Friday, 29 June 2007

A Day at the Races

Bish's Precis

- The only thing swankier than a Morning Suit is the person you hire it from
- I won £40, but nothing on Beaver Patrol
- Beware of Old Ducks. They are shifty
- There's nothing quite like making a big entrance to a pub
- "One of each thanks"

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend Royal Ascot. In the Royal Enclosure no less.

Dress is Morning Suit for these affairs, and the sea of top hats in the enclosure made for a pretty awesome sight. Getting it was a bit of an ordeal in itself. I headed to an old school hire shop in the City, where I was greeted by a few old gentlemen that had clearly been doing this all their life, and not surprisingly were immaculately dressed - matching handkerchiefs and day cravats, and the like. They called every customer "sir" - and meant it - although I'm sure there was a bit of sarcasm in their tone when they heard my Australian accent. Their trading hours were very old school too - they closed at 5:30 on Friday, were closed all Sunday, and only opened at 9:00 on Monday. This meant I left work at 4pm on Friday and didn't get in until 10:30am on Monday, but I'm sure that serves me right for working out in the sticks. Anyway, all very posh and more than a little stuffy in that place, but they know what they're doing!

The new grandstand at Ascot was only opened a couple of years ago - this was the second Royal Ascot meet it had hosted. Its an immensely impressive building - about six storeys high with vast open areas inside the stand. It's pretty impressively decked out also with all the trimmings. I knew ahead of time that Dan Barnao and his lovely girlfriend Anna were in the Royal Enclosure, but I'd forgot that more mates from Perth, Cath and Jon, were going to be there too. But we ran in to them on the day nonetheless.

The meet itself is pretty short - only 6 races, starting at 2:30pm. This was preceded by the Queen being drawn down the home straight , right past us and up to the Royal Box.

Once underway, we were all about the punting. Not that I'm knowledgeable at all about these things. I just picked some horses with reasonably short prices, but not favourites, and laid out £20 on each race. After two races I was up £40. I backed the Aussie horses in the third and feature race, the Golden Jubilee Stakes (Miss Andretti and Takeover Target), and while the short priced favourite Miss Andretti did nothing, Takeover Target still did enough for me to come out OK.

At the end of the day I was still up £40 which was great (of course, that didn't include booze, suit hire, or the cost of entry). The only race on which I didn't collect was the one where I backed a horse called Beaver Patrol (so in a way, I guess I won there too). Unfortunately the winner was Dark Missile: I'd backed the wrong innuendo.

Aside from amusing horse names, another highlight was lining up for a punt, when an old duck (a posh generously proportioned older "blonde" woman with no chin) politely asked to squeeze past Dan and I. We let her in, only to find she wanted to push infront of us in line! Bloody rude! She and I got to the desk together and I was served first, then her, with Dan next in line. I stood to the side to wait for Dan, while this old duck went through her race card booklet and asked for £2 on this, £3 on that, £2 on this and so on. After some time the bemused bookie turned to me (in full earshot of the old duck) and said "I think she's got everything covered, don't you?" I smiled then, but more was to follow. Dan looked over her shoulder, saw her race card and said to her "You realise you're looking at the wrong race on your race card, don't you?" The entire line erupted in laughter. She said something about knowing what she was doing and shuffled off. Gags.

We got on the train fairly easily and headed back to town, heading to Angel. We walked in to the Angelic - three blokes in top hats and two well dressed ladies - and the place virtually stopped. I don't think there was a single person in the place that didn't look at us. We stayed there for a few drinks and dinner (we had tapas, there were ten choices available between five of us, so I got the pleasure of looking at a menu and saying "one of each thanks", a lifelong ambition of mine).

Soon after eating Dan and Anna headed home. Cath, Jon and I remembered the looks we got as we walked in to the place. We decided it was pretty funny and said "lets do it again" - so we went to a different pub. And another. And another. It ended up being a pub crawl, all so we could recapture that first impression made by our entrance in swanky garb. Which we did. Brilliant.

It was 2am when I finally got a cab home, after about 13 hours of boozing in my morning suit. And even then the novelty of making a big entrance into a pub hadn't worn off.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Why I'm Smarter than 220 UK University Graduates

I had a massive victory on Friday night. On the train home, I got a text from 82ASK, the text service where you can ask questions for £1 a pop and they'll answer it. Its excellent for settling pub arguments.

Anyways, the text I received said "You used to text 82ASK and now, nothing. As we don't hold grudges here's a free question for you to use tonight. Ask us about music, sport, anything."

My question was "why did you answer my last question incorrectly?"

