Sunday, November 27, 2005

Charity begins at home

As you all know recently we attended a charity ball. I did promise some pics so Ladies please try to contain yourselves ;)



We did have a great time and consumed a fair ammount of the free alcohol.



All things considered we behaved quite well.

In true charitable style we have acquired someone elses cast offs. Rosie, a friend of Saaras from her old workplace, found two abandoned kittens that we think are around 4 weeks old. Rosie lives on her own and travels extensively for her job so could not look after them......hey guess who got suckered into taking them on.



They are beautiful litle things, though not quite housetrained and very very insecure.




I didnt want any more cats for a while. Im still hurting at giving up my last two when we emmigrated. But what can you do? they need a home and we have one. It is beyond me how anyone could abandon these cuties to whatever fate would have befallen them. Anyway as yet they are unnamed so answers on a postcard please or failing that just post them in the comments area

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Extracts from a salesmans diary - Week 27

What a week, had to be in Scotland for a 10:30am meeting on Monday. Thought id take the sensible option and opted for the train…left home at 5:30am bleary eyed and desperately trying to shake the hangover acquired on Sunday…why do I do this to myself? I’d promised myself I wouldn’t drink.
But Sunday dinner with the new girlfriend’s parents had not been the happy affair I’d imagined.

It turned into a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ as I dodged the verbal bullets regarding their precious daughters well being and desperately sought the sanctuary of a bunker. I glanced around me as I tried to establish some kind of beachhead expecting to see the bodies of those unfortunate souls pushed on to this frontline before me by the angelic looking general at my side. Thankfully the bodies weren’t there but I knew I wasn’t the first to be pinned down in this dining room by a verbal barrage. I took the only option available and slowly built a barricade of empty wine bottles between the enemy and myself to shield me from the attack. …It didn’t work and what’s worse, in an unusual touch of drunken bravado I challenged her old man to a round of golf next Sunday… I’m beginning to think my brain hates me.

Anyway left the house at 5:30, the black cab was on time, miracles do happen, I was looking good in my suit and wearing very dark sunglasses in the hope that they would somehow reduce my hangover.
As I stepped unsteadily from the porch, clinging to it as my legs steadied themselves (making me look like Bambi when he takes his first steps), the taxi driver rushed over to me, said something (which I ignored). He supported my arm before guiding me gently into the cab, I grunted an unintelligible thank you at him surprised at his politeness…did I really look that frail?

He leapt into the front of the car, peered over his shoulder at me then in a slow, loud, monotone voice, not unlike the one I reserve for speaking to the locals on holiday, said
‘WHERE TO MATE?’

The sudden explosion of noise set off 2 reactions, the first made me realise that there was a small herd of elephants parading around my head, and not content with just parading they were defecating in my mouth. The second was to usher a wave of nausea from my empty stomach. I must have turned green because he followed up with a
‘ARE YOU ALL RIGHT? ‘ In the same loud grating monotone
‘God yes I’ll be fine just please, please be quiet’ I whimpered as I wrapped my hands round my head praying that the incessant pounding would subside.
‘YOUR NOT DEAF’ he exclaimed
This kind of threw me…I was pretty certain id never been deaf but in my current state I really couldn’t be certain
‘urrr no ….just fragile’
‘WHAT NOT BLIND EITHER?’ he shouted
‘No…should I be?’…. I was kinda worried now…how bad did I look…what was going on? Things had seemed to start well…maybe I was asleep and dreaming…I pinched myself…. Now my arm hurt as well as my head…. I sighed heavily.

‘Well what kinda fool wears sunglasses at 5:30am if they aint blind?’

Things fell into place

‘Ahhh’ I said and hoped it would suffice as I returned to cradling my head. I heard a muffled muttering along the lines of
‘better mmmmffff tip mmmmmf cheeky bugger mmmmf think I am?’
We set off down the road

Arrived back home at 5:40, ran inside, grabbed my briefcase and threw myself back into the cab as we set off again for the station. Thankfully by now the cabbie had realised I wasn’t going to be discussing the merits of a 3-5-2 formation or comment on the latest west end show and drove me quietly but erratically to the station.
Got to the station, checked my watch it was 5:40 I still had fifteen minutes so I walked to the café and ordered a coffee. As I’m fumbling for the right change I hear
‘The train departing from platform 3 is the 5:55 to Glasgow’
I look at my watch…. It’s 5:40 the trains…. Light dawns…. Change is dropped heavily on the counter, coffees in my hand and I’m running once more.

