26 November 2007

I’m lonely in London...London is lovely so...I cross the streets without fear...Everybody keeps the way clear...

Oh how sweet it is! Not just a defeat for Howard but a HUMILIATING
defeat for Howard. You reap what you sow, mutha fuckah! I never thought it would give me some much pleasure to see so much contrition on the faces of so many smug pricks: Costello, Abbot, Downer, Nelson, Turnball, Brough. Boo hoo, too bad so sad...in your FACE, you private school lick-spittles! IN YOUR FACE!

So it's a little under two weeks before I arrive for my whirlwind tour. Everybody getting excited? I know a few of you are...yeah, that's right...I'm talking to you! I can't wait to finally feel the warm kiss of the antipodean sun on my pasty white skin. Seriously, I'm so white I look like dog poo from the 70's. I fly in to Sydney in the early hours of Monday 10th December. I'm getting the bus because SOMEONE reneged on their offer of coming to get me from the airport (didn't they, Lubey?) so I'll be arriving in Canberra about 12. Just in time for a snitty
and a Stella at the Arrie, eh lads? Eh? EH? Maybe Azza will let me touch his mo...

I'll be in town for about a month. I'm spending the first two weeks hanging out with the kids and then two weeks hanging out wit'chall. So put your orders in now cos I'm expecting lots of dinner invites in exchange for stories about my glamourous life abroad. Don't wait for me to come at you with a proposed time, just throw your dates at me (ooh err!) and I'll put 'em in the tour diary.

Quiet weekend, nothing to report. I cleaned the bathroom. Weather was cold and chilly which made walking about tres unpleasantique. I stumbled in from the cold Sunday night to find my flatmates (the nice ones) cooking up a roast chicken dinner and they'd even made some for me. Awwww! How cool is that? I'm cooking lasagne for them all next weekend and will even go all out and make garlic bread from scratch (yes, I know how). I'm adding leeks to the lasagne so that Luisa (the welsh-italian girl) will feel right at home.

I can't believe that as of yesterday, I've been away for 4 months. It feels like so much has changed in that time, I'm coming back to a different place than I left. Kind of like that guy in that film who went into space and the thing happened and he came back to earth and everything was all, ya know...you know the one...Ghostbusters.
Speaking of Ghostbusters, we've got our work Xmas do on Friday week and there's a fancy dress theme to it. One of the developers is trying to convince the rest of us to go as Ghostbusters because he's had this life-long dream of dressing up as Slimer. I'm all for going as Reservoir Dogs cos you just have to wear a black suit and if you spill anything on your shirt you can just say you're Mr Orange. It's a high-class swanky do at a fancy pants hotel and The Company pays for the lot, so needless to say I'm predicting a good chance of things getting "wey hey!" Thankfully I've got a full day to recover before I have to fly out for Oz.

Anyhoo, enough for now. Hope you're all well and getting excited about the impending arrival of you-know-who (no, not Santa or Voldemort...ME!).

19 November 2007

I don't wanna be here in your London Dungeon...I don't wanna be here in your British Hell...


So no sooner did we kiss goodbye to the freakiness of the sun going down at 9pm during summer, now on the cusp of winter it gets dark at 4.30. What is this, Iceland? All the Limeys are warning me about the London winter and suggesting that I get myself a wooly coat. "What, like a mammoth?" I asked, innocently. To date I have not received a response, but I may have contributed slightly to global warming with all the patronising sighs I am inducing. No sense of humour these English types...

So I went to a wine tasting last Thursday night which was organised by our landlords. They put on these social events every month or so where they encourage all their tennants to get together and mingle, which is pretty cool. Particularly if, like me, you find it hard to get out and meet new people. We went deep into the bowels of a huge supermarket in Canary Wharf and tasted some pretty lovely and pretty ordinary wines and got to chin wag and have a bit of a laugh with about 20 other people. It was £20 for 8 glasses, but you could get a refill if you asked nicely and they gave out the half full bottles at the end. Some of us took them to a nearby pub and continued on, but as I'd come from the other side of London and hadn't had anything to eat all day, it caught up with me pretty quickly and I had to go home in a bit of a sorry state.

