Thursday, 29 May 2008

Tales from the Road: the Guitarist

As stereotypes go, this is a pretty faithful and consistently-filled one. Has there ever been a guitarist that started playing his guitar at someone else's request? Let alone stopped for the same reason?

Infact has there ever been a backpacker carrying a guitar that wasn't a w@nker?

Not guitarists per se, but people who insist on bringing them on tour. They always ring alarm bells for me. A guitarist seems to play only ever for himself, and travels for exactly the same reason. In some ways this is fine, but when they're playing without regard for others or the context,or it gets in the way of the enjoyment of fellow travellers (or locals) then it's a problem.

Backpacker guitarists seem to play regqrdless of who is listening. Their desire to be the centre of attention is reflected in their choice to being a large instrument with them - it's a huge encumbrance, and probably about the size of a backpack, so it must be fanning a huge ego to be worth the hassle.

As I originally wrote this, I was sitting in my dorm fairly late at night, and someone outside in the courtyard below was murdering various songs fro, Nirvana's Unplugged album (there are people on this mailing list that would find that hard to believe, but trust me). And the choice of songs ... how very original.

I headed outside to visit the bathroom and found he was not outside in the courtyard, he was up on the balcony right next to us; strumming away. Its an area notionally set aside for quiet chats at best, and access to the average showers at worst. But this is bloody typical. He could be down in the courtyard where people an come and go, but he can't get by without a captive audience to smile politely and artificially ,assage his ego. So he come upstairs. Stuff the people who are already alseep. And he strums away.

Christ. Now he's playing Dylan. F*ck me this bloke is selfish. No doubt he's a self-centred traveller also. I wish I could give him his comeuppance.

(Have you noticed that they are always blokes? They figure it'll get them laid but don't realise that:
(i) its not 1968
(ii) they're no f*cking good at playing
(iii) neither they or their "listeners" are hippies and therefore on mind-altering substances
(iv) everyone knows they want to be centre of attention
(v) their poetry and lyrics are complete b0llocks)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The very last tango in Paris

Howdy all,

OK, so this week I've been continuing on my travels by not travelling at all. I've stayed in Paris for the week (I head to Bern tomorrow morning).

In the last week I've done the following:
- the Sewer tour, zhich I'd really been looking forward to as something a little off-beat, but was a little school-childrenish
- Eiffel Tower (of course). I had planned to find a girl to go up there with, and propose to her with a cheap/plastic ring, and then, while everyone goes "awwwww", let the ring fall out of my hand and off the side of the tower. Given the cheesiness and the crowd up the top, this would have been *perfect* but I couldn't organise it (I couldn't find a girl who'd accept a fake ring). Still, it's a great view.
- I should mention there's a bit of a story about how I ended up at the Eiffel Tower on that day, whiwh I'll share with you ahen I get a chance
- Les Invalides, the military history museum, which includes excellent sections on the Free French Army and Resisitance, Napoleon's Tomb, and a brand new exhibit on Charles de Gaulle (not unlike the Churchill Museum in London)
- Musee Rodin, where you can see the Thinker and the Gates of Hell
- Musee D'Orsay, which I was surprised to find only about 30 years old, but has some amazing art. I spent three and a half hours in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist sections alone
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf are buried, thank to Ines for that. The rest of the day we went to Place des Vosages, a lovely square, and the reto-futuristic Cite de Sciences at La Vilette which was great because it was so different.
- The Louvre, where I got a great pic of myself infront of the Mona Lisa on the first go. Other than the usual stuff there (eg Venus de Milo), my highlights were the Iranian and Babylonian collections
- Rue Battignolles for an "authentic working class French street" in the 14e Arrt. To be honest it didn't seem all that special!
- Sacre Coeur again, and some old, formerly-very-plush shopping arcades from the 1920s
- The Mitterand Bibliotheque, a massive national library on the Seine
- The Musee de Clichy which has some cool mediaeval artifacts, and a lady with a unicorn
- Montparnasse, for an unrivalled view of the city from 59 floors up (its unrivalled because you can't see Montparnasse from there)

Also, I lost my wallet. Just for long enough for me to completely stress out. A guy left our room early to get to the airport and when I woke up my wallet was gone, and I had an awful feeling. I was supposed to meet Ines that morning and it was lost for just long enough for it to dawn on me that I wouldn't be meeting Greg and Silvia in Bern, I wouldn't be seeing Alessandra in Rome, and I'd have to ask Ines for money to get back to London! Luckily it turned up.

