Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Australian Tables Wines...

Monty Python said it best I think way back in 1972:-

A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table wines. This is a pity as many fine Australian wines appeal not only to the Australian palate but also to the cognoscenti of Great Britain.

Black Stump Bordeaux is rightly praised as a peppermint flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good Sydney Syrup can rank with any of the world's best sugary wines.

Château Blue, too, has won many prizes; not least for its taste, and its lingering afterburn. Old Smokey 1968 has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian Wino Society thoroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: eight bottles of this and you're really finished. At the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.

Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is Perth Pink. This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is 'beware'. This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.

Another good fighting wine is Melbourne Old-and-Yellow, which is particularly heavy and should be used only for hand-to-hand combat. Quite the reverse is true of Château Chunder, which is an appellation contrôlée, specially grown for those keen on regurgitation; a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends.

Real emetic fans will also go for a Hobart Muddy, and a prize winning Cuivre Reserve Château Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga, which has a bouquet like an aborigine's armpit.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Manly...

We decided to get manly over at Manly. We popped across the Sydney Harbour to take a look around at Stu's old stamping ground as he used to live in Manly years ago. It's beautiful over there: lovely beaches, weird wildlife and lots of men to gorp at. Nice day for it too.

Actually there's lots of weather here at the moment in Sydney - sun, humidity, rain, thunder, more sun. Makes for a lush environment. And for a fun time deciding what to wear.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jenolan Caves...

Arrived in Sydney and having been met by the boys we dropped our stuff off at their gorgeous Darlinghurst flat and headed up into the Blue Mountains for the three hour drive to the Jenolan Caves. We spent the night in Cave House and the next day five hours underground marvelling at the wondrous 'mites and 'tites. We didn't find any bears but there was plenty else to gape at.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Australian Outback Sunset...

The Menindee Lakes. First time they'd been filled with water in nine years apparently. We were lucky enough to pass them at sunset. This was a snap I too with my iPhone.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ugly Baby...

A woman got on our train earlier with her baby and sat across the aisle from us. As he passed, the ticket inspector said: “Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman was speechless. Then she started fuming. I could see she was getting more and more angry. She was telling everyone around her, “the clippy just insulted me!” So I leaned across and said to her, “You go up there and tell him off. Don't let him get away with it! Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”
[RIP Frank Carson]

The Indian-Pacific...

The Indian-Pacific train journey is fun enough to do and travelling on it from Perth to Sydney certainly gives you enough of an appreciation of just how vast Australia really is.

Taking three full days and nights you get to travel across the Outback through eighty-six towns and settlements stopping once or twice a day on the way for the train to refuel and take on water. This can take up to three hours at some places.

At these stops you often get the opportunity to disembark the train, look around, take some snaps or do a local 'tour'. Generally these tours are disappointing though and/or over-priced so we found it better to do it under our own steam. To be honest, if you've seen the open-caste mine, the wooden-housed main street and ropey red light district in one dusty town you've seen them all.

We did stop in one place though that was quite interesting. It's a place called Cook. It's in the middle of nowhere in the desolate Nullarbour Plain. It used to be a thriving town with a school, houses, a bank, a swimming pool and sports facilities. Now it's virtually a ghost town. Population of just 5. All members of the same family. Darwin only knows how they'll not end up shooting each other. Or worse.

As for the train itself each carriage is silvery grey and collegated horizontally. Not unlike a long linked up chain of baked bean tins with their coverings removed.

The cabins are compact - just big enough for two. The en suite is barely worthy of such a name. It's a small cupboard of a room with a flip-down sink and a flip-down toilet that both need very careful handling. Otherwise you end up with either soapy or piss-stained shoes respectively. The en suite also doubles up as a shower room. Sorry, shower *cupboard*. Are there no end to its talents?

Still, it's nice to have somewhere to retire to. At night the sofa converts into a bed and another pulls down from the wall with a ladder creating a set of bunk-beds. Moderately comfortable they may be but with the sudden rocking and jolting of the train sleep is hard to come by.

The staff onboard are all very chipper, friendly and keen to please. The food, which is included in Gold class anyway, is excellent and plentiful. All you pay for is your drinks which you put on a tab and pay at the end of the trip.

The meals are provided in the dining car at tables of four. So we get to share breakfast, lunch and dinner with a different couple each time which can put quite a bit of strain on the small talk. But when other topics run dry we can always fall back on the European economy, the Queen, the London Olympics and house prices to see us through.

All in all it's been a great trip and well worth doing if you've got the time and the money - it ain't cheap: just shy of AUS$3000. Ouch.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Obsessive Behaviour...