Spent the weekend in Dublin which was fun. It was rainy and miserable but I got taken to my first ever burlesque show - The Tassel Club - which was awesome! Lots of cool 40's and 50's costumes, and all the spangles, laughs, and tits-out fun you'd expect from a bunch of amateur girlies trying to getting their kit off provocatively without falling over. All in all a real hoot and great value for a £30 flight. And there was an awesome nerdy english dude playing the ukulele who totally ownzrd George Formby's kitchy arse.

Returning to Dublin has helped me put a few things in perspective, which makes the subject line for this week's email even more appropriate. I've realised that, for me, the measure of how good a city is to live in is the people. London's a great town and all, there's plenty to do and plenty to see here, but people here are just
so cold and humourless and distanced. Combine that with the weather and it makes for a really gloomy oppressive town. Dublin, and even Canberra, by comparison aren't nearly as interesting or cosmopolitan,
but the people are awesome which makes both those cities more enjoyable places to live. I'm rethinking my long-term plan a bit and I've realised that one of my new goals is probably going to be to work in the US. The trip to Chicago really dispelled a lot of myths about America and American people so I think that after I've done maybe a year in London I might try a year over there and see how it goes. Microsoft have got a huge usability lab at their complex in Washington and I'd love to get involved in interface design and usability testing of games.

Also, things aren't going so well in the group house. 4 of us get along fine and help out with the cleaning and the cooking and all that communal palaver. But 2 of the girls have decided to treat the place like they were back at home with Mumsy and Dadsy. Dirty dishes get piled in the sink, food is left out on the benches, the bins are
filled to over-flowing and rubbish gets dropped on the floor next to them, hordes of friends are invited back to party at all hours and then sleep over. There's been polite words exchanged but so far they've gone unheeded so I'm thinking it will soon get nasty. Good thinking on my behalf to only get a 3 month lease cos if it gets
really nasty I can just move on. The landlord agency has heaps of places just like this one in nearby areas so it'll be relatively simple to find a new one without having to bother with bond and references and stuff. See, I TOLD you living with 5 girls would be a nightmare! There's not been even a hint of shorty nighties or pillow fights.

Anyhoo, hope you're all well and enjoying the warm weather. It's miserable over here, rainy and cold and grey. Check out some new photos of the Greenwich area and don't stop thinking about tomorrow...it's soon be here.

14 November 2007

Took shelter from a shower...Stepped into your arms...On a rainy night in Soho...The wind was whistling all its charms...

Blimey, it's all go over here in Ol' Blighty!

In our last episode, Your Humble Narrator was faced with the prospect of another dreary stretch "on the bench", as we call it when you don't have a project to do. The one I had lined up was supposed to start on
the 12th but they clearly drowned in the Hyperbolic Sea and were unable to reply to my numerous emails and phone calls. I'd done all the training there was to do and was frankly at a loose end. But then I got a call out of the blue from a guy who knows a colleague of mine looking for someone to join his project as a Team Lead/Functional Architect. Bear in mind, this was Thursday and the project was supposed to start on the following Monday. So I met the guy and pulled my best Fran Fine routine ("He had STYLE, he had FLAIR, he was THERE!") and that's how I became the Nanny...errr, the Team Lead/Functional Architect.

So I started yesterday at the D-Network, owners of the D-Channel, on a top secret project which I very nearly blabbed to you all about. Thankfully I just came to my senses and deleted that whole paragraph...you'll have to wait until it's launched for all the deets, but needless to say it's pretty cool. Nothing to do with their really cool shows or anything like that, regretably, but you never know what might come of it. It's a pretty daunting workload we have to get done by Xmas, but this is exactly the sort of thing I came here looking for: challenging, scary, sexy, no safety net. I'm even managing 2 staff, can you believe it? Finally I have people who have to listen to me and put up with my crap whether they like it or not. It's a far cry from all of you chumps...