I leap onto the train and hear a whistle…. I smile things aren’t that bad after all. I find a seat and slump into it breathing heavily but its ok I have 4 hours in which to sleep this off.
I open the coffee…mmmm coffee the life blood and staple diet of salespeople…I take a sip and curse heavily as I burn my tongue…why do they do this in stations? This things hotter than liquid napalm…I set it back on the table and watch it longingly as it desperately tries to leap from the plastic container while the train rumbles off.
Finally it cools and I get to drink it, the headaches slowly subsiding but I’m still feeling a little queasy…I need food… I begin to dream of the plastic tasting, soggy bacon roll I will eat when the buffet car opens.
How did my life ever come to this? I’m dreaming of possibly the worse sustenance known to man since some French bloke went…. Hmmm that snail looks appetising I think I’ll cook a few…. Hopefully that slimey trail will taste nice too.
I’m jarred from this thought as the train stops, I look out the window and it hits me it IS going to be one of those days.

He’s there…on the platform…. Looks like he slept there clutching his open can of special brew…I shrink down into my seat but I know its too late he’s gonna sit next to me no matter what I do…. I seem to attract them whenever I go on public transport…. Maybe it’s a service that the rail companies don’t tell you about
‘Oh yes sir the seat I’ve reserved for you is near the buffet car and comes with a complimentary drunk to keep you petrified for the entire journey’

I look again but he’s gone…. My spirits lift and I breathe a sigh of relief…. Then the door slides open and I smell the beery breath as he leans over and says in a thick Glaswegian accent ‘nee one seetin ere laddie?’

My mind races as I try to think of something to say…. Why didn’t I just say yes? 3 bloody letters and its beyond my capacity to come up with it before he’s lowering his stained trousers into the seat next to me…I edge closer to the window and stare out wishing Id taken my car
‘Ack mon ya gut nee drink ja won soma ine?’
My mind races furiously…what did he say? Can I say pardon to him? Will it offend him? I smile politely and decide to say nothing but my mouth decides to say
‘I’ve no idea my watch is broken’ I inwardly cringe…. Where did that come from? I look at him and see my reply registering in his head, his eyes narrow and he leans in to me
‘ar ju takin da piss?’
His breath washes over me and makes me gag I look down and try to force my stomach under control.
He turns away and sways a little…I look away and decide to pretend to sleep, my head rests on the window and I close my eyes, without realising I am rocked asleep by the motion of the train.

My eyes jerk open… Something is on me…its on my right shoulder…I turn my head and my nose brushes a mop of greasy greying hair…. Oh god can things get any worse than this?
I discover they can as I realise not only is this drunk Scotsman sleeping on me he’s also slowly drooling down my lapel…I stare at him, probably only for seconds but it feels like a lifetime, I have to make him move… I shrug my shoulder in the hope he will move over…he seems to take it as a sign of affection and nuzzles himself closer to my neck. Oh dear god what can I do…. I tentatively poke the top of his head with my left hand, cringing as I feel that unwashed hair. I’m slowly lifting his head from my shoulder when the train hits a bump and with unnecessary and unwanted force I propel his head to the other side of his shoulders, he grunts awake. Blinks wildly then slams his hands down on the table, sending his nearly empty can of beer into the aisle.
I’m gonna die…. I know it…he’s gonna go mad…I’ve woken him up and made him spill his beer…OH MY GOD I’m gonna die…I close my eyes waiting for the onslaught…the table creaks ominously…I clench my fists…. Maybe I stand a chance I wasn’t a bad fighter at school…dammit if I’m gonna die I’m gonna die fighting. I open my eyes and turn to confront him…. But he’s gone his beer cans still rolling about on the floor but he has gone. I take the opportunity to move seats. My eyes scan the now crowded carriage and fall upon an old lady, one that looks feeble and unthreatening. I stagger down the carriage towards her still pumped up on the adrenaline rush from my recent encounter. I ease myself into the seat next to her. She turns and smiles her wrinkled white framed face at me and offers me a mint, I decline and look down at my suit, the drunks saliva is slowly crusting over and I feel the nausea returning…oh god just get me to bloody Glasgow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Comedy

As many of you will be aware by now, i have a passion for comedy. So i thought it only fair that i share some of the sites that i regularly utilise to help feed my awful habit.

