Pretty Poli

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I've never lived in a city before.

I'm a country boy. Well. A small town boy, really.

I am not a roving rambler of the open fields and moors - I couldn't tell you the difference between St. John's Wort and Lady's Finger, but in the UK at least I can tell you when to keep an eye out for cow pats, which berries are poisonous, and whether you're trapped in a field with a bull (bad news) or a bullock (not bad news, but very, very funny for the purposes of winding people up).

It's glaringly obvious that moving to New York will involve a shedload of adaptation on my part.

I am going to be starting married life, life in America and life in what you'll have to excuse me calling 'The Big City' - all at once.
I can't wait.
The multiple daily calls, the emails and chat between Krissa and I; the usual laughing and joking conversations have moved over to make room for more details about flights and wedding days, rings and honeymoon plans. While I cannot wait to be with her, live with her - start our lives together, I know the other changes may not be all plain sailing.

I am bracing myself and at the same time doing my best to prepare.

What's it going to be like?

Having cruised through some of the works of Bill Bryson over my two weeks at home, Made in America made me realise that whilst the USA has had a great influence on language, city life itself has as well - from its very earliest times.

Look to the Greeks; their city-states and politics. In fact the words 'politics' and 'politician' have their roots in the Greek 'Polis', which means city.

Polis moves to the Greek polites - 'citizen' (citizen is itself another word rooted in a rather tortuous etymological route from the French 'cite') and from there we gain a swathe of poli- rooted words in current English and Greco-Latin based languages.

The word I'm getting at here, sorry for the detour, is polite.

After a brief but painstaking burst of research (I even looked in a real book) I have found something unexpected; there is nothing to indicate that polite has anything to do with suitable or civilised city behaviour.

This may not come as much of a surprise to some people.

Polite comes from, can you believe this, a Latin verb for 'to polish or make smooth'. This makes sense I suppose...although I have my doubts over any etymological expedition which is satisfied to call a halt at the gates of Ancient Rome when they're spoiled for choice with all the poli- words bandying around on the other side of the Adriatic.

Especially when I was relying on them for the theme of this post.
Lazy buggers.

Okay. So...let's assume that polite comes, as I thought it would, from the Ancient Greek.

This means I am asking you to conveniently forget all of the interesting and dubiously useful information above, and just follow me down the road to where I'm heading with all of this. Don't bemoan me looking all that stuff up and giving it to you. It's unlikely you and I will ever play Trivial Pursuit against each other, and this is just the kind of stuff which crops up in the yellow and brown questions.
So we've both gotten something out of this.

Okay. In our convenient, board-game advantage-gaining little world, polite means behaviour suitable for living in a city and on this level at least I should be okay.

I can, when I want, be scrupulously polite. The British as a whole have a reputation for falling over each other to be polite. Everyone knows that, surely?

In a city where courtesy may not necessarily be at the forefront of the minds of those I come into contact with, I can be polite (but don't have to), and where everyone, the second they hear me open my mouth and start with, "Excuse me...?" will assume me to be some Hugh-Grant-inspired foppish-haired Englishman, I can be out of a store and five minutes down the road before anyone realises that I have in fact been breathtakingly rude.

In New York five minutes buys you the length of a block and a turned corner, and that's all I need.

Happy Birthday, Love

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It is Krissa's birthday today.

She has asked me to wait until she is awake to hand in my notice...man what a massive change two weeks makes to your professional outlook.
I digress.

It is Krissa's birthday today.

It's the first birthday we have shared, and the little package I sent, complete with a card and gift from my Mum, arrived yesterday - meaning she could open it mere seconds into her birthday. Pride of place in the bright yellow birthday box was a silver necklace hand-made on the Isle of Wight. I wish I had been there to help her put it on.

It is Krissa's birthday today.

All being well, we will be together when my birthday rolls around in October.


Ho, okay then, I'm back on the blog.
I've been away two weeks...what did I miss?

Hatfield

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After two weeks at home on the Island, I'm back off to Hatfield today.

I hand in my formal notice of resignation tomorrow.

Also, a birthday package for a certain little owl should be arriving tomorrow, too...

One month of work to go, and then

I.

am.

out.

of.

here.

He's Only Got One Ball

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It is time.

Tonight, James and I will be tallying forth to Colonel Bogey's, which is, if the advertising is to be believed, the Island's 'Premier Nightspot'. I imagine this is achieved through all of the other places calling themselves 'nightclubs'.

Bogey's holds a special place in my heart. It remains to this day the only drinking establishment on earth to ask me for ID, shortly after my 18th birthday. The bouncer didn't unfold my driver's license to check my date of birth, he just grunted and handed it back.

Welcome to Bogey's!

Bogey's! The club which our group of friends attended most - despite the predatory middle-aged hordes, the appaling decor and music, the watery beer. We went because it was Bogey's, and that was that.

Bogey's! The best time to go was 80s night, when all pints and shots were a heartwarming 80 pence, and even those of us without part-time weekend jobs could get agreeably plastered and forget about coursework or exams!

Bogey's! Where dancing was rare, but arrhythmic gyration and staggering was practically de rigeur!

