Sunday, November 04, 2007

My bad

I've been ridiculously bad about updating this site, and I meant to do more this weekend, but I didn't. However, I did manage to upload a bunch of photos!! Not all by any means, but I am feeling slightly better...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

So - actually oysters are so me

I have a picture of the dozen oysters that Kipper and I devoured for "lunch" today. It may possibly include the glass of wine that I may have had... but I couldn't comment on that.

Today started off a little overcast, but turned into pure blue skies and gelato. I bought a pair of goldy/bronzy wedges today, to replace my favourite blue sandals, which I discovered were coming seriously to pieces in the airport, as I was waiting for my - yet again - delayed SleazyJet flight. The freakiest thing is that I bought them from the first shop we went into. (I know: it was i) a decision ii) so quick!!)

Kipper got a new phone, all she required (and maybe a glitter bar) from Lush, and I stopped her buying a dress with her phone money.

For dinner Kipper and I are having: the smelliest cheese ever (if Roquefort is medium, this is guru level), fantastic olives, cheap bubbles, blinis, fresh sardines with beans and tomatoes, red wine and more cheese and salad. Oh, and we're listening to Boplicity.

Must get back to the olives and bubbles. God I love Paris.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hounded by the ghost of Flat Past

Well, to be strictly correct, it's more Luke-the-not-landlord, not the flat. Once we texted him on the Friday to say we were moving out the next weekend, he phoned straight back - a first! - but we weren't prepared to talk to him until the weekend; and he didn't call back or come round at any stage during the week; until Saturday afternoon, when we were in a secondhand shop buying a supremely cheap (£40) tv, because the broadband people were coming round on Tuesday.

Did I mention he's so assiduous at the moment, because he hasn't been around for three months to collect the rent? Unsurprisingly we a) forgot about it, and b) spent it (on essentials, naturally).

Lara looked at her phone, and said "I'm not answering it - we've already moved out." She's such a bad influence; I didn't answer mine either, and he left a message saying "I'm in hospital" (sure you are), wanting to send his mother(!) round to pick up the keys and rent.

So then we were quite bad, and either didn't hear our phones (genuine, honestly), or were in meetings (also genuine), or at the gym (really! I know it sounds bad); but we also failed to call back. So this week we decided that we had to call him. Two bottles of wine later, we'd made a huge list of bargaining points, which I won't reproduce, but included: no contract, no receipts, toilet leaking into kitchen, the fact that he didn't have keys himself (I could go on), and psyched ourselves up to call him. It was engaged. For about 15 minutes. We texted him saying "We've been trying to get in touch with you (which we thought was a nice touch), but your phone is engaged. We're going to bed but will call you after work tomorrow." Twenty minutes later he texted Lara saying "My phone is on 24/7", which made us squeal in disgust (we had been drinking), and want to stay up to 3am to call him then. That was Tuesday. Wednesday we were at a bbq (fantastic weather, and so much food we ate ourselves sick). Tonight we must call him, because I'm off to France tomorrow, and Lara's going to Sweden to collect her cats. I just want this sorted. Gargh.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More damn packing

We're moving out of our flat tomorrow, and I'm gutted. There are so many things I adore about the house: it's three stories, my room is enormous, the ceilings are all really high, the wooden floors are beautiful, the bathroom is red. There are annoying aspects too - the so-called landlord, the fact that none of the windows open because they're all painted shut, the toilet which leaks into the kitchen, the garden at the front not being big enough to sit in, having to put the heating on for half an hour before you can have a shower; but I'm still going to miss it.

I haven't done any packing: a combination of laziness (and being out drinking) and ostrich behaviour; Lara keeps telling me how much she's done. I'm out buying things - I need three cans of chickpeas and 10 pairs of chopsticks now, right?

Still, the new house has some good points: opening windows, a wee garden in the front, and a wee garden at the back, a spare room... I'm starting to struggle here. It's easily the best of the places we've looked at, but it's not a patch on our current place.

So, yeah, bring on the weekend - I can hardly wait. (Thank Dionysus for The Vineyard.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Paris part deux


On Saturday morning we jumped out of bed bright and early at 11am (this was to become our typical rising time) and went to the markets. When Kipper isn't living in Tourcoing, she lives in the 12me arrondissement, which is apparently quite a posh part of Paris, so the market was rather expensive. That didn't stop us purchasing an immoderate amount of cheese ("the most expensive Roquefort in Paris", and two types of goat's cheese), and a variety fruit and vegetables and a bottle of rosé. We went back to the apartment (which definitely bears a small description) to gorge ourselves.

Bathroom chandelierThe flat is on the 7th floor (opposite a place called "Ladyfitness", which advertises itself as "Concept No 1 en France"), and belongs to an actor. It's decorated in a manner that may euphemistically be described as "eclectic". I only took one picture, and it doesn't quite sum everything up, but it made quite an impression on me: it's the bathroom chandelier and it's plastic. Every time I went in there I would whack my head, and it would make a cheap plastic noise (the chandelier, not my head).

After cheese and rosé we went into the Marais district to buy Kipper some new shoes and rugby socks to go with her new grey dress from H&M. The weather was phenomonally warm and sunny (and that wasn't just compared to Belfast!), though I was so cheerful it could have been snowing and I wouldn't have cared. We had to change at the Bastille Metro station (cue more pics), and wandered around for a wee while before we found the shopping part Kipper was looking for.

Bastille Metro station One of the things that I particularly noticed about Paris was the amount of dogs and bikes in the town centre. They have a great system where one can hire a bike from a docking station very cheaply (you're not going to catch me on a bike for any money - I have enough problems walking), and drop it off at another docking station when you've finished with it. Cyclists seem to own vasts tracts of roads, and they even have their own traffic lights set down very low (took me ages before I worked out why they were there). I took a picture on Sunday evening after we'd had Salad Niçoise at Cafe Hugo with Kipper in the foreground, so you can see how close to the ground they are. There's also a good shot of her famous boater.
Baby traffic lights

It took us forever to find any shoe shops, but along the way we came across all sorts of thurmaturgical delights. My personal favourite were the "baguettes magiques". I may have stopped and squealed when I saw them, in the time-honoured schoolgirl fashion. I had to have a photo.

It was the final day of the Paris sales, so we stopped in at numerous boutiques, at one of which Kipper bought a lovely green jumper. I was slightly taken aback at how tactile the young male sales assistant was - in a good way though, he wasn't at all sleazy. He fluttered and fussed around her like she was a model on a catwalk; it was nice (not to mention effective).

Magic baguettes After we'd finished shopping (I talked Kipper into a fantastic pair of strappy, but eminently wearable, silver sandals) we stopped at a café for a drink, some people/dog/bicycle/shoe watching, and to plan the evening. Kipper had some other friends over in Paris, and we arranged to meet them at "the most trendy and pretentious café in the whole of Paris". We started off at the bar over the road from it, but the service wasn't that great, and the mojitos weren't as good as they previous place they'd been in, so we chanced the pretentious place (Café Charbon) and found it to our liking - guess that makes us young, smart and bohemian. Kipper's French friend told us that we'd hit the perfect time for visiting it: down season in Paris. Apparently it's usually filled to overflowing and impossible to get into. We liked it so much we stayed for dinner - I had the most heavenly steak tartare. Afterwards we went into almost-Belleville (I was very excited, The Triplets of Belleville being one of my favourite films at some festival) for a post prandial drink. It seemed a bit odd, drinking in the 'burbs, but I guess that's what you get, in large cities - or even N.Z. for that matter: I've driven to Newtown for a drink, for heaven's sake! Catching the Métro home is not something you do there though...

A Métro station

I was at a metal gig last night...


Don't ask me what the hell I was doing there; well, actually, I can tell you: being scared by the people, and then having a beer, and giggling at them. In fact I got an attack of the giggles, when the band on the left came out. (I think they may be called Lesshelp.) The lead singer was wearing a welding mask. No really. It was unbelievable, when he wanted to sing, he had to lift it up with his hand, and push the microphone under it. The rest of the audience seemed to find this perfectly normal, so I choked quietly on my Tennant's. I would have taken a picture, but it was all I could do to remain upright. When they first came out I decided that they were a bunch of tossers (the lead singer calling for multiple naked chicks in the audience may have had something to do with it - I mean would he even know what to do with one?), who thought it was cool to wear sunnies inside at midnight; but actually they had lots of short (= good) and amusing songs - current favourite "Obsessed with cheese", which goes: "Obsessed with cheese / Obsessed with cheese". It's great! I think Lara and Armand should have them at their wedding.

