдуард Хиль), which we luckily captured on video.  How marvellous.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVvECjVS-Bk

The evening’s entertainment was to head into Cockermouth proper – aside from being a lovely little town, it also has an excellent beer pedigree, boasting not only the widely renowned Jennings Brewery, but also pub microbrewery The Bitter End.

I’m just going to come out and say it – they make AWESOME beer.  We each tried a pint of one of their available varieties before heading off for dinner (short story- dinner was meant to be at a nearby pub at 8:50, but when we arrived at 8:47 they said the kitchen was closed.  They know what THEY are. So instead we had the worst Indian takeaway meal in the world), and found each brew to be flavoursome & refreshing.

As well as sipping an extremely tasty Golden Ale I got to chatting with some locals, who told me a bit about the rebuilding that’s going on following the big floods Cockermouth had in November last year.  Most of the town’s bridges were taken out, along with loads of houses & businesses.  On our way up the hill to our final pub of the night we saw evidence of just what kind of upwrenching disruption a flood can do.

We almost had damage of our own to cope with following Bushy & Belinda’s spectacular-yet-ludicrous piggyback-turned-faceplant effort.  How the hell nobody ended up spitting out tooth bits after that episode is anyone’s guess.

On Sunday we were rejoined by Lizzie & Colin and ventured in to the wee town of Keswick.  Clearly a favourite with the tourists (judging by the preponderance of teashops & pubs), it looks like it’s been built based on a particularly pleasant and English postcard photo.  So what in the hell Adelaide’s pioneers, planners & forefathers were thinking when they named the corresponding suburb (chiefly noted for its railway terminal) I can only wonder at.

Our first port of call was the Cumberland Pencil Museum.  I don’t want to say too much about that place, other than if you give me opportunity to go to a pencil museum I’m damn well going to take it, aren’t I?  They certainly had a lot of information about how pencils are made.  And they provide helmets.

I bought a souvenir pen.

Lastly we wandered around Keswick town and – as all picturesque village wanderings demand – had a spot of afternoon tea.  I managed to fend off the subliminal advances of the excellently-stocked whisky shop (which had some marvellous decanters in the front window), however we did manage to find a beer shop which stocked bottles of Bitter End ale – and though it was a little awkward schlepping a carton with 12 bottles in it back through town to the car park it was worthwhile to be able to share these excellent brews with m’chums.

‘Oss ‘oss!

England is a country rife with tradition & local custom, which gives rise to some fascinating events – I’ve written before about the tar barrel running in Ottery St Mary before, and alluded to but not gotten around to writing about the cheese rolling race at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire.  In May I was lucky enough to be invited to Padstow, in Cornwall, for another distinct local gem – the Mayday ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival.

Mitch & Bill from our morris dancing team have been heading down to Padstow for years now – like 30 or so years – and effecting roughly the same routine: they, along with their chums Roy, Mac, and over time other local folkies, set up in the front bar of The Cornish Arms in St Merryn nightly for most of the week leading up to May Day and get cranking on a session of folk tunes & songs.  Some of it’s traditional Cornish music & song picked up over time from the locals, and then they also do all manner of other music, including the odd Elvis tune.  They invited me to join them & experience this cultural gem, and with almost no thanks to First Great Western trains & in spite of their curious bike-carriage booking policy (whereby you book space in the carriage for your bike, and then when you get off the train and open the carriage door to get your bike out learn that about 80 people along the way have jammed their bikes in & around yours, and narrowly avoid getting slammed shut in the bike carriage whilst trying to wrestle yours from the bottom of the pile) I managed to make it down to the westernmost end of the rainy island.

Cheating slightly: this isn't from The Cornish Arms. It's from another pub a little way around from there. But it DOES show Roy on the left and Mac on the right.

The main event, however, is the ‘Oss parade.

This annual event has been traced back to the 1800s according to written accounts, however there is proof that as far back as the 1600s the Padstonians have held great May Day celebrations.  The locals of the fishing village of Padstow decorate the streets with flags & foliage; the main colours used are red and blue, as there are 2 ‘osses which process around the town.