Bogey's! Where everyone was your friend, especially towards the end of the night!

Bogey's!

Well, time passes, things change, prices rise, music tastes alter. It was inevitable that Bogey's would have to evolve too.

Apparently it is 90s night, and all pints and shots are 90 pence.
Shocking.
Just shocking.

An Aside

After having attended this place for so many years, I started wondering who the hell Colonel Bogey was.

There's something about golf in there (an Army Colonel, extraordinarily bad at golf, eschewed 'Fore!' and instead announced impending brain death to those in the way with a natty five-note-scale) but apparently, 'Colonel Bogey' is the name of the march best known for the ahem 'unofficial' lyrics -

"Hitler - has only got one ball, the other - is in the Albert Hall..."

How appropriate.

More blogging when my brain cells rally to the remuster call.

Clearout Nostalgia

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I've been clearing out a lot of my old stuff from my bedroom. Here at home there are cupboards which are not opened, long forgotten things under the bed, and the occasional smile-inducing relic of some long distant phase of lightning-bright enthusiasm.

I've just thrown most of them away.

In my early teens I longed to fly. On the bus to school each morning I imagined taking the same route in the air, how different things would look from the sky as the bus rattled along narrow roads nestling between open fields, and how happy I would feel up there, floating above the land. So desperate was I to fly that when I heard you got to go flying in real aeroplanes for free, I surprised my parents by joining the Air Cadets, or, rather grandiosely, the Air Training Corps.

It still amuses me to think how readily and enthusiastically I took to that atmosphere of halfhearted military pretence. The whole thing was a recruiting exercise for the Royal Air Force, and I went for it hook, line and sinker - so much so that for a long time, that was what I had my sights set on - joining the military. It was all suddenly very important, and I became obsessed with my promotion through the cadet ranks. Because the local Ventnor 'Flight' was so small, I acquired a corporal's stripe very quickly (age 13, I think). It shut down and I moved to the Sandown Flight where there were a staggering twenty-odd cadets and I was thrust into competition to become a cadet sergeant.

So I planned and schemed. I drew up plans for weekend mini-camps or 'exercises', where there would be map reading, hiking, shooting, and night exercises. None of my plans were ever accepted, but I got the impression they still counted towards that third stripe. Ah, naivété.

Night exercises were my favourite. After trawling my way through my first Tom Clancy doorstopper-cum-blockbuster, I was all up for opportunities for stealth and ninja-esque activity. They were rudimentary playground games adapted for the open downs and forests, but in the dark, daubed with camouflage cream and sporting small branches from every spare buttonhole, no one really cared.

I even made some of these.

This little beauty is currently residing in a bin bag outside in the rain.

I am a little sad to be letting it go, but I am pretty confident I won't be needing it in the next month or so before leaving for the USA, so I decided to blog about it.

It is a stake and an empty tin, filled with a few stones, connected by string which has been darkened by being soaked in mud. A tripwire sound mine. In the dark all cats are grey, or so it is said. I thought this would come in handy in letting a defending team know when they were under attack. You peg out the stake, wind out the string, and stash the tin in a bush on one side of a path, sit back, and wait for someone to walk through it, alerting you.
At least, that's the idea.

One evening on Ventnor Downs I managed to wrangle a place on the team which were defending the ramparted and flinty car park against an attacking team, who, in designing the exercise, I had given an eight-foot-long tube loaded with sandbags to place underneath the squadron minibus. That was their objective. My team had to try and stop them. I placed a few sound mines on the more obvious approaches.

Did I mention that I was 15 at this time?

I was 15 at this time.

Nothing ever went to plan on these things. I mean ever. The attacking team unwittingly lost all the sandbags climbing up the Downs in the dark, and didn't think that the fact that the smallest team member could carry their 'bomb' unaided was any kind of problem, and one chap, a 19 year old overtly racist Afrikaaner who I'm unafraid to say no one really liked...well, he nearly lost some teeth.

In the dark all cats are grey.

A few cadets rambled amiably through the car park, loitered near the bus and rambled away. The 'bomb' had found it's target. A cry went up, and the attacking team fled. In the confusion a sharp hash of stone on tin was heard. Then another, and another, getting rapidly faster as the string shortened. Then there was a sharp cry.

A sound mine had claimed the Afrikaaner as its victim.

Shortly afterwards, I got promoted.
Can't imagine why.

At the age of seventeen I realised the truth - out of all the people I knew, I was probably the least suited to joining the armed forces, and I stopped going.

Still. I can't help grinning about it sometimes.

Announcement Number Two

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Ladies and gentlemen, my Mum.

Another blogger in the family. It's getting contagious.

Keith (my Dad) has already taken up the bane of the UK Blogging scene and personal crusade of comedian and blogger Richard Herring, and fallen foul of the seductive wiles of Consecutive Number Plate Spotting (CNPS).

Thank God I'm leaving the country.

Work called me last week. They were up a certain creek with no means of propulsion or making way, and were panicking. Despite being very much on holiday, I did a little work from my parents' study, and in exchange, I recieved an additional day's annual leave.

This combined with the time off liberated by not needing holiday for the Christmas break by virtue of being a continent away and no longer an employee at the time, meant that I had enough holiday for another week off...so I'm taking it.

