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Pale Skin .. March 30, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Travel.
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 I woke up for a long day in Belfast yesterday. Alarmed at 4.50am and at my desk at 9.20am .. that’s earlier than I start work at home some days ..

Belfast is a shining city at the moment, it smells of pale skin and soda bread, it is really distinctive and cuddles you as soon as you hit the arrivals lounge. There is an air to the place that is on the edge without being too trendy, people are friendly, warm and even when it’s raining (it was) they look like they’re enjoying life ..

I’m going back soon ..  

Drip Dry .. March 23, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts.
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Nerd Alert .. One of the things that bugs me and excites me (unecessarily) in everyday life are hand dryers in public toilets. Some are completely useless. How hard can it be to make a hand dryer – especially if you are a hand dryer company!? It’s a fan and a nozzle after all ..

handdry.jpgI’m not sure when this fascination started, but I can remember spotting Berkeley dryers from the World Dryer Corp as a kid & lingering longer at the design icon & just how well it worked .. Mmmmm .. Is it just me? They were big in the eighties kids, honest .. I managed to obtain one a few years ago and it still makes me grin when I use it ..

Particularly impressed of late though with the Xlerator dryers – they now have these at UK airports and I always try to have two cycles if I can get away with it .. I love the way they make the skin on your hands move like the Six Million Dollar Man .. I think I may be in the market for one of those if Santa is listening ..

Anyway, just this week at my workplace they have ripped out the adeqaute but frankly mediocre dryers and replaced with a shiny new HeatSource model .. and it’s completely shite .. I could dry my hands quicker by waving them around my head or blowing on them. Now the old ones were bad, looked ugly and were ineffective, yet they replace them with an even more worthless counterpart. I work for a big company that has money to spend and yet they buy such crap <sigh> .. fools .. fools ..

Gail .. March 19, 2007

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I did a lot this weekend without it really feeling that busy..

Friday night was billed as ‘Batch’s Big Night Out’, or BBNO for the sake of diary shorthand. Batch being good friend with the surname ‘Batchelor’ who gets out on the town once every third lunar landing. It was billed as such, and even had him suggesting we would go clubbing and all .. it would have, could have, been his big night out had he not decided to drive !!

I’m not going to preach the benefits of alcohol here, I am the proud owner of a crate of beer that is fast approaching it’s best before date myself*, but when it’s a night on the town with your three best buddies and you last saw a pub in the previous millennium and you have the offer of a cosy warm bed and tea and toast in the morning, where is the decision making process going wrong?!

We had a great night though. Pizza Express have a new-ish menu and although I couldn’t name all five varieties of mushroom, the Five Mushroom Pizza is definitely the way forward.. Lots of beers in lots of different bars, followed by a curious decision .. out of my hands .. to visit the poorest nightclub in town. A masterstroke though, remarkably. It turned into one of those laugh out loud moments that lasted hours .. literally .. There were some great characters in there for people watching potential .. I’ve also not seen one of my friends look so ‘rabbit in headlights after being run over’ scared at dishing out four blokes names to the amorous attention of a female clubber ever .. ahh .. those are the moments to cherish ..

I also got asked the strangest question on the night bus home .. ‘If Gail Porter came to your door, would you sleep with her?’ .. Hmm .. now lets follow the logic there? .. I was at the time a little bit worse for wear, it was 2 in the morning and I whilst it’s not impossible to think that Gail would like to call in for casual sex, I think the probability is pretty low .. not bad though as 1st chat up lines go ..

It turned out the girl doing the asking had just suffered Alopecia  and it was her first night out on the town. I was completely thrown by her initial line of inquiry, as an aside I think Ms Porter is gorgeous, and I genuinely hadn’t spotted that ‘it’ was a wig – and as she kindly pointed out, it would be great to not have to ever wax her legs or worry about ‘Oral sex stragglers’ .. quite ..

Saturday we went to a wedding party. It was great to see lots of friendly faces I hadn’t seen in ages. The bride did look great and they seemed to have a lovely time – I think this one will definitely last. We all had a good time too .. the band was the only downside .. they were, dare I say it, way too loud .. they were playing curious cover versions, insulting people that weren’t dancing and stopping everyone from talking .. Now I’m all for bands creating a buzz and plying their trade at an appropriate venue of their choice, but when you are playing Bryan Adams covers at a Wedding Party you are not destined to make a claim on deep rooted culture, just do what you are told, play things the folks want to dance/sing to and be nice to everyone .. or just shut it and let us get pissed and talk bollocks .. Am I getting too old for this??

Sunday. Tanya and I cooked for my Mum .. it was Mothers Day after all. She loved it. They are both great .. we watched the Enron Movie last night too. Amazing. Get to it if you haven’t seen it .. it makes you look at all corporations in a new light.. there is so much corruption going on that is so diffused. I hadn’t really grasped the depths it took, I had a perception that it was a few guys at the top, but the lies seem really rooted in the company set up .. who’d be a stock holder ..

