Fool Britannia

Riddle me this:
The Husband’s shaving brush holds a Royal Warrant. ‘By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen’ it says.

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What’s she shaving?

Posted in Fool Britannia, random shit, UK Life | 2 Comments

The One When Worlds Collide

If you’ve moved around a little bit or have different and separate social circles like me, you might occasionally have weird dreams in which the people in the far corners of your life seemingly know each other yet haven’t met in your waking life. I regularly open my eyes in the morning having dreamed that a high school friend in Australia is a close friend of a work colleague in the UK. It can be disturbing.

So I don’t make matters any better when I get a visitor from back home and introduce them for real.
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L-R: Lady Red von Tutu, The Nutbag, me, Skippy.
I better lay off the cheese for a bit.

Posted in Friends, Those Antipodeans, UK Life | Leave a comment

Girls Gone Mild: New York Edition

So I popped over to New York again. I do that very occasionally. I like to remind myself what good customer service and free refills feel like. And unremarkably, Melba is up for it – that girl sure is insatiable for a holiday. I felt bad that she slogged it halfway across the earth to meet up, but she didn’t seem to mind. Besides, she brought company in the form of her south-of-the-border friend, Vicky (not her real name, obviously).

As usual, and I say ‘usual’ but we’ve only met up in NYC once before, Melba made all the restaurant bookings, leaving me to suggest a few things about town to amuse ourselves. I mostly failed even at that, but here’s a few highlights of what we got up to..

New York is one of those places you can just wander. So we did a fair bit of that. Along the High Line (an old railway line above street level converted into a park) we strolled, chatting and snapping pictures of whatever we thought was vaguely interesting.

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Like this. It might be graffiti or an ad campaign, but who knows or cares.

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We ate lots. And not all haute cuisine, either. Sometimes you just need the burgery carb and sugar goodness of a Shake Shack burger. Good news is they have opened in London so Nutbag, if you are reading, we are going here when you arrive.

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This being end of November, the festive spirit was underway and the Salvation Army (Salvos) were out in bell ringing force. This pair danced their socks off and earned every dollar.

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Rockefeller of course was proper festive too, and I wouldn’t be a tourist without a quick peek.

It was pretty cold during our visit and I wondered how my little wallaby friends would cope. I heard only the occasional whimper about it being a ‘bit fresh’, probably because their mouths were frozen shut. Both of them had the opportunity to see snow falling for the very first time. (Not joking, they’d never seen it.)

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Melba decided that to combat the arctic conditions, she needed a hat. And selected this fine beauty of a cranium hugging woolly number. For hours we heard about how this hat was the envy of the city. And how awesome it therefore made her. More on that later.

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Like I said, things got festive. We walked everywhere. The hat came with us. It paraded down fifth avenue.

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It posed in front of Radio City Music Hall. But then… disaster at The Plaza!

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It would seem that Melba’s ginormous woolly hat trend caught on a little too fast for her liking…

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But I knew just where to take her to lift her spirits.

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Birthday and Christmas gift sorted for Melba.

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A holiday wouldn’t be a holiday without a little jog about town, now would it? So I got up early on Sunday morning, intending on getting a subway to Central Park and re-enact half the New York jogging scenes I’ve ever watched. But alas, I was thwarted by a lack of both trains and patience. So I ran from Canal Street to Central Park. Through Times Square, past the Empire State Building and a lot of other famous shit. And when I got to Central Park, I felt pretty good. So I ran around it. And when I did that, I intended on getting a train back downtown. But I still felt really good. So I ran back downtown. 13.5 miles all up, which is actually about the entire length of Manhattan.

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What else did we see? Stuff like this. Which of course had a busker doing John Lennon songs on continual loop.

And that’s what happens when you have no other plans in life and access to credit: awesome shit.

Thanks as always Melba (and Vicky). See you in the Southern Hemisphere soon.

Posted in Christmas, Friends, Those Antipodeans, Travel | 2 Comments

Where’s Vegemite?