The place I was staying then, Le Village, is one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at (up there with Gregory's in Varna). Check out my review of them:

So now I leave Paris. Thanks to all of you for tips etc for Paris, and keep them coming! My next stops are Bern, Bologna, Pisa, Venice, Florence and Rome. Any suggestions welcome.

And a huge thanks to Ines for being my tour guide here for a couple of days. See you in a few weeks babe!

I trust you're all well. Except you van Dieren.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

What's with the nickname?

If you're a friend of mine on facebook, you'd know that my profile picture is of a shoe. One of my beloved, personalised, NIKEiD shoes actually.

Recently a good friend asked me why the word "Pluge" was on the shoe.

It's a long story. To be fair, most of my stories are long.

My nickname, you porbably know, is Plugger. I have explained the origins of this before: I was kicking the footy with some mates in Year 11 or 12 (1993 or 1994, probably 1993), after school. I was diabolical. I knew this - I've never been good at footy, despite my passion for St Kila footy club - but had hidden it well until I kicked the footy. My friends were amused, and one of them (Toby Hambling I believe it was you) said sarcastically "You kick like Plugger."

For the uninitiated among you, Plugger is Tony Lockett, who played for St Kilda for a decade until 1994, kicking 898 goals there before breaking my heart, moving to Sydney and breaking the record for goals kicked (1357 I think). He was a great kick, so the moniker was dripping with irony. Added to that he was a bit beefy, so in that respect it suited me pretty well.

The reason it stuck was simply that I liked it.

So that explains Plugger, but what about Pluge?

The term Plugger had been well established by the time I left school, not least because I embraced it. I often introduced myself as Plugger (this also coincided with a dry period for me romantically; I can't imagine why). Not much shortening of the moniker took place, and being in an era before widespread emailing and text messaging (which, I'm sure you'll agree, has butchered the English language in the last decade or so) there was little incentive to do so.

This changed at the end of 1996; specifically at Club Capricorn post-exams. It was my first Tour of Duty up there, and like everyone else, I was drinking the beer du jour, Emu Bitter. Being students and therefore of limited budget and relatively inexperienced drinkers (and surrounded by the same), everyone was keen that our beers were not stolen.

It wouldn't be right now, but this lead to all of us to use permanent marker to write names on our beers. Three letters was about as much as could fit. Tarek's were marked Taz, Jo Bennett's were marked JoB (probably the origin of her nickname, Jobbies), Stevie K (who at that time insisted on being known not simply as a c*nt but with an emphasised definitive article "*the* c*nt", as he considered himself the very definition of one) was The, and mine Plu.

Inevitably, the name on our beers became our names for that time. Of course, with my abbreviated moniker a short U was impractical and trite, so the U was lengthened (i.e. "Ploo"). Stevie still calls me Plu actually.

Having been called Plu for a while when spending time with my mates 24-7 in Club Capricorn, when we returned to reality (or a loose approximation thereof, being uni students on summer holiday) the corrupted shortened version was again lengthened. This was rather awkward, as the double G lends itself to a preceding shortened vowel.

However, as spelling matters little in the spoken word, the G was softened and the second syllable emphasised, to make the moniker effectively "Ploo-ZHERE" (which, if I had to spell it, would be Plugere). Pioneering this variation was Jamie Osborne. Adoption of this pronunciation is not unrelated to it sounding French, and by extension, a little classy in comparison to its more vulgar Germanic-based alternative with a hard G. I had little to do with it but I assume it was an ironic association.

