Quote Of The Day

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Marvel Films...

The correct order to watch the (recent) Marvel films. Oh and maybe start with Howard the Duck.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Boxing Day...

Happy Boxing Day
Happy Boxing Day
Happy Boxing Day
Happy Boxing Day
Happy Boxing Day
Happy Boxing Day

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas...

Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Social Mobility...

"I believe that people make their own luck in life. Anyone can achieve anything if they truly want it enough…" - said someone with rich parents. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Paris...

Stuart, Tim, Andy and I had a lovely few days in Paris. We ate in some lovely restaurants, popped into a few bars, visited the Louis Vuitton Foundation exhibition space, walked along the Seine and visited the Champs-Élysées Christmas Market. Great fun.










Monday, December 22, 2014

Old Jokes Home...

An E-flat, a G-flat, and a B-flat walk into a bar. The bartender says "Sorry, we don't serve minors."

Q: Who lives at number 664?
A: The neighbour of the beast.

Q: What's the difference between a Taliban outpost and a Pakistani elementary school?
A: No idea. I just fly the drone.

Q: What's the difference between Ebola and Tulisa?
A: Ebola will finish you off.

Q: What was Whitney Houston's favourite kind of co-ordination?
A: Haaaannnnd eeeyyyeeee...

I popped into Tesco today and nicked all the baguettes.
It was a French stick-up.

I feared my wife had Tourette's, so I took her to a psychiatrist.
The good news? She's not got it.
The bad news? I am a cunt and she does want me to fuck off.

I went out with a cardboard cut-out once.
She dumped me though, because I stood her up.

Q: Why is Peter Pan always flying?
A: Because he neverlands.

f(x)=2x+1 walks into a bar.
The barman says "I'm sorry, we don't cater for functions."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Merchant of Venice...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Rupert Gould's production of The Merchant of Venice at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Wow! What a show!

Set in a modern day Venetian-style Las Vegas casino complete with full-on Elvis impersonator, dancing girls, Southern-style accents and seasoned gamblers we were treated to a feast of song, dance and antisemitism. It was a brightly coloured free-cocktails-for-the-gamblers sort of night of delight, disgust and degradation.

We had been warned "that cap guns, herbal and e-cigarettes will be used in this performance." Well, that didn't even register in this high octane retelling of how the titular merchant Antonio (Scott Handy) falls foul of the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Ian McDiarmid).

Antisemitism is rife in our Las Vegas and Skylock - who has been treated and insulted terribly - defends himself and his religion not least with his powerful "Hath Not a Jew eyes?" speech.

Antonio borrows some money from Shylock to lend to his friend the valiant Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) so he in turn could woe fair air-head Portia (the outstanding Susannah Fielding). The woing goes well - via a hilarious reality game-show Destiny - but when the money needs to be paid back to Skylock Antonio falls short and the bond of a pound of flesh needs to be paid.

When the case comes to court Portia takes on the defense of her new husband's friend complete with Legally Blonde pink fluffy pen. Dressed as a man she delivers the famous and deeply moving speech about the quality of mercy to try and dissuade Shylock from his gruesome demand.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

But all is to no affect and the knives are sharpened - on both sides.

Last minute all is resolved in a rather distasteful way on a quibble with Skylock then sloping off utterly defeated and spat on and the lovers now mistrusting each other for their disguises and betrayals.

Suspicious Minds plays us out in the end.

Bravo. Viva Las Vegas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Essex Xmas Party...

We had a super Essex Xmas party on Saturday at the Romford and Gidea Park Rugby Club. Dave was our new Santa Claus. Grumpy Santa had a year off. Enter stage left Overacting Santa. Ho ho ho.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Monday, December 08, 2014

Back Home...

Back in the UK after the most incredible adventure. Peru was lovely, the Ecuadorian rainforest beautiful and the Galapagos awe-inspiring.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Day 16 - Sat 6 December - Quito...

We were collected from the hotel by Ana at 8:30am for our morning city tour of Quito.

We saw the Old Town, silver winged Mary on the top of the hill, various churches (including Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus), plazas, and the presidential residence.

Back at the hotel we printed out our boarding passes, had a spot of lunch and packed.

Later, we transferred to the airport for our flight to London via Madrid. The first flight was fairly smooth (Maltese Falcon + Sleep Aid).

Friday, December 05, 2014

Day 15 - Fri 5 December - Sasha Lodge to Quito...

A 4am start saw us start our trip back to Coca (the same way we had come by canoe). As we were traveling upstream the motorboat trip took over two hours.

At the Coca airport some poor lady got stuck in the lavatory. Made us laugh though!

The flight to Quito was fairly smooth and I got chatting with a couple from San Francisco who were off to Galapagos. I enthused.

Upon arrival at Quito, you were not met by Ana, our representative from South American Tours again. Our flight was an hour early but no one had told her. Again. Awful.

When she did show up she brought our luggage that we had left at the hotel in Tumbaco. We then transferred back to the Grand Mercure Alameda Hotel for an overnight stay.