The general audience I found really scary. Stereotypes bad, I know I know, but they were all scary fat geeky fanboys; either with long hair (which they obviously spend more time and money on than I spend on mine), or no hair and long beards (again more time and money). I'm sure they didn't come straight from their computers to the gig, but that's how it felt... So I grabbed another beer (oooops - budget!), decided it was okay to laugh quietly at them, and enjoy the music. I didn't head bang though, I'd need a wig for that.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Paris part 1

I took a flexi-Friday, which meant a beer at lunchtime, and not going back to work. I wandered round town for a short while, then caught a bus to the international airport, where I was massively early, and, thanks to EasyJet (don't get me started), I had to wait for an hour or so before I could get my boarding pass and get to the next bar. I had the option of checking in on-line, and going straight through security. Wohoo: I like this. I printed my boarding pass to Paris, and then the one to Belfast. They looked different. I studied them. The one to Paris didn't have my name or the flight on it, nor the bar code. Hmmm. I went to the page again, and compared it to the Paris-Belfast pass. It still looked different: bar codes were in different places. I hit F5 (refresh). The entire page went away. Errrr... what? The back button didn't work. I had broken it. Well, apparently not entirely. You only get to print your boarding pass twice. (It says so in the small print.) I got to print a screwed one once. Thus you find me at the airport being very patient, reading Hunter S. Thompson (he is a fantastic travel companion).

At 3:15pm I join the queue for boarding passes, and enter the sacred world of two bars. I decide to be sensible though, and go through security - there have to be more bars on the other side - and the queue looks nasty. It is - it goes on for ever, and they want me to take my shoes and belt off (can't they tell I've been to the gym since I bought these jeans, and this has the potential to be embarrassing?). I shuffle through clutching my waistband with both hands. Safely on the other side I do a quick browse for tax free specials. I am kidding myself. The EU has many things going for it, but cheap alcohol is not one of them. At this point I come across a money machine dispensing euros. (Quick digression: I was listing things I had to do earlier in the week to Lara, and one of them was go to a bank and pick up some francs. She laughed and laughed at me (anyone seeing a pattern here?), and reminded me that France was using the euro these days. Sure I knew that, I was working in Dublin at the time...) Now is a good time to pick up some euros, I thought to myself. I tried using my cashflow card (I still don't know its proper U.K. name), but it wasn't accepted. No worries, I'll use my credit card. Eeep, the longer you have them the more blasé you become; like violence on tv (Family Guy anyone?). Unfortunately it had been such a long time since I'd used it I couldn't remember the pin... (It was set by the bank, not me.) Oh dear. The weekend stretched out in front of me - long, euroless, sober, cheeseless, long, airportfull... I nearly broke out in a cold sweat. I imagined the conversation I would have with the bank (I've had it before). It was dreadful. I texted Kipper, and didn't hear back. She's distancing herself, I thought. Perhaps it's just this machine, I thought. Those in France will be more forgiving. They'll take my cashflow card. What if they didn't? Fortunately, however, common sense prevailed, and I realised I could call Lara, who would look up the pin for me, which I keep in the sensible "important papers" pile. I thought it had 8s and 2s in it; well, I was close. (Ish.)

After this wee bout of stress, I locate the alcohol (no anosmia here) and a seat at my gate. This is important, because the flight is delayed. And delayed. And further delayed. And then a little bit more. Finally we are called, and make it onto the plane. My seat is the second row from the front next to an English couple who are also off to Paris for the weekend. We're up in the air for 20 minutes (I know this, because she and I both check our watches when we lift off: 7:55pm, instead of 5:15pm), when the captain announces "Cabin crew prepare the cabin for landing". Really, they have to be joking. Nope, turns out they're not. We land at Luton (apparently somewhere in London), because... we'll, no-one seems sure exactly why. They have mixed up stories about technical problems (what delayed us at Belfast, apparently), and ill cabin staff (there is an ambulance, which went to the wrong plane). People on the window side report that the staff member can walk, so she's probably not dying. We have to get off the plane, and onto a bus, where we are transported, like animals to the slaughter (Roald Dahl is uppermost in my mind at the moment) to a holding pen. An article later we are bussed back to another plane, where we're told that due to the "inconvenience" we will be given a free hot or cold (non-alcoholic) drink, though because of the short flight everybody may not receive theirs, and they apologise for this in advance. Well, thanks EasyJet; and I was a lucky one - being in the front row this time.

So we eventually arrived at Charles de Gaulle at around 11:15pm, in time to catch a train (after I follow, very carefully, the signs for the "RER", and pass very scary army people carrying real guns (hey, I'm from N.Z. - we do things like name our kids Superman when we can't have 4REAL, and we don't have soldiers in Belfast) to the Gare du Nord where I failed to meet Kipper for a good 15 minutes, and spent easily £3 texting her (texts are 49p each when you're roaming on vodafone). It was complete fluke that I found her, having given up looking for the tourist information in disgust, and actually left the building (call me Elvis). I found another entrance though, and wandered back in, just as she was whistling our school song (one of the choruses from Verdi's Aïda); she's still sure it "called" me. Could have been, though if she'd been shouting "Free beer", I'd be more convinced... This is now around a quarter past midnight, and we have 15 minutes until the last train to her flat. Just time to grab a quick kebab, and sprint back to the her station. Excellent.

I manage to open a bottle of red which had until now evaded her clutches, and we stay up talking until 4am. I like Paris a lot already.

Nearly Paris

It was only three days, but it seemed like quite a lot happened to me.

On Thursday I still hadn't heard from Kipper, so I sent a slightly desparate e-mail.

As everyone knows I have problems with public transport at the best of times (sober, in an English-speaking country I know, going somewhere I recognise), so when she said she’d meet me at the bus station I didn’t exactly panic (that will no doubt come later), but warning flags were raised. They turned red yesterday when she hadn’t replied to my e-mail ("Errr... I'm arriving tomorrow evening; you're going to be on a train from Lille. Could I please get single syllable instructions for getting to said bus station to meet you, given that I struggle with public transport in English? Oh, and maybe your phone number?").

In fact it must have been preying on my mind, because I woke up an hour before my alarm on Friday, looked at the time, and went back to sleep. I dreamt that I was meeting someone else in New Zealand, and I had to take a bus. There were about 20 possibilities for me to catch: any bus but the number 9. So I stand at the bus stop, and finally a bus arrives. I can’t see its number, because it’s obscured by a large tree. It’s a cool open top one, though, so I get on. Of course, it turns out to be the number 9, and stops are about every twenty miles, so I stay on, feeling more and more stupid. I would text the person I was supposed to meet, but my phone has turned into a brick (kind of like a calculator) and half the keys are broken off, so they don't work (even though I try using a ballpoint pen). (The scenery is gorgeous though – a bit like the West Coast, but with sun.)

I told Lara about my dream that morning, and she was completely unsympathetic. She laughed at me, and told me that it was Paris, and of course I’d find my way around. She doesn’t understand how these things just happen to me. I was telling my team about my dream, and Lara’s reaction to it, and Bronagh said to me that she and her husband always take public transport when they go overseas, and that they had massive problems finding the bus that they needed from Charles de Gaulle airport, and it added about an hour to their trip. This, needless to say, filled me with confidence. She mentioned afterwards that they may have been marginally under the influence at the time. Damn it – I have a half day, and I was planning on a liquid lunch as a means of dusting off my 13 year old French...

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I got home from London on the Monday, and went in to work on the Tuesday. Tuesday night Lara and I caught up with Allegra, my friend from Ulster University. We had bubbles and wine, and ate pasta at around 11:30pm; it was rather a late one.

On Wednesday we got out of work at 11:30am, because there was a bonfire built in the middle of the only road in to work! I have pictures to post - it was quite substantial.