Spent the afternoon walking up a hill to this Cheshire point of interest. Anyone want to have a stab where it is?
TNA: I hope this is suitably challenging for you. Remember, no Google help!
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Posted in Cheshire Life, UK Life, Where's Vegemite | 9 Comments

Pavlov? It Rings a Bell.

After years of wondering where The Dog came from, I think I finally found The Dog’s real family. Or at least one of them.

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Just me or is that a pretty good match for a possible relative?

Aussies and Kiwis alike will of course recognise this from the popular Toyota ad of the 90’s and given that it was filmed in New Zealand, it’s unlikely The Dog shares any actual genes, but still.

For the rest of you, here’s the ad in full for your enjoyment.

Posted in Cheshire Dogs Home, The Dog | Leave a comment

Compulsory Christmas Fun

For the first time in MANY years, I find myself in an office-based role around the festive season. Which is nice in some ways – particularly for someone who’s sceptical about celebrating the birth of a baby whose parents weren’t even trying to get knocked up. But whatever.

Here in the UK there are a hundred and one office traditions surrounding the holiday season. In my place of employment, a competition to see who can jam the most Christmas tat in their ‘pod’ has been tense. Every day more and more tinsel has been draped over photocopiers and strung from meeting room lights. An admin team upped the ante with a full on flashing-light fire-exit-blocking nativity scene but in the end a selection of life size inflatable Santas stuck in chimneys nailed a win for the HR team. And it doesn’t stop there; the constant yo-sushi-like stream of fruit cake in the kitchen has made me feel ill for weeks. Then of course there is ‘gift hidden in the office each day and a not very cryptic clue that gets sent out’ so people can waste time hunting for what is unsurprisingly a pound-shop box of chocolates. And how could I forget the ‘bring your kids in for Santas Grotto’ event that means if you haven’t spawned you get to work the afternoon like a mug while your breeding colleagues swap vomit-and-poo stories for a few hours and coo over their offspring.

Luckily I managed to avoid most of this, even the secret santa tradition of buying someone you don’t know something they don’t want. I also dodged the mince pies (zero consumed, thank you) but as a line manager, I have a certain responsibility to ‘get in on the fun’ so as not to appear a total grinch. Morale, innit?

So when a subordinate decides that they are going to be an even bigger bah-humbug than me, well, that just won’t do.
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So, I wrapped his fucking desk. Including the bunch of bananas on it.

Posted in Christmas, UK Life, Work | 6 Comments

Lessons in Loving a Dog #453

Take your Dog On Holiday.

Before you say it. I do love The Dog too much. But, given I’m watching a trashy show about Obsessive Christmas People (this woman loves gingerbread so much she actually lives in a gingerbread house and smokes – amongst other things presumably – ginger from her 70-odd kilogram stash of it) then relatively speaking, booking a holiday purely for The Dog’s enjoyment doesn’t seem too extreme.
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But point taken, we do love The Dog an unnatural or perhaps underserved amount. So, this year we packed the car and headed for Wales.
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Last year our Welsh holiday ended abruptly after finding mice running rife, so it was with a slight trepidation that I entered this year’s abode.

Eagle-eyed and ready to get the hell out of Dodge I sent the The Husband up to inspect kitchen (Key Mouse Zone) while I explored the rest of our 18th century Swedish-decorated longhouse.
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I needn’t have worried, it was indeed rodent-free. Thank fuck.

So what is there to do in a remote and distinctly wifi-less part of Wales? Not much. And that’s what made it pretty awesome. I know I’ve not blogged for a while, but trust me, I’ve been online. A lot. Mostly for work. Sometimes also on Twitter and usually on Facebook. I feel over-connected sometimes. My greatest stress in life is keeping all my devices charged and responding to the one that is beeping the loudest. It’s exhausting.

So I like to switch off and get out in the outdoors, despite the typical Welsh November weather (i.e. monsoonal rain, hail and sleet) and test out whatever I have bought from Rapha lately.

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I can highly recommend this waterproof jacket, by the way. It triumphed in whatever Wales had to offer in the cycle from Bryncir and Caenarfon and back.