First off is a great little show bought to us by BBC Radio 4 I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue

Staying with Radio 4 there is also the delightful show Just A Minute sadly these 2 shows swap about so only one is ever available.


To keep me fuelled up on my love of all things Marx, i highly recommend
Why A Duck?

There are a few others but i think i will save those for another day. I dont want to fill you up on comedy before tea and annoy your parents.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A little culture

We didnt make the Fiesta, we were sidetracked acquiring a tuxedo for the ball. Yes on Friday the wife and I are attending a charity ball in aid of the spinal unit at a local hospital. This is no slack afffair. We are being wined & dined at the Hilton hotel in the centre of Sydney. I will be wearing a full on tuxedo and looking cool (and probably drunk) while the wife will be wearing a designer black dress she found in a boutique (of course) shop in Paddington. But this is not the culture i was refering to.

Not many (if any) will know that my stepfather is (in his spare time) a poet. It was the anniversary of the Blitz on coventry last week and Martin read one of his poems on the radio. For those of you interested in that kind of thing the link is below.

Martin Brown

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Karaoke for the eyes

By popular request i have put together some visual aids (i do of course mean images of things ive seen and not an incurable virus of the eyes) to help you ....well visualise i guess.



Port Douglas Jetty - Now ain't that pretty



A Rhino Beetle - Thats all it did for a whole 8 days



The Aussie way of reminding us to slow for Cassowaries when entering Cape Tribulation



The Cape of Tribulation - It looks pretty harmless to me



The Natural pools at Mossman Gorge - Can you think of a better way to escape the 36 degree heat?

There you go a few shots of my truly beautiful adopted country.
We are off to the spanish quarter today as they are having some kind of festival which i believe they call a fiesta (though i wont as fiesta in england is either a small car made by ford or a disreputable gentlemans magazine and certainly not the kind of thing you would consider a 'family event'). We will gorge ourselves on tapas, paella and sangria but hopefully remain sober enough not to dance with the senorettas.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Port Douglas & other fiascos

Hi all,
We managed our entire vacation without seeing a single crocodile. I remarked on this to a lady in the airport who replied 'Its when you dont see them that you need to worry' , so frankly im just happy to be home.
We took a flight from Sydney to Cairns (the flight takes 3 hours in the air (probably a lot longer if it decides to stay on the roads)) and then a transfer to Port Douglas which is a further hour up north by road. Port Douglas is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and, truly, it is incredible. The coastal road drive is just an endless view of quiet uninhabited beaches out the right window and dramatic rainforest strewn mountain views out the left. Sadly the journey ended at our hotel.
We had booked in to the Radisson treetops resort & spa. A facility that, the brochure assured us, was a 4.5 star boutique spa retreat. If i had written the brochure the spa would be a 5 star and the attached hotel would be lucky to make the grade as a b&b in Portsmouth. Yes its true that the reception area with its open plan that backs onto the cunningly designed landscaped rainforest in which the rooms nestle imparts a feeling of well being, especially when you spy the cocktail bar off to the left hand side. However, the rooms themselves are devoid of any lasting memory, the carpets in the hallway more stained than a tramps underpants and the staff had the retention span of a goldfish with Alzheimer's. It took over 20 minutes after checking in for our luggage to arrive. "chill out, you're on holiday" i hear you cry and yes we may have been over reacting, but please take note that it was 34 degrees outside and the humidity was a staggering 73%. This meant that from the short unairconditioned walk from the plane to the terminal building our clothing was literally dripping and, upon checking in, we were in desperate need of a freshen up shower and change of clothes. I may be old fashioned but i am never one to greet the porter naked, straight from the shower, after all where would one keep the tip?

Anyway. Port Douglas is a beautiful place. A small town built along a T shape. the top of the T being the road that runs along the harbour but, as it is built on a peninsular, the bottom of the T runs on to what is known as 4 mile beach (draw your own conclusions here). The town is nothing but 'boutique shops' (everything in Australia is either boutique or Gourmet, i kid you not you can get gourmet pizza, pie, fish & chips they are a nation that over uses any word that makes their products sound better than they truly are) 'Gourmet' restaurants and hotels (by hotels i mean pubs, I'm not sure why pubs are called hotels but its likely to be for purposes of tax evasion). But, tourist traps aside, it is a beautiful old colonial style town.