I caught the midday bus to Dublin, and changed there for one to Tipp. I felt grand to start with but ended up having to get the second bus to stop so I could vomit (sometimes I'm not a brilliant traveller, and this was a 7½ hour bus journey). Unfortunately when I got off I was far too embarrassed to throw up! I finally arrived in Tipp at half seven, feeling a little under the weather; but Liam (my cousin getting married in Perth) and Ella (his fiancée) met me at the train station, and we went straight to the pub (that lifted my spirits to start with - obviously seeing Liam for the first time in ages did too). No-one was there, so we went to McD's for some food (I got a bottle of water, and threw up in their bathroom; finally - I have found a point for them!), and went back. A pint of Smithwick's, and I was all better; totally up for a big night, in fact... We met Liam's two Irish best men in the pub, Finn and Colm. We played a bunch of (bad) pool, and drunk a bunch of beer. Finn and I chose some music on the jukebox together. That was a bit of a mission, because he doesn't really do decisions either (what were we thinking?), and when you first meet someone what music you listen to is quite important. I've been listening almost exclusively to Snow Patrol and Aslan (with a bit of Portishead) recently, and wasn't sure that everyone else would want to listen to them. So we started with Scissor Sisters, and moved on to Bob Marley. Fortunately €2 only gives you four choices! Eventually they threw us out and we decided to go back to Cloneen to the Thatch (Ella was driving, because she was crook from the night before). The Thatch (if you follow the link, you need to scroll nearly to the bottom of the page, but there is a pic of it!) is one of my all time favourite pubs ever. It's small and dark, and a bit smelly, and doesn't have any electricity. It's fantastic!! Unbelieveably, when we arrived, there was a 20 minute queue for beer! How dare they? I love the Thatch; it's not supposed to be like that. We went to the one next door which is slightly more civilised. Being a little merry I made a bit of an entrance. Mick (first cousin once removed, Liam's Dad) was standing in a really obvious place when I walked in. I was so pleased to see him I shouted at him from the door, then rocked on up and gave him a big hug. He went bright red, but (I think) he was pleased. Sian (Liam's youngest sister) and Davey (her lad) were there too, and Sarah (their mother). Many rounds were bought and drunk, and more pool was played, but there was no lock in. I loved the fact that it was a Wednesday night and the whole village was out. When it closed we moved back home, where there were provisions for the engagement bbq on Friday. Finn and Colm were supposed to be going to work the next morning - Liam had offered to take them in at some ungodly hour; but Finn was still there on Thursday morning when I crawled out of bed.

The weather was stunning - warm and really sunny. Sian, Davey, Finn and I went into Carrick to pick up the family's engagement present (a really beautiful flat crystal bowl). We were very sensible and picked up the present first, then found a nice pub that served food; we were starving because we hadn't had breakfast. After that we dropped Finn home so he could go to work (heheh) the next morning and went back to Cloneen (the civilised pub), where we sat outside in the sun and had some more pints. It was such a nice day. I think the combination of lack of sleep and the beer and the sun knocked me out though, because I was wrecked. The rest of the day passed in a warm fuzzy blur. It definitely involved me sleeping throughout the night though!

On Friday Sarah, Liam and Ella went into town for last minute shopping, and I got up to see if I could be helpful, wandered around cleaning up a bit, went back to bed and watched several episodes of Family Guy. I had a massive long shower. It's so nice since Sarah's done up the bathroom. The shower used to take about five minutes to wet your hair (it was a gravity one), and rinsing out conditioner was a nightmare on wheels; but now it's brilliant. Unfortunately the weather had turned really nasty - it was absolutely bucketing down. Typical. But by the time people started turning up around 7pm, it had lightened up a bit, so we could sit outside under the umbrellas and big canopy thing, where Liam cooked the steak. Grace (one of Mick's sisters) and Wonder Woman (her daughter, so my 2nd cousin) turned up, which was all good, and Wonder Woman brought Holly, her golden retriever, with her because she'd just been to the vet. All the dogs were so excited to see such a cute blonde woman, and she really played it up. Thank god she's spayed! Liam and Ella had brought SingStar over with them from Australia. Very scary with a bunch of drunk people. They had no chance of getting me near it; it was bad enough just being in the same room with them! The party went on very late, with Liam, Finn and I staying up well past breakfast, taking democratic turns to go on the beer run to the kitchen.

On Saturday there was a bit of a clean up mission, which turned into a very nice dinner party in the dining room. Glo (Liam's sister) and her lad came out for it. They dropped by Finn's house on the way to pick him up, but his mother said he was sleeping ("He's been out too many nights recently." Glo: "Yeah, I know, he's been with us." Mother: evil glare. "He's asleep, and I'm not waking him up." Or that's how I understand the conversation went.) The hurling was on just before dinner (and slightly during)! I was so excited to see Tipp beat Cork in the semis (I think it was). I miss hurling, and it was a great match. We all settled down for a quiet evening in front of the tv, but then John (who is, randomly, a relative of Glo's bloke, although this is Ireland, so we shouldn't have been surprised) turned up, and people started to wake up about the time Sarah went to bed. This involved us lounging around the sitting room with Ong Bak on, and arguing about whose turn it was to fetch the beer. I accidentally stayed up all night (again), this time in the kitchen (closer to the beer fridge), drinking and talking nonsense (and it really was!) to John. I stayed up, and helped tidy the kitchen a bit (probably more hindrance than help though) on Sunday morning. I had spent so much time in the three days hassling Liam about not having an invite to the wedding, that he presented me with one in the morning! So, I'm now going to Perth in March, which was really not part of my plan. Ah well, that's the joy of travelling. I discovered that there wasn't enough room for me in the car with Liam and Ella, and the parents and all their stuff, and that Glo would give me a lift to the bus, so I went to bed for a bit of a kip. Glo cooked me breakfast when I got up (sausages, bacon, eggs, toast, it was fantastic), then took me in to the train station. We sat in the car waiting for the bus, until she said "That one's going to Cork..." Eeep. I leapt out, just in time to flag down the one to Dublin which was accelerating away from the station, hidden behind the other one. All good, even if the driver did give me a dirty look!

Made it back to Belfast around half nine that evening, and the weather was lovely. I wandered home feeling at one with the world, and smiling at the people walking their dogs.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


So I finally made it to London the other day, after successfully avoiding it for somewhere in the region of eight years. Not bad going, when you think that it's the favoured destination of most Kiwis. I read somewhere that it has the second largest number of New Zealanders in it. Of course, once I was there I adored it. I had such a great time I'm scared to go back and pop the bubble.

I had a ridiculously early (6:30am) flight, and Lara told me I had to be there for 5am on the Saturday morning. I thought I had it all sorted, from my previous débâcle at the airport, going to my Galway cousin's wedding (where I joined the wrong queue three times); so I'd checked in on-line the previous day, and had organised (ha!) myself so that I could take my backpack on as hand luggage, so no queues there. I'd been invited to a birthday party on the Saturday evening, and had been told that a bottle of N.Z. white would be an appropriate present. We have a great bottle-y (Pooh Bear and I decided on this as a compromise between offy and bottle shop when we were living in Stirling, but I'm still not sure how to spell it) up the road, so I'd bought one (Lawson's Dry Hill's chardy) there. I arrived disgustingly early at the airport, and started the queue for security, which hadn't opened yet (unsurprisingly, it being 5am). When someone finally showed up, I asked if I could take the bottle on with me, but I couldn't. Apparently you can only take things that you buy on the other side. I contemplated downing it there, but concluded that discretion was the better part of valour and all that. So I joined the now-massive queue for check in and luggage-leaving.

There was a BMI woman walking up and down asking for people who only needed to drop luggage, so eventually I joined the (ironically named) Super Express Luggage Drop, behind one (american) family. They had three trolleys piled high with enormous suitcases, each of which was overweight. Of course. It was unbelievable. Another woman joined the queue behind me, and we stood there in absolute disbelief, watching while ... nothing happened in front of us, and the queue we'd come from moved (albeit slowly) ahead of us. We didn't even know what the problem was because nothing was happening. She started to panic after a while (about 45 minutes), because she was going on holiday to Portugal, and had to catch another plane at Heathrow at 2pm. We seriously stood there for about 50 minutes. Eventually they sorted themselves out, and we raced through. I had to take my bag to the "Out of Gauge" place, because it had straps on it, and the other woman decided to wait for me, because she didn't want to face the wrath of the other travellers queue-jumping by herself. As it turns out she didn't need to worry: we'd taken so long everyone else had gone through. The flight also ended up being delayed (which isn't great for the first flight of the day), and I'm fairly sure it was because of the stupid americans.

However, we arrived, and I picked up my bag, got a coffee, and got hold of Alice (with whom I was staying), who duly arrived; she'd been out to see Eddie Izzard the previous night. She was house-sitting in Hampstead, and we caught the tube there. I dropped my bag off at the house, which was huge, and had a gorgeous garden out the back. She told me that they sell for several million around there, and I can fully believe it. We went for breakfast at a place that does good coffee, which is apparently a rarity in London. I noticed afterwards that they had a licence too - so Alice has been in serious need of my company. We took a look at the weather (which was fantastic the entire time I was there), and thought: beer!! (We would have thought "pub" had it been bad.) We walked down the hill around Hampstead Heath, which looked lovely, but full of people, unlike the (Belgian) beer garden we ended up in. After my first pint I called Olive (another Kiwi muso), but her phone was off. She got back to me though, and decided to come down and meet us in a couple of hours. Disaster: we had to stay at the pub, and I had to entreat Alice to try multiple different half pints in the interim. It's not something that rolls easily off my tongue: a half; but she's a genuine gym bunny, and disgustingly fit, so that's some kind of excuse. It was fantastic to see Olive again; we worked out how long it had been, but I won't say. With any luck she'll come to Paris when I'm over there seeing Kipper, my friend from school (and no, in case you're interested, I'm not Elle).