Now.
Another week at home on the Island with my brilliant family, in these surroundings...the horizons are made up of the hills and fields I've known since childhood, and there's nothing really to describe the feeling of a bright sunny breezy day in this decrepit little seaside town. The wind in the trees and the sun on the water, the gentle background rumbles and noise of the town...

That's worth more than money to me right now.

Although I had a bizarre dream last night. A sitcom set on a small fictional island, very much like the Isle of Wight, only smaller and more rural..only it was roughly where Staten Island is now. It was a cultural/class comedy with occasional visitors from Manhattan...la la la la. Odd dreams. I told you.

With this additional time off I intend to hit the beach, drink beer, swim in the sea, play snooker in a converted church, and slip in a good walk up out of the town one morning...to take in the sight of Ventnor nestled in the crook of the hills and sloping down to the sea as the sun richens and climbs in the sky.

The Last Stand of the Ventnor Underground Camel Corps

- more news on this story later in the week.

Taking The Holyhead Train 2

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Ah. Backlog.

In the evening on Tuesday after the fishing, Dave's family very kindly invited me to dinner with them at a pub in Arreton. Dave's Dad was taking his Melodion along to a bring-your-own folk music session.

It was unlike anything I'd seen before. In little pauses after songs or poems or tunes, someone would pipe up (sometimes literally - with pipes) and everyone would either listen, or join in for the refrain on a song, or play along with their instruments. I was drinking Tanglefoot, which, in retrospect, I believe to be the Real Ale Drinkers' answer to Stella Artois. Or Whisky, I'm not sure. It's strong, anyway.

One long-white-haired guy wearing a shamrock-green t-shirt was playing a drum - that traditional Irish type of drum I can't remember the name of. He stood up on his own and sang a song about respecting your donkey - 'Never look down on your ass', which got everyone laughing and joining in for the chorus under the black-beamed ceiling...after another couple of playalong songs, he stood up again. I sipped Tanglefoot absently until I was shocked out of my reverie by the fact that he seemed to be talking to me. Both in terms of the words and the fact that he was staring at me.

All day I'd been semi-melancholically considering the fact that I'd be leaving soon.

"I can tell from your face
that you're leaving this place..."

My jaw dropped.
Er...?

"...you're taking the Holyhead train..."

Ah. Ireland. No. Not exactly. Nice try.

In a rough circle in front of the fireplace were guitars, a violin, a mandolin, a flute, two melodions, an accordion, that Irish drummy wossname, and a bass-like instrument made out of a broom handle, a length of twine, and a packing case on wheels.

There was even gentle scandal, mild intrigue and (respectfully) raised voices over the future of British Folk Music.

All in all, it was a magical evening.

...she is handsome, she is pretty, she is the belle of Belfast city...

...changed, unconsciously, unwittingly, on my lips....

...she is handsome, she is pretty, she is the belle of New York City...

Taking the Holyhead Train

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I took Dave fishing yesterday, at the old ponds above Whitwell. Well, that's a lie...Dave took me, because he was able to borrow a car, but we'll gloss over that.

The weather forecast for the week looked like this:

Monday: Intermittent sun, possible storms
Tuesday: Intermittent sun, showers
Wednesday: Intermittent sun, possible storms
Thursday: Intermittent sun, possible storms
Friday: Rain

So, as sensible people looking to go and stand outside holding long sticks, we plumped for the day with a slim chance of lightning.
You know. Fishing is meant to be one of the great pleasures in life, but bursting into electric flames is less so.

There was a little rain, but on the whole the weather let us get on with the business of catching fish. Dave had never been fishing before, but mastered the basics - sitting, pointing the rod in the right direction - very quickly.

We were fishing using Spam (TM).

As for a short while when Dave was unsure of the very few skills needed to persuade a fish to come out of the water for a while using Spam (TM), I kept an eye on him, gave him the pointer on casting...and reminded him, as his teacher for the short learning curve of waving hooks around in the air, to be mindful of the living face. My living face. With the hook. Ah yes, says Dave.

A great success of a day was had - both in actually catching fish and, as is so important in these matters, playing up to the audience. Dave managed to start catching his first ever fish whilst on the phone to his sister, we caught two fish when she was actually there with her sixteen month old daughter Emma, who seemed a little confused by what she called the 'Dsh', and I managed to cast out, hook, land and put back a small tench I dubbed Bernard, all during Krissa's morning wake up call.

It hardly rained at all, which is good, because we made a right pig's ear of putting up the storm brolly.

As a young girl with blue braces walked by with a shetland pony on each arm for the third time that day, we started to pack up our stuff. I looked down the hill across the valley to the church surrounded by Yew, the houses on the road, the woodlands which spread up the downs and the slow progress of a tractor in the next meadow, and knew that it would be a long time before I could come back.

So we released the wasps we had trapped in our empty coke cans with big lumps of Spam(TM), and went home.

I'll tell you about the fantastic evening we had...a little later...

Sticking Up For The Home Team

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I once beat the Olympian, Darren Mew, in a swimming race.