Being the anniversary day in Quito on the Saturday there were parties in the streets and firework displays aplenty. Stu and I decided to venture out to Plaza Foch. The place was jumping with revelers. We happened upon a rainbow flag outside a bar in a side street and after returning to our hotel for ID went inside for a beer or two. $2 a litre was pretty damned reasonable and the music was good too.

On the walk home (we were advised to take a taxi but thought we'd live dangerously) we got offered cocaine, poppers, I got my crotch felt by a very heavily made-up transgender prostitute walking the other way and Stu bought a delicious burger from a dodgy looking street vendor. Normally Friday night in downtown Quito then!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Day 14 - Thu 4 December - Sasha Lodge...

Our relatively late wake-up call at 6am meant our first excursion of the day into the jungle was at a fairly reasonable hour. It had rained overnight though so we had to wear our boots.

Daniel and Victor showed us walking palm trees, orchids, stone leaves for cooking, brown ear fungus (cure for sunburn), champagne cup fungus, black mantel monkeys, vicious conga ants, a palm leaf whose sap heals cuts, green Amazonian dragons, blue crested mannequins, and marbled wood quails.
We swung off Tarzan vines, stuck tree horns on our heads to look like devils and finally had a leisurely canoe trip down the Anaconda stream back to the lake. Simply wonderful.

After late morning snacks at the lake house Stu and I went for a swim in the lake itself. It was like swimming in cold black tea. Tannin from the rotting leaves and bark had dyed the water black. Luckily we weren't eaten by the Cayman, the two types of piranha, nor electrocuted by the electric eels! We only stayed in for five minutes though just in case!

Lunch was lovely, as ever, but the rain clouds started to form. Then there was thunder followed by a full-on tropical rainstorm.

Great though the thunder and rain was at first it rather interrupted our siesta.

And the rains didn't let up for the rest of the night so our canoe ride to the wooden pylon structure was cancelled. As was our jungle night hike. Still, we settled in at the bar instead so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

After dinner we shelled out for the bill ($217 on 21 G&Ts), packed and had an early night.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Day 13 - Wed 3 December- Sasha Lodge...

Our 5am wake-up call lead to breakfast at the lakeside meeting house. We then set off by canoe back across the river to the boardwalk and then the 20 min walk to the Napo river to pick to the motorboat.
Daniel was to be our guide along with local guide Victor. All the groups had a local guide - which is as it should be of course.

Downstream 30 mins we came across the parrot lick where we saw four species of parrots all licking clay off the river back walls. Apparently the clay contains kaolin which aids their digestion.
We also saw a boa eating a parrot while in a tree. Nice. The rest of the parrots went wild.

Further down the river we went to see an indigenous riverside village where the women showed us their settlement. Our guide was called Fanny and she cut up sugar beet for us to taste and dug up yukka (casva) roots and peeled off its inner cyanide skin for us to see.

We were also shown their schoolhouses, the WCS sponsored turtle breeding pond and the women cooked us a traditional meal of fish and palm hearts baked in plantain leaves, baked coca nuts, baked plantains and baked bananas. Stu also sampled one of their baked witchity grubs. Yuk! He said it tasted like bacon. Grubs up!

For their trouble we all gave them $5.

It took a full hour to get back to the lodge as we were traveling upstream.

Before lunch we took the opportunity to take in the butterfly house. And next to the lakeside house on the way to lunch we spotted Lucy the neighborhood Cayman crocodile.

Post-lunch we had a siesta before getting booted up and heading northward towards the three metal pylon canopy walk.

It was fecking 41m high and guess who had the screaming abdabs climbing up it? Great views though. We saw a wire-tailed mannequin (the one that does the shaky bottom dance), howler monkeys and white billed toucans.

After sunset we climbed down (gingerly) and walked back through the jungle by flashlight. On the way back in the darkness we saw a tarantula and an incandescent caterpillar.

Back in time for dinner - this time for a barbecue at the lake - we then set off for our night canoe trip where we saw the Caymen croc again. But not much else.

G&Ts in the bar before bed.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Day 12 - Tues 2 December - Sasha Lodge...

We didn't sleep particularly well at Hosteria Villa Da Fiore due to the aforementioned dog noise but breakfast of scrambled eggs was fine and we were at the airport in good time. Very good time as it turned out as the short 30-minute flight over the Andes from Quito to the river port town of Coca was delayed by an hour. D'oh!

We had packed very light for the trip to Sacha Lodge leaving our main luggage in Tumbaco.
On arrival, we enjoyed a packed lunch followed by a motorboat ride (1.5 hours) down the Napo River, before heading to the Sacha Lodge for our three-night stay. Access to the lodge was via a raised boardwalk and canoe ride. Across the black lake...

Unfortunately we got slightly abandoned at the boat house for an hour so later on by way of apology we were treated to an extra evening lake boat tour by Erik, one of the managers to make up for it.

Sasha Lodge was simply delightful. Wooden lodge houses set in the jungle. Insects, monkeys, birds, bars, small mammals... were everywhere!

Our lake tour was wonderful seeing stinky turkeys, king fishers, herons and all manner of birds I couldn't name. The sunset was lovely too.