I was listening the The Church on my iPod today walking in the Snow near St Paul’s Cathedral .. ahhh .. another week in paradise ..

* I just don’t drink beer at home ok, I’m macho round the house in other ways, like watching footie occasionaly .. honest ..

Standard .. March 16, 2007

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Who would want to be an Evening Standard newspaper seller these days – would you spend 50p on a paper, when you get two or three freebies thrust in your hand before you reach the counter? .. My friend and i walked past a seller’s stand yesterday and he was bemoaning the glut of free evening papers in the Capital, London Lite and The London Paper, notably eager youngsters were standing either side of him and giving away their wares .. I counted four ‘F’ words in one sentence, and all aimed at his gratis peers ..

I hope he has a nice weekend ..

Hoxha in the name of Love .. March 14, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Reviews, Travel.
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650382-tirana-the-block-0.jpgAlbania is unlikely to reach the top of the Holiday Top 10 this year, but when your good buddy suggests a boys weekend away before the imminent birth of baby #2, and they ‘couldn’t think of anyone else who would want to venture to such a destinantion’, in a back (double) handed compliment sort of way, who is to resist .. it was well worth it too ..

I amazed myself, and my fellow passengers by being the only person that was not only on time, but early (gulp).. I am not renowned for my punctuality, but with trains from Leeds and London running late, the East Coast contingent of James & I were ahead of the game..

Flying BA by necessity was very welcome. The ‘Deli Bag’ that I was greeted with was the most edible airline food I have witnessed and it does seem they are doing something to combat the sleazyjet and ryanair. Flight staff people were really friendly and relaxed too – woo hoo, that’s almost a glowing report ..

Tirana Airport is essentially a decaying shed. There is a new terminal opening in a month or so, but that wasn’t the greeting we got. The existing building is a bit like a high-class cow shed. Passing through Passport Control, you get the officious looking woman in a faux portacabin collecting the 10Euro ‘tax’ to enter the country .. it’s an odd term ‘tax’ .. the rather less than favourable exchange rate and short change suggested someone else other than the ‘country’ was benefiting .. or is that just the cynic within me .. James and I both gave the lady £10, and each got differing amounts of change – maybe the exchange rate changes by the second, but I have my doubts ..

To save money, street lights other than main intersections, and turned off at night .. obviously .. I guess they may be used on special occasions, but the drive from the airport is punctuated only by the myriad of petrol stations and passing cars. It was very eerie, in a David Lynch movie kind of way. On entering the city itself though, you get more of a feel for the metropolis that it is becoming, but it was a dusky sort of air that night & had all the elements of a Sccoby Doo mystery ..

We stayed at the Tirana International Hotel, right at the centre of the city on Skanderbeg Square. A great location and I since found out that the star rating sytem is self awarded in Albania, so the 3 stars that were placed on this place, were well deserved .. breakfast was fantastic, and as the high cost of pesticides means that all food in the country is organic, they find themselves ahead of the game in fruit and veg at least ..

As the weekend events could takeup a very very long post, I’ll paraphrase some notable points, in case you are thinking of a trip ..

We ate at a pizza restaurant on the 1st night, fantastic food for about £3 a head, including beers – a slight oddity when we got up to leave and the well dressed woman on the next table begged me for some money .. quite bizarre, maybe she should have thought about that before buying shed loads of wine and cigarettes ..

160px-enver.jpgThere is an area of the City that until Communism fell, was completely out of bounds. It’s called the ‘block’ .. Essentially a slice of California bay area housing and manicured gardens for the Nomenklatura. Enver Hoxha’s house was the best by some way, a fantastic pool and balcony to play with whilst the rest of your country struggles in decaying squalor .. thanks matey .. Imagine discovering a millionaires playground in your back yard when you are queuing for bread rations..

Up until 1991, there were only 600 cars in Albania. No one was allowed them. Since 1991, everyone has a car and the roads suggested that they wished they could press rewind! Very few road markings and no driving tests has resulted in some of the craziest driving manoeuvres I have ever witnessed. An excellent spectator sport, but not for the feint hearted… ‘what do mean you can’t overtake on a roundabout in England?!’ .. 

There aren’t a lot of ‘sights’ in Tirana itself .. we did the lot in about 40 minutes, but there is a lot of absorbing the atmosphere to be had. The locals are incredibly friendly and you really did feel welcome and warm. In bars we were offered humble hospitality without any feeling of neediness or a great desire to talk to the tourists. I really liked the attitude.

We hired a driver & visited the hills of Kruja on Saturday. Largely as we had done the City sights the day before. It was a good trip to do and we ate food at the top of a mountain, bought lots of tourist tat & had a wander round the museum. there isn’t a lot to see as such, other than the spectacular views, but it was great to get out of the city and see country life in the raw..