The venue was the swimming pool in the central courtyard of our school - Archbishop King Middle School, in Newport, on the Isle of Wight.

The pool was only about six metres long, so small it could not take our entire class at once for anything more than splashing around.
I pushed off with my legs at the start, cheating (it was one of the rules in such a tiny pool); the sole reason for my small, meaningless victory in a small swimming pool surrounded by concrete slabs and bordered on one side by what passed as a small vegetable garden for some of the nuns. It was a sunny day, and we were eleven years old.

Darren could already swim like he was born in the water.

I spent a lot of time in the sea at that age, and I can still hold my own when swimming, but swimming is hard work.

When you can casually scull your way along in the water, flipping onto your back whenever you want to, diving under the water and hearing the high salty pinking of the stones rattling along the bottom in the wash, doggy paddle for a bit, breaststroke (after a fashion) for a bit, and then flip onto your back again and float whilst looking at the clouds drifting over the hills above the town if it all gets a bit too stressful, then you rarely feel the need for a damn good front crawl sprint.

It's just one of those things.

Darren competed in a bizarre competition that I know not many people have heard of - the Island Games - in his teens. The Island Games gathers together all the sportsmen of the Islands of the British Commonwealth and sets them in contest against each other. It happens every four years, like the big competitions. I was part of the cadet force present at the opening ceremony on the jousting green at Carisbrooke Castle when the Isle of Wight played host, when I was fifteen or so. I had to salute Princess Margaret.

Then I saw him, on television a few years later, as part of the English team in the Commonwealth Games.

Then, the other day, I saw his name spring up in a swimming lane in Athens in the final of the Mens' 100m Breaststroke. He and a teammate made up a quarter of the finalists. They had trained together for years for the Olympics. They did not finish in the medals, and, as the first second and third rose up on the screen, the commentator consulted his notes.

"Mew's personal best would have won this race."

And, although I haven't kept in touch with him all these years - the most I've done is read his friendsreunited entry, or nodded drunkenly at him in an Island club - Darren's post-race interview really got to me.

"I'm sorry," he said. "That was terrible."

And he hung his head. His teammate was suddenly on the recieving end of a microphone, and provided the standard wry smile and shrug - a comment about training and luck was suddenly cut by the interviewer 'letting them' go and warm down, followed by commentary in the studio about how the pair of them were still good for another Olympics in four years' time.

Darren: you went to represent Britain at the Olympic Games, and I for one was damn proud to see you do it.

Thank you.

Light the blue touchpaper...

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Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure and not a little worry over the possibility of future anecdotal content concerning myself that I introduce Ockers Online.

Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen...a new blog to announce when I am at home can mean only one thing; my Dad has decided to have a go at this blogging thing which seems to be all the rage. We have just had an interesting hour or so putting together a blogger profile, personal descriptions and the like...

We had an eventful day today attempting to get to an outdoor Jazz Festival in torrential rain, but I'll let him tell the story...go and say hello!

As you may have noticed, I am currently enjoying a short holiday at home on the Isle of Wight, cashing in that annual leave to spend some quality time with the family before my interview at the Embassy comes around and all of a sudden there's too much to do in too little time. Entries this week might be a little irregular, and maybe even partially nonexistent, but I'll do my best.

Have fun, people...

I'm going home this afternoon.

One morning in the next week I shall wake just after sunrise, creep down the stairs trying not to wake my parents, to the entrance hall where I will have laid my equipment.

Picking up my rod and landing net, and my tackle box and a small lunch, I shall climb up through the streets of Ventnor and out along the rough road behind the Crispy Fry up onto the paths which criss-cross the 9 hole golf course on top of the downs, and I shall follow the flinty paths through the gorse bushes. You can see clear across the Island from up there, over the Solent to the mainland. You can pick out the grey stones of the church at Godshill, with its gold and blue clock face picked out by morning sunlight at about 8am in the summer and you can see it gleam for miles above the hazy fields and trees. I shall start coming down off the hills, through the cow fields and over the watermeadows to a small farm overlooking the village of Whitwell, where I have fished since I was twelve years old.

From the benches by the water you see the colours of the country change with the hours of the day, but the best time comes as the afternoon wears on and the sun hangs just above the next set of downs, sending the old distant pepperpot and the radio masts into silhouette. The light becomes a golden orange and settles on the western sides of things and the tops of trees, a slow rich, easy glow which lifts a cooling haze from the grasses and trees of the hedgerows and blurs the sharpness of the village into a dream-like vision which sits in the memory because of the feeling it gave you rather than the picture you recall.

I will walk along the shingle and sand beach where I spent my childhood summers, nod to the agéd longshoreman who became a family friend, look for the old pier supports in the sea front of the new Victorian style bandstand which sits proudly at one end of the promenade, wander into the Gaiety arcade, and see the kids' rides they've had since I was small enough to go on them, the pool tables with saltwater marks from the great spring tides five or six years ago.

Then of course there are other things to look forward to.

I have a horrible feeling these may involve ganging up with a load of people from my old High School and going to Colonel Bogey's.

A Bit About You...

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Here's what I've found out about you lot from the Autoblography Quizzette.

Q1. Some of you think a trained squirrel could serve coffee. Fine! YOU run the CSOYVD!