We spent our time lazing by the pool, examining the rhinoceros beetle just outside our room (whose only movement over 8 days was to climb about 4 inches higher up the branch) and walking the mainly deserted 4 miles of beach.
We had a massage in the spa that was lovely, very gentle and not at all like the brutal beating your body takes in a Thailand massage parlour (easy boys im talking wat po temple not pat pong markets). We also spent a day snorkeling on the reef ( we would have spent more time on the reef but the cost was $160 each!). Whilst snorkeling we saw 2 sharks a white tip and a black tip reef sharks. Now i know most of you at this point will be breaking out in cold sweats and probably cant think of anything more horrifying, but i assure you reef sharks are relatively harmless and are quite awesome to chase around brightly coloured corals.
The day before we left, we hired a car and drove up to Cape Tribulation (Captain James Cook named Cape Tribulation, "because here began all our troubles", when his ship ran aground on what is now known as Endeavour reef off the coast in 1770) Its a lovely part of the world filled with unspoilt rainforest and endless sandy beaches. We also took the time to stop in at Mossman Gorge, a series of natural cold water swimming pools in the flow of the Mossman river. We didnt swim this time round but its definately on the cards.
Of course, the journey would not have been complete without some form of disaster. On the fifth day (of an 8 day holiday) i went into Coles (the local supermarket chain) and had my bank card rejected. My first concern was some kind of fraud but then i convinced myself that as id used the card as security on the room at the hotel, some kind of funds block must be in place. We paid for things from another account and then headed back to the hotel to iron things out. After much discussion with reception, barman and manager it transpired that they only hold $10 on the card so we hit the internet to look at the account and so get to the bottom of the mystery. It transpired that Lastminute.com.au had charged us twice for our flights (approx $750). Rather than call us to let us know they had simply emailed us. It was Saturday and of course none of their customer service lines were open so, after leaving several grumpy voicemail messages, we decided to use alterior funds. Now on return to Sydney we contacted Lastminute.com.au. They were less than apologetic and among some of the gems that were thrown at us were 'you shouldnt have gone on holiday without enough money' well gee thanks but we had plenty of cash before you stole it, 'why didnt you just use a credit card rather than calling up and whingeing at us?' and 'so when do you go back to the UK' . Needless to say i have written a very cutting email to the manager and expect to recieve sod all in the way of compensation. Still thats life in oz, a fantastically beautiful country miles from any other continetnt, customer service that befits a continent miles away from civilization. Oh well on the plus side i did get to drink a cherry ripe milkshake, and for those of you who have no idea what that is.....well tough you will just have to drag yer ass over here and find out.

love
Keith & Saara

P.S.
Lastminute.com.au did finally get back to us and have given us some free flights for the inconvenience. So a big thank you to them for finally seeing the light!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oztrailya

Hi everyone,
It is 5:43 am, typically the sun is up and may as well be screaming 'get up its another beautiful day'.I have awoken from a fevered dream (ok maybe just a sweaty dream due to the heat and forgetting to put the aircon on) feeling guilty for not writing to you all for the last 9 months.
You may recall, from my previous emails, that we had travelled half way around the world through many foreign lands filled with awe and wonder (not ore and plunder as the first brits found when heading this way). On these journeys we met people from cultures vastly different to our own and forced them to carry our luggage and cook chips instead of rice/noodles. Finally we arrived in civilization.........well Australia and that was pretty much where our tales ended. You were not forgotten just merely neglected like a childs favourite teddy at xmas. But now the novelty has worn off, and once more i am content to grasp you by one leg and drag you around our living room of life. So please read on.