I know I should be listening to something Australian on my iPod. I really should. INXS or Crowded House or Men At Work or Empire Of The Sun or something, anything. Kylie even! But looking out of the window of our train as it is whistling through the Australian outback through mile after mile of endless treeless scrubland with nothing but Salt Bush and Blue Bush to break up the monochrome burnt sienna flatness there is only one artist that seems to fit the scene. Only one lyricist seems to speak to me about the isolation and loneliness of this place as it relentlessly flies by. And it may surprise you.

It's funny how trips away from home, holidays often, seem to attract certain songs. Certain albums. Oh you remember albums. Those collections of ten or so songs that a single artist would put together that you'd buy together on vinyl or CD before MP3 players and iTunes came along and ripped their audio hearts out. The 'album track' i.e. non-promotional single has gone from being a potentially interesting song that a favoured artist might include in a collection of songs. You don't get the chance to get to know and maybe love these album tracks - now they are considered an unnecessary bit of extra padding that you can all too easily unclick to save you 99p from your online basket. Such a shame. But I digress.

No, a certain place and time can attract a certain soundtrack to them. Usually it's a trip somewhere. I remember going on a cycling holiday with four Uni chums and we listened to (and sang) The Human League's entire Dare album until our cassette tape broke from over-use. I can remember every place we visited - all welded to The Things That Dreams Are Made Of and I Am The Law.

On a trip to Brazil my mate Marcus and I listened to Madonna's Ray Of Light album on repeat for eight hour stretches - every day for three weeks. Call me obsessive but there's something about getting a song or an album in your head that just goes round and round that so fits wit where you are time and how you're feeling. There's a white sandy beach on an island off the southern part of Brazil that for me will always be Frozen.

And so it is here in Oz on this very train right now. Like the distant horizon that can never change in this desolate place I've an album buzzing round endlessly in my head and on endless repeat on my iPod. Yes, for me I shall always associate this trip with... The Pet Shop Boys and their glorious 1990 album Behaviour.

Goodness only knows why I landed on this particular album of the boys but it seems to speak to me out here. The introspective and slightly sad lyrics are resonating strongly with me in this wide open landscape. Maybe there some analogy to be made with Neil Tennant's very personal lyrics and producer Harold Faltermeyer's expansive audio landscape. But whatever the reason I have Being Boring, This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave, To Face the Truth, How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?, Only the Wind, My October Symphony, So Hard, Nervously, The End of the World and Jealousy spinning around and around in my head on looping around and around on my playlist.

It's truly obsessive Behaviour.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wine-tasting...

Monday was wine-tasting day in Swan Valley. You know wine-tasting, it's when you go to a vineyard secretly hoping you'll be able to drink them dry without actually being obliged to buy a single bottle. You are fully aware the people who work there know this ruse too so as you enter the vineyard's tasting area and approach the counter a game of cat and mouse ensues. They are trying to sell you cases of the stuff. You just want to get pissed for free.

The clear little glases appear before you and here comes bottle number one. You pay very close attention to the little spiel the server trots out pretending you are fully aware of why 75 year old grape vines knock the socks off 70 years old grape vines and why this particular vineyard has the best soil conditions for the particular variety of grape you are about to try. As he is pouring each glass you are trying to catch his eye as if to say, "We like you. You're very knowledgeable. Please pour more in."

Not wanting to appear too much of an idiot you go through the motions of appreciation. You sniff it. You hold it up to the light. You sip and all but gargle with it. "Hmmm. Interesting that." You know they've started with a cheap wine so want to reserve any superlatives for later.

A couple of other wines follow. But whilst you are nodding at his fresh explanations of each wine's unique virtues you are trying to not look too disappointed when you only get a thimble-full of each one. Go on. Fill it up, matey.

After sipping each wine you feel obliged to say something encouraging but not too overtly enthusiastic. Something non-committal like, "nice that but a little too sweet for my taste." You want him to keep going with the selection of wines but don't want the dreaded question, "so how many cases would you like of that one then?"

By wine number four you're paying less attention to the spiel and even more attention to the amount you're getting in each glass. The sniff, inspection, sip has now been replaced by the simple down in one chug. Can I just try that one again please? No? Oh, OK. Which one's next then? All subtlety has left the building and is waiting in the car.

By wine number eight you're basically wondering whether the person behind the counter will just turn their back for a moment or two so you can pour yourself a proper full glass. All attempts to distinguish between each fresh wine are long abandoned. You just want more.

Then, all of a sudden, it's over. You have just downed some shit syrupy desert wine which rather ruined the fantastic string of reds you had been enjoying and there is nothing else to try.

At this point there's only one thing that crosses you mind. What's our escape plan? Go to the loo and don't come back? Say politely, "not quite what we we looking for today." Or do the right thing and find the second cheapest wine you've just tried (you don't want to appear cheap, right?) and buy it.