Of course, with a longer U in the first syllable, there was more incentive to shorten the nickname. It soon became the case that Plugere was the exception, used to add emphasis or otherwise draw attention or mock-formality. Not surprisingly the shortened version was simply Pluge.

Most pronounce this with once syllable, although some, use two syllables, as if there were an accent over the E (i.e. "Plu-ZHAY"), no doubt continuing the ironic classy implications of a Gallic pronunciation (with less formality than Plugere).

Other variations on the original Plugger are of course Pluggs, and Plucka (Peta K the main user). Some also extend Plugger or Plucka to Plugger- or Plucka-Duck, a clever but wholly unintentional extension that relates to both my surname and the hyperactive (if slightly unbalanced) anatine character who once graced our screens with Darryl and the Hey-Hey gang. Also the original is sometimes spelt Plugga, which was never my intention but I note that the pig that carried Tony Lockett's nickname at the SCG in 1994 (when he was a Saint playing the Swans) was named Plugga.

So that's the story!

Also I could only have a maximum of 6 characters on my customised shoes, so Plugger wasn't possible.

Props to Jim for raising this originally!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The second-last tango in Paris

Howdy all

Just a very quick update on my travels so far. No pics, no precis.

Be aware that I am writing this on an AZERTY keyboard that actually responds to QWERTY, so forgive me if these sentences are a even more garbled than usual.

Said goodbye to mates over the weekend and to the house on Monday night, before leaving London early on Tues morning. I had planned to get the 5.22 train to St Pancras for the Eurostar, but the London transport system had one more surprise for me - the train was cancelled at the last minute, leaving me out of bed half an hour earlier than I needed to be. I still made the Eurostar easily with the 5.52.

So since getting in to Paris I have knocked off a Fat Tyre Bike Tour (run by some sort of Texan Mafia - in a tourist outlet in Paris they had postcards and stickers proudly proclaiming Texas as larger than France - you get the idea). The tour itself was well worth it - a good introduction to the city and orientation, and for me a re-introduction to riding a bike. It had been about 12 years I think. But you know how it is, its like riding a bike. Sorry.

Also taken care of the Arc de Triomphe, which sits above the world's largest roundabout apparently. Either way its pretty chaotic. Walked the Champs Elysee through the Jardin de Tuileries to the Louvre (havent visited the Musee de Louvre itself yet though), toured the catacombes, following a loud female Aussie voice as I decended the stairs. She was being quite vulgar actually, but when I got to the bottom I found out why: I knew her! It was Lauren Brunovs, a total coincidence! Great to see her.

Then headed to the Jardin Du Luxemborg, which is a lovely old school master-planned garden, then to Notre Dame which to my surprise was free entry (and not being Catholic its not like they can condemn me for not donating to them).

On Saturday I walked to La Defence and back, with a few other detours, which totalled about 21km for the day (and 38km in two), This is the area where some of the more modern and decidedly un-Paris buildings can be found. But the Parisians even do this well! Their public art in general is really superb.

Sunday I headed to Versailles for the day after Sacre Coeur for dawn, thanks to the expert guidance and local knowledge (and somewhat sleepy driving) of Ines, who was over for the weekend. It was a real highlight. She'll be back on Sunday and having not driven I'll have to pull my weight this time. I won't drive, but I might give her a piggy-back or something.

Yesterday I went to the Pompidou which was another real highlight. Some incredible art, but what stood out was the huge number of school kids in there, all lead by expert guides. And today was the Sewer Tour, which I had been looking forward to maybe a bit too much, as it didint lead up to the hype really.

I moved today from the 3 Ducks hostel in the 15th Arrondissement to Friends Hostel near Monmartre. The former was in a brilliant location with a fantastic village atmosphere (near Rue Commerce if anyone knows the area, an easy walk to the Eiffel Tower), but was a RUBBISH hostel. Cheap but they treat you like absolute rubbish (unlike the vast majority of Parisians I've met). I'll save that rant for later.