Dinner was a sumptuous buffet preceded by a couple of G&Ts and followed by an early night. Having liberally doused the room in RAID. We slept really well.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Day 11 - Mon 1 December - Galapagos to Quito...

In the morning we were up early, breakfasted and in the ship's lounge to watch the highlights slideshow at 8:30am. Stu and I both starred quite a bit in the show!

We then disembarked by panga and transferred to the airport on Baltra to take our domestic flight to Quito via Guayaquil. The first flight was nice and smooth, the second less so.

Upon arrival, you were met by Ana again and were transferred to the remote Hosteria Villa Da Fiore in Tumbaco for one night with breakfast. Some of the roads were blocked so we had to take a very scenic route. The hostel itself was pleasant enough but fairly basic with dog barking and cock crowing the audio landscape.

Stu and I got a lift to a nearby shopping mall to pick up some extra long sleeved tops, lightweight long trousers and RAID anti-mossie spray. We then had a delicious pizza in a restaurant in the mall and the hostel sent us a taxi to take us home. $4. Not bad.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day 10 - Sun 30 November - Cruise Galapagos...

It was the toughest night thus far with one roller almost upending me out of bed. By morning time we had entered a cove though so the boat was calmer. The cove was part of Floreana Island.

After breakfast we took a panga ride to Post Office Bay, a historic site that recalled the days of the whalers coming to the Galapagos for tortoises and water supplies.

First we zoomed along the coast line spotting blue-footed boobies nesting, sea lions playing and climbing trees (no, really), and herons fishing.

Back on the beach we wrote postcards to me, my mum and dad, Stu's mum and dad and Emma and posted them stampless in the beach drop box. Let's see if/when they arrive courtesy of strangers.
We picked up four cards that had been left there for someone in Pimlico, Stevenage and a couple in Essex.

After lunch and a siesta we visited Champion Islet for some more snorkelling and then a short walk.
The snorkelling wasn't the best we'd done as it was of the beach and the water was a little cloudy. We did see a sea turtle though and huge schools of fish and an electric pink and blue fish (whose name I've forgotten).

During our walk we saw flamingos. Did you know the Spanish word for flamingo is 'flamenco'? Hence the flamenco dance steps copy the pink bird's mating dance. Bio-mimicry - man copying nature.

Talking of Spanish... Galapagos is so named because the Spanish word for saddle is 'galapagos' and the giant tortoise's shells look like saddles. There you go fact fiends.

Anyway, back to our walk. Champion Islet itself was amazing, on one side the beach was impregnated with green semi precious stones - green ones - the same ones found on Mars - which helped NASA prove that there was once water on the red planet as the formation of these crystals requires water.

On the other side of the beach was a large sea turtle nesting site. We saw the tracks where the pregnant females had dragged themselves up onto the beach and the sandy mounds where the eggs were current incubating their 120 day stint. The tracks leading up the beach had the telltale caterpillar structures the legs make with a wide central flat smooth area as the tails were fatter due to the eggs inside the females body. The tracks were narrower on the way down after the eggs had been laid.
We also saw a female sea turtle being mounted by a male just of the shoreline. A number of other males were trying to dislodge him and her struggles to come up for air were slightly distressing. She was then attempting to come ashore to lay her eggs leaving her suitors behind. Incredible to witness.
Champion Islet was truly a magical place.

Back on the boat one last time we had our farewell cocktail on the sundeck followed by the disembarkation briefing followed by dinner.

We then settled our account: $287.05 for bar and gift shop bill + $286 tips to be shared between the 42-man crew, naturalists and bar staff.

Packed and in bed by 10pm it had been a long but satisfying day.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Day 9 - Sat 29 November - Cruise Galapagos...

The rocking of the boat continued - due to adverse weather and tides - which meant the night cruise was slower than expected so we arrived at Santa Cruz Island later than planned.

The day ashore was to have included a cycle ride but that had to be cancelled. Still, it didn't take anything away from the day as we were there to see giant tortoises!

First we visited the Charles Darwin Station to see the tortoises: one year old ones, some two year old ones, a few 60 year old ones and also a couple of 120 year old ones. Sadly Lonesome George had passed away a couple of years earlier but old timer Super Diago was still around. He had fathered 10,000+ offspring - the dirty dog.

All the tortoises were kept in corrals and had numbers painted on their backs to identify them. The numbers themselves were of different colors to indicate which island they had been removed form as eggs.

Once their habitat is cleared from non-native species they were all going to be reintroduced back to their original islands. A process that would continue until they all have  healthy tortoise populations. The target date to do this by is 2050.

The main non-native species being targeted to be cleared are goats and rats.

Pirates had originally put goats on the islands to breed so they had food sources when they stopped by. Goats are omnivores and had numbered 40,000+ so were eating the tortoises out of house and home. The plan was get rid of them all. Relocation was too expensive so a cull was ordered. A single shot to the head. All were shot at a cost of $20m (10x the original estimate) from helicopters using hired snipers from Australia. Female goats were tethered to stakes and when the males appeared they were gunned down en masse.

