Crawling through technology, life and love
Pool Paradise - GC on Wii
Podcasts - Chris Moyles, Mark Kermode and Stephen Fry
Bits and Bobs:
Gerry's Lyrics Pop Quiz
Sites I like:
Top 40 Singles
Some blogs I enjoy:
Books recently read:
Time Out Guide to Havana (and Cuba)
And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks - William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac
At My Mother's Knee ... and Other Low Joints: The Autobiography - Paul O'Grady
Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
My Booky Wook - Russell Brand
When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Then We Come To The End - Joshua Ferris
A Spot of Bother - Mark Haddon
The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas
I Never Knew That About London - Christopher Winn
The Arsenal Miscellany - Adam Gold
Young Hearts Run Free: The Real Story of the 1970s - Dave Haslam
Magical Thinking - Augusten Burroughs
Veronika Decides To Die - Paulo Coelho
Time Out Guide - Amsterdam
Lillian's Story - Kate Grenville
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
Schott's Original Miscellany - Ben Schott
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J K Rowling
A Gay History Of Britain - Matt Cook
Time Out Guide to Madrid
Time Out Guide to New York
Kingdom Come - J. G. Ballard
The Hours - Michael Cunningham
Mutants - Aramand Marie Leroi
A Young Man's Passage - Julian Clary
Growing Pains - Billie Piper
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Wild Swans - Jung Chang
Highbury: The Story of Arsenal N.5 - Jon Spurling
Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins - Rupert Everett
Affinity - Sarah Waters
Lighthousekeeping - Jeanette Winterson
Tipping The Velvet - Sarah Waters
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Of Human Bondage - W Somerset Maugham
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
Lucky Man - Michael J Fox
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
The Pedant's Revolt - Andrea Barham
The Republic Of Trees - Sam Taylor
Written On tbe Body - Jeanette Winterson
Untold Stories - Alan Bennett
The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
Read All About It - Max Clifford
The Folding Star - Alan Hollinghurst
Thursbitch - Alan Garner
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
Staying Alive - Matt Beaumont
The Bookseller Of Kabul - Asne Seierstad
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince - J K Rowling
A Short History Of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
Count Karlstein - Philip Pullman
The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Spell - Alan Hollinghurst
The Double Life Of Daniel Glick - Maurice Caldera
The Smoking Diaries - Simon Gray
Straight- Boy George
Digital Fortress - Dan Brown
Deception Point - Dan Brown
The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
Sydney - Time Out Guide
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
Eleanor Rigby - Douglas Coupland
The Scarecrow and His Servant - Philip Pullman
Tha Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Planet Simpson - Chris Turner
The Line Of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
Barcelona - Time Out Guide
The Closed Circle - Jonathan Coe
The Clerkenwell Tales - Peter Ackroyd
Copenhagen - TimeOut Guide
The Butterfly Tattoo - Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge - Philip Pullman
In Search of the Pleasure Palace - Marc Almond
Brick Lane - Monica Ali
Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
Last Exit To Brooklyn - Hubert Selby Jr
You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers
Touching The Void - Joe Simpson
Life Of Pi - Yann Martel
Istanbul - Time Out Guide
Millennium People - J G Ballard
The Duchess Who Wouldn't Sit Down - Jesse Browner
Hey Nostradamus! - Douglas Coupland
Eats, Shoots and Leaves - Lynne Truss
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
Our Man In Havana - Graham Greene
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman
Doran - Will Self
Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
the book, the film, the t-shirt - matt beaumont
High Society - Ben Elton
Man And Wife - Tony Parsons
I Was A Rat - Philip Pullman
Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix - J R Rowling
Great Apes - Will Self
Barrel Fever - David Sedaris
Round Ireland With A Fridge - Tony Hawkes
Close Range - Annie Proux
The Third Way - Anthony Giddens
dot.con - John Cassidy
The Salmon of Doubt - Douglas Adams
One Hit Wonderland - Tony Hawkes
The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
The Cloud Sketcher - Richard Rayner
Keane: the Autobiography - Roy Keane
A Wasteland of Strangers - Bill Pronzini
The English - Jeremy Paxman
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Toby Young
Dead Famous - Ben Elton
The Amber Spyglass - Phillip Pullman (again)
The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman (again)
Northern Lights - Phillip Pullman (again)
The Bear and The Dragon - Tom Clancy
101 Reykjavik - Hallgrimur Helgason
Forward The Foundation - Isaac Asimov
Carter Beats The Devil - Glen David Gold
The Tin Princess - Philip Pullman
Atonement - Ian McEwan
The Tiger In The Well - Philip Pullman
The Rotters Club - Jonathan Coe
Generation X - Douglas Copeland
Perfume - Patrick Suskind
All Families Are Psychotic - Douglas Coupland
The Shadow In The North - Phillip Pullman
No Logon - Naomi Klein
The Dirt - Motley Crue
Miss Wyoming - Douglas Coupland
The Amber Spyglass - Phillip Pullman
The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman
Northern Lights - Phillip Pullman
The Ruby in the Smoke - Phillip Pullman
The Sandman - Miles Gibson
Blood and Gold: The Vampire Marius - Anne Rice
The Actrocity Exhibition - J G Ballard
Shameless - Paul Burston
Sing Out! - Boze Hadleigh
Brilliant Orange - David Winner
New Boy - William Sutcliffe
London - Peter Ackroyd
Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon
One For My Baby - Tony Parsons
How To Be Good - Nick Hornby
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
Lust - Geoff Ryman
Tulip Fever - Deborah Moggach
Dead Souls - Ian Rankin
The House Of Sleep - Jonathan Coe
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers
What a carve up! - Jonathan Coe
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Heartwood - James Lee Burke
Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
Man and Boy - Tony Parsons
The Map Of Love - Ahdaf Soueif
e - Matt Beaumont
The e Before Christmas - Matt Beaumont
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
HD Soft Porn...
With recent revelations about the Home Secretary's husband's Virgin Media viewing habits in the press it will no doubt drive some punters to investigate Virgin Media's cable offering in the belief that it harbours oddles of on demand porn. Sadly they are likely to be a tad disappointed. There's not much. Although much that there is is largely available in high definition (so you can really see that sweat rolling down those backs). In fact, it's an area that seems to be growing whereas other on demand HD content is shrinking. So more proof (if 'twere needed) that sex sells.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Bacon Goes Well With Anthing...
This is mean and unecessary. But also a little bit funny. Bacon on any site you care to mention.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Depeche Mode - Wrong...
Friday, March 27, 2009
Flowchart Of Heavy Metal...
Check out this rather wonderful flowchart of heavy metal band names.
It almost turns naming a heavy metal band name into a science. Almost.
Click for larger image.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Food at Fifteen...
My office is holding a company-wide luncheon in my honour today. Fifteen years working for this particular part of the organisation. Bless 'em. Apparently there's to be a presentation too. Let's hope there are no speeches (cringe).
UPDATE: The luncheon was really nice. The whole office turned up, there was a lovely buffet, I got a very nice speech from my boss and the MD, a signed service certificate, a name etched glass award and £550 of John Lewis vouchers. Result!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Based on an in-depth, highly complex study, involving brain-aching statistical research here is a minute by minute scientific analysis.
Sample: Newcastle v Arsenal, 21st March 2009.