That evening I went to somewhere on the tube (it could have been South Kensington, but I'm not sure), to another Belgian pub (the Dove) - how unfair was this? I wanted to be drinking ales in London! - for Abby's 30th birthday party. She's an ex trumpeter (we rock!) from Chch, who used to go out with Papa Smurf, and she'd gathered a bunch of Kiwis. Danger Mouse (pretty much the entire reason I was even in London) was there, and it was the first time I'd seen him for about 6 months, which was was extremely cool. Hahahahahaa - I made him drink a lot of highly alcoholic Belgian beers. By the time they threw us out most people were ready for bed, but I wanted to go clubbing. Penny and Steve (Chch friends of Abby's) and I were on the same tube line, and she knew a club, but unfortunately it was closed for a private function; and that was the only one around there. I couldn't believe it. I mean, this was London! However, an early night was possibly a good plan; especially when I got off (correctly!) at my stop, and couldn't exactly remember how to get home. I stood there for about five minutes, looking around vaugely (I hadn't worn glasses earlier, because it was so sunny); then I set off in about eight different directions, for about five metres, and came back again. I don't think any spy company is going to hire me. Eventually I made an "executive decision", i.e. took a punt, but fortunately it was the correct one.

Sunday Alice and I went out for breakfast again, to another place that does good coffee (another place that had a licence - when she comes to Belfast we're having a pint for breakfast). The Wimbledon men's final was on that afternoon, and Danger Mouse had organised some more Kiwis (his family were over in London for a bunch of family birthdays) to meet at a pub: his sister Aoife and brother Rob, Abby, Rob's ex Miho, who'd got an £80 ticket to the women's final the day before, and Holly (yes, another muso from varsity) and her bloke. It was fantastic to see them all again, and I have an invite to go and visit Rob in Valencia, which I'm SO going to do! So we were finally in an English pub (in South Kensington, I think), but they only had two ales on tap - gargh, it was a conspiracy. However, it was great weather, and Wimbledon was on (and Federer was looking very fetching in his white jacket and trousers). Everyone crashed again quite early, which was rather disappointing, so I went home and distracted Wendy from her work; she had to bribe me with beer, and music (specifically West Side Story, and the Bruch Violin Concerto(!)), and I stayed up reading Pippi Longstocking (family home) and drinking the family's beer, which was a bit random.

On the Monday Alice and I went to Covent Garden for coffee and brunch (see left) and to meet Danger Mouse again. I'd spent probably 45 minutes "persuading" him the previous night that we should meet at 10am, and it turned out that there was a "passenger incident" on the tube, so he didn't arrive until twenty past anyway. Covent Garden is lovely! We forced him to drink coffee, and he got the jitters (not that we ever would have laughed at him). Then I got hungry and we went to an Italian place for pasta before Alice and I caught the tube back to Heathrow (where I had a Hoegaarden and Alice a glass of bubbly) before I went through security, only to find the plane was delayed by 40 minutes. Ah well... I had Hunter S. Thompson to keep me company and another beer. I arrived home to fog and rain and wind. I giggled.

In which the author finally has an occasion with a glass of wine (at a computer)

It's such a ridiculously long time since I posted that I've had to go back and read what I was doing back then - starting my new job, apparently. And joining the gym, god help me. So I am well and truly ensconced in american dynamics (they're breaking so many of my principles that I can't even give them capitals - and now I can't give the address of this blog to anyone at work!). My official job title is open for discussion; among those mooted were Technical Writer, Technical Author and other far more amusing ones, that I can no longer remember, they were so ridiculous. So my signature, which I almost never use, has me down as a tech writer. I don't even know if my team is Technical Communications or Technical Publications! It inevitably being shortened, naturally I prefer the latter.

After spending weeks and weeks not really doing any work at all, and not being able to play on the internet (as at Ulster Uni) because it's a huge open plan office, and my desk is next to the two meeting rooms, I managed to get rid of my team. (There are four of us: Kevin, the team leader, Jill, who's been there eight months, and tells me the names of the rest of the office, and Bridie, who started the week before me, and is just back in the workforce after having a sprog, but is a real tech writer (unlike me), and used to work with Kevin at Nortel.) Kevin was in Boca (Florida) for the week, Jill is in Dubai on holiday, and Bridie was sick as a sheep. I actually got to do stuff! It was great. I am so sad. I got to talk to people in the office "Bridie's really sick, she won't be in until Monday." "Jill's in Dubai until August." "Kevin's in Boca." HA! You'll have to ask me to do it! People even felt sorry for me sitting there all by myself and came to talk to me. Shame I had no idea who they were... In fact, the software boys, who sit in the next pod, have a new favourite game: point at people and ask me what their names are.

I've been up to such a lot that I think I'm going to make lots of short little entries; I'm too lazy to go to the effort of writing for people to look at it and think "Too many notes, Mr. Mozart." (Not that I'm comparing my prose to Mozart, it was just a nice simile.)

If there's anything you want to know more about just drop me a comment, and I'll fill in all the gory details - be warned, it will be gory, all I've been doing recently is drinking a lot and having a fab time! I have a bunch of photos I want to put up too, but I spent all last week on Corel Paintshop Pro, which is vastly different from Photoshop, so going back to Lara's Swedish, older version Photoshop is going to be hell. I need more wine just thinking about it...

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I may have just accidentally joined a gym... And I wasn't even drunk (thanks to this stupid diet), so it could even, possibly, have been accidentally-on-purpose. However, the woman who showed me around wasn't manically enthusiastic, and seemed amused that I had a "real" job now. (She's missing out, not having surreal jobs.) I can feel the muscles in my legs from the machines and swiss ball exercise I did - my wife would be proud of me: I fell neither over nor off the swiss ball while anyone was watching! (Maybe it's because I'm on the opposite side of the world - water goes the wrong way down the plughole, and I get to stay on the swiss ball...)

On Thursday we went up, to the flash university dining room, for lunch. Diet shmiet; I ate grilled goat's cheese on rocket salad with sundried tomatoes and basil pesto, Irish lamb (the flavour was good, but I still think NZ lamb is the best) with champ and cauliflower cheese, and chocolate terrine with fresh berries and red wine sauce. There's nothing like a two hour lunch break with good food. Then on Friday I bought chocolate cake in for morning tea (which may have taken around an hour and a half). I'm so glad I brought it, because the women in the office had got me a spa pack (bath salts, body brush, shower gel, hand lotion) and a really nice looking bottle of Spanish wine! I was touched, because I was only there for about six weeks, and really feel like I didn't do very much work at all.

Before the final panic of I-hope-I-haven't-left-everything-in-a-mess-for-Clare took over I managed to accept my Galway cousin Hannah's wedding invitation, blag my way into a fully booked B&B (first ever instance of this, I was so proud), and buy wedding presents. Now all I need to worry about is what to wear. I spent yesterday after the gym appointment trawling round the shops. Did I mention how much I loathe shopping? The worst thing about the whole affair was Lara was sitting at home waiting for broadband man to turn up, being jealous!

Lara and I went to Hughie on Thursday night; my first experience of Eugene O'Neill. I really enjoyed it (not to mention the fact it introduced me to some new Miles Davis). The language was stunning, huge monologues by Eerie Smith that just gave me goosebumps; and the whole atmosphere was very Raymond Chandler. There was a question and answer session with the director and actors that we went to afterwards which was interesting. I went to one at the film festival last year, and I found that if there's no-one to direct them they kind of fall flat, because the audience are scared of looking stupid, and the directors are usually fairly uncomfortable. There were a couple of students who had read the play at this one though, so that wasn't a problem.

We went to the All-Ireland Poetry Slam on Friday night, where Chloe Poems (who reminds me a little of Gerald Manley Hopkins) was the MC. It was hilarious - like the stand up comedy nights I used to go to in Welly (but with more poetry). The poets got riotously drunk, and I came home not stinking of ashtrays, because the smoking ban is in place - wohoo!

The weather is looking fantastic, so I'm off out there to make the most of it. I finally got hold of Connor at the recruitment agency, who told me that Russell has been off sick all week, and that he (Connor) thought he remembered an e-mail (which he now can't find) saying that I should turn up at 10am on Monday. Ohhhhh-kaaaay. This may encourage me to go to the closing night of the Arts Festival this evening...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oooh ooh I actually have a real job!

