Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dublin: Jameson Distillery

This is Smithy the Cat. Smithy may look alive and well in this photo but actually he is very much dead. Like so many other animals in the UK (United taxidermist Kingdom) who were adored in their living years, Smithy was stuffed for posterity. He lived and worked in Jameson's Distillery. His title was Chief-Mouse-Catcher and he did an extra-ordinary job catching around 20 mice a day.

Jez was not able to stand up straight without the help of these barrels as he had not yet sobered up from our trip to the Guinness Brewery just before.

However, that did not stop him from graduating from the elite school of Irish Whiskey Tasting at Jamesons distillery*.

Here we see Jez receiving his doctorate in Irish Whiskey Tasting. In his wake, the other students can be seen weeping into their Irish coffees as their immature palettes had failed to discern the difference between Irish Whiskey and various scotches and bourbons.

* Note that the Irish spell Whiskey with an 'e' just to be sure, to be sure.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dublin: Goodbye Lansdowne Road

Live from Landsdowne, we have Jez on the line sporting his golden Wallabies jumper.

Jez, Lansdowne Road is the oldest standing rugby stadium, having hosted international test matches since 1878. This game was the last match the Wallabies would play at the historic ground before it is knocked over to make way for a modern stadium. What is the general publics' feeling on saying goodbye to Landsdowne Road?

Jez: Well, we were suprised at the lack of concern for the loss of this iconic stadium by ordinary Dubliners. We can only surmise that the history of famous drubbings that Australia has delivered to the Irish on their home turf (none more memorable than the 1991 World Cup quarter final where Campo delivered "that pass" to Michael Lynagh and steal a victory in the dying seconds) has resulted in the Irish wanting to bull-doze the physical scar from their landscape. If this is the case, then they couldn't have done a better job to erase the mental scar too by wiping the floor with the Wallabies, who turned up as quokas ready to be beaten by an Irish team that played with them like a bunch of drunk teenagers on leavers weekend playing quokka soccer.

And what was the reaction of the Aussies when they lost so devistatingly?

Jez: I dont want to talk about it but I think my wife's reaction says it all really...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dublin: Bram Stoker Museum

We were told on entering the Bram Stoker Museum that the tour would be made scary enough to suit the audience. There were only 3 of us. The other person on the tour was some random American woman who looked like she could turn into a bat at any moment. She also hissed and laughed madly to herself so I for one did not need more convincing that she was indeed a bat. So given that we had 2 adults and 1 potential bat, we expected the tour to be as frightening as possible.

It started with an introduction to the life and work of Bram Stoker, author of Dracular. Bram, short for Abraham, lived in Dublin. His life was fascinating and it was heartening to know he was a celebrated writer during his time as well as after. His friend's list reads like a whose who of famous writers and politicians. His list of foes is interesting too. One of which is none other than Oscar Wilde. We were fascinated to learn that the two of them vied for the same woman. Oscar had been betrothed to Florence Balcome, a celebrated Victorian beauty. He gave her a cross inscribed with his name on it. When she announced her engagement to Bram, Oscar insisted she give the cross back to him. We wondered whether this was the inspiration for the use of a cross to keep vampires away...

Anyway, while we were still at stage one of the tour - reading up on Bram's life - the bat flew passed us and exited the way we entered. It was strange and meant there was no one else, just the two of us in this creepy museum.

We entered stage two.

The room was dark with small coloured lights floating around. We had to walk over a bridge that swayed, urging us to fall off. It was a mind trick, the bridge wasnt moving at all.

When we got to the otherside...we looked completely different.

The transformation from human to something entirely different made Jez very sleepy and he decided to take a nap as seen on the left.

We didnt know it at the time, but aparently lying in a coffin with a Wallabies rugby jumper would later spell out disaster for the Aussie team...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Covent Garden: Hoodie vs Pierre Cardin

Hoodie (noun): A close fitting shirt with a hood. A derogatory slang term used describe a person who wears one. In the UK hoodies have been associated with delinquency as the hood is used to conceal the wearer's identity when committing criminal acts.

It was so quick that neither of us could have identified the thief in a line up. There were 2 of them, although I never saw the other one. In fact the only thing I remember seeing was a dark figure appear and disappear like a shadow. Jez never even saw this much. He only saw that his mobile had been swiped clean off the table.

We were having dinner at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden. We were sitting outside but undercover right at the entrance to the restaurant. I was facing the doorway looking out onto the street. Should anyone have called, Jez was certainly ready to answer with his phone right next to him on the table. Should anyone decide to nick said phone however, no one was ready for that. It was really only when Jez fled from the table shouting "MOTHER F***ER, MOTHER F***ER! I’M GONNA RIP YOUR F***ING HEAD OF WHEN I CATCH YOU" that every one in the restaurant (including me) and out in the street knew something had been stolen.