They had records of my last question, which was "what is the only question which is its own answer?" Their answer was "What?" They said as much, and said "If you feel we have got it wrong, why not venture your solution? No charge."

My response was that "what is the only question which is its own answer?" is the answer to "what is the only question which is its own answer?"

No response from 82ASK for three hours (and six pints). So I texted again. "I assume from your silence that I am correct. What now? Do I win money or anything?"

Their response was "Your riddle is correct. The original answer was to a similar riddle. We have aded a free credit to your account. Thank you for the brainteaser."

So there you have it. An admission of error from 82ASK (which is staffed by 220 uni graduates from the UK, not some call centre in Inner Mongolia).

I basked in the glory of this relatively small victory (although its scale was amplified by alcohol) and will give careful consideration to my next free question. Any suggestions?

It's actually a really good idea for a business - they must make a bucketload.

Morgs and I Give Norge a Nudge

Before I start, let me remind everyone about by upcoming second-29th-birthday bash. It'll be on August 4 at a location yet to be disclosed (in London). Everyone's welcome - let me know if you're in town. It will be large!

So set August 4 aside - though we'll probably go all weekend.

I mention it up front because some people are still asking despite me having mentioned it since February - I think I've buried it in previous emails.

Okey dokey...

Bish's Precis:
- Don't visit Norway: your ugly kids will thank you
- The fjord tour was one of the best things I've done in Europe
- The Oslo-Bergen railway was utterly spectacular
- Avoid choirs in confined spaces
- Are you on Facebook?
- Photo links are now to Picasa rather than Bebo - they should be easier to get to

I can think of two very good reasons not to visit Norway.

The first is that, from looking at my photos, you might think that the weather here in summer is magnificent. It was above 25 for every day of our trip, and 28 on Sunday and Monday. And there was hardly a cloud in the sky the whole time. But this should not encourage you to go: in reality Bergen gets 275 days of rain a year and Oslo's average June max is about 14, so anyone going to Norway will be sorely disappointed after seeing these pics.

The second reason is one of aesthetic and genetic responsibility. The people there are utterly stunning: so much so that we have a moral responsibility as uggos (accept it) to ensure that this magnificent gene pool maintains its purity. Sure, we all want to get involved, but if we do it'll be ruined in a couple of generations, but we've got to think of the children. Best that we sit back and enjoy the view without interfering so that future generations can do likewise.

To put it in context, Morgs gave me his list of the most beautiful women in the world.
1. His girlfriend, Kim
2. His mum (awwwww!)
3 - 2500002. Norway
2500003. Col's sister

'Nuff said

Anyways, Morgs and I headed to Norway for a 4-day weekend. Luckily its light for about 22 hours of the day at this time of year, so we could pack plenty in to our trip. Here are some highlights:

Haunted by music in Bergen:
We headed up to Floyen for an amazing view of Bergen. In the confined spaces of the funicular, a choir decided to pipe up and sing a variety of awful songs when the rest of us couldn't escape. It was awful. They were awful. Awful! When we got to the top, they headed straight into the restaurant and kept going. I would've hated to have been eating there. We stayed outside and enjoyed the view, which was totally worth it. In the background, a ninja was standing guard.

On the fjord tour, some people started firing up in song also. Another place where there was no escape, and another frigging choir. These guys were a bit better, and thankfully only sang a song or two.

Either way, I got my own back. On the Sunday night we headed into a joint doing karaoke. I sang Kiss (the Tom Jones & Art of Noise version, not the Prince version). Cop that Norway!

Fjord tour:
Cruising the longest fjord in Europe, Sognefjord , and UNESCO listed Naerofjord in 28 degrees and bright sunshine: it was amazing. Morgs was captivated by the volume of water cascading down the waterfalls from melting snow. We cruised past a few places that could only be accessed by the boat . The fjord tour is pretty close to the best thing I've done while in Europe - the scenery was simply stunning. I took heaps of pics.

Oslo-Bergen railway:
Consistently rated one of the best rail journeys in the world, this journey goes across a high plateau and then down to sea level. Its a 7 hour journey that took us about 1300m above sea level, above the snow line. There is plenty of spectacular scenery on the way. I think it lived up to the hype.

Drunk on Bergen harbour:
On the evening we arrived in Bergen, we found a heap of boats in the harbour, many double- or triple-docked as there wasn't enough room for them. The boats were full of people that were absolutely smashed, and one in each had a skipper's hat on (but was definitely not the designated driver). Turns out its an annual event for locals, celebrating being granted a marketplace hundreds of years ago when you could only get there by boat. Brilliant. Quite funny to see the aftermath the next morning on the way to the fjord tour.