Not that I've either seen or signed a contract, but meh, details. I got a letter in the post on Saturday morning from INI saying "blah blah, regret to inform you etc.", so that's that. After all the fuss American Dynamics made about getting a decision from me, I would have thought that the contract would have arrived the next day or something, but I still haven't seen it. I start on the 14th of May, which gives me one more cruisey week here. Mark, the Head of School, is off in America until the 14th, so there's really not that much to do here apart from answer the phone and tell people that he's away. Possibly just as well, because I've just started a diet (and I'm joining a gym on Friday - ooh, can hardly wait!), which is very high maintenance, and requires me to concentrate: eat every three hours, weigh and measure stuff (food, not currently me). Gargh. Still, the indecisive bit of me quite likes not having to decide what I want to eat every meal time. The decisive bit winces at the thought of two low alcohol beers a week - which I shan't drink, on principle.

I have pics from a while ago, that I've been meaning to put up.

First blood donation presentThis is what I got when I gave blood the other day. I can't believe they seriously think it's a "charming fallacy". It seems a bit morbid to me...






Random Fruit Salad team mascotThis is the team mascot Lara made for us on our first ever pub quiz. (It was originally a swan, but I added fangs.) In case you can't read it, the labels say "Random Fruit Salad Mascot", and "Random Fruit Salad Cake Tin". (I ended up buying one, rather than making a tin foil to Lara's design.)




Grass Jelly *drink* this has got to be good for you.I was shopping in the local Asian warehouse place, when I came across this. I had to take a picture for Superman and the Aphid Lady. We had a can of Grass Jelly (plain, not in drink form) sitting on our fridge for months at Tinakori Rd. No-one ever had the temerity to tackle it. I have to admit the closest I've got to this incarnation is a picture, the basil seed one is a little more tempting...

In latest ablutory bulletin

The shower is kind of fixed, i.e. you can run it more or less on full power without it overflowing, and with no visible signs of water in the kitchen; but if you want it to be hot, that's a rather different matter. You need to have the heating on for hours, which makes the house like a roasting pan, because all the windows have been painted shut, and most of the heaters have lost their taps. Still, the whole standing up thing to wash your hair is a huge improvement.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bolek and Lolek rock

We made a wee effort and went out last night; the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has just started, and there's a bunch of stuff we want to go to. We were thinking of moving on to the Kremlin for some dancing, but that was before Lara started working out in the absolute sticks (a.k.a. Limavady), which requires her to get up at half five in the morning. We went to McHugh's, for the free Polish buffet, but spent too much time sitting outside drinking beer, and by the time we made it to the basement the food had all gone. (I did get a gherkin, but it didn't taste any different from the ones you get in NZ.) They had the coolest fillum playing (with dance music over the top). These lads are my new favourite people! The basement had no reception for vodafone, though Lara's coverage was grand, and I think it upset my phone so much it went into hibernation, because it was still refusing to believe it was connected with the outside world when I (eventually) went to sleep. Fortunately it was over its little tantrum by the time I got up this morning.

Have to admit I was a little sleepy this morning, so I picked up a coffee on the way in to the office. Of course the cup was defective, so I had to drink it really quickly, and burnt my tongue. I also have coffee rings all over my desk too (because I didn't notice it to start with). Gives it a nice lived-in feeling.

Apparently Luke-the-landlord is sending a plumber round today. Neither of us is holding our breath (just dreaming of showers). Lara decided to play hardball with him the other day - she sent a text saying that we were sick of the shower not working, and the cold water tank overflowing all the time, and the toilet leaking into the kitchen, so we were going to call a plumber, and take it out of our rent. He called straight back, and said "But I thought the shower had been fixed." Ha. We'll see.

Long weekend this week, and the Belfast Marathon is on Monday, and finishing in Ormeau Park, which is just up the road from me. I might go out with a hipflask and laugh at all the crazy people.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


So the Invest NI interview didn't go that well... The little three minute test (spelling and punctuation) was grand - even if I did want to change the Lisbon Convention to the Lisburn Convention (I've been here long enough!); but the whole behavioural interview thing fell to pieces when they started asking me things about why small to medium enterprises would want information on line; or what they would expect to find on a site. The man who was asking these questions (there was a panel of four) had the body language of an accounting text book, so I couldn't even tell if I was on the right track! Gargh.

I asked when they're likely to make a decision, and it's not until the end of the week (they seemed to think this was moving super-quickly), so I just called Russell, as promised, and he's off sick. Someone may get back to me, but otherwise the stalling thing will have taken off on its own momentum. If they do call back I'm definitely accepting the position; I don't have the best feeling about the INI interview at all at all. (Lovely building though!)

On the upside, the cake turned out well - it was very chocolately and coffee-ish, but not enough to keep us awake for the pub quiz. Last night was a somnolent one in Rossmore Ave. Hahah - we must be getting old!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Pink party

It was extremely pink. We had pink balloons, pink bubbles, pink wine, pink gin, beer (not pink), pink flowers, Italian food (not pink), and Lara in a red dress (with skulls on it). We also had loads of people, including the neighbours, who sent over a bottle of champagne as well!

We didn't make it out of bed until around 5pm (I know, missed the best part of the day, but the weather's been so fab I'm trusting to next weekend); Lara and Armand went off to the Parador for some food, and I opened a Grolsch - did I mention 40 bottles for £20?! So exciting! - and started baking. I realised after I'd started that I didn't have anything useful like a measuring cup or a fan-assisted oven, so I hope it's okay... We're cutting it this afternoon, with pink bubbles (and we still have a bottle of pink gin left), so it probably doesn't matter if it's a complete disaster. We're off pub quizzing this evening again; we may be really bad at giving the correct answers, but we easily have the best team names.

I have my Invest NI interview tomorrow morning, so I should probably go to bed early and sober, but if I have a berocca before bed and large pot of strong coffee first thing in the morning it might have the same effect. Speaking of which I should go and do some research about needs and constraints of SMEs to competitiveness.

Friday, April 27, 2007

We Love Lucy's Dad

Which may explain why I had disturbing dreams about Larry Hagman last night. I can hear all the pop culture vultures screaming at me now. This is what happens when you don't have tv as a child. I had to go and look him up - I should have been dreaming of Desi Arnaz.

Lara brought Lucy home last night to have a look at the boiler. She couldn't work out which bit was the bleeding valve (quite funny, because I missed all this through giving blood at the time - must get the photo of my pelican up! It's very ... special), and what the restart button was, so she called her Dad. He duly came around, and not only cajoled the boiler into working, he also fixed the light switch, so we can now brush our teeth in the light! It's just like magic. The whole hot water thing has been really overwhelming. I stayed up late last night luxuriating in the (hot) bath, maybe that's what gave me strange visions, that and the bottle of wine I bought in an advance celebration of the successful job interview. When I actually get a first pay packet I'm going to splash out on real champagne and maybe some Wither Hills (somewhere around the £10 mark) ...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dirty girl

So the oil duly arrived on Wednesday morning. Doubting Thomas that I am, I took the whole thing with a crystal of salt, and refused to become excited. Discouragingly this turned out to be the correct response, because although Lara turned the heating on, and held her hand under the water emanating from the "hot" tap for lengthy periods of time, it was manifestly (to me, not her, her hand was so cold she couldn't feel it) not warm. This means that it's now a week since I've fully immersed my body in water. Ewwww. I've been trying to psych myself up for a cold bath in the evening, but the main problem has been the change in the weather. I suppose I could mull some wine to go with it, instead of a chilled beer...

We still can't use the shower at the moment either, though this isn't such a problem with no hot water; but the latest development in bathroom has been the death of the light switch. It wasn't even a switch to start with, so that may have been the problem. It's of the string genus (kind of the pull chain of the lighting world), which was never properly attached to the ceiling in the first place. It hasn't actually fallen off or anything, but nothing happens when you pull it. I'm thinking the flat really needs a candle chandalier, a weeping wraith in white, and a couple of suits of armour on the stairs. Oh, and wolfhound or two.

After spending vast quantities of Wednesday evening going outside to push the red button (it would have been fun if the boiler had blown up, I mean it is a red button), instead of working on questions for my behavioural-based interview this morning, we still had no hot water. We made a pact to go and ask one of the neighbours if they could help us this evening. The BFG has introduced himself to both of them, so we're tossing up whether to ask the ones on the right of the broken hoe, or the ones on the left (no breakages there). It'll probably end up whoever answers the door. We are desperate at this stage.

Plans for the weekend include: pink and black balloons, pink bubbles, Italian for supper (and possibly the rest of the week, depending on how many people turn up), baking the coffee chocolate cake that just about killed Grant and made Mr. Tumnus bounce off the walls all morning (he doesn't drink coffee), pink gin, partying until dawn on Sunday, and beer for breakfast; it's Lara's engagement/birthday weekend. Bring it on...