As it was, we had timed our visit to be about the place for the red ‘Oss, known as The Old ‘Oss, or The Original ‘Oss.  The Blue Ribbon ‘Oss – known also as The Peace ‘Oss – processes around the village earlier in the day.  The procession consists of a large group of the ‘Oss’s supporters – bedecked in white and their ‘Oss’s colour – gathering outside the stabling place of the ‘Oss (in the case of the Old ‘Oss, it’s The Golden Lion Inn), and waiting for it to emerge.

“What’s an ‘Oss?”, is probably a pertinent question at this juncture: the name is a regional contraction of Hobby Horse, although the ‘Oss itself doesn’t particularly resemble the child’s toy of the same name.  This ‘Oss is a large black lacquered disc with a black fabric “skirt” around the circumference.  On one side is a protruding horse head, opposite, a tail.  In the middle the wearer’s head pokes through, wearing some sort of conical hat & mask arrangement.

Once the ‘Oss emerges from the stable it dances around – cavorting and pitching erratically back & forth in a space made by the crowd – following the agitations of a person designated as the “teaser”.  As the ‘Oss dances the song is played, and periodically as directed by no hand that I could discern the villagers strike up the accompanying song.  In addition to singing, often you’d hear the cry of “Oss! Oss!”.  It wasn’t readily apparent to me whether this was to get the attention of the ‘Oss and beckon it towards you, or just a general bark of enthusiasm.

And through the magic of YouTube I managed to track down a video of the ‘Oss emerging from the stable, to give you some idea of what’s going on.  The tune of the song’s quite clear:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_i2rp9k22E

Once the ‘Oss is out, the band of musicians lead their way through the streets with teaser & ‘Oss following, and then the rest of the paraders follow up.  They make their way around some sort of predetermined parade route, which must take in a series of relevant or historical sites – buggered if I know what was going on.

One of the exhilarating features of the thing is that everybody seems to get involved: Mitch pointed out the “accordion army”, comprising – it seemed – nearly every bloke in the whole town, all playing the ‘Oss song.  To see this gives some sense of how important the event is to the people – many of them go to the trouble of buying an accordion (not a cheap instrument, at all) and learning this tune (and in many cases, this tune only!) in order to be a part of the festivities.


People of all ages are involved, and the vibe in the town is a very happy one.  Mitch explained: “To a lot of these people, this is bigger than Christmas”.  The weather’s certainly better, for starters.

Tradition & legend dictate that if a young lady gets caught ‘neath the ‘Oss’s “skirt” then this will bring beneficial fertility side effects, and as with so many allegedly fertility-based customs, she will soon fall pregnant.  You may call me a cynic, but one can’t help but wonder if this rumour isn’t due to a statistical increase in pregnancies culminating in early-February births: certainly it correlates with the arrival of the ‘Oss, as well as coinciding with a large festive celebration where people are probably happy, drunk & keen to… errm… celebrate.

Without talking to many of the people (they seemed fairly wrapped up in their celebrations, to be honest) I didn’t really get to find out much about why people follow one ‘Oss or the other.  There didn’t appear to be any sort of competitive element to it, or any signs of rivalry (other than that everyone appeared to have picked one to support).


The tune’s quite catchy, if a shade repetetive, and has many verses – all of which end with “In the merry morning of May”, and is therefore more than likely the only lyric you’ll discern from the video, and indeed the only one that half the people are joining in with.  The full lyrics are found at the Wikipedia entry, but the first 2 verses, bridge stanza, and final verse are:

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is acome unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mr. ….. I know you well afine,
For summer is acome unto day,
You have a shilling in your purse and I wish it were in mine,
In the merry morning of May.

O! where is St. George,
O!, where is he O,
He is out in his long boat on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite and down tails the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood she had an old ewe
And she died in her own Park O.

Now fare you well and bid you all good cheer,
For summer is acome unto day,
We call no more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May.

And again, through the magic of YouTube I found a live recording of folk band Steeleye Span singing their song, “Padstow”, which bizarrely enough is centred around the same lyrics and tune.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytfDpzn6Qys

So, that’s how that all worked.  Part of the fun was that everyone was involved, and like so many of these regional traditions it gave off a sense of vibrancy, counterbalancing the ever-present assertion that folk traditions are dying out.  Happily, there doesn’t appear to be any lulling in the energy of the ‘Oss Festival.