Q2. Some of you think I have climbed Everest. I suspect these would be the people who have yet to meet me. Some of you think there is a mountain called Harramey. I made that up.

Q3. Lots of you like Douglas Adams. I'm chuffed about that. Unfortunately fewer of you have read the mathematical treatise I did on Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' in the Wind'.

Q4. Some of you are good guessers; I think I've only mentioned the Hemingway/Autoblography birthday thing once.

Q5. Some of you think it took me six months to propose - I suspect these would be the people have yet to meet Krissa.

Q6. Some of you rightly feel that Jarvis is a better name for a Venus Flytrap than Victoria. This shows that you have great taste, and I wish I'd thought of it when I bought the plant.

Q7. Reg is constantly confused about which Island I come from. That'll be the Isle of Wight, Reg.

Q8. Most of you aren't sure who Zippy and George, Sonia or Keith Chegwin are. Therefore most of you are American. However, some of you also believe that I've previously worked with Bill Clinton. I'm not quite sure what this means.

Q9. Some of you believe that I would push a peanut into someone's ear as a means of getting to know them. This has until now not been the case, but I shall begin to carry peanuts with me at all times as a matter of course, just in case I meet any of you lot.

Q10. Some of you can tell the truth when you see it, regardless of whether you know or not. None of you think I was offered the Crown of Spain. This demonstrates that you have no confidence in me whatsoever as a sovereign state ruler.

Here's the score card for yesterday's quiz:

10 points - You are surprised to be asked questions on seemingly nonsensical things about which you know very little. You may have arrived here through google, looking for Stuart Little pictures, and gone with the flow, or done the quiz at 100mph. Either way, you feel proud that you beat the laws of averages and got below 25%. All of the above is wrong. Your name is Jake.

20 points - The questions were tangential to the norm, asking bizarre and obscure questions about things which quite frankly you don't care about all that much, but some of the options were marginally funny, so you don't feel like you've wasted your life. You know at least one thing about this Stuart chap, and you might come back to see if you've won the prize.

30 points - Beating the 25% law of averages thingy shows that you have a rudimentary knowledge of Stuart and the Autoblography. However, because your names are Sophie and Reader, Stuart has absolutely no knowledge of you. Comment once in a while, huh? Y'all come back now.

40 points - You jumped on the questions you knew and you demolished them mercilessly. You feel some of the questions were unfair, as they were before your time or on obscure things Stuart doesn't write about very often. You've never met him. Perhaps your bad-breathed cat leapt on the keyboard at the wrong moment, you were distracted by a bike ad in a nearby newpaper, you were wondering about doing your own quiz, or something like that. It's okay. Well done.

50 points - Unless your name is Ann, you've never met Stuart either. You should feel good about your score - some of those questions! Honestly. You demonstrate a level of knowledge on Stuart and the Autoblography which would get you a pass if such a qualification existed, so pat yourself on the back. YOu feel that you could have got a couple more if only you'd revised, or had Stuart's Archives or Google open when doing the quiz. How very true.

60 points - This is the point at which Stuart starts to get a bit worried, especially if he doesn't know who you are. You are an Autoblography regular, or you had Google / Backblog open whilst doing the quiz. It's okay. It's not an exam, you cheat. You feel that the best seats in the Coffee Shop Of Your Very Dreams should be yours, and of course you are right. You demonstrate a level of knowledge which shows you are sharp of mind, quick of wit, and have a memory which recalls the obscure details of someone else's life before it remembers where it left the housekeys. Congratulations.

70 points - Congratulations! If there was an Autoblography Degree, you would have recieved first class honours. You've either read the Autoblography from comparatively early on because Stuart knew your boyfriend at university, or you happened along quite cheerfully from another site, and are very lucky.

80 points - The créme de la créme! Readers of distinction! Your Autoblography knowledge could take you to Postgraduate level with ease, or you could make a killing on Mastermind, if only they gave out decent prizes instead of a stupid glass bowl. It is a lucky quirk of the Alphabet that a young lady named krissa tops the leaderboard, as the small prize is that the overall winner, deemed by me to be the person who is top of the table at 1130am BST on Thursday the 12th of August, will be married by me before the end of the year.

Thank you all for taking part!

My Ego Knows No Bounds

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In a minor potential act of hubris, nothing especially grandiose, a quiz has been assembled for Autoblography readers. Why not try it out?

The Autoblography Quizzette is here.

Clue: How many roads must a man walk down...according to ME? Not anyone else, of course. That would just be silly. I can't go back and edit it now, I'm afraid. Sorry.

For anyone wanting to see how they did versus everyone else, keep an eye on the scoreboard...

There may be a small prize for the ultimate winner...

(and because Reg asked...)
I GOT THIS VIA THE FUNJUNKIE FORUMS.

Stuart Autoblography, Pet Detective

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Yes, it's career change time again.

At least - IN MY MIIIND.

It's such a gorgeous morning that I thought I'd walk into work, even though I was only on time for catching the bus, and walking would see me enter mein vorkplace a little tardy. I love the fact that I'm emigrating. It puts a whole new spin on things.