Next for eradication were the rats. They had come off passing ships and were eating the tortoise eggs so they had to go too.

The rats were all poisoned by the park rangers. Unfortunately the iguanas also ate the poison so the Galapagos hawks - who dined on both the rats and the iguanas - got doubly poisoned and died in vast numbers. So along with the tortoise breeding program there is now a hawk breeding program too. Sigh.

For lunch we headed to a farm which incidentally has a few pet giant tortoises in their gardens. Then to visited an enormous underground lava tube - 400m long and about 5m wide and high. Impressive!

Finally we visited an area that had wild giant tortoises roaming wild. They were very amazing. Some were wallowing in mud, others grazing on grass and but all seemed happy to pose for photographs.  If you got to close though they let out lots of air and retreated back into their shells. It was very special to see them.

The swell was still high when we returned to the ship which made for a hairy transfer back to the ship I can tell you.

In the evening after dinner we were treated to a Galapagean band complete with pan pipes and three local dancing girls. Charmingly quaint.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 8 - Fri 28 November - Cruise Galapagos...

This was going to be a full and fun packed day.

Stu and I woke up early and stole up on deck at 4:30am to watch the night sky as the ship cruised along. With no light pollution we could make out millions of twinkling stars and the speckled expanse that is the Milky Way. It was magical.

We then sneaked back to bed for a short lie in.

The wake up call came at 5:45am and we were breakfasted and out on a boat ride by 7am. We saw more pelicans, penguins, sea-lions, swimming iguanas, and blue-footed boobies diving into the sea fishing. The sea was a bit choppy but that gave me the chance to practice my Hawaii 5-0 theme tune. Which never got tired.

We then motored into the Tagus Cove, alighted and climbed the wooden steps up to the edge of the crater rim of the volcano. The ground was mostly dark ash and there were petrified white trees everywhere. We saw lizards, mocking birds and dragons flies en route. The crater itself was actually full of greenish water. It was called Darwin's Lake. The surface was 2 metres above sea level but the bottom of the lake was 20 metres deep making it 18 metres below sea level. The salinity of the lake was very high and the height difference between sea and lake was actually due to osmosis through the porous ash bridge. Fascinating.

While we were on shore we missed the a pod of dolphins and an orca passing the boat. D'oh!

And muggins here slipped down the scree hurting my wrist. D'oh!

After returning to the boat to change into our wet-suits we headed back out into the Tagus Cove again to do some deep water snorkeling. We saw sea turtles, star fish, sea anemones, hundreds of brightly coloured fish and - best of all - swam with a very friendly sea lion. He even posed for pictures with me and came up to my mask to take a good look. When he bounced his nose on my mask it gave me quite a shock I can tell you! I laughed so much a swallowed a bucket of sea water. The highlight of the trip thus far. By far.

Back on the boat for lunch we had a briefing about the next day, lunch itself and a siesta while the boat re-positioned itself. Then we donned our wet-suits once again and took the pangas to Urbina Bay where we did some beach snorkeling off an ash beach. We saw sea turtles and penguins but the water was rather cloudy so not much else.

After that we went for an exploring tour of the island where Dennis did his amazing finch calling (the finch whisperer?) and we saw a poison apple tree, Galapagos cotton and empty tortoise burrows. The rangers had collected the tortoise eggs for their breeding program. More on that later.

Back in the ship for dinner the wind had picked up and we were a-rocking and a-rolling. This continued and increased as the night went on - waking us up frequently.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 7 - Thurs 27 November - Cruise Galapagos...

Overnight we sailed to Isabela Island, the largest of the group. The one that looks like a seaside riding a fish.

Stu and I got up early to watch the sunrise as the boat crossed the equator. Fabulous.
After breakfast we got kitted out with wetsuits and snorkeling gear. Very fetching if a little... er... snug.

We then enjoyed an hour long boat tour of Punta Vicente Roca spotting penguins, marine iguanas, sealions, fur seals, more blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants.
After that did an hour of deep water snorkelling seeing mating seaturtles, sealions and penguins swimming and hundreds of brightly coloured fish. It was simply amazing.

In the afternoon, we explored Punta Espinoza on the Island of Fernandina, the youngest island and the most volcanically active of the islands. The landscape was weird - blackened lava fields with mangroves by the shoreline, large red rock lined crevices containing ferns, the small odd lava tube and water filled crators.

One of the mangrove lagoons was home to some sea turtles which we saw swimming about majestically.

We saw massive colonies of marine iguanas on the rocks, red crabs, sealions, pelicans, more flightless cormorants and a Galapagos hawk eating an iguana. Spectacular.

Back on board we enjoyed a well earned complimentary dinner complimented by a bottle of complimentary wine from one of our rooms.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Day 6 - Wed 26 November - Join the Cruise...

Next we were off to the Galapagos Islands - what we expected to be the highlight of our trip. We weren't disappointed.