So I did some more exploring on the weekend. Took a walk East along the Thames Path to Greenwich...yes, THAT Greenwich, as in 'Greenwich Mean Time'. As the sign into town says: "Where Time Begins". Technically it's also where time ends but who am I to quibble over terms with the Time Lords of Greenwich...they're the one's fucking this cat, not me. I went to the Cutty Sark restoration project but they wouldn't let me see it as it caught fire recently (heh heh) and I don't think there's much left under the giant dirty tarpaulin. I think they're just trying to milk the mystery. I also went to the Maritime Museum which, frankly, was a little bit too sailor-iffic for my tastes. Fine if you're into boats or the Village People but not really my bag. There weren't even any harpoons, for feck's sake. I could have ventured in to the Naval College (where you can do a degree in Gazing...ba da boom tish!) but I was feeling a little too much Old Man and the Sea, so I headed off to see if I could find the old Millenium Dome...a one billion pound white elephant designed as a showcase for the new century which flopped majorly. It's now the O2 stadium (O2 are a mobile phone company who won the contract for the iPhone in the UK).

Did somebody say iPhone? The launch was this week and it kind of came and went with a whimper. They sold about 100,000 of them (allegedly) but there's been a lot of problems with the network so I'm holding off getting one until they get it sorted.

There's a tunnel that goes from one side of the Thames to the other that you can walk through but I decided to take the long way around and go through it on my return journey. Predictably, after 2 hours of walking through some pretty sketchy and smelly slums and industrial areas I decided that I didn't want to be out alone in the dark so jumped on a bus home. I'll tackle the tunnel in a couple of weeks and fill you in on all the dark and gloomy deets. I'm guessing that the whole experience will be seriously underwhelming...a vast subteranean collage of garbage, homeless guys and urine...pretty much like London above ground...but let's just see, shall we?

Off for a whirlwind visit to Dublin for the weekend, which should be fun. Hopefully my liver has forgiven me for the punishment it received in Chicago. If not, tough luck, liver!

Hope you're all well, and counting down to Xmas!

5 November 2007

If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness...Take the A road, the OK road that's the best...Go motorin' on the A13...

Quiet weekend at home this week, nothing much to report...which is just what I (and my liver) needed after the last few weeks away. Slept in Saturday and set off around lunchtime to try and find the local branch of the gym I've been going to. Eventually I tracked it down after an hour and a half of walking through neighbourhoods which alternated between quaint and terrifying. That's the contradiction that is London: like Prague sans the whimsy (thank you, Brian Griffin). I managed to cut it down to an hour with shortcuts the following day but it's still a hell of a hike to be making regularly. Luckily I also discovered the number 47 bus which goes from right outside my house to just down the road from the gym. Plus, it also goes the other way to right outside my work. Serendipity, make me your bitch! Another good thing is that bus fares are only 90p when you use your Oyster card as opposed to £2 on the Tube. Although it takes longer on the bus at least you get to see where you're going and it's not quite as smelly.

Our new flatmate, Vicky, moved in on Saturday and she's awesome! She's very posh so she gets called 'Lady Victoria' or 'KG' cos she's moved into the Korean Girl's room. She likes Family Guy (YESSS!) so that makes two of us. Last night to celebrate her arrival we made a collective roast dinner, which was really cool...both the meal and the communal cooking aspect. Of course I got to impart all my worldly wisdom and cooking tips, which made me feel like everyone's grandad...but a hot sexy cool grandad that everyone wants to get with, for sure. Looks like we might be slowly achieving an equilibrium in terms of living together, which is good in some ways but bad in others...but balance is balance. Vicky and I have to share the bathroom and, like a typical girl, she's got more make-up and hair products than I've got red blood cells, but I've staked out my little patch near the basin and I'm not moving. It's just lucky we get on well otherwise the bathroom might well become the Sudatenland.