I'm not sure what it is about Hatfield, maybe it is the same everywhere and I've never noticed, but there are always lost pet notices dotted on lampposts and bus stops around the town. They always offer a reward.

This morning, walking down Traveller's Lane, I passed the first of many posters.

LOST!!

Then, heartbreakingly, a picture of an African Grey Parrot, looking endearingly cute perched on the edge of a brass cage with a peanut in its beak - which always gives the set of the beak a curve like a cheeky grin.

Now I can understand the pain of the owners of lost cats and dogs, but there's an extra dimension to the loss of a parrot. If a cat or dog gets lost, then they have reference points - they can retrace their steps, head home. There's always a chance that Tiddles didn't lose his third dimension under an HGV and will in fact stroll nonchalantly in after attending the kitty equivalent of Woodstock in the next town. Cats are like that.

Parrots, for obvious reasons, the rights and wrongs of which I won't go into here, if they manage to get out of a window or a door and fly off...that's something they'll never have done before.

They won't know what the outside of their house looks like, they won't know which house is theirs, hell everything out there is new, scary, and suddenly the world is enormous and this flying lark turns out to be a sight more tiring than it was flitting up from the cage to the curtain rail and blimey the air moves around a fair bit up here, and I can see my house from here! Which one is it? Actually, is a house one of those green things, or the grey pointy-topped things? Ah well, I'm sure it'll all work out. Woah, nope, can't keep this up, wheeeeeeeeeeeee, woah, the wings don't work so well on the way down, man I'm tired all of a sudden waaaaah *flumph* okay, made it down again. Hmm. This isn't carpet.

You see my point.
So I started thinking, as I'm apt to do when I'm walking and air and blood is circulating...what time of day? what was the weather like? Wind direction? Position of the sun? How long since the parrot has it's wings clipped? Does it fly in the house? How tame is it? How old is it? Has it been outside before?
Does it know it's home address?

See? I could totally be a pet detective.

And I'm watching the trees. Happily because of prior experience, I can tell an African Grey from a pigeon at two hundred yards. We shall see.

Big Apples

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I'm off home next week for nine days - off on Friday afternoon and back a couple of Mondays later.

I'm going back to the Island to spend some quality time with my family, and take Dave fishing.

He's never been fishing before, so it'll be fun.

It's Cowes Week this week back on the Island, a time when things are always lively and fun, depending on the weather, and lively, fun and drunken in the evenings, regardless of it. I'll be arriving on Friday evening, which is Fireworks Night - the big finale to the week's sailing...but I don't think I'm going to make that.

Over the weekend just gone I went to Fruitstock in Regents Park, along with The Apparently Shaméd Adrian, Pix, Mark, Acerbia Dave, Steph and a supporting cast of literally thousands. 'Twas good fun.

Anticipated Work
After returning from New York in March I appealed to everyone for help in getting a job. Let me tell you how that's going.

Okay.
I mean, there's an issue in the US at the moment about importing scientific workers. It was apparent after I got back. For a couple of weeks there were a number of jobs where I could have applied, but now most if not all of the new jobs for the NY area come into my inbox from various sites emblazoned with 'Must be eligible to work in the United States'.

So for the last few months I've been biding my time, getting into a position where I have a plan of action. Anything that came along that looked suitable, I enquired after it with the stipulation that I didn't yet have my visa, but I was expecting to be in the country by such-and-such a date. A couple of these companies have been very helpful and asked me to let them know when I arrive, so that they can re-assess matters. One company has even said that they want to interview me regardless of whether or not they have any outstanding roles they need to fill, which is nice.
I've also registered with three of the most relevant recruitment agencies in the City, who have said that they have a number of jobs coming and going in my area of work all the time. All I have to do once I have the work permit is call them and they'll go to work.
Best of all, perhaps, is the side of things which has come about through networking from my current job, which I won't go into too much here.

As we all know, it's who you know.

And you know me. I'll sort something out.

Other Big Apples
I've become marginally addicted to Fiji Apples - the monstrously huge and juicy apples sold by a Chinese Food Shop here in Hatfield.
They're gorgeous.

Why.
Krissa sent me a poem in the post this week. It arrived yesterday morning and I read it, stopped as I was dressed and ready to leave for work. It made me cry with happiness, and led me to stare at the photograph I have of her on my wall before leaving the house.
It is a picture of her standing on the back of the Staten Island Ferry, with a dusky Manhattan skyline behind her. A wisp of hair is curling across her right cheek, her head is leaning slightly forward, and she has a half-smile on her lips. Her eyes...I will not even try to describe.
I stood there, grinning like an idiot as I wiped a tear from my face with the dressing gown on the back of my door, thinking, 'How did I find you? How did I find you?'

Let us fly flags of every colour and design from the rafters. They might get caught up in the swirling ceiling fans, causing electrical shorting, sparks and eventual fire, but that's not the point.

The point is that we are a multinational group, us Internetters, and here there are no boundaries, unless you count the boundaries as laid out in our URLs, which, quite frankly, would ruin the general global village effect that I'm aiming for, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't. Thanks.