Oh dear - the technical writing people have just offered me a job! You would think this would be a good thing, but being the contrary creature that I am, I really really want the webby job, and I don't have an interview with them until Tuesday. Apparently I should accept this job before they offer it to someone else... Argh! This is even worse than the shower situation (I'm over that, the weather's improved, and I'm sure I can take a cold bath with current external temperatures)!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Our kitchen needs deeper sinks

No really, it does. Implemets required for washing your hair in the sink:

  • Tennant’s

  • water

  • a plug

  • a bendy neck

  • shampoo

  • conditioner (I’m not wasting beer on conditioning my hair)

  • a towel

  • closed curtains

  • a kettle

  • 2 large pots

  • electricity

(You may substitute hot water from out of the tap for the last three, but not if the fuel delivery man doesn’t ring your doorbell, or phone you when he arrives at 8am on Saturday morning, when he hasn’t confirmed that he’ll be turning up in the first place.) I spent a large portion of my Sunday (my Sunday, mark) boiling water in the kettle and our larger pots, and dunking my head in the sink. I thought washing my hair in the bath was a nuisance, but actually, I’ve found something worse. I’m sure it can’t be terribly hygenic either, so I scrubbed the aforementioned sink and pots afterwards with a combination of Cif and elbowgrease. I felt rather like some second world housewife (ignoring the fact that I have no idea who belongs in the second world, that I didn’t have to wash small children in the sink too, and that my cleaning binge is over). I contrasted my hair care unfavourably with JLo, who apparently demands bottles of Evian to wash hers. However, I should be back to the bath next time, because I don’t think the shower is looking any better after the drain buster. This is in spite of us leaving it in there about 48 hours, and my persistence in pouring 'copious amounts' of boiling water on top of it afterwards. The water level still looks suspiciously high, and takes the same amount of time to reach the top of the plug hole. I think we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, and try another bottle of drain buster, and then hassle Luke-the-landlord some more. Or, we could leave it until Rusty (the clown) gets back – though I’m not quite sure how we’ll know this... Still, he might be able to get us a plumber!

In unrelated romantic news

Lara and Armand got engaged on Friday night!! It was very exciting, especially because she’d been texting me all evening in a rather discontented fashion... In fact the one before she called me mentioned the imminent possibility of their first fight. Nothing like a proposal to smooth things over! Hahahahha, she’s going to be a Bessbrook housewife! So pleased for her though; in fact so pleased I had to buy her this:Isn't she awful?

Friday, April 20, 2007

And now the hot water

It just gets better! The day before yesterday I had a cold bath. I mean, I know I've been going on about the amazing weather, but no-one wants to go to bed shivering because the oil which heats the water has run out, and you've been splashing around like an agitated aardvark in a desperate attempt to keep warm. So now today I feel kind of grubby. I'm sure I've put on twice as much deoderant as usual, and I'm dying to wash my hair.

Yesterday I ordered more oil on line, and Lara left her house key under the daffodils for Luke-the-landlord (who, apparently, doesn't have his own). The whole plumber thing seems to have disappeared into thin air; Luke turned up, with a coathanger which he pulled to pieces and left in the bath, and poked around in the drain, finding part of a broken shampoo lid, and a razor cover, which he left in the hand basin. He called Lara, and told her not to shave in the shower, and to buy some drain cleaner. End of problem. Well, if the ceiling falls in, I don't think either of us are going to care that much.

Ooh, that sounds bitter. It's Friday, Dr. Who is on tomorrow, and I really like Martha.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The shower

*sigh* The shower. I shall begin, however, with the lavatory (I believe this is the correct way to refer to it, according to the royal family via BBC's breakfast show; something about Kate Middleton's mother not being genteel enough). This (the lavatory) has been leaking – fortunately only from the cistern – into the kitchen, just inside the back door, since I arrived. I've just about killed myself recycling bottles on numerous occasions. We mentioned it to Luke-the-landlord, who said, "Oh yeah, if you kind of push the pipe and the seat bit back together it should stop." Mmm... helpful, but not exactly a long term solution.

The shower was never that great to start with – it refused to drain properly, and I'd have to turn it off half way through washing my hair if I didn't want to flood the bathroom – but the other day (Sunday the 8th) when Lara was having a shower, and I was downstairs I heard a strange noise. It sounded a bit like the leaking gutter, but inside. I got up to investigate, and was aghast to see water cascading, Niagara Falls-like, through the light fittings (electricity frightens me), onto the bench, the oven and the floor. The ceiling also appeared to be bulging beneath the weight of yet more water. Eeeeeep... We've been far too scared to shower since. It was Lara's turn to make official phone calls (I've dealt with the tv licencing people, and the electricity people), so she called Luke-the-landlord on Monday, who promised to get someone onto it. Someone was supposed to turn up on Friday, but failed to materialise. We found out yesterday that Luke went off on holiday, and texted(!) the mysterious someone to come around to the flat.

I have washed my hair in the bath, a thing I hope never to repeat; but am mentally preparing myself for again, because the someone didn't turn up (again) last night either. I must quote a poem my Grandma taught me here:

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wan't there.
He wasn't there again today,
Oh how I wish he'd go away.

William Hughes Mearns. Our case is slightly back to front – of course!

I'm wondering if it's worth using the shower to collapse the ceiling to motivate Luke into action, or if that will mean we can't use the kitchen either...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pub Quiz!

Lara and I went to a pub quiz last night at the Errigle. Such a great start to the week. I had been there about a month ago with the BFG and heard the quiz master asking such things as "Who is the God of mischief and trickery in Norse mythology?" and "If you dial 999 or 112 you can obtain one of six emergency services: Fire, Police, Ambulance and Coastguard. Name either of the other two." Knowing perfectly well that I wouldn't be able to answer correctly more than about an eighth of the questions, I decided that I really needed to go there to drink beer and make up silly replies. Accordingly I had a bath at 9pm - have I mentioned the problems we're having with our shower? - and we cruised down to the pub at about 9:45pm, fifteen minutes before the quiz was due to start. All the quizes here start really late.

We named ourselves the Random Fruit Salad. The process went along the lines of:

"Swede and Kiwi sounds really bad."
"Yeah, hahha, how about Fruit Salad?"
"Oh, I know, Random Fruit Salad!"

There were about ten rounds of eight questions, including general knowledge, music (x2), tv and film, and a picture round, with each correct answer worth two points each. We really did astonishingly badly in most of the rounds - music being the worst, where I don't think we got a single correct answer in either round. (It was all 80s pop, and Lara's into metal. I'm going to suggest name the opera for next week.) However, that didn't stop us gaining twelve points per round(!); I'm not sure if it was our amusing answers, or if the quiz master felt sorry for us, but I like the rules in this country!

Needless to say we didn't win - in spite of our optimism and strong belief in the accuracy of our answers (surely Saxon played at Channel 5's opening ten years ago? They've been around long enough); but Lara did make us an origami swan mascot (pictures soon) (which I gave fangs), and she showed me how to make a tinfoil cake tin for the birthday cake I'm planning to make her next week. (I think I'll just lash out and buy a proper one...) All this led to us agreeing to join forces with the lads at the table next to us. Being Irish they were actually quite good, so we have even higher hopes (mainly of sabotage and beer) for next Monday.

Breaking News

I've just been phoned by Invest Northern Ireland, who are going to shortlist me(!), in spite of my answering one of the selection criteria completely incorrectly. "Demonstrate a practical knowledge of the needs and constraints to competitiveness of SMEs." Hideous question anyway, but I took SME to be subject matter expert, and they meant small to medium enterprise; however, because they didn't spell it out anywhere, they're going to ignore it in my case - wohoo!

I love Speight's

The Great Beer Delivery

Almost makes me wish I was in Dunedin, just to go on the cruise! How can you not love a beer that will take a pub half way around the world for mates without Speight's? I must tell them that I found Speight's in Belfast for £1.59 per stubbie. (Stubbies look so small and cute here, compared to the typical 500ml can. It's almost like Kiwis are just little drinkers...)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mariella and the public transport system

I don't even really know where to start this... Perhaps on Friday the 30th March, when I began at Ulster Uni? Orla (the recruitment agent), obviously detecting an unworldliness about me, had, in her efficient way, phoned up and found out when and where the bus left from and how much it would cost, so all I had to do was make it there by 8:15am. After speaking to her on Thursday afternoon, I decided that it would be as well to go and find the bus stop before Friday morning (when I was likely still to be asleep). Grand so. But could I find my way out of town towards the university? Could I hell! (As I mentioned earlier.)