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On nicer days we took The Dog to the beach, because that’s his Most Favourite Thing. I’d heard about a place called Abersoch. It seems that most of Cheshire take their sprogs to this place (unfortunately, even in November) and these gorgeous little beach huts were rammed with whatever crap doesn’t fit in the shed back in Wilmslow.

I’m not a beach snob, but having grown up in Australia, I’m accustomed to a decent quality of beach, even if in reality I hate salt water and rarely sunbathe. So, Abersoch left me wanting.

Fortunately Wales does have some nice beaches, not overrun with the Barbour and Hunter boot crowd.

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Here’s my tip: if you ever find yourself in North Wales, grab some Welsh cakes, head to Harlech Beach and wander the open sands.
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Just don’t tell anyone from Wilmslow…

Posted in The Dog, Travel, Wales | 1 Comment

Happy Dog-mas

The Dog set a new personal record in destroying what we gave him this year.
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Sure, he looks grateful for the gift, right?

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But he’s more efficient than a WAG sniffing out a cashed-up footballer.

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The gingerbread chew toy lasted about 2 and a half minutes. Good boy.

Posted in Cheshire Dogs Home, Cheshire Life, Christmas, The Dog | Leave a comment

Ocadone For The Year

I don’t blame people for getting festive at this time of year. But I fear that the product labelling team at Ocado have knocked off a little early.
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Yes it is fruit, I know. But this is barely better than just putting a vague ‘food of some kind’ label on.

Lazy.

Posted in Food, random shit | 2 Comments

Conwy Half Marathon

Last official race of the year for me and it was back to Conwy where it all began. I really enjoyed this course the first time and looked forward to attempting the climb around the Great Orme a second time. I was mentally insane prepared, even if the previous 24 half marathons this year have knocked it out of my feet.

I loaded my running shit in the car, drove the hour and half over to north Wales and found that although I’d arrived in plenty of time, the car parks were full. It seems this race has gotten a lot more popular. I drove around the streets of Conwy swearing at myself and eventually found a park on a street half a mile from the start area. Up a giant hill. Never mind.
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I head to the start down by the castle.

Baggage Drop area was utter chaos. I was lucky enough to get towards the front and be handed a tag to attach to my bag and throw it on the growing heap of bags. Other racers just had to abandon their bags as the number of tags ran out and hope they’d get their stuff back afterwards.

If I thought the Bag Drop situation was insufficient, then the toilets were worse. Massive queues of nervous runners meant that I was hovering when the start gun went off. One girl (more competitive than I am) quit the queue a few minutes earlier and used the men’s urinals. I don’t even want to imagine it, given she didn’t have a she-wee. I wasn’t as bothered though, I only go off chip time anyway and besides, I’d driven 90 minutes, there was no chance I could hold it in for another 2 hours.

The course itself varied from last year’s. No longer did we have a flat beach section after the start, but an undulating street course before the climb. Shame. I liked the beach section. Perhaps they had to change it due to the larger field this year. Anyway, things were going okay. I felt fine. Nostalgic even that this was capping off a great year of running.

However, three miles in my right foot felt uncomfortable. With good reason. The familiar feeling of a blister coming on made me question how well I’d strapped my foot up.
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Not well, it turns out. Yes folks, this is the painful reality of frequent long distance running and shoes that don’t suit your running style perfectly.

And that’s when I decided to just finish, no matter what. I stopped at the top of the climb and took on water. I wasn’t going to beat last year’s time and it didn’t matter.

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By the time I got back to the finish area, plodding back over the bridge passing the 13 mile marker, I was done. Really done. Finishing time was 1:53:55 which is a couple of minutes slower than last year. But like I said, I was done for the year.

Or was I? Stay tuned.