Got some super shows coming up. I'm still trying to get tickets to Macbeth, but Bill Bailey is on at the end of the month, and I managed to get Queens of the Stoneage tickets for February. Then of course there's the Waken 2008 Metal Festival in August in Germany which Paul and Azza are coming to...or better be if they want to retain any shred of proof of their heterosexuality.

Gosh, but english people sure are uptight! It's like they're surrounded by this barrier of snobby iciness (or icy snobbiness) which you have to break through just to get them to acknowledge your existence, and then you have to prove yourself worthy of them to justify the investment of their attention.

How many Australians are there in London? Shitloads, is the answer to that question. They're everywhere....almost plague proportions...like squirrles but no where near as cute. You know things are bad when Australians are whingeing about how many of us there are. Thank Jeebus most of them congregate at the Down Under Bar or the Walkabout Bar and stay the feck out of my way.

I'm heading back to Dublin in a couple of weeks just for the weekend. They had £30 return flights which is just unbelievable. It would cost more than that to get a cab to the airport. It'll be a whirlwind visit catching up with the folks I met when I was there and possibly a chance to see a few of the sights I missed out on. At prices like that I'll be flying all over Europe every weekend!

I'm in desperate need of some sun. I've never been particularly bronzed, as you well know, but I've become decidedly pasty over the past few months...can almost pass for a true englishman. Now all I need is to develop an air of undeserved superiority, whinge more, and be really bad at all forms of international sport. Hah! Take THAT, Limeys!

I saw an awesome movie on the plane to Chicago called Eagle vs Shark. It's a quirky low-budget NZ film about two oddballs finding love. Jared from Flight of the Conchords is in it and it's cute and funny and daggy in that quintessentially kiwi way. I also saw Saw 4 (which sucked), Fantastic 4 2 (also sucked), and Die Hard 4 (ditto on the suck but had a song by Made Out Of Babies on the soundtrack...awesome! Sonja, check them out, you'll like them). Bit of a pattern there with the number 4...whatever could it mean?

Right, well so much for a brief update. Till next time, y'all...

1 November 2007

Makin' my way back to Chicago…Makin' my way come rain or shine…Gonna find true love waiting for me…Gonna make it work out for good this time...

And so we bid farewell to the Windy City. I'm sitting in O'Hare airport pondering the last 2 weeks and it is with mixed feelings that I depart. The NSA has just advised that the Threat Level has been raised to Orange (nothing to do with Halloween, sadly), passenger Beegan is being paged for the FINAL time and I daresay will be shot on sight, and I've had bugger all to eat all day apart from a burrito the size of my forearm at lunch time (it was called 'El Chupacabra').

America is truly a strange and wonderful place: everything I imagined it to be but so much more…like life magnified. It's all about excess over here, there's no such thing as subtlety. Everything is done with the personal benefits in mind rather than the consequences. In everything they do, Americans ask themselves the question "Can I do this?" rather than "Should I do this?" It's quantity over quality, substance over style, value over finesse. The clearest example is the food: there's just so much of everything all thrown in together with little regard for flavour or taste or aesthetic appeal. Whether it's a pizza the size of a car tyre or a burrito the length of your forearm, or a sandwich with half a pound of ham on it. Sure it's big but why is that the only redeeming feature? None of it tastes particularly good, most of it is downright awful (sugary and greasy and smothered in processed cheese) and you always end up feeling bloated and nauseous when you're done.

And the choices! I went for a stroll down East Walton, the street my hotel is on, which isn't a particularly major thoroughfare, but still I was amazed at the range of franchises plying for my lunchtime dollar: Jimmy James Gourmet Sammiches, Chilli's, Arby's, JJ Peppers, Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, Einstein Bros Bagels, Grillers in the Mist, Lowry's Prime Rib ("THE prime rib"), Mr Beef…and those were just the one's I hadn't heard of before. It's incredible, particularly when you consider that the same stores are on the very next street…and the next. In the end I settled for Jimmy James and ended up with a sub that had a quarter pound each of ham, salami and roast beef along with about 7 tomatoes, 12 raw onions, 2 heads of lettuce and a mountain of cheese. Sure it only cost me $5 but really…I couldn't eat even half of it and I felt sick for the rest of the day. Honest to god, I'm not surprised in the least that there's an obesity epidemic in this country. And McDonalds is just the tip of the greasy lard iceberg.