Upon arriving in Australia we had a bit of a reality check and threw ourselves into finding a job. At this point neither of us had worn long trousers for three months let alone a suit, and i think we both felt a little out of sorts with the whole interview process. Despite ranting to one future employer about the toilet habits of Indians and how fantastic it was that England had won the rugby world cup I quickly found employment in AAP (the Australian Associated Press). AAP is the news agency for Australia, their office block is one of the most dominant on the Sydney skyline (about the best thing you can say about them) and filled with thousands of people busily doing very very little. I was right at home. Saara meanwhile had secured herself a job with a medical company Draeger, a German outfit who sell boxes of stuff that constantly littered our house and garage. In all honesty i have no idea what these products were but i am assured they were important.
The first few months passed and we both got a little down. It is hard to be so far away from your friends and family and, despite their roots, Australian society/life is vastly different from our own. To cheer ourselves up we booked an old miners cottage in the blue mountains and, along with some new found friends, headed there for a June yuletide. I have no idea when this started but some enterprising person had realised that Australia is a hot country (this is especially true at xmas time, and while it is 40 degrees outside, the shops at xmas will still be filled with snowmen, reindeer and a fat bloke in the kind of outfit that would see him die of dehydration 30 yards from the shops main entrance) but in the winter, in the mountains, it actually snows!.......ocassionaly. So a tradition has been born where entire families load up the Utes and head off into the mountains. They cram into ageing hotels and croon away at xmas carols, stuff themselves with turkey and generally keep entire mountain towns employed during the off season. We arrived at our cottage, it looked beautiful. Perched on a hillside overlooking the mountains the wooden whitewashed cottage was straight out of a book. It was so typically colonial Australian from its corugated iron roof to its stained glass front door, you couldnt hep but fall in love with it. It was pretty cold outside (around 4 degrees c) so we descended upon the house and quickly realised that, with its ill fitting windows, drafty doors and lack of central heating, we were going to die of exposure in the mountains. The Australian weather god (if there is such a thing) took this opportunity to glance in our direction, see us in our misery, smile and bring forth a deluge of rain that would last for the entire three days. Yes we had traded our warm luxury appartment for a freezing cold wooden hut in the mountains on the only three days it had rained in a year. We kept our spirits up by eating fine foods, drinking heavily and playing board games. Richard (of Richard & Emma, the couple who had foolishly volunteered to freeze with us in the mountains) and I found a hidden stash of plug in radiators and fan heaters in the box room and three hours later we were removing our hats and coats. Things were looking up.
I awoke about 5 am on the second day and realised that the house had plummeted into a state even colder than the day before. This was puzzling as we had gone to bed laughing with glee at how we were heating up the entire mountain range with someone elses electricity. I stumbled around the kitchen flicking switches and touching radiators. Slowly and with much denial i came to the realisation that we had fused the house. Pulling on some clothes i headed outside in search of the fuse box, a cursory scout around revealed nothing it was evident i was going to have to venture down the side of the house. Now please remember we are in the mountains in Australia. Its a relatively safe bet that somthing is alive, deadly and making a home in the uncut grass down the side of our house. So at rougly 6:15am the rest of the street are woken by 'that mad pomme bastard' waving my arms and making loud noises as i stomp heavily down the side of the shack. I did manage to find the fuse box, repair the fuse (a bit of fuse wire wrapped around a bit of plastic) and save us all from hyperthermia. And that was pretty much xmas in the mountains.
We returned to civilization and carried on with our lives. We filled the weekends with the eternal quest for real ale ( i now know maybe 4 pubs in the whole of NSW where i can get a decent pint), attending wine/jazz/beer festivals and eating in little cafes all around Sydney.The first appartment we had rented (a little 1 bed on the river) was beginning to feel too small so we relocated to our current property. We are further out of the city but we have a large 2 bed appartment on a \'resort style\' complex complete with swimming pools, tennis courts etc etc. When we moved in I gave up turning up to AAP ( i would say work but i doubt anys been done there since 1957) and went and studied I.T. I am at present in the middle of exams (though i have already passed 2 and am now a fully qualified MCDST (so there)). Saara recently resigned from work after being offered another job with a small medical company owned by a british expat, she seems happier already.
Today we are off to a place called Port Douglas. It is on the far north eastern stretch of Australia (north of Cairns) and the gateway to the barrier reef. We will spend 8 nights relaxing in the wonderfully named Radisson Treetops hotel. As far as i am aware it is not in the treetops like some ewok village but im sure it will be lovely none the less. Port Douglas is, of course, right in the heart of crocodile country so if we are never heard from again i just want it to be known that in the event of our untimely deaths at the jaws of a crocodile, I very much want the scaly bugger hunted down and turned into shoes and handbags.

Love to you all

Keith & Saara