Posted in Fitness, UK Life, Wales | 2 Comments

Why Britain Is Fat

I’m not going to lie, I get my groceries delivered from Ocado (Waitrose on wheels, effectively) so I rarely see the inside of a supermarket these days, but this weekend I was caught short had to venture in to Sainsbury’s to pick up some fruit and veg. Wading through a sea of carts and crying, sugared-up brats I found some peace and quiet in the fresh produce section where my heart sank a little.
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This, readers, is what the fruit section looks like in a regular-sized supermarket here in the UK. Yes, really. This pathetic, barren wasteland of a fruit and veg department. Maybe I’m reminiscing for the colourful and abundant displays of my homeland, a rainbow of natural treats jostling for prime position with colours brighter than an apre-ski bar in the 80s, but this left me sad and deeply concerned for the health of the British public. I don’t need my degree in marketing to tell you that people are attracted to bright colours or shiny, glossy wrappers. And I don’t need a second picture to show you how extensive the chocolate biscuit and confectionary selection was. No wonder 25% of Brits are obese. Not just overweight, obese.

So, after a dejected lap of the area, I scavenged some aging fair-trade bananas, a bag of questionable satsumas and vowed to log on to Ocado when I got home and book a delivery, pronto.

Posted in Food, Fool Britannia, UK Life | 16 Comments

Take The Weather With You

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Just remembered why I go abroad for vacations. This is the week I just had here in Britain on a ‘stay-cation’. Pictures up soon of the misadventure but feel free to guess where we went in the meanwhile.

Posted in Oh God Why?, Things That Shit Me, Travel, UK Life | 6 Comments

Gig Report: Nicole Atkins

Rainy miserable nights up north suck. No two ways about it. It gets dark up here by 4pm in winter and leaving the house seems like a major effort. There’s rarely much that entices you out during these months. Unless of course you’re in striking distance to Manchester which any half decent act will add to their tour schedule if they break the forcefield of the M25.

And so it was that on a gloomy wet Thursday evening with no inclination to get public transport that I found myself driving to the Northern Quarter. New Jersey songstress Nicole Atkins was playing a traditional type pub called Gullivers and I wasn’t going to miss it, despite The Husband being detained in London. Fortunately, (and this was unexpected) there is a decent and cheap car park directly opposite the pub. I feel like luck is on my side. I might even get a decent view of the gig (rare, given I’m fantastically average in height).

You may or may not remember, I wrote about her albums back in 2011, so trust me, I’ve been waiting a while.

Diet coke (I’m driving, remember) in hand and I climb some narrow stairs to the venue. It’s a smallish room and it’s not even close to being packed, though this is the break between the support and Nicole herself, people are clearly replenishing beverages. There’s even a spot up the front to the side unoccupied. This is like finding a spare seat on a packed tube that curiously nobody sees. Result!

Ms Atkins entered the room from behind us (there was no other actual way in) and begins her set standing in the middle of the crowd performing Neptune City. It feels intimate and unpretentious. She moves then to the stage and performs her set with gusto though it’s red hot on stage and she’s noticeably uncomfortable. Some creepy older guy at the front offers her a tissue. If there hadn’t been a hundred witnesses, I’d have wondered whether it was intended to be soaked with chloroform later. Nicole is terrifyingly great. Her back catalogue fairly represented; the songs reminding me of late nights and bad life choices I made in my earlier years with people I shouldn’t have slept with. It’s that kind of dark, sexy, blood and bruised heart feeling. The room gets hotter. She pushes through and delivers a perfect set that included Vultures, Maybe Tonight, a stunning rendition of The Tower and ends with her (as she started) in the middle of the room doing a version of The Big O’s ‘Crying‘.

Anyway, here’s the pictures from the gig to show the awesomeness of Nicole Atkins…
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See? I really did get a spot up the front!

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How she is not more famous I will never know. Far more artists have made it further with so much less talent. Secretly I’m pleased that it means I can still see her up close and personal. But still.

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Posted in Music, UK Life | 2 Comments

Wirral Half Marathon

Half Marathon number 8. To be fair, I didn’t intend on running this one. I was having anniversary drinks with The Husband and was three sheets to the wind when I got the email offering me a race bib for a half the following day. Which I then celebrated by downing three cocktails.

Time to sober up and carb load, which I did before falling asleep on the sofa, waking up a few hours later in a panic that I had missed the race. Thankfully it was still 10pm the night before and I had time. I had a fucking hangover, but I had time.