Minute 1 Sublime
Minute 2 Sublime
Minute 3 Ridiculous
Minute 4 Ridiculous
Minute 5 Sublime
Minute 6 Ridiculous
Minute 7 Sublime
Minute 8 Ridiculous
Minute 9 Ridiculous
Minute 10 Sublime
Minute 11 Ridiculous
Minute 12 Sublime
Minute 13 Ridiculous
Minute 14 Sublime
Minute 15 Ridiculous
Minute 16 Sublime
Minute 17 Ridiculous
Minute 18 Sublime
Minute 19 Sublime
Minute 20 Ridiculous
Minute 21 Ridiculous
Minute 22 Sublime
Minute 23 Ridiculous
Minute 24 Sublime
Minute 25 Ridiculous
Minute 26 Sublime
Minute 27 Ridiculous
Minute 28 Sublime
Minute 29 Ridiculous
Minute 30 Sublime
Minute 31 Ridiculous
Minute 32 Sublime
Minute 33 Ridiculous
Minute 34 Sublime
Minute 35 Ridiculous
Minute 36 Ridiculous
Minute 37 Sublime
Minute 38 Sublime
Minute 39 Sublime
Minute 40 Ridiculous
Minute 41 Ridiculous
Minute 42 Sublime
Minute 43 Ridiculous
Minute 44 Sublime
Minute 45 Ridiculous
Minute 46 Ridiculous
Minute 47 Sublime
Minute 48 Ridiculous
Minute 49 Sublime
Minute 50 Ridiculous
Minute 51 Sublime
Minute 52 Sublime
Minute 53 Ridiculous
Minute 54 Ridiculous
Minute 55 Sublime
Minute 56 Ridiculous
Minute 57 Sublime
Minute 58 Ridiculous
Minute 59 Sublime
Minute 60 Sublime
Minute 61 Ridiculous
Minute 62 Sublime
Minute 63 Sublime
Minute 64 Sublime
Minute 65 Sublime
Minute 66 Ridiculous
Minute 67 Ridiculous
Minute 68 Sublime
Minute 69 Ridiculous
Minute 70 Ridiculous
Minute 71 Sublime
Minute 72 Ridiculous
Minute 73 Ridiculous
Minute 74 Sublime
Minute 75 Ridiculous
Minute 76 Sublime
Minute 77 Ridiculous
Minute 78 Sublime
Minute 79 Ridiculous
Minute 80 Sublime
Minute 81 Ridiculous
Minute 82 Ridiculous
Minute 83 Sublime
Minute 84 Sublime
Minute 85 Sublime
Minute 86 Ridiculous
Minute 87 Sublime
Minute 88 Ridiculous
Minute 89 Ridiculous
Minute 90 Sublime
End of study.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert...
On Friday night the gang and I went to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Palace Theatre in London's glitzy West End.
The show is billed as an Australian 'musical' based on the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I'd stay that this is only partly true - it's probably more of a drag show than a musical. But don't let that put you off. It's probably the best drag show I've ever seen - and I've seen a few.
The show's story follows that of the film fairly closely - three drag queens hop aboard a battered old bus (named Priscilla) and take their show to the middle of the Australian outback travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs (changing from Sydney to Alice, geddit?) They even end up on Ayes Rock in drag - "a frock with a cock on the rock" as they put it.
The three leads (Tony Sheldon, Jason Donovan and Oliver Thornton) give excellent performances as does the £1m scene-stealing bus, the 500 outrageous costumes (from the film’s Oscar-winning designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner) and rest of the cast too.
The songs in the show are things like I Will Survive, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Shake Your Groove Thing, Don’t Leave Me This Way, Finally... you get the picture, hen night stuff. Although pretty much all of the songs are sung live, there is some lip-syncing (a la drag stylee). Thankfully this lip-syncing itself is done to someone else singing live though (if that makes sense).
The script is pretty spot on; witty, bitchy and at times heart-warming.
Best line: We two are off to have drinks, darling. So if you feel the urge to join us... fight it!
Friday, March 20, 2009
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 16 March 2009 13:05
Subject: BBC Complaints [T20090228010SS060]
Thank you for your e-mail call.
We're sorry if you feel the BBC has 'promoted' U2 unfairly recently. We take extreme care in making decisions about how we may feature popular artists in our output and in a manner that is editorially justifiable and also accessible to our audiences, especially when the timing coincides with the release of a new album, book or film.
In the case of our coverage of U2 we don't agree with the suggestion that the BBC allowed itself to be used as a commercial vehicle to promote their new album.
It's not uncommon for major artists to appear on different BBC shows and networks wherever it is editorially appropriate. Each appearance or feature on a programme will be judged on its own merits. U2 are one of the world's most popular bands who have a diverse fanbase and we reflected this in our content.