I did a quick inventory check of the valuables on the table. I had landed up with Jez’s wallet somehow. I learned later he threw it to me before leaving. I sighed a relief when I realised that it had only been his mobile. I sighed an even bigger relief when I remembered it was a crappy old phone with prepaid on it. I advised everyone around me that it had been his phone but that luckily it was crappy old one with prepaid on it. Everyone agreed that it was the principle of the matter.

Meanwhile, Jez chased the thief through the market square. He did not have the upper hand in anyway. He was kitted out with his new Pierre Cardin coat and work shoes while the thief had sneakers and a hoodie which come to think of it would have been more aerodynamic than Jez’s new boof-head do.

However, many hours on the treadmill had finally paid off as Jez gained on the hoodie– despite a chair being flung back at him! Always thinking, Jez had a plan of attack. He was going to pounce, cat on mouse style, grabbing the thief by the throat ensuring the head would smack into the pavement on landing. A wise idea given a knocked-out thief would have found it hard to pull out plan B (a knife or something.) The phone went flying and the so did the hoodie. Jez turned the thief over with his fist ready for a punch. To his dismay, he turned over a woman. Apparently, it is not cool to hit a woman especially when she says things like "they make me to do it".

To my delight, Jez returned to the restaurant triumphant. He did not wear his jocks on the outside of his pants. He is too modest for that. His efforts were applauded by the crowd but not by the staff. We still had to pay the bill.

The evening had only just begun for us. Dinner was followed up by a trip to the theatre to see The Woman in Black. A ghoulish story in which the main character is a fleeting ghost who wears a hooded black outfit to hide her flesh-eaten face. After the play, we couldn’t help but wonder if the Woman in Black also had a penchant for stealing phones?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cultural Learnings of Europe for Make Benefit Glorious Antipodeans

The last couple of weeks TZ and I have been lucky enough to sample some of the more peculiar local customs here in Europe.

It all started when TZ took me to Amsterdam to celebrate my birthday. Actually, I don't remember what happened after that. I know that we got on a plane at Heathrow, and then it all gets a bit sketchy. I think it was a bit like in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy clicks her heels together and then woosh - she was back in Kansas. Except in this case Dorothy was wearing Clogs, and not much else.

Amsterdam has many unique cultural offerings. There is the Heineken factory, the canals, the sex shops, and the lovely ladies who are keen to offer you a "smoke and a pancake" or a "bong and a blince". Apparently there are also some seedy blokes called Rembrandt and Van Gogh to check out, but I felt safer staying on the main drag where it was well lit (albeit with a red tinge).

The locals are trapped in a time warp (too much time spent in Amsterdam coffee shops can have this effect) and were convinced that they were still participating in the Dutch Resistance. As a consequence they provided TZ and I with all sorts of mis-directions so that we couldnt locate Anne Frank's house. Try "go to the canal and turn right where the hooker with hairy legs is standing in a window". Well there is a canal on every street, and a hooker standing in every window!

My actual birthday (Halloween) was during the working week, so TZ took me out to our local pub, the Spaniard's Inn. This is a wonderful pub dating from 1585 built originally as the country residence of the Spanish ambassador. The pub gained notoriety as the hide-out of the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin. He was a Pommy Ned Kelly if you like. Anyway, legend has it that Dick was actually born at the Inn. Ever since he was hanged in York in 1739 Turpin's ghost has haunted the pub. All this naturally made a fabulous backdrop for our Halloween celebrations. The place was creepily decorated with pumpkin lanterns and the like, and I enjoyed a pumpkin pie with my ale.

The following weekend TZ and I were lucky enough to be treated to a trip to Leicester to watch the Leicester Tigers in the domestic rugby competition from the comfort of a corporate box. Fortunately I remembered to bring my glasses so I could see the sport. In the end it didnt make any difference as I soon discovered that top-shelf Scotch was part of the catering in the box. After the game the players came back for a meet and greet. Unfortunately most of Leicester's international players were away that week due to the England vs NZ game the following day, but I did get to meet a couple of Samoan internationals. I asked them for a photo, but was careful to wait until after they finished their dinner. They reminded me of staffordshires. You know, all cuddley and cute, but don't even think of getting between them and their food.

That night TZ and I decided to stay in Leicester to enjoy the local Guy Fawkes celebrations. There is something to be said for watching the burning of an effigy on a bon-fire, followed by a massive fireworks display. I dont think anybody knows anymore whether they were celebrating with or against Mr Fawkes, but its a bloody good excuse to let off some fireworks. Speaking of which, TZ and I were excited to be able to buy our own, which we set off on my birthday to the alarm of some neighbours. Apparently it is legal to buy fireworks, but not to set them off in public places. Who would have thunk it?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tomatin Distillery, Scotland: Mmm Whisky

Compared to the Heineken tour in Amsterdam, the Tomatin Distillary was not that exciting but a must for anyone who loves a good Scotish whiskey (ie Jez).