So still to do in Paris is (at least) the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, Les Invalides, Musee Rodin, and whatever else I can fit in! Then it's off to Bern to catch up with Greg and Silvia before heading for Italy!

While here I've taken an opportunity to try to learn a bit of French. I bought books and stuff. I've always wanted to learn a new language and thought this would be a good opportunity. It's coming along, albeit slowly! I'll continue when back in Australia though.

For the last 18 months I've been telling anyone who'd listen, and plenty who wouldn't, that Berlin is my favourite city to visit in the world. But I gotta say that Paris has impressed me, I'm really loving it.

Heaps of pics already (about 350) and will be glad to share them with you soon.

Miss you all heaps, see you soon

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Perfect Storm of Frustration

This week has been totally mad already. Yes I'm getting ready to leave the UK but before that the long weekend for me was dominated by shopping, which left me totally exhausted.

I realise I bring a lot of this on myself - I am a very picky shopper, so it takes a long time to get what I want. Take Monday for example - I walked half the length of Kilburn High Road (i.e. from the Jubilee to Bakerloo line stations on that road) to get the right coloured pair of shoelaces for some shoes I'd bought the day before.

On the Saturday before that I was on Oxford Street. I've put a bit of thought into it and I can't think of a busier shopping street in the world. It was a long weekend so there were plenty of tourists in town, and it was fantastic weather, so they were all out and about enjoying the sunshine (or, as it's called in London, I Can't Believe It's Not Miserable).

Knowing I was picky, that I had dinner plans, and that I had a few different things to buy, I was in a hurry. The shopping list included: walking shoes that were dark brown adidas with light brown stripes and light brown shoelaces; a dark green hoodie - not khaki or bottle but a rich forest green, plain with no lettering or pattern; possibly a v-neck jumper that goes well with my jeans; new jeans, quite dark in colour and reasonably priced; a cotton shirt with natural colours and a repetitive pattern that had a high and firm collar [not quite 70's style], and that I could get away with wearing with either shorts or jeans; a book that had kakuro, sudoku and killer sudoku in it, just killer and kakuro might do at a pinch if they were hard enough; a good basic-to-intermediate French workbook that had a bit on sentence construction, not just pictures and nouns; sunglasses that were cheap but not cheap-looking, would be durable and suited my face; cricket whites from Lilywhites, not quite as cheap-and-nasty as last years', some toiletries and a few other bits and pieces.

Queer-eye, anyone?

Anyways, then add to that my intense dislike - OK, let's call it hatred - of people who are either slow, walk in groups six or seven across thereby blocking overtaking, don't know where they're going, don't care, don't walk in straight lines, stop bang in the middle of footpaths to read maps or try and pick up a dropped penny, or all of the above. Honestly if I was in a car it'd be road rage, but like all road rage, it'd be entirely justified. Violence and all.

Tourists (myself included) are the worst of these offenders. So it was obviously great to see them all out on Saturday.

So I was in a rush, had heaps to buy, I'm a picky shopper, and hate slow and inconsiderate pedestrians, and was on the busiest shopping street in the world. Oh yeah, also it was a bit humid on Saturday arvo - definitely enough to be uncomfortable.

Now add to that the fact that I'm a ranga. Nuff said?

No, as it turns out.

I went from shop to shop looking for things, rarely satisfied. For example I started at the Adidas store near Bond St. They had a few styles I liked but nothing in my colour. They had another store near Covent Garden (nearer to Cambridge Circus it turns out, but whatever). So I tubed it there, but decided to walk back to Tottenham Court Road to see if there was anything along there. No there wasn't. I walked the length of Oxford Street to Bond Street, checking out most stores on the way. By then I'd forgot some of the earlier stores so I went back there to be reminded that they didn't have anything that met my fairly specific tastes.

There was one thing I liked in this trip - a shirt I got in Debenham's. I went to purchase the shirt and found my card declined. Tried it again. Declined. I paid in cash in the end, but that sorta ruined my budgeting system which relies on me taking out a week's expenditure at once and touching my bank account as little as possible. This was all to come out of my bank account though.