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Next morning, I got up to a crisp cold day (2-3 degrees, perfect) and perused the selection of running shoes. I’ve had issues lately with a pair of adidas giving me shocking blisters. Rather than binning them, they find their way deeper into the shoe-mountain in back room to be recalled for dog-walking duties.

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The race went surprisingly well. Like, personal best time of 1:47:20. And fifth in my category (out of 80).

Cheers to that.

Posted in Fitness | Leave a comment

Just Duathlon It

This fitness malarky continues. Why I signed up for a duathlon I still don’t know. I think I figured that I like both cycling and running and that combining the two would therefore be a good idea. I also like both anchovies and ice cream, so I should have known the theory wasn’t water-tight. Oh well.

Anyway, I had ambitions that The Husband would join me. Given he’s a bit faster on the bike but a tad slower on foot, it seemed like a fair fight. But alas, he didn’t sign up and I drove to Oulton Park Raceway on my own and parked up. It was then that I realised just how far I was out of my league. I collected my race bib amid whippet-shaped figures sporting triathlon club tops. I wheeled my bike into pit lane where the transition area was set up and hoped that I was not outing myself as a total rookie.
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Who am I kidding? I was surrounded by Planet-X, S-Works and other high end bikes that require mortgages and have those cool wheels that make an awesome whoosh noise when they fly past me. My Boardman roadie was like bringing a sandwich to a banquet. Fortunately there were one or two that mirrored my own pedestrian-grade status.
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Hey, at least I didn’t bring a hybrid bike. That’s one step from putting a basket on the front, right? (I’m laughing, but I’m pretty certain this guy lapped me.)

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So then I tried to look cool while the race briefing was given. We were advised that drafting was forbidden. I stifled a snort. Yeah, drafting? Me? I’ll be lucky to keep up with anyone on this, let alone draft. Look carefully, I’m in the shot. It’s here that I’ve just found out this is a British Championship qualifying event. *gulp*

We’re herded to the starting grid where faster runners are encouraged to move to the front. This is basically everyone except me and a couple of ladies twice my age. I stand at the back like a parent waiting to wave her kids off on a school trip. Except without the teary eyes. Okay, fine. With teary eyes. And then we started. Within a hundred metres the leaders were half a mile in front. But I didn’t let it deter me. I focused on the job at hand. Specifically ‘transition’. This is an element (the bit where you change from run to bike and back again) that people actually train for on its own. I’ve suddenly realised that not only have I never done a transition, I’ve never even seen one done. So I ran and made a list of things I needed to do. Helmet first. Change shoes. Swing my race number round to the back. Grab the bike. Don’t get on til the mounting area. Try not to giggle that it’s called a mounting area. Join the track and try not to get mown down by the champions already on their third lap.

I was focussing so hard on everything that I needed to do that I was back to the pit lane and on my bike before I realised. And magically I had everything on in the right order. Result! Cycling felt dramatically easier than running. So that’s nice. 5 laps later (and presumably while the prize-giving ceremony was taking place) I roll into pit lane for the second transition. Now, while going from running to cycling felt fine, it most certainly does not feel so ace going the other way. Sweet merlin’s beard! I was going to struggle. Who the fuck put lead in my legs? And then something happened. I imagined myself crossing the line in last place. And as much as I tried to pretend that ‘it’s okay, someone has to’, I suddenly realised that I didn’t want it to be me. Desperately didn’t want it to be me. So I fucking legged it.

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And because I knew that I wasn’t last and because I wasn’t fooling anyone that I was a contender, I did what I always do when crossing the finishing line. I leaped in the most ridiculous ‘give me some frigging chips now’ way. I could hear people laughing, and I didn’t give a shit.

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And the most surprising thing (aside from not coming last) is that actually, I did rather well. For me, anyway. Sure, I came 13th out of 18 in my category. But I ran two nearly-5km sections at 7:30/mile pace, the second one being unfathomably faster than the first.

Would I do another one? Yeah, maybe. I might want to practice that transition things again and not run in bike shorts, but sure, why not?

Posted in Cheshire Life, Fitness, Oh God Why?, UK Life | Leave a comment