Other than that, we spend the days looking around that end of Cornwall – Mitch, Bill & I went & had a stickybeak at The Flambard’s Experience –  an amusement park which bravely advertises that it’s fun “come rain or shine”, however the queues of people not there spoke out for the favour of people not wanting to ride water rides in drizzly May.  It featured an excellent museum of London during the Blitz, as well as a recreated Victorian village, and a large section on Aviation (including a section of Concorde fuselage/cockpit that you could walk through!).

Another day we drove down to river inlet town Boscastle, and the muso’s had another session at The Cobweb: a spectacularly dingy pub with an eclectic bunch of stuff shoved in & stuck to every surface.

I mentioned pushbikes earlier – one of the other things we did was saddle up on the bikes we’d all hauled down there and go for a lovely ride from Padstow along to Wadebridge.  It was both brilliant fun, and completely an unjustified amount of riding to necessitate hauling a bike all the way down there from London, and back.

That’s enough of the slide night for now: as usual, I’ve got a Flickr gallery of all of my photos from the Padstow trip.  It really is magnificent country, and somewhere which I’m extremely keen to get back to at some point soon!

One final thing worth mentioning though – the beer.  Mitch & Bill tell me that for a long time Cornish beers weren’t exactly excellent, but happily in recent times this has been adequately corrected, and we spent a goodly chunk of our evenings sampling the local brews from St Austell, Sharp’s and Skinner’s breweries.  As well as the handpumped cask ales we also got our hands on the Rick Stein inspired bottle beers from Sharp’s – Chalky’s Bark and Chalky’s Bite.


Of the varieties we tasted, I found the Bark & the Bite interesting as an exercise, but ultimately not an enjoyable thing to settle in to a session of.  That honour went to St Austell’s Proper Job – a fresh, hoppy & citrussy IPA.  I’ll readily confess that one of the selling points was that every time I asked Mitch to buy one he’d say “Praaaper Jaaaab” in an hilarious mock-Cornish accent.  A very close second place was the excellent bitter St Austell’s Tribute.  We’ve longtime been a fan of Tribute, and to get it this close to its home was an absolute pleasure.

I can’t remember much about Tinners.  Perhaps I ought to schedule another trip down there to take some more notes?

How to sum up 19 days of bliss & awesomeness

It’s probably abundantly clear – because I clearly mentioned it several times – that back in December I was extremely fortunate to be able to get back to my hometown of Adelaide and spend a few weeks there, soaking up the sun and spending time with friends & family.

Organising relaxing holidays has never been my special subject, and this was no exception: there were only 19 days or so available to catch up with everyone, and so the mission was timetabled rigorously.  At this point it should be obvious that I intend to describe more or less what I did, and you may be thinking “Oh bloody hell, do I have to read about every single person that idiot went for a beer with for 19 days?!”.  And of course the answer is “Yes”.