Whilst our audiences like to be kept informed about news in the arts and music world we are careful to ensure all appearances are editorially justified and do not give undue prominence to any product.
All the programmes featuring U2 had a clear editorial justification and had to adhere to the BBC editorial guidelines in relation to the need to avoid undue prominence.
Please be assured, however, that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Cuba: Day Nine, Ten and Eleven...
Neither Stu nor I had every been to an all-inclusive resort before. And I don't think we'll be going back to one either. Now, don't get me wrong, Cuba is a lovely place to go for a holiday and Varadero is an ideal spot (22km of white beaches, crystal blue water and azure skies) for the sun-seeker. It's just the implementation of the resort we stayed at was pretty horrible. A decent hotel (Blau Varadero Hotel), great service (even if the staff were a little more tip-hungry than even we had been lead to believe) and fantastic location were all undermined by blaring music piped to the pool area and even to the farthest reaches of the beach. We suffered endless activities organised by ever cheerful activity organisers who misguidedly felt the constant need to make sure we were all "having fun". Argh! Leave us alone! We came here to have a quiet, restful time after staying in Havana. We just wanted to have some food and drink when available and not feel like we're in a Butlins holiday camp. This was such a shame as the place had so much going for it without the lily being so constantly and thoroughly gilded. We couldn't even read our books in peace; not without R&B at levels high enough to shake the sand upon which we were sitting. And don't get me started on the evening entertainment; pool-side ballet, anyone? Oh yeah, and now I come to think about it the buffet food... the coffee... the wine... the bed... all pretty awful. But we could have put up with all these minor niggles if we'd just not been herded around so much and not been given time to relax. If this is what a typical all-inclusive resort is I guess we're now both older and wiser. For us anyway it was both the first and the last resort. Next time, we'll be avoiding the tourist traps we fell into this holiday; and as Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "l'enfer, c'est les autres" (hell is other people).
Having said all of that we did manage to find some quiet corners during the three days in Varadero and steal a bit of time to ourselves. And when we did it was lovely. Once those ruddy speakers had been packed away we were able to walk along the beach, the sand in between our toes and kick through the beautiful warm water. We'd then find a tree to sit under and laze in the late afternoon sun sipping a cocktail and dreaming of nothing in particular. It was times like those that more than made up for the holiday camp madness.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Cuba: Day Eight...
We've had our full week in Havana doing the tourist points as per the Time Out guide and some of the local Cuban hangouts. We're now waiting for our transfer to our resort. So here are some of my musings.
Some of the Cuban places and bars we've been to have been fun; lots of heat, sweat, music and dancing. Some have been deserted. When we have come across locals they have, without exception, been very welcoming. Those Cubans who we have chatted too have not only been friendly but surprisingly well informed about many things - considering the lack of free-press here. When we told a couple of men we were talking to that the press in the UK could freely criticise a politician or official if they believed that they were doing a bad job they were frankly stunned. "That would never happen in Cuba" they said. We weren't quite sure whether they meant that the criticism would never happen in Cuba or whether their officials would never do a bad job. I suspect the former.
These guys were certainly aware of the credit crunch - chiefly because the main income source for Cuba by far is tourism and bookings have been way down this year. We were asked again and again whether our mortgages have been fore-closed.
Another common question was whether we had free health care in the UK and did the state help those who needed help. Many seemed genuinely surprised that the NHS was free at the point of delivery and that we had a social security system. They had thought that this was a uniquely Cuban thing. Their dental and glasses are all completely free though rather than just subsidised as ours are.
If any Cubans do earn money - which they are allowed to do - they must pay tax every month and again at the end of the year. They were cagey about how much this tax rate actually is but when we said how much tax we paid they were very sympathetic.
The impression I get about what's really going on in Cuba is rife duplicity (they all use the black market for TVs, internet access, goods, food) and the feeling that the place is at a tipping point. Cubans are all too aware that the infrastructure in Cuba is poor and they need to look for investment to raise their standard of living.
Almost with one voice they are talking about the China economy as their post-Fidel model.