These islands are a unique living museum of evolutionary change and provide the chance to get to know a variety of exotic species endemic to this Archipelago. They are the perfect setting for witnessing the evolutionary changes which have led to a new understanding of life on earth. Animals unafraid of man, and so different from any others found elsewhere, make visitors wonder about their own existence on our planet. Among the animals found are the different species of giant Galapagos Tortoises that gave the islands their name, a variety of birds and marine mammals such as iguanas, sea lions, dolphins and whales, as well as a great number of fish. Among the flora, the most distinctive are mangroves and the endemic cacti.

Our flight to the Galapagos Islands was a two stage affair - the first was to pick up more passengers on the mainland at Guayaquil, the second took us the 735 miles straight out to sea.

Once landed on one of the islands, Baltra, we witnessed our suitcases being sniffed by dogs looking for fruit and then we transferred by first minibus and then panga (a flat bottomed rubberized launch) to join the MV Santa Cruz for our five-night cruise.

The boat was a 95 capacity high-end ship with all mod cons. In fact our upper deck cabin was large, comfortable and well worth the slightly extra £95 we paid for 'Darwin Elite'. Floor to ceiling windows gave us a spectacular views of the sea throughout the voyage. We also got given a goodie bag which contained a sun hat, snorkel and book. Our package also included free soft drinks, turn-down service, better bedding, free wet-suit hire, a free bottle of wine and a free beer with every dinner. Nice.

The crew were very friendly and after a buffet lunch transferred us by panga to visit North Seymour Island.

Dennis was to be our guide for this and almost every other trip during our cruise. He was a local chap and knew the place like the back of his hand taking us to all the special places and giving us the inside info.

On North Seymour Island we spent three wonderful hours trailing through a magnificent barren landscape of brown volcanic rock and petrified silver trees to get right up and personal with (i.e. a couple of feet away from) nesting blue-footed boobies, sunbathing marine iguanas, mating frigates with their puffed out red chests, and suckling sealions. The sealion pups were utterly adorable. It was a life changing experience.

After sunset and back on board we had a fire drill followed by a four course dinner and then an early night exhausted from the marvels of the day.

We were going to enjoy this trip.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Day 5 - Tues 25 November - Cuzco to Quito...

Ridiculously early wake-up call at 4am before a flight to Lima (Stu got hauled away by the cops at Cuzco airport but that's another story) and then an onward flight to Quito in Ecuador for an overnight stay at the Grand Mercure Alameda Hotel.

Unfortunately our guide Ana wasn't there to meet us at Quito airport so we had to get a taxi into town. We then had a quiet night nursing a Dry Martini in the hotel bar and eating a rather over sided rack of lamb in the restaurant.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Day 4 - Mon 24 November - Machu Picchu...

An even earlier start (5:30am wake-up call) and we boarded the minibus which took us on a two hour journey even higher into the mountains before descending to pick up the Perurail train to take us 99 mins along the valley to Aguas Calientes.

From here, small buses drove us up the steep slopes to the ruined town of Machu Picchu (2,500m altitude). Wow! It was everything we thought it would be. And more.

We spent the afternoon exploring the magnificent Inca site before returning via a so-so pizzeria in the town down below back to Cuzco the same way we had come.

Oh and let's not forget the impromptu fashion show on the train MCed by the Devil. Ok. Let's!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 3 - Sun 23 November - Cuzco...

Up at the crack of dawn with a 6 am wake-up call we headed to the airport for our flight into the Andes.

Peru has three famous cash crops... coffee, chocolate and cocaine. The nearest we got to the latter was a cup of tea made from the coco leaves at the airport. So please excuse the wobbly handwriting.
The flight to Cuzco (3,400m altitude) was pretty smooth with some spectacular vistas of the Andes en route. I took some lovely snaps out of the airplane window.

We were met by locally born guide Romulo and transferred to the Eco Inn Hotel for a two-night stay. After a brief lunch in the next door restaurant we had an afternoon tour of the historic centre of Cuzco starting at 2pm. This included the fantastic Cuzco cathedral and the Inca sites of Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Kenko and PucaPucara.

Jetlag, dehydration, lack of coffee and altitude sickness all conspired to give us spinning heads, wobbly legs and migraines so an early night was on the cards. I kept waking up during the night with my heart racing and with a pounding headache.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Day 2 - Sat 22 November - Lima...

We landed in Lima at 7am - pretty exhausted. Having battled Peruvian immigration and baggage reclaim we were met by an agent (Milly) from South American Tours (Voyage Jules Verne partner in the area) who arranged for us to be transferred to the Hotel Jose Antonio in the Miraflores area of Lima for one night with breakfast. In fact we sneaked in another breakfast upon arrival which was pretty tasty.

We also met up with our traveling companions for the trip - Richard, Lynn, Suzanne, Ulla and Lizabeth.

With a few hours to kill Stuart and I headed out to explore. We went down to the ocean, walked along to a new shopping mail, returned along the precipitous walk to Lovers Park and then headed inland to the Chocolate museum where we had a lovely tour - and some great tastings.