Coward that you are you choose the latter. "Will that be just the one case, sir?" asks the server. "No, just a single bottle thanks." he looks you in the eye as if you say I knew you were a time-waster when you first walked in.

We drive away a little bit tipsy and in utter agreement over three things: wine-tasting is a great way to spend an afternoon, some of those wines were really quite nice and, why didn't we buy more?!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Doing It Aussie-Style...

There is something really rather lovely about Australia. Sure the weather's good and there is lots of space. Sure the people are friendly, you're generally not far away from a beach, a barbie or both. And sure the quality of food, air and life is second to none. No, there's something else too. Something that that native Aussie's and ex-pats share alike. And it's a fairly open secret down here too.

This great open secret is that every *knows* what they have. They appreciate their good fortune. There is even a slight complicitness you see it people's faces as if to say, "it is good here, isn't it?" And it's really rather refreshing.

Such a contrast to British part-time moaning / full-time false modesty and Yankee bravado. Aussies aren't really boastfully - though they have much to boast about - no, they just like what they have, deservedly so, and are more than happy to tell you about it and encourage you to try it too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Perth...

The flight from London was on one of those new super A380 Airbus airplanes. Not so good was the fact that they had all been grounded recently due to 2cm cracks being found in the wings - and this was first discovered on the very same plane on the very route we were about to be taking. Gulp.

The flight itself was also a tad delayed - there was a broken down truck just behind the aircraft. An auspicious start. I necked my first 5mg of diazepam and soon felt much cheerier about both the truck - and the cracks.

Fifteen and a half hours, and two rather mediocre films, later we changed planes at Singapore to a marginally smaller A380 for the second leg of our flight. As it was now daytime and having the richly blue Indian Ocean beneath us we could actually make out ships way down on the high seas. No doubt some Chinese goods on their way to Europe.

Arriving in Perth five and a half hours later we thought the worst of the trip was over. But we'd not reckoned on Aussie border control and their forensic screening for plants, fruit and animal-products. It added another hour of form filling, passport stamping, queuing and dog sniffing to what had already been a 28 hour trip. Our faces were aching from all the fake smiles at the officials.

Waiting the other side of the gate was Stuart's childhood friend Emma and her husband Paul. And they couldn't have made us more welcome. We even did a whistle-stop tour of downtown Perth on the way to their lovely spacious home just up the coast. They have a super place with oodles of room, a pool and (no surprise here) a family-sized barbie upon which Emma cooked us an epic mouth-watering steak for an early supper.

On that first afternoon we simply showered, rested, cracked open a couple tinnys and caught up with Emma's news. By 10pm, having been up for 36 hours, we were ready to hit the sack. Asleep before we hit the pillow.

On the Sunday we headed out as an extended family - Emma, Paul, their two kids Jack and Eve, Stuart and myself - to the nearby port of Fremantle. We took the ferry along the Swan River from Perth central, drank in the sight of the multi-million dollar riverside houses en route and alighted at the still vibrant working port known locally as Freo.

As with most ports worldwide there were plenty of retail opportunities and tourist friendly walks along the ocean front. We wandered through a park and ventured into an eclectic shed market. We even visited a fairy shop. Eve who is 7 years old loves the fairy shop so she made sure we didn't miss a single last corner of it's dazzling, glittering, sparkling wonderfulness. With slight glitter-blindness we then settled upon a restaurant to sample the local beers and battle our way through another mountainous steak. They eat well here!

We got the train back up the coast just at sunset but missed the last connecting bus at our station. That one leaves at the super-late time of 7pm on a Sunday. I think that officially made us dirty stop-outs.

The weather here is gloriously hot (35C) so we are keeping well covered up and bathing in plenty of sunscreen - which hasn't seemed to have prevented us getting a healthy glow even after just one day. Or maybe that glow is from the West Australian wines and beers, it's hard to remember as the jet-lag is still keeping us perpetually tired at the moment. I expect that'll soon pass though as the brilliant sunshine here leaves you in no doubt whether it's day or night here. Our body clock is being beaten into submission.

As I write this the house is just waking up. The kids are taking themselves off to school and we are off to do some wine-tasting - Aussie-style. Adding yet more confusion to cause of our 'healthy glow' no doubt!

G'day mate!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Essex girls vs. Upper Street...

Last Friday Monica, Angie, Kerry G, Kerry M, Sheila, Denise came up to London to join Stu and I to hit Islington's Upper Street for a night of fun. The night ended as it started out - in fits of giggles. After the Gallipoli Again, The Florence and The Hen & Chickens the singing started. As did the dancing. Oh and the fancy-dress box got raided. Top night.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snow Covered Trees

Highbury Fields was looking particularly lovely this morning on the way to work so I took a snap with my iPhone

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Singin' In The Rain...