Other great stuff:
- Morgs and I ate two different types of deer (reindeer and elk) in Bergen. Consensus was that the elk tasted better than Rudolph, but both were good.
- Walking back to the hostel on Friday night in Oslo, deciding that I needed a second kebab halfway through the journey. Brilliant. (that could've been any city - and would've been a highlight in any city)
- Ladyboys in Oslo
- Polishing off half a bottle of gin (with fanta) in an hour's train ride from Voss to Bergen to get started on Sunday afternoon - we finished our night about 1.30am
- Morgs spending the last day with food poisoning. OK, that wasnt really a highlight, but asking for beef noodles at a noodle joint and finding heaps of white meat in the dish was amusing at the time
- the Fist of Oslo
- Me coming back from Norway with sunburn. If there was ever any doubt about me being a fair-skinned ginger...


- If youre a member of Facebook, send me an invite! I've just joined up at the insistence of some friends, and it's already overtaken Bebo for me. I'll try to keep Bebo up to date though.
- Don't forget my blog - it has more than just my travel emails
- And as mentioned, photos are on Picasa

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

One other thing

Sorry, I forgot to add one thing to tonight's post.

If you're on facebook, please have a look at this group, read the description, and join it.

The person who was beaten up was a good friend of mine, and, hand on heart, is the least violent bloke I know. Its pretty self-explanatory.

Lack of Poise Paying Off

For a couple of weeks now my shower has become increasingly clogged. One thing you notice when coming to the UK is the build-up of hard deposits in showers, kettles etc from the impurity of the water. That has happened on my shower head, and while usually providing good water pressure, it's been like being shot by a water pistol at the moment. And not a super soaker.

But this morning, still half asleep, I thoughtlessly picked at the nozzle and removed a bit of the calcium/lime/whatever from one of the little holes. More water came out. So I kept going until they were all open.

I think I picked up the idea from when I used to get pimples. Frustrated by their existence, I would always try to pop them too early, which of course meant they would stick around for longer. I know, I know... eeew. But I think it has always showed up a lack of patience and poise on my part. That's not the only situation where I've exhibited such deficiencies. Have a look at me when I play cricket - not much discipline there. And who can look past my mediocre history with women in that respect: I can't hold my nerve there either!

The more I thought about it this morning (while still in semi-slumber: the increased shower pressure did little to actually wake me up), the more I thought lack of poise was a defining characteristic not only of me but of redheads everywhere. Sure, that's a gross generalisation, but think about it: a lack of patience combined with anger means a hideous temper. We bloodnuts can't really argue the toss there I'm afraid.

So I guess its in my genes - or complexion - there's no escape from my lack of poise. When it comes to affairs of the heart, maybe its nature's way of minimising the survival rate of the bloodnut gene. And I'm sure you'll all agree, that's probably for the best.

Still, its good to see my lack of poise paying off for once. But I guess any redhead with a blocked shower can't call themselves a true redhead.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Last week saw the last of our recent visitors leave town. Danica had been in town for a week, following her tour de force of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula. A week earlier Aidan and Janelle had been in town. It was great to see them. We headed to a Rollerdisco on the Friday that Danica was here, which was fantastic. It was my 5th Rollerdisco, and the first time I'd ever put on rollerskates (the other four were all Solid Gold ones at Uni). On the Sunday we headed to the Gipsy Moth in Greenwich for a roast and a few drinks in the beer garden, followed by some drinks on a river cruise up to Westminster, followed by a few drinks on the Tattershall, a boat permanently moored on the Thames as a pub. Lovely!

On the left is a pic of Aido, Janelle, Danica, myself and a couple of others on Dan's first night here. Check out Noodles' dad on the left - he's "32."
Anyway all this selfless entertaining got me wondering how much we tend to do over here when we have friends in town, and how little we do the rest of the time.

Chastened by my lack of touristy activity when visitors are not about, I headed to Battle last Monday. Battle is the actual site of the Battle of Hastings, at which the Normans conquered Anglo Saxon England in 1066. Some of you will know that I have visited Normandy in France before mostly for the same reason - I saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry there (see the Fantasmagorical Trip blog entry for details).

Battle was bliss for a nerd like me - I look back on my photos and its just a series of pictures of a hillside. No people. No fun being had (it was miserable and about 9 degrees that day). Just the same hill from different angles. And a few of the abbey constructed after the battle.

I guess after a few months not doing much touristy stuff in the UK I need to get back on the horse again. I've done quite a bit, but some of the omissions (Imperial War Museum, Tower Bridge Tour, Tate Modern, V&A, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Jack the Ripper Walking Tour) are pretty embarrassing.

Worse still, I haven't been to a West End show yet. Shame!