There is a distinct lack of Communist relics to be had. I have visited some spectacular ones in russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, but my 3 cohorts were all in hope of some crackers in Hoxha Country – it seems that nearly all have been destroyed. That is probably the sign of progress, but be warned if you are visiting as a Commie Tourist, that there is little here to see, move on ..

bunker.jpgEnver was pretty paranoid of attack and built thousands/millions of concrete bunkers to protect himself. They are everywhere! Little dalek structures at the sideas of the road, in the middle of fields that are nigh on impossible to uproot. You can laugh at them now, so long as they are not in your front garden …

It was hard to spend money in Albania .. in a good way that is. Three nights of great food and beers, plus the sights and taxi’s was less than £80 each .. the food was great too. We ate at Vila Ambasador Chocolat on Friday night, the former East German Embassy building, it was fantastic .. excellent service, slightly upbeat but not stuffy atmosphere, a couple of bottles of wine & the food was better than anything I’ve had this side of February .. and all for £12 a head.

We got to see a Serbian covers band on the last night. Not sure why that sounds odd, but it certainly felt like an ‘only in Tirana’ moment. They rocked, we drank and we danced ..

It was great to spend time with all three travelling friends. Graham works in Video production and as such entertained with tales of James Blunt’s butt cheeks or similar, Ed was Toy Camera-tastic and full of stories of Amy-love & jokes that I found funny & James snored like an angry bear and then woke up innocent like a wounded puppy. I had a lot of fun & don’t see them often enough..

Oh and to cap it all, the girl I got sat next to on the plane turned out to have just flown over for the weekend to get married to her Albanian boyfriend & she was/is Bob Marley’s 4th Cousin .. now that really is an ‘only in Tirana’ moment, or should that be Kingston?! .. bless you one and all ..

In no particular order .. March 12, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Kids, Music, Reviews, Travel.
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It’s not that I haven’t had the urge to write, nor that I haven’t set time aside, but something always seemed to get in the way that was way more important. In the past week or two I have mostly been doing some or more of the following;

  • I have eaten out on three occasions, starting with a birthday bash in the ‘Japenese Fusion’ (whatever that means) of Aqua 8> This turned out to be a really nice looking building with decor reminiscent of a Tony Soprano owned establishment. The atmosphere was upbeat and the food was good. It was pretty pricey for what was offered, but it has all the hallmarks of something better than a provincial town. What followed was lots of booze and dancing around with Tulips – people have video phone these days too and dancing with Tulips when you are pissed, never quite looks as stylish as you think it did at the time..
  • Another someones birthday took me to Mizu .. which is owned by the same people as Aqua Eight, only its a cheap and quick noodle bar version. Seemingly, their excellent food has been dressed down and moved to the up-market younger brother .. it might be me but the food seemed a bit bland to what it was and the plates have all gotten smaller .. why do they do that?! The birthday girl had a Salsa evening and I strutted all the moves I know* & left quickly afterwards ..
  •  I took my 93 year old Aunt out for Sunday lunch with my Mum and Brother. We went to the Cornwallis resturant in the Countryside. I was amazed how completely together she is, witty and mentally sharp. She is still sarcastic and in on the jokes, not only the general ones, but also the subtle piss taking – I hope I am still like that at her age. I also got upset thinking how much she reminds me of my Dad. I only tend to think of my Dadin a happy light (he died 12 years ago), but seeing the way she glanced at me in exactly the same way as my Dad used to was a bit full on in terms of  emotion. Inevitable as she is the only surviving relative on that side of my family, but when she felt ill towards the end of the afternoon and struggled for breath, it was a step closer to panic that I reached. She recovered when she got home and was really appreciative of the day and gave me a big hug – she is great..
  • I cared for 2 sick children. Both my kids got fever and felt sorry for themselves for a couple of days. They both puked up – my eldest looked a bit green and went to puke in the toliet and didnt move quickly enough .. I caught the puke in my hand, in a double cupped motion .. it was warm and stunk like a badgers armpit .. after the clean up, digging chunks from between the floor boards, I had to shower twice to get rid of the smell .. Mmmm ..
  • I taught my Canadian Girlfriend what Ska is, its origins and dance moves (ahem) .. We went to the Skatones night at the Great White Horse in Ipswich. Preceded by lots of beer in a pub crawl formation and danced in some refined style all evening. I loved it ..
  • I also taught/was amazed that my Canadian Girlfriend didn’t know what the NME is .. really? .. yes .. In the cultural waters of Montreal and Toronto, it seems that Indie Pop is not what it may seem. I can appreciate a world where music isn’t as important to some people that others, but to not even comprehend what the NME is/was, or what the foundations of a muso nerd in the UK even look like, was quite odd to digest .. very refreshing .. she’s great too ..

… oh .. and, I have been to Albania for a Long Weekend of dust and Communism lost .. I’ll follow that one later ..

* none of which are strictly Salsa moves but done very quickly and with some extreme style..

Tirana Calling .. March 7, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Travel.
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That could almost be a Clash album!

I have been neglecting posts of late but will get back in the saddle next week. I’m off to the Albanian capital for a weekend away from tomorrow. The guide book suggests a lot of things that I wouldn’t ordinarily associate to a weekend away .. ahh, the joys of foreign culture..