American tv is awesome! You never have to worry about there being anything on because EVERYTHING is on...all the time. And if you miss it it's on again the next night. My favourite thing is all the ads they have for medical problems. The best ones are ED (Erectile Dysfunction), RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome), FI (Frequent Irregularity) which are pretty much just 30-second diatribes of all the harmful and embarrassing side effects you'll suffer from if you take their medicines.

So my first day here I started off with brunch in a deli of an omelette with a half inch of cheese on the top, then wandered up and down Michigan Ave looking at all the shops. This is THE premier shopping street in Chicago and there's a lot of money floating around. Bloomingdales, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neimann Marcus. Conversely, there's a hell of a lot of homeless people floating around as well and when they're not expertly panhandling the rich folks or God-blessing you, they're in the many parks playing chess and taking up all the benches. Speaking of parks, there's a lot of them, which is nice.

I went out to Navy Pier where they have a permanent amusement park ("Kids, ride the ferris wheel, brought to you by McDonalds!") which has been done up all spooky like for Halloween. I can't underestimate how much they love Halloween over here. It's been estimated that Americans will spend $5 billion on Halloween this year…that's right, BILLION. Food, costumes, decorations, cards, pumpkin-flavoured ammo. It's insane! Practically the whole city has been done up like a giant Halloween exhibit and at first I was kinda disappointed that I was leaving before the big day hit but now I'm kinda glad. It's creepy.

I managed to find the fountain that was featured in the opening credits of tv's "Married…With Children", which was kinda cool. There's been a lot of big name movies filmed here: the next Batman, Tranformers, Ferris Bueller, and Paul tells me that Punky Brewster was filmed here…get out of town! It's pretty easy to get around on foot if you don't mind the walk, but there's plenty of cool stuff to see. Like most big cities, the drivers love to parp and I'm immensely pleased that I was given a chance to feel like a true Chicagoan when I got parped by a cab driver in the middle of a pedestrian crossing and waved my hands provocatively while shouting, "Come aaahhhn!"

Coffee over here is shithouse. Americans couldn't make a decent cup of coffee if you held a gun to their head. Expecting an american to make good coffee is like expecting an Italian to practice restraint. It's a sad indictment to admit that the best coffee in this city is from Starbucks, but it was pumpkin flavoured.

I wore a tracksuit top which I bought in Ireland that has 'Ireland' emblazoned across the chest. I kind of felt sorry for the people who continually asked me which part of Ireland I was from. Of course I replied that I wasn't Irish, so they asked which part of England I was from. I'm not from England either, I replied. Most of them gave up in confusion at this point but the brave ones who persisted still had to make their way through Australia and New Zealand, which was more geography than they could cope with. Gosh darn, the rest of the world sure is a big place!

That evening I took a cab up north to Deluxe Tattoo to meet my man Zach Stuka (rhymes with 'palooka' not 'suckah') and got my wicked Belco Metal tatt. Check the photos to see just how metal it is, but I warn you, I accept no responsibility for melting your face off.

Day 2 was cultural enrichment day so I hit the Chicago Art Institute which was amazing. They have the most incredible collection of originals by some real heavyweights: van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugaun, Monet, Lattrec, Rodin, Pollack, Lichtenstein. They even have the painting that Cameron stared at in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I tried to get into it the way he did but unfortunately there was a loud American woman standing behind me who felt the need to express her every thought loudly and constantly to all within ear shot. "Oh I know that picshure. Do you know that picsure? I've seen it somewhere before, where have I seen it before? Was it in a movie? It was, it was in a movie! Oh what was that movie called? You know it. The Godfather! That's it, it was in the Godfather. No wait, it wasn't in the Godfather, what was I thinking of?" And on and on and on it went until I ran away. There's no such thing as quiet reflection or inner contemplation here…you just say whatever pops into your head. I think it comes from having your brain in your mouth. You thought there were a lot of abnoxious Americans in London? Try coming here! It's like America is the birth place of loud obnoxious Americans or something…they're everywhere!