Our little excursion taught us that Peruvians love their fast food, drive like maniacs and put Chocolate in any and everything. Oh and you can get really bad sun burn ever when it's overcast. Ouch!
In the afternoon there was a city tour of Lima which included the impressive buildings of the Plaza de Armas Square, the UNESCO World Heritage 17th-century church of San Francisco with its dusty library and piles of 200 years of blackened bones in the crypt and the Larco Herrera Museum (fascinating history of Peru, great art and erotic drinking vases).

In the evening we ate a traditional beef  'lomo' dish in the hotel restaurant with some pretty terrible wine and had an early night.

We were here!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Day 1 - Fri 21 November - London to Lima...

Off on our South American adventure we headed for Heathrow for our first evening flight.

We had thirteen flights - twenty-six takeoffs and landings in the next seventeen days. First stop was Madrid for a connection to Lima, Peru.

This first Iberia flight was fine but suffered as they all do from a basic lack of service, uncomfortable seats and indifferent trolly dollies.

The second overnight long haul was much better though. It was a code share with LAN Airways (a new one on us) and the service was great, the food good and the seats comfortable. Even if (or maybe because) the plane seemed to have flown in from the 1960s. We were to come to appreciate LAN more and more as our trip progressed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Putting the Van back into Arsenal...

On Sunday morning I found myself driving a Zipcar van over the concourse round the Emirates Stadium. We were picking up some stuff to take the Islington recycling centre for a mate. Exciting!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Scottsboro Boys...

Last night Stuart and I went to see The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

This Young Vic production had been such a hit that it had transferred up West. And deservedly so. It was powerful, disturbing, entertaining and dazzling. Everything, in fact, you might expect from the writers of the edgy musicals Cabaret and Chicago - the wonderful John Kander and Fred Ebb.

As with those other two shows the humour here is brutal. And it needs to be as the dreadful story unfoldes of nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. Told through the medium of minstrels this civil rights musical exposes and lampoons racist bigotry. But for all it's humour it rarely makes you smile. It's savage and sad. The humour is black in many senses of the word.

We witness the frame-up, the all-white jury, the rushed trials, the attempted lynching, and hear the angry mob.

Powerful stuff, challenging. And a great night out.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

John Waters...

Last night Stu and I went to see John Waters - film-maker, author, wit, raconteur and trash king - at the Royal Festival Hall.

We were treated to ninety minutes of stories in his own inimitable style. It was always fun, occasionally saucy and never far from outrageous. Blossoms, blouses, and dolphins will never have the same meaning again.

He told about his favourite newspaper headline (after Ike Turner died): "Ike Beats Tina - To Death"

If you get a change to go see him. Go!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance...

Today I am remembering my paternal great uncle who died at The Battle of Morval. (Fourth Army / cavalry).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Here Lies Love...

So taken was I with seeing Here Lies Love at the Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank the other week I went back again on Friday. And Saturday.

This time I was in the pit so dancing (and occasionally singing) along with the show. I loved it even more second time around and by the third time even some of the technical staff had begun to recognise me!

David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim have written a genius disco musical and I hope after it's sold out run transfers to the West End.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Tara Hugo...

Last Thursday night Paul and I went to see Tara Hugo perform Philip Glass songs at St George's Bristol.

Beautiful venue, beautiful voice, beautiful music.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

JOHN...

Last night Darren, Stuart and I went to see JOHN at the Lyttelton Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

A co-production with DV8 Physical Theatre the fascinating story was of a man John - a verbatim piece telling us of his abusive father, his chaotic and frankly shocking family life, his descent into a life of shagging, unplanned kids, drug abuse, crime, the courts, and eventually prison. And then his release on probation and discovery of his awakening sexuality.

The wooden set constantly rotated, as doors were opened and closed to John.

Where the piece perhaps lost it's focus a bit was when it broadened out to let us hear from the customers and owners of a gay male sauna that John frequented. This was in itself a fascinating topic of how the hunt for sex is more exciting than the actual encounter and deserved a show all of its own - but we wanted to hear more from John and his story by this point.

That said, the show was a superb exploration of first a life of abuse, then institutionalisation and then eventually the search for some kind of intimacy. It was in turns funny, moving, preachy, tragic and beautifully performed.

Recommended.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tim Cook...

Apple's CEO Tim Cook has announced he is gay. Samsung's CEO is expected to announce tomorrow he is waaay gayer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Fear of Flying / It's Not About You!...

I'm going on an airplane soon. A few times within a short period in fact. But I'm afraid of flying.

</RANT ON>
So why is it when you tell people that you are afraid of flying they immediately proceed to tell you THEIR worse near-death experience on a plane. What is wrong with people? It seems it's humanly impossible to do anything else. "My worse flight was when we hit turbulence and almost crashed.." "One time we almost hit another plane mid-air" "When we were flying back from holiday the plane dropped a thousand feet and we were lifted out of our seats"
Well, guess what? It's not about you, you FUCKTARD! SHUT THE FUCK UP! It's not a competition! You are making things worse.
If little Johnny was going in for an operation would you tell him how unsafe operations are and what percentage of people die on the operating table?
"Oh no, your mum is feeling unwell? So sorry to hear that... My friend's mum was felling unwell last year and within a week she was dead"
"Oh so sorry to hear your leg is playing up. Does it hurt?... I had that too a few days ago and the doctors said I nearly lost it"
"Going to the moon you say? Tomorrow?... My sister went to the moon, twice - and almost died - both times"
(OK, see if YOU can stop yourself. Hard, isn't it?)
</RANT OFF>

Monday, November 03, 2014

Arsenal 3 - 0 Burnley...