Then on Monday morning I caught the bus in to Uni, getting a return trip. There were a whole three of us, both on the bus and waiting to catch it home at 5pm. So we waited, and waited, and waited... Eventually the woman got bored, and phoned up Ulsterbus, who told her that there wasn't any service this week. Gargh. So there I was, in Jordanstown for the second time in my life, about £3 in the bank, and with neither the price of a pint nor the faintest idea how to get home. The woman who called Ulsterbus proceeded to call a taxi, and the lad who was also waiting got up and strode off into the sunlight. With my day and a bit's experience I calculated that I might walk home, but I'd arrive at the time I should be starting work, so I sauntered off in search of a local (person, not pub). I found a lovely old lady walking her elderly retriever, who told me that there was a train station in the opposite direction from that which I had been walking (well, natch), or a bus stop down the road to the right, but she didn't know the timetable at all. I plumped for the train (harder to miss), and located it about 20 minutes later. What's more, it wasn't on Easter/no student time either. Not knowing where I wanted to get off, I asked the ticket man, who suggested Belfast Central. This sounded all good, except in my wanderings around town I hadn't ever come across any trains... I got off successfully (this isn't as silly as it sounds), and negotiated my way out - the station isn't that big, but it compares to small Kiwi airports I've been in. Fortunately I hadn't thrown my ticket away, because I needed it to get out. Good to know. Having escaped I realised that I had no idea where I was in town. At all at all. However, there was a free (if you had kept your ticket) bus into town. I felt so stupid three minutes later when it deposited me outside City Hall. (Not that this is to say I recognised any of the streets we passed through.) I did manage to find Ormeau Rd. from the bus stop, and arrived home about twelve hours after I had left.

So Tuesday morning I was foolishly listening to David Bowie (Let's Dance, seven minute version) as I walked in to catch the bus, completely missed Fitzroy Street, and had to double back. I'm pretty sure that had the bus been there I would have caught it, but it wasn't and I didn't. My first thought was to call Sarah at the Uni to let her know I would be running late, but, of course, I didn't have any credit on my phone. Eeeep - this was getting close to travel money! She was very understanding when I called, as I power-walked into town, looking for the Belfast Central station. I realised that it would be stupid to endeavour to find it myself, so I went into a nearby Post Office, and asked the woman working there. She directed me to the Europa, which even I knew wasn't correct (this being where I first rolled up). Still, they sold me a return for Jordanstown, but told me the next train was at 9:30am. They took pity on my shock, and gave me instructions for getting to Belfast Central and changing trains there. This was surprisingly easy, and is no doubt the cause of half my problems since. (Sorry, I'm reading Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White at the moment, and I absorb styles like an aubergine. Be thankful it's not Dickens again...) I just got out of the first one, walked about three paces and got into the next. Coming home I got out at Belfast Central, having a) thought that I might try catching it from there the next morning, and b) looked it up on a map.

The rest of the week I amused myself by catching and alighting from the train at different stations, working out times and costs - the train costing £3.60 (from all the stations nearby) as opposed to the bus's £2.80 had thrown my fiscal calculations out considerably.

On Wednesday morning this week I was convinced I had the trains sorted out. I made it to Botanic in plenty of time. I got off at Central. I changed platforms (mistakenly, as it turned out). I put on Portishead's Dummy (very apt, as it turned out). I started reading The Woman in White. I heard the loudspeaker say something about the Portadown train, and I panicked and leapt onto it. I sat down, and looked at the revolving writing which lists the stations the train stops at. I leapt back up and tried to get off the train, but in vain. I remained on the train all the way back to Botanic, where I caught the next train back to Central. I called Sarah to explain that I was going to be late.

Yesterday I was very careful about trains and times, and I double checked anything before I got into it. So far so good. I got as far as Jordanstown, and literally couldn't get off the train. You wouldn't believe it. After struggling unsuccessfully with two doors, I ran into the next carriage and kind of squawked at the two passengers there. One of them seemed to understand me, and jumped up to help me open the door, but it was too late, and the train had left the station. I nurtured a hope to begin with that I might be able to walk back, but it's miles between Jordanstown and Greenisland (which is by no means an island). When we arrived at said non-island the man helping me still couldn't open the door (which is managed by sticking your head and arm out the window, and twisting the handle from the other side), but the guard saw us, and came to our aid. He was most apologetic about my plight, and apologised about four times, but frankly I thought it hilarious. The next train was in about five minutes, so I phoned Sarah again. She's becoming used to the calls.

Today everything was fine, but I wanted to call Sarah to tell her I was going to be on time. I'm become blasé - just in time to start catching the bus again...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Happy whatever...

I can't believe I've got to my advanced age and I'm still unsure on Easter protocols. Does one say "Happy Easter", given Good Friday and all? Maybe I should say "Happy seasonal greetings"? Or "Wohoo, days off!" I'm not sure. I'm not going to eat meat on Friday, but that's no change from the usual - with the £3 I am unable to get out of the bank I've been living in a fairly vegetarian fashion for weeks now; and steak is down the list after alcohol and Stilton. I do like this university thing of Friday, Monday and Tuesday off, though as a temp I probably won't get paid for not working. Ah well, I shall laze about in the glorious weather, reading trashy novels (I don't feel guilty doing this, after reading We will not cease) and admiring the daffodils.

The internet we were have been stealing from our neighbours has stopped altogether, much to our combined horror and frustration. In fact we've actually discussed paying(!) for it, we miss it so much. Lara's been digging in Cavan, and hasn't checked her e-mail for over a week now. How on earth did we manage in the old days?

I won't be updating for a bit. I have a job application (I'm sure these things are invented by lazy HR people, who can't be bothered reading cvs. Grrr. I am sick of describing my level of experience doing x, y, and z, and giving detailed examples. If I didn't think this job looked interesting there's no way I'd be struggling through this tripe) that's due in today, which still needs refining; and another one to work on - not to mention the filing which is part of my real job. My cousin Alba suggested a flame thrower yesterday. She is a genius.

I got a text from the BFG last night to say that he's got a job working in the greengrocers down Ormeau Rd., so if he manages to blag as much fruit and veg as he did random items from the Action Cancer place I'm not going to get scurvy in the near future.

I was going to say that the circumstances have left me bloody but unbowed, but after checking the poem, I think that's a little over the top. I'm sure I've whinged at least a couple of times about not being able to afford a drink...

Monday, April 02, 2007


I've had my very first taste of it, on Saturday night; and I liked it (well, there's a surprise)! I think the surprise is in how long it took me to get around to it. I was reading the article on Wikipedia, and discovered to my amusement that people usually add three to five parts water to it. Needless to say I was having none of that nonsense. I did, however, have it cut with a bit of sugar (flamed in the spoon, it was very exciting), most of which, fortunately, ended up in the bottom of the glass.

"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world." (Oscar Wilde)

Natch, I couldn't afford that many!

The weather on Sunday was amazing, and I spent most of it walking through various parks - on a full stomach of greasy (but oh so good morning-after) cheese burger, with an excellent relish. There's something very satisfying about large amounts of sun and daffodils on a Sunday afternoon. We also went second hand clothes shopping, and I've found a new favourite place: The Rusty Zip. Terrible name, great clothes - though none that I actually wanted to buy... just laugh at.

Second day at work, and I still haven't really sorted anything out. I think I'm understanding the bus though. It's great. Walk to Queen's. Get on. The next time it stops: get off. It's the kind of system that suits people like me. And it's the same on the way back, though you can alight in town should you choose. I don't, I'd never get back out again. In spite of living here just under a couple of months I got lost trying to find Queen's from town the other day. It's just so damn symmetrical. I miss Wellington's randomness. No wonder I can't stand Christchurch!

I've checked my bank balance, and called the recruitment agency, and I have £23 until Friday (pay (wohoo!!) is a week in arrears). I've been making a list of necessities - it goes: bus tickets, bread, milk, alcohol, Stilton. Bring it on!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop the press: I have a job!

Let the housecleaning cease! Hell, I'll drink to that... No, wait, I'm at work.

Who: University of Ulster
What: administrationy stuff
When: Monday to Friday 8:45am - 5pm
Where: Newtownabbey (don't ask, but it involves a bus)
Why: to keep my liver in the manner to which it has become accustomed

I'm still looking for something cool which is supremely well paid, but this seems fun for the moment. Oh god, I'm a commuter! The rat race strikes again...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rock on Friday!

I applied for a million and twelve silly administration jobs yesterday, and some more today; and my lunacy has been rewarded - I had two more recruitment agency interviews today (I would be "Wohoo!" sarcastic, but that might jinx things). Both of them phoned and wanted to see me asap, but there was a Robert Mitchum fillum on Four at lunchtime, so I put them both off until the afternoon. It's all about priorities.