  • Upon arriving in Melbourne my chauffeur was the ebullient Mr Brian Polli, who was kind enough to let me crash in the spare room overnight.  As befitting any welcoming home from the upper regions of the globe, Brian & Olivia spoilt me with a steak dinner at Footscray’s Station Hotel – a mighty fine steak, and happily they had Little Creatures on tap also: a sight for sore eyes!
  • On my first evening in Adelaide a band of distinguished gentlemen gathered to celebrate Mat’s buck’s night – starting off at Chessar Cellars, we made our way through a few pre-dinner refreshments before moving on to one of Adelaide’s best Indian restaurants – the Jasmin – for an excellent Indian banquet.  They’d put us in the upstairs section, which I’m not sure whether was for reasons of privacy, noise control, or just because they thought a buck’s night implied the venue needs hosing out afterwards, however we conducted ourselves with dignity and civility becoming of our station.  Finally we moved on to Hindley Street bar The Apothecary to see what their whisky selection was like.  Not bad, for the colonies – I made do with demolishing their bottle of Macallan 18, before discovering a new dark rum which I’ve fallen deeply for – Ron Zacapa 23.
  • The Saturday involved a quick trip up to Bridgewater to join the Adelaide Morris Men for their Christmas party, but this was to be a fleeting visit as I was required at the wedding rehearsal in town.  After this, Bruce required a lift back up to Bridgewater, so then we returned to the AMM party, then buzzed around to Belair to collect Patrick, went back into town again to share some homebrews with Alex & Mat, then out for the time-honoured custom of a yiros, and then dropped Pat back in the hills again.  So we managed to see a lot of the Freeway that day, anyway.
  • To follow any buck’s night of course there’s a wedding, and Mat & Gemma picked a gorgeous day to be wed adjacent to the Adelaide University footbridge.  It was a very nice ceremony, with the Bride & Groom looking well turned out & happy, and it was a huge buzz to see so many old friends together for the first time in ages.  We moved on to the Mortlock Library for the reception, at a grand banqueting table where we enjoyed excellent company, very nice food, and some absolute class-A plonk.  Well done there Matty.
  • Dad & I went out for coffee and were joined by his former teaching colleague & my long-time drinking buddy, Whisky Bill.  Couldn’t get a word in edgewise with that pair about, but it was interesting listening to their various analyses of South Australian politics in the 1970’s.
  • Marty took up the co-pilot’s seat in the Getz to pop in to The Tivoli for lunch with the ever-effervescent Daniella.  We only really get to catch up for lunch sporadically (every 3 years or so!), but it’s always good to spend an hour or so shooting the breeze with her.
  • Nicko, Luko, Marty, Roie, Rohan & I met up for a couple of beers and what turned out to include some excellent pizzas at the Griffin’s Head on Hindmarsh Square.  It was a little unsettling that the Academy Cinemas had closed down, but then progress is like that.  At least they’ve turned the Griff back into a pub again (as opposed to the neon-fronted atrocity it was for so long).  Coincidentally we ran into my Uncle Alan, who I’d only been trying to track down a phone number for that very afternoon.  Spooky.  But then, Adelaide’s like that.
  • Not much happened in Adelaide on Tuesday, other than me sodding off to Canberra for a couple of days – but that’s another story.
  • The Adelaide Morris Men, having not already had enough of me, invited me to join them at practice on Thursday night, which was fun and educational – a stark reminder of how much my style has changed since dancing with Westminster.  Fairly early into the piece I felt my left calf muscle pop (not badly, thankfully), so was rotated out of dancing duties unfortunately.  Happily though I managed to convince them to have a post-practice beer at The Wheatsheaf: our former regular haunt, and a place where Many Excellent Beers are sold.  Another Adelaidean coincidence was to run into Kylie, thus saving me another phonecall.
  • Friday afternoon meant lunch with Trudy at Rundle Street vegetarian mecca, “Vego & Lovin’ It!”.  Haven’t been in there in years, but the place still maintains its charm, style and quality.  And more importantly, I got to spend a couple of hours chatting to Trudy.
  • Couldn’t spend all day there gumflapping however, as the next job to do was go out to cousin Judith’s place to retrieve a load of boxes of stuff which I had in storage: when we packed it all I was uncertain how long I’d be in the UK, but now – 5 and 1/2 years on – it seemed silly to keep a huge collection of mismatched bedclothes, towels, kitchenware, and who knows what else.
  • There was a few minutes to pop in at Alex & Leanne’s place to test out his latest homebrew, as well as getting to chat with Mat, Gemma, Bruce & Ange as well.  Alex’s beer is nothing short of phenomenal, and I’d like to record here publicly my willingness to assist with any further tasting required, should practicality dictate.