That afternoon I went up to the observation deck on the 96th floor of the John Handcock building, which rises above the city skyline like a giant black alien monolith. The elevators travel upward at approx. 20mph (or 50kph), which is real damn fast in anyone's language. The view from up there was breath-taking, as you will see from the photos. I had NO breath. They have an outdoor skywalk which is enclosed but you can hear the wind howling and shrieking and whistling around the edges of the building as if to remind you that you don't belong up this high…this is a domain purely for the insubstantial.

On Day 3 I did some more walking, up north this time along the lake's edge and I discovered the Lincoln Park Zoo which is a free zoo in the middle of Lincoln Park…derr! It's pretty cool cos they're all into conservation of endangered species and that but there's nothing sadder than seeing large animals in tiny enclosures. The tiger was roaring when I was taking pictures of him and it sounded eerily human and sad…like a giant child complaining of a stubbed toe, "OOOOWWWWwwww!"

The most common form of wildlife, however, is squirrels. They're friggin everywhere! Almost in plague proportions. You can tell they're streetwise and comfortable with people cos they come up to you and ask you for money. But it's not the ones who talk that you've got to worry about. It's the quiet ones who just sit there looking at you…appraising you. And you can tell by the cold steely glint in their tiny black eyes that all they see is a huge pair of nuts.

I went to the movies that night to see 30 Days of Night which was semi-cool. It started predictably with lots of hammy acting and clumsy exposition, but once things got moving and the vampires arrived on the scene it improved a bit. Sadly, it was a small bit cos it was a rapid downhill slide in to cinematic horseshit from that point. The vampires were cool, though, just as they were intended to be in the graphic novel which I read, likes, ages ago before it became cool and all the tourists arrived.

There's a lot of history in this town. I was hoping to see some old school art deco architecture but, like most progressive cities, they tore down all the good buildings in the 70's to make way for the bigger and more banal monstrosities we see today. There's a bit of a resurgence in some of the newer developments but it's more of a trend than a return to the architectural glory of old. After the Chicago fire, pretty much the whole city was destroyed. They dumped all the rubble into Lake Michigan and actually created 3 square miles worth of land, upon which they built a lot of the 1893 World's Fair. The fire created a veritable tabula rasa for architects and Chicago became a crucible for some of the most innovative and adventurous developments the world had seen. The world's first skyscraper was built in Chicago and the techniques developed by engineers to cope with the wet sandy soil completely changed the way buildings were designed and constructed. There's still a lot of examples of adventurous design but regrettably a lot of it seems gaudy and out of place: the BP bridge which snakes its way across Columbus Drive from Michigan Ave to Lake Shore Drive resembles a giant armoured serpent; Millenium Park is a huge expanse of grass land and gardens with an enormous outdoor concert hall that looks like the skeleton of a giant robot turtle.

Speaking of the World's Fair, there were a whole bunch of today's famous icons created just for the fair: AC electricity, the Ferris Wheel, the Pledge of Allegiance, that bit of music they play whenever you see Indian snake charmers ("Dah-dah daaah daaah dah, dah-dah dah-dah dah-dah-dah").

The journey out was a lot less stressful than the journey in. They guy at passport control even asked me if I was an actor because I looked like an actor. I told him I was a professional bullshit artist but that it didn't pay very well. He laughed his big hearty disingenuous American laugh. I arrived home to learn that we're getting a new flat mate on Sunday and that the previous night all the fire alarms had gone off for no reason and continued to go off all night. Lucky I didn't come back a day early…

Anyhoo, check out the latest photos from the last few weeks http://picasaweb.google.com/blind.phineas. So much has happened and yet it's gone so quickly. For now it's back to the usual humdrum and stay tuned for my next adventure…

I lurve youse all.