Having said that I made a bit of an effort (putting on a shirt with a collar and checking names and addresses) to go and see them, which (I hope) has turned out to be worth it. The second agency had a woman called Orla, who made me do tests: data entry (apparently I like to look at data from the left hand side, which I didn't realise - I wonder if this is related to me secretly wanting to be a lefty?) (No laughing, Farmside boy!) I deal with my left hand) and spreadsheets. Now I admit that I can make spreadsheets look pretty, but this test had things about preludes, or prefaces or premsomethings, and it scared me (a lot). The test was half an hour, but it didn't tell you how many questions there were, so I skipped all the scary ones, and finished in fifteen minutes. Unfortunately you couldn't go back and redo the ones you'd since worked out. However Orla said that it was a quite difficult, so they'd set the benchmark at 50%, and I got 72% (!!, thank you LINZ); and my data entry test was also good (astonishing, considering I've been playing on a Swedish keyboard for a month or so, and it was full of words like Buckinghamshire, which I've now typed twice). She was so enthusiastic ("We'll definitely have you a job on Tuesday") that I bought some wine (read: three bottles for a tenner) on the way home, and am totally going out tonight. [God, I hope this doesn't go wrong or I'll be selling the Big Issue outside the Parador on Wednesday.]

Lara's off digging in Cavan on Monday for a month (minus weekends), which means no 'puter for me, and the way my finances look I can't afford a tenner an hour for the internet cafes round here, so there won't be any blog updates for a while anyway (unless I land a really cushy job) - doesn't necessarily mean I'm dead (just possibly (hehehe)).

On the upside, the BFG has volunteered at Action Cancer, and I spent all yesterday answering the door. He turned up not less than four times with (not in order):

  • a rug, which I imagine Shrek (the sheep) would look like dead

  • a peach table, with potential

  • a not-quite-working xbox (note: no caps - xboxes don't really deserve them)

  • random books (one of which has this on the back: "A feast of flesh and flagellation, a phantasmagoric vision of the past and future ... lays bare the scurrilous and titillating truth behind the romantic...", you have to read it for that)*

  • a strange thing called Scoobidoo (what it does I'm still unsure, and still don't care)

  • a Babyliss purple thing that does odd odd stuff to your hair with scary noises and flashing lights (batteries not included) (Lara and I both want the bag it came with)
  • crockery (including the coolest (for its extreme bad taste) plate with a cow chewing on a daisy)

  • and today a "radiogram" (don't ask me what it is, but it came with bad bad taste records (e.g. Crystal Gayle)).

The evening has degenerated into a who can do what to whose hair with the freaky purple Babyliss thing, and I need to go and drink more wine. Have a fab weekend!

*To win a night out with Mariella and her random friends: Be the first correct entry. Tell me who wrote this book, what its title is, and when it was first published. (Obviously getting to Belfast is not included, because I want to shout anyone who comes to visit me!)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

We got snow in Belfast too!

Snow on the daffodilsOn Mothering Sunday (which was the day after Paddy's Day over here) we had snow! I was very excited, and took pics; everyone else complained about the cold. I may have done some of that too, but having the fortune to be sleeping in a bed with a duvet this time (as opposed to Tipperary, where I was curled up in an ungainly fashion on a chair, without a blanket) I felt the thrill more than the cold. Regrettably most of the time it was wet, so the snow didn't lie, but I did manage to catch a car with some snow on its boot, and some snow in the garden. You can just make out the purple fence which Lara and I want to paint yellow in the second picture.

Actual snow caught on camera

Lara had some friends up for the weekend, and we all went to The Parador, which is just around the corner from us, to watch the Ireland vs Italy match (Ireland walked all over them 51-24). I decided to go to the bathroom before the match started, and was horrified to discover it literally swarming with small girls; all wearing pink, and all scarcely visible beneath six inches of foundation and blusher. It was a truly traumatic experience, especially when I realised that they were going to be dancing for us.

Irish dancingTo prove the it's not just New Zealand that does tacky on Paddy's Day, I took photos. Unfortunately none of the neonate came out (she was probably too small for the camera to pick up). The dancers were actually very good, but I had no idea they had to wear bouncy, curly wigs (heheh). The worst thing about the whole affair was I was out of beer (the route to the bar had become the dance floor), and they danced for, like, ages (at least fifteen minutes or so).

I just realised the other day that I completely forgot to have a pint of Guinness! How embarrassing. We arrived at the pub, having eschewed breakfast in favour of a beer, and started straight on to Smithwick's. I'm justifying it to myself along the lines of "It's Irish, and you can't get it in NZ"...

_More_ Irish dancingI've chanced upon a new source of hilarity for the weekends: BBC commentators. They're brilliant, I can't believe they haven't all been sacked. We were watching the England vs. France rugby match the other day, and a French player had been injured by an English lad. One of the announcers was talking about it, and ended his comment with "Oh well, I don't care, he's French"! Seriously; live, on air. Astonishing.

We've been making chilli vodka over the last couple of weeks which is a more complicated process than I had imagined. Apparently you have to add honey as well as chillies. At the beginning we threw a bunch of (small, in the hope they'd be strong) fresh chillies in, and shook the bottle periodically for two weeks. Last night we sieved the vodka, heated it quickly on the stove, then stirred in some honey; coughing all the while, because the heat of the chilli caught at the back of our throats - a good sign, I choose to think. Then, because I can't afford a funnel at the moment, we transferred it to the coffee plunger, and poured it back into the bottle. It looks a little like reisling or mead at the moment, apart from the fact it's in the freezer. We get to drink it on Saturday. Excellent...

I really really really need a job now; the Belfast Film Festival is on, and I can't afford to go! This is after I spent two days scientifically working out what I was going to see. Ah well, I'm sure applying for jobs will be just as culturally satisfying.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Not quite Paddy's Day

Keeping a blog is a lot more work than I anticipated... and I've done a bunch of stuff since I last posted anything. One of the most exciting (and I use the word advisedly) things has been attacking the "garden". I'm now slightly exasperated that I failed to take a picture before we attacked it with broken shears and enthusiasm. Well, the shears weren't broken to start with; rather like the neighbours' hoe...

The shears were discovered by accident in what the BFG informs me is an Ikea woodbox that we were using as a coffee table. It was how I imagine Lara would feel if she came across a skeleton (her current greatest wish), an oh-my-god-just-think-what-I-can-do-with-this... Well, as it turns out, take to the garden with it, and then sellotape the handle back on.

Large pile of unnecessary foliageThe pile of rubbish in the first picture doesn't actually look that big, but it's all been accomplished with the broken shears, and in the second one is the rose bush(!) that we didn't even know existed. Rose bush!A moment of extreme excitement, especially when I saw it has hips too (not to mention a waist). Oooh... distillery!

Having got thus far, the BFG and I were inspired to go and buy some more implements. Homebase is a great way to spend an afternoon, but rather expensive... I hate to say it, but a Warehouse wouldn't go amiss in Belfast. We bought a fork, trowel and cultivator (whatever that is) set and borrowed Lara's archaeologist trowel. Honestly, if you'd asked me to describe it, I would have said shovel for cleaning out a fire. (Ooops.) Anyway, not my first choice for digging out roots.

In fact so inappropriate the BFG went next door to see if the neighbours had a spade. They didn't, but she lent him their hoe. All good. For about five minutes... Then he broke it. (No comments please!) We took a quick trip back to Homebase to replace it, but they didn't have the same version, so we got a cheaper (but higher quality) one. I also texted Lara and got her to bring back a proper spade (I want to call it Sam) with her. Huge improvement, except that then the weather broke (most likely my fault this time), and we haven't got that much further.

After a little more clearing, the purple fence goes. It doesn't go with the red door (which you can almost see in the first pic). I want yellow, and Lara's on my side, so as long as it doesn't clash with the daffodils, we're on.

In other news today (and a bit of last week)
Went for two interviews at recruitment agencies, and applied for a National Insurance number (I expect this is a good thing, but I have no idea, in fact, what it is; more bureaucracy I expect. Actually it's not that great, I have to get up way too early for the interview on Tuesday.).

Tennant's is still on special at £11 for 20 cans (and we're talking proper 440ml cans here).

I bought a chest of drawers for my bedroom - wohoo: I have unpacked!

I bought a dracaena marginata plant for the chest of drawers.

She's still alive, and I have named her Nelly. (Not quite sure why.)

My bank card arrived in the mail, and I managed to get it activated. I'll have to upload a picture, because it really is pretty; almost worth its weight in platinum (or GBP).

I can't wait for Paddy's Day!