  • Finally (it was a big Friday!) I was invited for dinner at Chateau Eldo, and once again had the pleasure of spending an evening chatting with Brett & Louise, and learning of what they & their family have been up to of recent years.  Needless to say, there was also an epic amount of Star Wars quoting going on, as befits such an occasion (Brett & I were once bet a large sum of money that we couldn’t go a full 30 minutes without quoting a line from the Star Wars trilogy – we made it, but only just… in fact we mainly sat silent for naught but a whimper for most of it).
  • Saturday was something of an epic: Spiro & I decided that a fairly economical use of time in the interests of catching up with people was to install at a pub for the afternoon and whoever had time could swing by & say hello, so at 12:30 in the afternoon we took up position out the from of North Adelaide’s bru-temple, The Wellington, and waited to see what would happen.  We had what seemed like a smallish horde through, and left the premises a full 12 hours later.  I managed to rack up a bar tab that was over a foot long, and we played on with whisky & YouTube videos of Daffy Duck cartoons (and, of course, The Three Little Bops) at Nick & Kelly’s place.  It was AWESOME.  I can’t even begin to list who turned up – partially for space, but also in part because some of the latter sections of the evening are a little hazy – but it was an absolute riot to see so many people, and my favourite phrase of the afternoon was “OH MY GOD?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN YEARS!”.
    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l33g5jn7p18
  • Sunday, by necessity, was a far more subdued effort – however there was still a bit of partying to be done, so off to Spiro’s Dad’s 80th birthday bash I went.  It was the tail end of things, but it was good to see John & have a beer with him.
  • Wasting no time on this brief-but-spectacular holiday I raced back down into King William Street to see Jamie’s band “Gracewood” play in the Battle Of The Bands at the Bull & Bear.  I knew Jamie was a neat little bass player, but I was genuinely blown away by the professionalism of this band.  Happily, they won the contest – and too bloody right too, with the quality of those tunes.  Plus, as an extra bonus, I randomly ran into Fluffy Sarah: who I hadn’t seen since Tim & Chelsea’s wedding!
  • The night was still young, so I returned to Spiro’s place for another beer, an Iced Coffee, and a quick easy jaunt into the Adelaide foothills.  We dispensed with the tradition of hoiking it up to Mt Lofty or Woodhouse, but instead climbed up to a water tank with views over Adelaide & took some photos, waxed philosophical, and passed over to the relief shift who arrived with a laptop loaded with Cheech & Chong movies.  The future’s in safe hands.
  • Monday morning despite temporal ineptitude I managed to make it into Najjar’s for a coffee with El Gringo Browny.  Seemed silly to have breakfast beers, after all.
  • Later that day Marty & I saddled up into the mighty Blue Falcon and cruised back up the Freeway (again) to Ryan’s hillside lair, and met with Kieran, Mike, Rob and Whisky Bill: part high school reunion, and part shithouse-philosophy session, it was a genuinely top afternoon and we genuinely made a hole in a couple of cartons of beer.
  • As man can’t live on bread alone (even if it is one of the more liquid interpretations of the same ingredients) we decamped up to the Aldgate Pump Hotel, and semi-randomly ran into Nikko & Tine in the beer garden.  We also met Mark & Tanya, who we had arranged to see and were thus less surprised by (although I was a little surprised, given how many failed meetup plans Tanya & I had made already).  The pub grub in Aldgate was marvellous, and I was at last given the opportunity to order something called “a small Parmageddon”.
  • On Tuesday my health-conscious diet continued, with a schnitzel with the old Aspect lads (Big Stevie V, Captain Duregon, and Wild Crazy Mad Dog Nicolitsi).  At this point I was fearful of cutting myself shaving in the next day or so, lest melted mozzarella start seeping forth from within my veins.  As Sam & I were the Gentlemen of Leisure for the day we thought we’d stick around at the Earl of Leicester a little longer and sample some more of their choice offerings.  And a fine thing it was/am/were.
  • Next stop was out in the mystic North Eastern Quadrant to visit DB: a personage I’ve not seen for quite some time.  We did the Grand Tour of his excellent new home, and of course held a free-ranging discussion on many topics, such as is our wont.  Dave offered me a Coopers Pale Ale, and it seemed foolish to refuse.  The lovely Samantha arrived home after a shortish while, and I finally got to meet her too.
  • There’s no point in doing things in a logical sensible way, and to that end the next step was obviously to head to Prospect to collect Martacus, then down to Glenelg for a mexican feast at Gringo’s with Kerri & Kelly.  After dinner we retired to a nearby hostelry for a few refreshments, and to watch the local youths embark on their tribal courting rituals.