Here we see Jez cuddling up to 2 barrels of whiskey. Note the date on the barrels - it is nice to know some things age very gracefully...

He would have given the earth to take the ageing whiskeys home with us but due to the current liquid ban on planes flying from the UK, he quenched his thirst on a bottle of sweet Tamdhu.

Plockton, Scotland: The Seals

I have many unusual talents amongst which talking in "Seal" is one of them. I had a brilliant opportunity to try out my seal on a seal-watching trip.

Unfortunately, we learned that these lazy creatures prefer to be sung to rather than spoken to. This was a bit of a problem as no one on the boat was brave enough to sing. As a result the seals stayed put and refused to swim up to the boat:(

Highlands, Scotland: The Brunies

Never accept an invite to dinner with a Brunie for you might think you are only gone an hour but in reality, you would have been gone for a year...
When travelling through the Highlands, one cannot help but notice some very unnatural looking features. Odd mounds of earth, spirals, heart-shaped patterns and so on. So I suppose it's not that suprising to find that some very unnatural folk, Brunies (or fairies) as they are called, are believed to inhabit the region.

We were treated to discover for ourselves what they were all about - at our own peril of course. Here I am sitting on the entrance wall to what would very soon become our favourite place in the Scotish Highlands...

In the name of science, we agreed Jez would be the one to check out their castle and I would capture his adventure from afar. To the left, Jez has made it to the top of a moutain not far from the castle itself. I prayed for his safe return as he climbed through the castle and out the top...

Don't let his relaxed composure fool you, we both knew he was lucky to have come out alive...

Grateful Jez had survived the trip, I made an offering to the Brunies. Here I am being a cheap skate placing a flower instead of money in the heart-shaped offering plate.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Skye Island, Scotland: Dunnyveg Castle

This is one of the 2 castles in Scotland that Jeremy and I "broke into" - ie jumped over a fence. This castle ruin belonged to a wicked man named Donald Gorm. It was quite common practise in the Highlands in that era for a man to take a woman on contract for a year. If they got on well a formal marriage contract was proceeded with, but if not, the year's contract was duly terminated.

So Gorm took for himself a beautiful woman whom he was very proud to have on his arm. One day, the woman had the terrible misfortune of losing an eye. Gorm found her much less attractive with only 1 eye and so when the year was out he sent her home mounted on a one-eyed horse, led by a one-eyed man and followed by a one-eyed dog. How he found so many one-eyed creatures remains a mystery. One can't help wonder if he made them so?

Gorm was not terrribly popular. Even his own family thought him a bit of a shit. In fact, his own newphew, Hugh, plotted to kill him. Hugh was crafty (albeit stupid) and hired a hit man to do the job for him. The murder was to take place at a party so Hugh sent out an invite to both the hit man and Gorm. However, he unknowingly mixed up the invitations. Gorm had Hugh arrested and thrown into a dark dugeon in his castle. He was fed salty meat until he died. Aparently when his body was removed from the dugeon, his fingers had been gnawed down to the bone. It's believed this was an attempt to create more saliva to aid his thirst...

Edinburgh, Scotland: Frankenstein Restaurant

To the left is a breakfast menu from one of our favourite pubs in Scotland called "Frankenstein". The place is a shrine to Mary Shelley's creation. It is so cool we went back there for dinner!

Anyway, at 10:55am, a waitress came up to us and told us not to get a fright when Frankenstein himself would decend from the ceiling at 11:00am - as he does everyday. Sure enough on the hour, the heavens opened up (or at least it sounded that way) and a sleeping Frankenstein robot was lowered from the ceiling. He sat up slowly, then went back to sleep and ascended from whence he came.

But I digress. The menu above shows the meal we ordered. Jeremy couldnt eat the Vegetarian Haggis because it had chick peas in it. So it was up to me to taste it. The verdict - vile. Interestingly, Haggis was servered everywhere and yes, people ate it as if it were regular food and not a repulsive novelty.

Scotland: Hamish the Highland Coo

A "Highland Coo" is actually just a cow that lives in the the Highlands of Scotland. "Coo" is of course cow with a Scottish accent.

Notice that the coo is a blondish/red colour. This is because one day queen Victoria (lover of all things Scottish) was visiting the country and noticed one blondish/red coloured coo amongst many black ones. She thought it adorable and said: "Make them all that colour!" And so it was.