Last night Stu and I went to see Singin' In The Rain at The Palace Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Based on the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical comedy film originally starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds it offers a comic depiction of Hollywood, and its transition from silent films to talking pictures.

This West End version is an almost scene for scene conversion to the stage starring Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen.

The show is very funny - but no funnier than the film. The singing is really good - but not really outstanding. No, it's the dancing that makes this show excel. The lead performers and ensemble really come into their own with the dance routines. The production is put on with such joy and with such a spring in it's step you can't help but want to jump up and dance yourself. You don't of course because that would be stupid but you have a good time anyway humming the songs, clapping your hands and tapping your feet. Yes, folks it's that sort of unadulterated fun show.

And every show needs it's stand out moment and this show is no different. The show stopper is, as might be expected, the title song Singin' In The Rain. Water pours down from above onto the stage and Adam Cooper dances, spins his umbrella and splashes about in the rising water just like in the film. Magic.

The first four rows got rather wet - but then that what they came for. A big splash.


My favourite two scenes both starred Katherine Kingsley playing evil actress Lina Lamont.

Firstly Lina tries to talk proper...

Phoebe Dinsmore: [giving Lina diction lessons] Repeat after me - Tah, Tey, Tee, Toe, Too. 
Lina Lamont: Tah, Tey, Tye, Tow, Tyo. 
Phoebe Dinsmore: No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, round tones. Now, let me hear you read your line. 
Lina Lamont: And I cayn't stand'im. 
Phoebe Dinsmore: And I can't stand him. 
Lina Lamont: And I cayn't stand'im. 
Phoebe Dinsmore: Can't. 
Lina Lamont: Cayn't. 
Phoebe Dinsmore: Caaaan't 
Lina Lamont: Cayyyyn't 

And later after being accused of being a like other people...

Lina Lamont: "People"? I ain't "people." I am a - "a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament." 
[picks up newspaper] 
Lina Lamont: It says so - right here!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Carnage...

On Friday night Stu and I went to see Carnage at the Hackney Picturehouse.

It was a black comedy film co-written and directed by Roman Polanski, based on the play God of Carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza.

The film involved two couples who meet to talk about their sons playground fight and although initially very civil the rendez-vous soon descends into a slanging match.

It was short at just 80 mins, very staged but very well played by Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz.

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Buggles Tour...

According to a recent interview with Trevor Horn The Buggles will go on tour for the first time ever in 2012. I've seen them live before of course and they are great; review, pictures and videos.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Sex With A Stranger...


Last night Stu and I watched Russell Tovey perform Sex With A Stranger at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in London's glitzy West End.

Written by Him & Her writer Stefan Golaszewski it was probably the best thing I've seen our Russell in. He acted his socks off. Which was one of the few items of clothing he kept on. He was at times shirtless, at times trouserless but always smouldering with sex appeal. Which was especially fun for us as he was within sniffing distance.

Co-starring Jaime Winstone and Naomi Sheldon the whole cast just gelled. Ms Winstone can certainly act I can tell you and Ms Sheldon's character was brilliantly played. And heart-breaking to watch.

If you can go. Do!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Bank Teller...

I was in the bank yesterday afternoon picking up some foreign currency for our upcoming trip. The bank teller was a middle-aged woman and we chatted for a bit while she counted out the brightly coloured notes I'd ordered. She was South African and when she discovered that I'd be going to Australia for part of my trip (maybe buying Australian dollars might have tipped her off there, but we'll pass over that) her ears pricked up.


Teller: My son's thinking of moving to Australia. 
Me: Oh. Is he? To live?
Teller: Yes, and to work. He's an architect. Just graduated. Where do you think he should go? Perth or Melbourne?
Me: I don't really know to be honest. Melbourne nice. I've not been to Perth. Yet. That's where we're going.
Teller: Oh. I see. You think Melbourne then. Not Perth. (I can see her thinking) Where are you from then? 
Me: Here. London.
Teller: No, I mean originally. (she peers at me from behind the glass) Oh. You're not Australian then? 
Me: No. I'm not.
Teller: Oh, it's just your accent. You sound Australian. One of those fake Melbourne accents. 
Me: Really? (taken aback.) 
Teller: Yes. Sign here please.
Me: Thanks. I hope your son makes the right choice.
Teller: Thank you.
Me: Bye.
Teller: Goodbye. 
Me: Grayshsh. (under my breath.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Artist...

Beware: there are some dodgy copies of The Artist doing the rounds. I got given one over the weekend but there's no sound and no colour. (boom, boom)