On Saturday Paul and I went to the Emirates Stadium to see the in-form Arsenal FC take on the out-of-form Burnley FC.

The boys made hard work of it in the first half but came good after the break recording our second successive league win for the first time this season as Burnley's woes continued.

Alexis Sánchez was the man of the match scoring at 70′ and 90′. Callum Chambers got his first Arsenal goal after 72′. And Theo Walcott made a well return as a sub after ten months out injured. So all in all int was a great afternoon's footie.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Henry IV...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse.

Condensing parts one and two into a single play this all-female production directed by Phyllida Lloyd was set in a women's prison. The running time was approximately 2 hours without an interval - but the time simply flew by. It was fun, revealing, and superbly acted.

The questions of what makes a a king? What makes a man? And what makes a father? are turned on the head when spoken by a woman. And ironically it is this female voice that helps us as the audience understand the motivations of these great male historical figures so much more clearly. The sense of gender detachment actually works in our favour.

Helping the production along were jokey sound effects, singing, and modern turns of phrase. None of this modernism actually detracted in any way from the action though. If anything it drove it forward. The two main plot lines are countrywide rebellion against the crown and journey of the Prince Hal leaving his drinking days and petty criminal friends behind him to take up the throne.

Recommended.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interstellar...

When he was 7 years old Christopher Nolan went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey with his father at the Odeon West End cinema. And 46 years later here he is back in that same cinema standing in front of us. This time on stage introducing us to his own sci-fi film - Interstellar.  And courtesy of the lovely Marcus Tustin I'm here too at the European premier for Bafta in London's glitzy West End.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine the film is a cross between Armageddon, Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey. And when I say 'cross' I mean it's actually all three of those films bolted together - not the best bits of each distilled down into one film. This film is long. And at just shy of three hours it's over-long to be honest by a good hour or more.

But it's obviously been a labour of love for writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan and his co-writing brother Jonathan Nolan and there is much to admire here. The acting is great, the special visual effects are super and the plot twists suitably twisty (if a little too well sign-posted).

And sure the techno-babble gets a bit clunky at times and some of the plot holes are more massive than the final third's deus ex machina Black Hole but all in all it's great film.

Ambitious, exciting and a good watch.

Dinner party review: Good, but not as good as 2001.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"You're fat-ist!"...

Stuart and I were watching something on TV on Sunday morning. Of one male presenter I remarked, "Ooh, he's put on a bit of weight!"
Stu scornfully said,"you're fat-ist!"
To which I replied,"no, you're fattest!"
If looks could kill! I thought I was going to be wearing his cup of tea!
Note to self: be nicer or expect tea in face when quoting Jimmy Carr jokes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Made In Dagenham...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see the new musical Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre in London's glitzy Strand.

Starring Gemma Arterton it retells the story (as did the film of the same name) of the women at the Ford Dagenham factory who went on strike for equal pay back in the 1960s.

To be honest we had pretty low expectations going into the auditorium but these proved to be completely unfounded. We loved it. It was funny, tuneful and well-sung. The production values were high, the show was slick and we were completely swept along with all the joie de vivre.

The struggle of the women to fight for what was only fair saw us visit a show-stopping comedic Barbara Castle, a pipe-smoking dancing Harold Wilson and best of all an all-American Ford general manager with an anti-British production number that had us weeping tears of mirth.

For downright cheerful enjoyment and exultation of the spirit this show was hard to fault. Now stick THAT on the poster!

Two thumbs up. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Songs from Liquid Days...

Last Saturday night I went to the Milton Court Concert Hall in London glitzy Barbican area to see the Hertfordshire Chorus with David Temple conducting the London Orchestra da Camera. The lovely Gavin Davies was playing the fiddle in the band - which was a lovely surprise.

The first piece performed was Handel's Dixit Dominus and that was followed by Philip Glass's Songs from Liquid Days arr. Jeremy Marchant.

Songs from Liquid Days brought tears to my eyes - especially during Open The Kingdom and Forgetting.

The soloists were:- Zoë Brown soprano, Esther Brazil soprano, Clara Sanabras mezzo-soprano and Robin Green tenor.

I was slightly disappointed we had neither Margo Leadbetter nor Miss Mountshaft fighting to play the soprano lead though.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Here Lies Love...

What's that you say? A musical about Imelda Marcos? A DISCO musical about Imelda Marcos? A disco musical about Imelda Marcos written by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim at The National Theatre's new Dorfman Theatre? Set in a Studio 54 style night club? With flashing lights, a giant disco-ball, non-stop dancing, podia that twirl and slide and glide across the auditorium and banging tunes that stick in your head like earworms? We were so there.