Chillingly there is an estimated three million tourists a year waiting to Cuba here should the ban on direct American flights be lifted. That will transform this country. Whether this transformation is for the better or the worse is a matter of opinion.
Must dash, our bus is here.
Cuba: Day Seven...
As it was our last full day in Havana we did the last “must see” thing that we just had to do; the rum factory. Well, you come all the way to Cuba – you have to see how the rum is made, right?
Actually we did do a few other things first with our day – take a look round Plaza de Armas, try out an ATM (it worked fine) and have lunch in a Cuban/Italian fusion restaurant – but it was the rum we were really after.
Once we got to the factory we opted to do the tour. Too save you the trouble (and the 7 CUC) here’s the recipe; first squash your sugar cane to get juice => boil off excess water => leave to crystallize => centrifuge off the molasses => add yeast => ferment => distil => filter three times => age three to fifteen in white oak barrel => blend => bottle => pour => drink. At the end of the tour we naturally had ample opportunity to sample the rum too (hic).
Today we’re heading along the coast for three days to stay in an all-in resort so Internet access will probably be non-existed. So I'll be back at the end of the week.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Cuba: Day Six...
We had a bit of lie in as we passed the halfway mark of our Cuban adventure. I guess we’re relaxing into the Caribbean way of life.
For lunch we headed across the Parque de la Fraternidad in front of our hotel making our way for Chinatown. En route we took in the old steam engine graveyard stuffed full of rusting locomotives dating back to the 1800s. Sad to see them decaying away but also somehow a fitting death considering much of their decaying environs.
The Chinese/Cuban fusion lunch we had in the restaurant we eventually settled upon was lovely. I’m not 100% sure I could tell you what was actually in it but it was probably the tastiest meal we’ve had here to date. It was certainly the one with the best flavours.
To say that regular Cuban food is bland would be an insult to bland things the world over. There seems to be no history of cooking here, no traditional cuisine as there is on most other Caribbean islands. The staple diet here seems to be plain old fried chicken or pork accompanied by rice, refried beans and fried vegetables. And that’s just about it. What with the abundance of fruits and vegetables grown here I’m surprised that there are no more interesting signature dishes – and we’ve tied a lot of restaurants and spoken to a lot of locals about this. Most Cubans seem to share our opinion – and I hate to say this - they are just not that good at cooking.
After a bit of lounging by the pool and a (not very well earned) siesta we had another quick bite before jumping in a taxi for what was a very long trip to go to see the ‘must see’ show in Havana – Tropicana. Or so we’d been told. What can I say about Tropicana? We were utterly underwhelmed. It claims to have been running for seventy years – and it shows. Think faded feathers. Think dozens of dancing girls (Fidel’s babes?) Think non-stop mid-tempo mambo / salsa / rumba / cha-cha-cha music. Think awful tourist trap. Ugh!
Still, we knocked back the half bottle of rum included in the price (oh yes, and that crappy glass of wine too) so ended up clapping along with the rest of the crowd by the end. I don’t think we’ll be rushing back there again - certainly not at 80 CUC (£64) a head plus 5 CUC (£4) to be allowed to take photos. Ouch!
Friday, March 13, 2009
Cuba: Day Five...
We made an early start of it yesterday. Our destination was the much talked about Pinar del Río Province, one of the most rural and fertile areas of Cuba, and which contains the showpiece Valle de Viñales.
It took us a couple of hours to get there so we stopped off at a tobacco factory to take a look around. To call it a factory is perhaps rather misleading. It’s basically a sweatshop of thirty or so people sitting at desks rolling four tobacco leaves into a cigar shape and then covering it with a fifth silky leaf. It then gets squashed for twenty minutes, topped and tailed to size and put in a box ready for sale. Rather sweetly someone reads to the workers from newspapers and occasionally from the classics. Hence two of the cigar brands are called Romeo y Juliet and Monte Cristo.
Continuing on we saw fields upon fields of the main crops they grow in the area; sugar cane, various citrus fruits, coffee and the omnipresent tobacco.