I'll just prep the Uberpercolator...what do we have for today's ingredients...a kilogramme bar of Belgian Chocolate in this slot here...there's a small greenhouse-style arrangement just here on the side where the espresso bin usually sprouts, but the glass is all steamed up and I can only make out green leaves in there...maybe...tea? I hope it's tea. We've had enough problems with the authorities round here as it is. A miniature glacier is curling down a slope of the Uberpercolator's de rigeur chrome and into another slot just there...Daisy appears to be happily mooing her way through a trough of what makes England green and pleasant back in the kitchen, along with another, strangely bovine friend, who is turning his nose up at the grass and chewing through a bag of Yak Treats (what the hell do Yaks eat, anyway?), and a spinning rack of glass coffee bean hoppers is clicking around slowly over here...I think that's everything covered. Time to push the button.

WELL IT'S NICE TO KNOW THAT I CAN RELY ON A LITTLE CUSTOM EVEN WITH THE ERRATIC, NAY, ECCENTRIC OPENING HOURS WE'VE HAD LATELY, AND IT'S GOOD TO HEAR THE UBERPERCOLATOR BACK TO A REASONABLE VOLUME...only it's a right pain having to negotiate all the paperwork after a coffee morning. Environmental health writs, legal claims from passers-by for psychological damage, chemical outflows and even light pollution. Honestly, people these days.

Anyway. Coffee up!

First up is Adrian, who, whilst being fairly definite about his drink, an 'I'm innocent, I didn't do anything, don't know what you are talking about, really I don't-mocca-froppa-loppa-chino', hasn't declared which country he wants to drink it in, so we shall create a State of Uncertainty for him, as I haven't the foggiest clue what he's on about, but no doubt my wonderful fiancée shall enlighten us later...

Then Lady Green Fairy, with only the slightest question about the Café's extended absence, makes her request for an Earl Grey, which has been brewed from tips plucked from live tea plants inside the machine. No doubt other arrangements were made for the drying and whatnot. A range of 'Coffee Shop of Your Very Dreams' merchandise will no doubt shortly be forthcoming.

Lolly isn't fussed where he drinks it, but he wants a coffee cocktail, and he wants it strong. Well, here. haver a syrup espresso with a dollop of double yak cream, and we'll drop you off somewhere in the Himalayas with your bike so you can ride all the way down to say, Mumbai, and hitch home from there.

Mr. D wants his coffee iced by our mini-glacier and served up on the shores of Hawai'i, where he will find it to be one hell of a swim home...more Uberpercolator Glacier ice is used for Dani's frappe, who's hopefully okay enough to enjoy the view of the Pelopennese through the afternoon haze as we drop her off in the land of the forthcoming Olympics...and it's a short jaunt to deposit Karen in Hungary with her jeges kave which she can sip whilst leaning relaxedly against the stone parapet of a riverbank, trying to remember the way back to Pockless' faculty.

Dave would like a rich, dark, seductive coffee, covered with cream (courtesy of Daisy, not the Yak) and cherries. You can be dropped off in the middle of the Black, Black Forest. I hope your German is up to scratch..you'll need to explain to the authorities when they find you what exactly you're doing staggering through the woods, clothing torn, with your only camping and hiking equipment being a coffee mug...

Miss Shivery requests that her hot, hot chocolate be served in a round wide bowl a la francaise,and we'll drop her off at the top end of the Champs Elysées, and try and ignore the startled Frenchmen who seem to be overreacting at the sight of a Coffee Shop hovering thirty feet above the Arc de Triomphe. What's with them, huh? I thought Paris was meant to be the city of café culture. What's one more? Anyway, enjoy your stroll through gay Paris, Shivola.

Krissa, who, I can't help mentioning, has agreed to marry me, fancies popping over here for the day, and requests a milk-less cuppa chai. You can have that, my love, with bells on. Morris Dancing bells, to emphasise the whole Anglophileness of the experience.

Then we have Ian who knows exactly what he wants and isn't afraid to ask. Blue Mountain beans, check, served up...give the shop a few minutes to get there....served up on the 87th floor of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt. Again. What is it with these people? It's just a café. You'd think they'd never seen one before. 87th floor eightyshmeventh floor.

Finally...a large Americano for myself as the Coffee Shop makes it's final approach to the runway at New York JFK, where we will shortly be setting up a permanent franchise.

Now that we've all got our drinks and been thrown to the four corners of the earth...er...would anyone like a lift home?

Celebratory Coffee

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I have no chickens. I'd just like to point that out.

I am chickenless...devoid of fowl, if you will.

However, I am still in a fantastic mood for the simple reason that the Embassy interview is a month today, and that is the final stage of my US Visa application, bar the boarding of the 747 and the in-flight complementary orange juice...should all go to plan.

But I have no chickens, I should reiterate.
Merely eggs.

Let's hope I don't absent-mindedly make an omelette before September 9th.

ANYWAY.

The Coffee Shop of Your Very Dreams throws open its doors on this muggy Monday morning, and bids you to come in for free muffins and caffienated beverages, served as only our dedicated staff can. We've reverted to the original decor; the chrome-rimmed sustainably-grown mahogany bar, sumptuous furnishings in the form of deep, luscious sofas and spinning ceiling fans. The beans are fresh, the Uberpercolator is gleaming after a refit and waiting to morph into whatever convoluted shape is required to produce your orders this day.