  • Wednesday’s mission was to head to the Southern side of town to visit my partner-in-crime from our old I.T.&e. days, Commander Qüntley Fortescue.  So that was cool – a trip to the Clarendon Bakery for some health-conscious grub, as well as a couple of beers, and a load of prattling & swearing.  Truth be known, I only set that all up as an excuse to see his wife Sarah, cos she’s lovely.  Their new kid’s cute, too.
  • But it wasn’t long before the time came to head back into town to meet up with Lee & Kerry for a pre-Christmas aperitif: there just really isn’t enough time on these holidays, I swear.  As always, it was excellent to see them and touch base – an opportunity we’ve not had since they came to England a couple of years ago.  Nicko & Kelly joined us as well, and as was customary by this point I was late to arrive as while I was parking the car I encountered my old high school mate Mr Benji Callen.  Or maybe it’s Dr.
  • The high school coincidences weren’t to end there however: The Lovely Virginia invited me out for a splendid Thai meal on Unley Road, and as a followup maneuvre we walked up to The Earl of Leicester (again) for post-dinner beverages – somehow convincing her flatmate to join us.  Upon arrival at the famed boozer, who should we run into but Mr Giulio Harding – from the same vintage as the good Mr/Dr Callen – freshly arrived back from Tokyo!  He was accompanied by some mates, including Mr Daniel Hardy, who I’d seen at the pub session at the Wellington earlier but not really had a chance to chat to.  Similarly here I don’t think we talked extensively, but then I’m still feeling sheepish about having not returned his CD of Polish Sea Shanties for about 10 months.
  • The main event of Christmas Eve (day) was – after a slightly delayed start – jumping in the car with Winnie, Lou & Suzi and heading down to winelovers’ paradise McLaren Vale for lunch at d’Arenberg Winery.  When I sing the Australian national anthem and get to the phrase “beauty rich and rare”, it’s things like this that spring to mind – the food was amazing, the wine was breathtaking (we knocked over about 3 bottles of The Peppermint Paddock Sparkling Chambourcin), and the company was just the sort of group that I enjoy spending an elongated summer lunch with.  After lunch we rolled out and mosied up the road to another oenological gem, Samuel’s Gorge Winery.  It’s moments like that which really make a guy lament the wine carriage limit back to the UK.  And that afternoons can’t last forever.
  • The final instalment of Christmas Eve was to head out North East again to the excellent Anglo-styled environs of The Fox & Firkin, to join the old Anstey lads (TimO, Westy, B2, etc.) for a bit of Christmas cheer, and then relocated up to Gav’s place to press on into the small hours.  We were joined by Martacus, and Mr Ling, and we picked up Mr Brooker along the way too – a thoroughly excellent way to carry on.
  • (At 2500 words, we’ll give Christmas Day a miss here & press straight through)
  • A tradition on Boxing Day is Ange’s Birthday Picnic in the Botanic Gardens, and seeing as Ange & Bruce were over from France it seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue the tradition – and that’s where I went!  Quite a cheery little gathering: I wasn’t organised enough to bring picnic food, but with some deft phone work I managed to convince Martacus to pick up a couple of The Falafel House’s finest on his way in.  Another fine collection of people I’ve not seen in a while, and the rigours of time made the whole thing far too rushed an affair.  Kylie J happened through, so it was good to see her, and a bit of a highlight was getting to spend a bit of time chatting in person with Katie (who was breezing through Radelaide and our paths chanced to cross).  And across from New Zealand was Doc Brown, who is always one of my favourite people to exchange notes with – even better when there isn’t a keyboard involved.  Young Toby made an appearance too, so there was a nice convergence of people returning from their various meanderings around the glode.  “Travelling Dillberries”, my mum might say.  And for a 3rd lucky spotting, Mr Hardy was in the vicinity.
  • Another Boxing Day tradition is the BBQ at Chateau Davis, so back to the southern hills it was – but as always the experience was worth the trip.  Even though we were pretty late to the party there was still opportunity to see Karen & Spewin’, Aunty Jean & Bill, Bret, Dylan, Andy, Captain Cam, Bec, Lucy, and the ever-gorgeous Miss Julie.  Oh, and we had to put up with Scott, too.  Still, credit where credit’s due – he managed to pull off *the* most incredible stack as he descended the stairs to the pool.  No idea how he fell over on such a flat surface, but that’s part of The Joy of Scott.
  • With excellence of forethought, the next step was to go back into town to The Grace Emily to see Fi & Ben, who were just over from Canberra.  Any night in the ‘Grace is a good one, and none moreso than this!  Happily it turned out Winnie was also there occupying his usual corner, and Mr Hardy and Mr Corkindale both turned up as well!