Eventually we reached the Cordillera de Guaniguanico mountain range and the breath-taking Valle de Viñales. Its well deserved UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site status comes from the mogotes (tree-covered limestone knolls) that have been left standing proud in a wide flat river basin. The valley is flanked by limestone bedrock mountains that have been eroded by underground rivers producing huge caverns.
The largest cave we went to was Cueva de los Indios which was really quite spectacular. We downed a guarapo or two (sugar cane juice with rum) walked into the cave for about ten minutes and then took a boat ride on the underground river. Lovely.
After lunch we drove over to the Mural de la Prehistoria – a massive primary coloured mural covering an entire cliff face. To be frank it was rather tacky but, hey, Che Guevara apparently commissioned it so we duly took a few snaps.
It took a couple of hours to make it back into town but upon our arrival I was accosted by a beggar. We’d not seen any in Havana up until that point so I was a bit taken aback. He was deaf and very drunk and thrust a piece of paper with some writing on it at me. As I was reading it he obviously decided that it was too risky being seen talking to me and sped off up the road to find someone else to ask for money. Apparently the tourist police could have turned up at any point to arrest him for ‘daring’ to hassle a tourist and if they don’t get money within a few seconds they move on. To be honest I was a bit shaken by the whole thing. It all happened so fast and I felt as if I’d be asked to stand up and be counted but had missed the opportunity.
Stu and I went out for a bite to eat in the Old Town and chatted over our day together.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Cuba: Day Four...
We had a day off yesterday. We slept really late and then hopped upstairs to lounge by the pool and sunbathe. In the evening we popped down the road to a gay-friendly bar Castropol for a cocktail and then for cheap eats at Los Nardos just down from our hotel.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Cuba: Day Three...
Gosh, what a day we had. We certainly packed in a lot. We had decided to take the plunge and arranged for a tour guide for the day. Bang on time Lionel plus the silent one (our taxi driver) scooped us up from our hotel lobby and we dived into the back of the rust bucket that was to be our (seat beltless) chariot for the day.
First off the boys took us to Vedado (trans. ‘forbidden’) – a sort of green belt way back when - which is now a posh area crammed full of embassies. Row upon row of colonial houses, some renovated and some not, stand proudly declaring the opulence of Cuba’s past riches. Sugar cane must have sure brought in the money in its day. That and the gold held in Havana as the shiny stepping stone between Aztec and Spanish coffers.
We then sped up to Plaza de la Revolución to see Che’s famous photographic representation, some of the ministry buildings and the impressive Memorial José Martí.
Whizzing back into town we stopped at the Capitolio (think mini White House) and then took a pony and trap ride to the old town passing by Chinatown and stopping at Plaza de San Francisco. We then set off on an architectural tour on foot taking in many of the famous bars, shops and converted restaurants (pick a style; Spanish, Arabian...). Particular places of note were Café del Oriente, La Bodeguita del Medio and Farmacia Taquechel. We ended up in Plaza de la Catedral before jumping back in our taxi and zooming off under Havana’s tunnel to the Eastern Bay. We then hugged the coast until we reached Ernest Hemmingway’s renovated farm house. It’s a rather marvellous set of buildings high up on a hill with a fabulous view back towards Havana 15 miles in the distance. We ‘did’ the tour which was actually rather charming before careering back to Havana. Stopping just this side of the tunnel we stopped for freshly crushed sugar cane juice (guess who turned the crusher wheel?). Naturally we added a bit of lemonade, a dash or three of rum and some fresh mint to make it look more like a mojito. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
Refreshed we then toured Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro and mounted the 1844 lighthouse which offer sublime views back across the bay.
The tour wasn’t over yet though. Next we were treated to a four course lunch (complete with daiquiri) at El Floridita.
Needless to say after all this running about and after thanking our guides we headed for our hotel for a siesta.
Showered and rested by 8pm we were up at Hotel Nacional de Cuba to see the Buena Vista Social Club perform at the Salón 1930. To say that we were disappointed would be putting it mildly. We had to sit through what felt like Cuba’s Got Talent before just a solitary member of BVSC pitched up to play a couple of numbers with the house band. What a swizz. So we just downed a few more Bucaneero beers (5.4% proof thank you very much) and ended up giggling at the under-rehearsed show-girls with their faded feathers. As we got our taxi back into town we couldn’t decide whether the show was ‘sexy’ or just ‘sexist’. Thinking about it now, it’s probably the latter.