By now furious, I called the bank. Seems they've noticed I use internet banking and have sent me a new card, immediately cancelling this one. Thing is, they didn't f*cking well tell me. So I was stuck without access to my main account for the entire bank holiday weekend (anyone spot the irony there?). I sorted this out eventually, on the phone, but I'm still awaiting my promised apology. To be fair the bloke who spoke with me was very nice. But at the time it did very little to quell my rage.

So, having walked the route twice, for good measure I did it again. Three times along Oxford Street.

I found some jeans. Big whoop. By then I was running late for dinner with a mate and pretty stressed out. Infact with all the stress over bank accounts, high-but-not-70's-high collars, kakuro, irresponsible pedestrians and adidas, it won't surprise you to hear that I was totally exhausted by the end of the day - mentally and physically.

I think you'll agree that we're all lucky there was no mass killing spree on Oxford Street last weekend.

I got to dinner eventually (luckily we had a few drinks first to loosen me up a bit - they always seem to help).

Of course, being a glutton for punishment I did it all again on Sunday, only adding Lilywhites into the deal (where I got shoes - Nike not Adidas, which are too narrow for my feet; and the shoelaces were the wrong colour). For the uninitiated, Lilywhites is rivalled only by Macao in population density, except the vast majority of customers are Chavs.

Even then, I wasn't done though. I ended up walking a fair way to get the right pair of laces, as mentioned above. Even then I'm not totally happy with the laces. They're a bit too long. That's actually been niggling me a bit since I got them.

Ah well. You can't win 'em all I guess. What was it Tyler Durden said in Fight Club? "I say: 'Let me never be complete'"

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The pair I need to pay thanks to - eulogise if you will - are my wonderful Asics shoes.

I brought them over to the UK with me, and had them for a couple of years in Australia before then.

A simple design, mainly white with modest navy blue and grey trim and logos, and for some reason the word AHAR is on their sole. I guess the shoes, like me, are fans of Alan Partridge. No wonder we're such a good match.
To say they've served me well is to do them a gross injustice. They've put up with my abortive attempts to convince many cricket captains I'm a viable bowler. They've stuck with me through thick and thin. Literally. I wore them every time I went to the gym, and lost a bit of weight in them through 2006 and 2007.

They hold especially fond memories as I wore them when I scored my first, and so far only, century in December.
If that's not enough, they have not uttered a word of disappointment about me putting on eight kilos when back in Oz, and has helped me lose six kilos (again) on my return to Blighty.
But now their magnificent service has come to an end. Falling apart, they've had to go. I'd like to give them a Viking funeral if I can manage it.

But, as the cliché goes, one door closes and another one opens. A new beginning with a new pair of shoes: my very trendy personalised Nike shoes, ordered four weeks ago and picked up from Nike Town last weekend. They're in my cricket club colours (light blue, dark blue and maroon), and have my nickname on the tongue of the shoes. All at no extra cost.

This week I wore them to the gym for the first time, and ran home, as usual. I'll be surprised if they wear out before me.

But every time I wear them, or watch Alan Partridge, I'll think of my Asics. 2004-2008. May they Rest in Peace (once I've torched them).

But change is inevitable, and all good things must come to an end. As they say, out with the old and in with the shoe.


The Blog is back!

I've been meaning to do something on this blog for some time. It's been dormant for a while. I've still got heaps of stories from India I could share with you, and I haven't even talked about my wonderful time back in Australia. I also planned to keep you updated on my attempt to shed some kilos again (I gained eight kilos while at home thanks to an overly festive season, I've lost six of them now). And I've got plenty to rant about over here in the UK (and I don't rule out doing so in the future - let's face it, I love a good rant).

I'm also gonna focus on making the entries a bit shorter.But to start with, I have a little ode to dedicate to a pair that have given me so much support over the years, and have now departed.