  • On the 27th, with sunset metaphorically dawning on my trip, the Fewster Clan announced that they were gathering up at Belair National Park, and as my only window of opportunity to see them I raced up there with abandon to spend a little time with Andrew & Sarah.  Upon arriving it was also a pleasant surprise to see Mike & Cath, Matt & Taara, Kirrily – and all of their assorted progeny – and Helen & Johan (who I’m still not sure whether we encountered randomly or not).  The phrase which summed up the afternoon was by now the well-worn “brief, but spectacular”, and it left me truly grinning like a Cheshire Cat to see everyone looking so healthy, happy & content.
  • No time to lose however as the next step was dinner in Gawler with Joann & Dave.  If there was ever a point at which my lack of spatial awareness was illustrated, it was here.  Not since the great Bridgewater-to-Salisbury dash have I made such a ballsup of timing, but it wasn’t the only ballsup of the evening, as Joann had forgotten that she’d invited me for dinner, and so everyone had eaten already… meaning I was rewarded with KFC.  That splendid fellow Jomartz & I nipped into the heaving centre of Gawler for supplies, and managed to procure 6 Pale Ales to take back, so it wasn’t a complete epicurean failure.  Just as well it’s a good job I enjoy hanging out with those guys…
  • The 28th was my little nephew Harper’s 4th birthday, so hanging out with him & his mates was a bit of a trip.
  • The next part of the plan was originally to pop in & visit Catherine Campbell, but in an organisational stuffup she wasn’t home, so I took the chance to pop over to Nick & Kel’s place to see Bob and Billie and their lovely kids. Convert to WIN!
  • Afterwards Mum & Dad & I went out for a spot of dinner at the same place Virginia & I had gone a couple of days before.  Dad was clearly in the mood for steak, but with a Mighty Steak lined up for the night I got to Melbourne I was having a bit of a red meat hiatus.
  • Another pub I’d been meaning to check out at some stage was The Coopers Alehouse – which anyone of my vintage or older would habitually refer to as The Earl of Aberdeen, because that’s what it was called, dammit! – because I’d heard that they had aged Coopers Sparkling Ale on English-style handpumps.  Fortuitously, Fi & Ben were in session at that very place, so my post-dinner sharpener was sorted!  I was quite disappointed with the Sparkling Ale: it was more than likely the “flatness” of it, because after all – it’s meant to be SPARKLING…  In either case, we had plenty of chatting to do to take our minds off weirdo beer, and we were transfixed by the sight of the MASSIVE cockroaches that were running around on the road.  You could ride one of them home, seriously.
  • The 29th, being my last full day in Adelaide, was fairly heavily taken up with sifting through boxes of my stuff that were in storage and earmarking most of it for the tip or the Salvo’s.  There was time, however, to pop out that morning to North Adelaide for a coffee or 2 with someone I’ve not seen in a *very* long time – Ms B Warnes!  We kinda let catching up run away with us, because a “quickish” coffee turned into 2 hours in no time.  Just as well we didn’t go for beers, although at that time of day I guess you’re unlikely to…
  • And just because it was a nice day and not quite enough people had paid full attention to me yet, that night we fired up the barbie and burnt some meat in the back yard in the traditional Australian way.  And just for something different, we threw a couple of beers back with it!  Now, one of the drawbacks of writing this out over a month after the event is that remembering exactly who was there is a bit of an uphill push: I know for sure that we had Martacus, Nicklearse, Kelly, Roie, Mr Ling, Mike, Doc Brown, Rohan, Mike, Cath, and a late appearance by Ryan…  and my earlier assertion of a red meat hiatus was immediately proven incorrect, with happily massive amounts of bangers, kangaroo, and lamb shaslicks, and Nicklearse invoked the Aussie Cliche by putting – for the first time at one of my events, I’m sure – some prawns on the barbie!
  • About the only things I’ve glossed over, and again it’s largely because my memory of when it took place is sketchy at best, is the various evenings when I was staying at Nicko & Kel’s place and would stumble in around midnight, then we’d crack open a nice red or something and fire up the Wii for various contests of gaming prowess – the dancemat thingo was tantrum inducing, the zombie shooty game was a bit boring for me because I didn’t have a gun-shaped holder for my control so it felt like zapping hordes of the undead with a remote control, but by far the best thing was the film trivia game – Scene It! – where Nicko & I faced off like Chuck Norris against Bruce Lee.
  • And then the nights I was staying out at Martacus’s place would typically finish in that time-honoured way: sitting around in the backyard in deckchairs, talking philosophy and sinking back bottles of Coopers Dark Ale.

Now, aren’t you glad I decided to do the short version?

There’s a fullsize Flickr photoset of my visit as well as a set of photos of Mat & Gemma’s wedding, on the offchance you’re short of things to do.

Upon leaving Adelaide, I headed to Melbourne for a few days.  But that’s another story.

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