So after a long lie in. I’m sitting by the infinity pool on the roof of our hotel, mojito in hand tapping away on my netbook. It's a tough life, eh? Hasta mañana.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Cuba: Day Two...
We pitched up at the Virgin rep's meeting first thing yesterday morning to see what she had to say and whether she had any interesting exclusions on her books that perhaps we couldn't do better (and cheaper) under our own steam. We ended up booking a few things (more of that later in the week) that seemed like good deals but resolved to do most of the exploring yourselves - on foot. This turned out to be a good idea in that we got to see some places that I suspect a guide would not have taken us. Not that I dislike tour guides per se as they generally know their stuff, it's just I like to get my bearings in the place first. As it turned out our meanderings around Havana old town took us to some tourist traps ("Have your picture taken with the lovely lady, mister", some nice museums (Fidal Castro can do no wrong, apparently) and some back streets where real Cubans live (these were real eye openers and depressingly squalid).
For lunch we found a nice restaurant down by the sea. We had a basic but perfectly decent meal and a couple of mojitos while a Cuban quartet played suitably lively mambo and salsa tunes for us. As I looked across the table at Stu I knew that at this point the holiday had really started for me.
On the way back to our hotel for a siesta we poked around a few more dusty squares, one or two of the shops selling the usual touristy tat and dropped by the chocolate museum to take a look around and sample their wares. My, the chocolate was delicious.
Our siesta turned into a full blown sleep and we ended up sleeping right through until the next morning. We must have needed the rest. And we'll need it as today we have a pretty full itinerary ahead of us so I'd better go jump in the shower.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Cuba: Day One...
So here we are in Havana. The sun is just rising and our room, whioh is on the seventh floor, overlooks most of the city. It's a beautiful way to wake up in our first day in Cuba.
We'd had a early start yesterday - our taxi collected us at 5:30am. "Ah, you're going to Cuba!" said our driver, once he'd established our destination. "Lot's of pretty girls!" "Actually we're going for the music, the sites... the heritage", I said. "Yes" he insisted, "but the GIRLS!" Hmmm.
Gatwick was pleasantly empty (tip: avoid half-term and school holidays for the less crowded, hassle-free airport experience). As we we'd booked through Virgin Holidays we had the honour of using the VROOM (their club lounge.) My, it was a different experience to the BA club lounge. It was clean, friendly, had hot and cold food, looked really cool and was a pleasure to be in. It certainly relaxed me before my flight.
The flight was to last a none too brief 9h 4 mins and turned out to be fully booked - mainly with retried couples and the odd youngster (like ourselves). Take-off was on time and the flight was actually quite smooth. This was perhaps in no small part to the two industrial strength sedatives I took shortly before started taxiing down the runway.
The in-flight entertainment system was as expected; Slumdog Millionaire, Quantum Of Solace, Little Britain USA... On the audio stream they were playing, amongst other things, Lily Allen's "It's Not Me, It's You". They edited out the track "The Fear" due to the swear words in it but strangely not the track "Fuck You". Ha!
Landing in Havana was a breeze too. The scare stories we'd heard about immigration and customs turned out to be untrue. We pretty much sailed through. The carriage carousel took some working out but then what do you expect when these guys work 20 hours a day and get the standard 30 CUCs (about 24 quid) - a month!
The transfer bus was waiting and we drove through the countryside towards Havana city passing horse-drawn carts, brightly coloured 1950s American cars and strangely brutal modern architecture. We passed a particularly run-down building in desperate need of a lick of paint. "That's our teacher training centre," said our guide. "We produce all our Cuban teachers there."
Approaching Havana old town, where our hotel is, we were struck by how run-down *everything* looked. The buildings all looked pretty grand but the plaster is falling off, the windows are dirty or broken and the frames rotten. The paint is peeling off the outside and things look neglected.