Who cares if there is no reference to her shoes? Who cares if politics takes a bit of a back seat? The audience were clapping, singing, and dancing along. Well, we simply loved it. 

Sadly it's sold out for the rest of it's three month run so let's hope for a West End transfer.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal...

Last night Arsenal FC laboured for a long period and seemed set for a deserved defeat to Anderlecht until nabbing all three points with an incredible turn-around at the death when Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski fired home a leveler and then a winner just each side of the 90 minutes.

 It was a suitable win for Arsene Wenger's 65th birthday celebration. Phew!

 I guess my #WengerOut posts will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Northern Soul...


Last Friday night Stu and I went to see Northern Soul at the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square in London's glitzy West End.

It was a film full of Northern Soul music, dancing, drugs and violence. We loved it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Angie and Kev's Wedding...

Last Saturday night Stu and I went to a fab Essex wedding in Shenfield to help celebrate the nuptials of the lovely Angie Harrop and Kevin East. Congratulations guys!






Monday, October 20, 2014

To Do Lists...

Dear Jane,

Do you sometimes wonder how people get things done? How other secretaries who seem to be organised are on top of their lives rather than constantly playing catch-up? The answer is they use To Do lists - it's that simple: note down the things you need to do, then check them off when you do them. It's like having an extra brain, an assistant who can say, "Oh yes, you need to do X."

Today's life lesson was brought to you by The Bleedin' Obvious.

Kind regards,

Your Boss.

PS: If you think this email is (a) passive-aggressive, (b) insulting, and/or (c) patronising. And you are thinking of (d) coming round to give me a piece of your mind, (e) calling HR to complain, and/or (f) bitching about me to the others in the office...  congratulations! Not only are you correct but you are well on the way to writing your first To Do list!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our Town...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Our Town performed at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."

Well, I guess people were easier to depress back then. **Spoiler alert** Not everyone makes to through Act III.

Thornton Wilder's play often gets described as "stark, pure and unforgettable theatre" what with it's post-modern fourth wall-breaking Stage Manager character addressing the audience directly and sign-posting the hum-drum plot with the subtly of a peacock on the pull.

We beg to differ.

For us the play certainly was "stark" - as per the stage directions there was little by way of props or scenery. As for "pure" - it was certainly purely an actor's play in as much as we could see why actors would like to be in it. They have to pretend to wash up, delivery milk, eat food, etc. A sort of miming workshop. Very drama school. But as for "unforgettable" we do have to disagree. The plainly told story of a small out of the way American town is utterly unremarkable. People go about their lives, go to school, people get married, bring up kids. We get it. And then when people die they didn't realise what they had until it was gone. We really do get it.

Now this Almeida production was good. But only "good". Any ensemble piece like Our Town requires top notch actors in every role and here one or two just weren't up to scratch.

Sad, really as maybe the short-comings of the play could have been made up by better acting by some of the cast.

Another rather disappointing piece from the Almeida . Luckily not as awful as Mr Burns though.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lord Freud...

Lord Freud says something out loud that probably should have stayed in his head. If only there were a name for this kind of slip.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Iggy's 1st Birthday Party...

Last Sunday Stuart and I we went to Ignacio's 1st birthday party. Mothers Emma and Carolina put on a great spread - barbecue sausages, birthday cake and Prosecco.

And balloon lady make us some special balloons too.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Matthew Bourne's The Lord Of The Flies...

Last Friday Stuart and I went to see Matthew Bourne's The Lord Of The Flies at The Sadler's Wells in London's glitzy Islington.

Using twenty-two locally auditioned young dancers, Matthew Bourne’s touring production vividly displays the children’s descent from innocence to their baser instincts.

William Golding’s novel has been tweaked a little so that the boys have become stranded not on an island but in an abandoned theatre - the clothes rails taking the role of the bushes and trees and a drum stick for the conch shell.

It was by turns exciting, entertaining and visceral as the regimented school boys gradually descend into savagery.

Maybe not up there with Bourne's great works but as an outreach project it's a triumph.

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 13, 2014

NHS Strike...

My Dad is going in for an operation on his eye today. But do you know what? He says he can wait. Or go in tomorrow. This strike is important. Running down the NHS starts with running down their staff pay and morale.

Friday, October 10, 2014

East is East...

Last night Stuart and I went to see East is East at the Trafalgar Studios in London's glitzy Westminster.

Based on Ayub Khan-Din's original play at the Royal Court Theatre in 1997 and then on the film in 1999 East is East is a comedy-drama set in Salford, Greater Manchester in 1971.

The action takes place in a mixed-ethnicity household that is headed by Pakistani father George (Ayub Khan-Din) aided by an English mother, Ella (Jane Horricks).

George expects his family to follow Pakistani ways, but his seven children, who were born and grew up in Britain, increasingly see themselves as British and reject Pakistani customs of dress, food, religion, and living in general, leading to a rise in tensions and conflicts in the whole family.

It's a very funny play and while exploring multiculturalism in the early 1970s still resonates today.

Recommended.