Our hotel however was magnificent. We have a lovely room (all mod-cons including Internet access, satellite TV, DVD player), a commanding view and room service.
After checking-in we headed for the terrace on the top of the hotel where the swimming pool is to have our first mojito and some supper. It was simply delightful.
We had a good night's sleep last night and are now preparing to face our first day exploring this wonderful city.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Stu and I are off to Cuba first thing tomorrow morning. We've got a suite booked at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana for a week and then we're moving along the coast to the Blau Varadero Hotel for a few days pampering.
We've starting packing already and on the advice of friends who have been before are taking quite a lot of extra stuff to give away; everything from clothes to shoes, toothpaste to aftershave. Everyone tells us it's the thing to do as apparently the locals just can't buy things out there. Perhaps more importantly though we're also taking extra cash. I'm a bit of a serial tipper anyway but I think if you get good service you should tip - especially in countries that have low wages.
Anyway, we're all set. And getting very excited. Not least because we'll have two weeks away from all the bad news back home! Just so we don't feel too much out of touch though next Friday we're planning our very own 'red nose' day - we'll be overdoing it in the sun and drinking way too many Mojitos! (fnah.)
We're told that the mobile phone and internet connections are way too expensive/hard to access in Cuba and so I'm probably going to have a ten days without phone calls, texts, emails, web, Facebook, Twitter or blogging. How will I cope?!
And below is a little something that has been spinning round in my head. Thanks to Darren for finding the link.
Friday, March 06, 2009
I bought myself a new toy a couple of weeks ago. It's a Samsung NC10 netbook. Sure, it's an inferior laptop compared to the larger cousins but it was fairly cheap, is quite quick and is pleasantly diddy. It also seems to be recommended as the best all rounder in it's class. Even this week's Time Out says it's the one to buy(!)
The battery life is excellent (more than 7 hours between charges) and it happily runs Windows 7 beta and sits on my knee while I'm watching TV just fine. I may yet put Ubuntu on it soon if I'm feeling adventurous.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Last night Paul treated me to a night out in Stevenage's glitzy Gordon Craig Theatre to see the rather wonderful Fascinating Aida in concert.
Paul and I have been fans of FA for over twenty years and the girls haven't lost any of their charm. It was a riotous evening from the queens of topical satire, cabaret and musicality mirth. Their songs are at times witty, coarse and thought provoking; B celebrities, the nanny state, political hypocrisy and sex are favourite topics. Long may their reign. Here are some more snaps I took that evening.
Best new song: The Markets (a Gilbert and Sullivanesque romp through derivatives, hedge funds and arbitrage.)
Here is one of their songs as performed at Edinburgh last year.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Grief's a funny old thing. My shoe was really hurting on the way home from work tonight and so I took it off and threw it across the street. I had to hobble home in a sock. The shoe-rage was I'm sure related to the news that my uncle died earlier today. When I heard the sad news about my uncle it didn't make me cry at first. But losing the shoe did. Transference I guess.
"Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school."
How mean. Although when you look near the signature at the bottom of the rejection letter from Walt Disney Productions 'mean' doesn't even begin to cover it! (Click on the letter or here for the larger version.)
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Your Starter For Ten...
The BBC has disqualified the winners of University Challenge for breaking the rules by using a contestant who was no longer a student. Tsk, tsk. I do love that programme though. Maybe this will increase the audience next time round and help secure it's commission for the future.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Fancy doing a bit of tilt-shifting? Tilt-shifting is a simple modification of a photo to make the person in it look like a 'model' with a bit of blurring and ramping up the saturation. The trick is to either use a special camera, some paid-for photo-editing software or (even more simply) this handy, miniature free online tool called tiltshiftmaker.
The effect is subtle but affective. The one of the left is the BEFORE. The one on the right is the AFTER.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Arsenal 0-0 Fulham...
Paul and I went to the Grove on Saturday. What a dire performance we put up against Fulham? Our hopes of qualifying for the Champions League were dealt another severe blow with our fifth successive league draw.
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