For a theme, you may name a coffee served in the style of the country you'd most like to be in right now. If the country you want to be in doesn't have a particular style of coffee, make one up. Call it a Colonial Coffee Culture.

I shall of course be bagsying the Americano...

Orders please!

Iacta Alea Est - Part Two

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(Part One)

HAHAHAHA!

I have an interview date with the US Embassy in London.

This is it, kids. This is all that stands between me and the US. All that stands between me and the woman whom I am madly in love with.
Between Krissa and I.

The first part to this post was telling my family and friends that I had met the woman who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and that unfortunately, our chosen combined courses in life would take me away from them, geographically at least, which is something we've all had to start to come to terms with.

This...this is me BOUNCING UP AND DOWN because the end to the visa process is, at last, in sight.

The 9th of September.

I've been interviewed for jobs on the behalf of companies before.
I've never been interviewed on the behalf of a country.

I am feeling rather good right now.

Have a sunny wonderfucker of a weekend, y'all.

I have done absolutely no research for this post. Everything here, was in my head before writing. You may feel the need to express sympathy at some point.

The Galleria is a shopping centre. I don’t know how old it is, but I would hazard a guess at about ten years, maybe less. It cannot be older than twenty, because the ground it is built on wasn’t there twenty years ago. Twenty years ago some men with big machines carved a sodding great swathe through a bit of northern hatfield, poured several thousand tons of concrete, and then put a lid on the hole, and called it Hatfield Tunnel. It covers the A1(M). So the Galleria sits on top of a motorway tunnel, and because of this, and because tunnels aren’t great things to build on top of, the Galleria actually exerts very little weight on the tunnel roof itself. The great grey hooping cables and external girders actually transfer most of the load to the ground either side of the tunnel. It’s clever, but it means that the Galleria is a monstrosity.

There are two parts. One sits above the southern mouth of the tunnel, and is the grey, curved roof bit...behind this a flying walkway lined with cafés and restaurants leads to a less ornate box; a cinema complex which sits on top of a bunch of fast food outlets.
This box has wire hoops on for decoration. I don't think it works.
Impact crater not shown
Viewed from nearby, The Galleria looks like an awkwardly parked space vessel, or as though it's been dropped into this semi-respectable suburb from somewhere in the stratosphere. It doesn’t fit in any way. Mind you, if it had been built in the style of the buildings nearby, it would be a fifty-foot grey cube masquerading as a mock-tudor bungalow, and I'm not sure which is worse.

The traditional out-of-town shopping centre story is that a town has shops and services of its own, and then along comes this predatory congolomeration of marble and muzak and sucks the soul out of the town, replacing it with shiny corporate gloss and fast food. I would say The Galleria certainly stole a soul, but it hasn’t replaced it with anything - mostly because the shops in The Galleria are bloody awful.

Billed from the off as an 'Outlet Centre', the Galleria is the place to go if you want almost perfect clothing, only just second-class products of all sorts of descriptions, or end-of-line bargains. In a bizarre twist, the corporate gloss and gleam of more traditional shopping centres is invading and ousting the cut-price stores - there's even a Costa Coffee in there now, so you can spend £5 for a coffee to drink while you examine your recent clothing purchases to see where the faults are.

Let me take you inside...

Here we are. Verdant palms wave in the cooling blast of the distant air conditioning units, cut priced stores peddle their wares, and yes, that is a full sized aircraft suspended from the ceiling in the background. All in all, The Galleria is a curious place to shop. You have a rough knowledge of what sort of shops are there, but the goods they sell can change from week to week, and the prices vary wildly. If you want cheap clothing but you don't know, for example, if you want trousers, underwear, a winter coat or a summer blouse, then The Galleria is for you.


Who knows what the stores...um...have in store?

Okay, so I've done a little lookup on Google, and I am flabbergasted by what I have found. I am aware that families may spend their weekends mooching around the place, that teenagers loiter around looking moodily at each other waiting for the hormones to settle down, and that maybe, just maybe, someone goes there to shop.What I wasn't prepared for was Hatfield Galleria's place in the hallowed halls of the world's all-time best sporting venues. Top left, The Pyramids, bottom right...Hatfield Galleria.

People are odd, huh.

Next up on Stuart's Guide to Hatfield: Hatfield House.

How The Web Was Won

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Stuart: Good afternoon. It is my very great pleasure to introduce to you all Mr. Aloysius Merriweather, a man who claims that the Internet has changed his life. Say hello to all our listeners, Mr. Merriweather.

Mr. Merriweather: Hello. *shifts in seat*

Stuart: Now the Internet, as some of you may know, is a computer-based system of home and business computers connected via telephony. A user of a home computer may communicate with another user thousands of miles away about matters as inconsequential as the weather, or a particular type of foot fungus. This 'Internet' has been heralded as something which may also change the shopping trends of housewives and indeed families everywhere, and Mr. Merriweather is here today to tell us all about the benefits of the Internet and doing some of your shopping, as they say 'online'. Mr. Merriweather, as a true and average representative of all of those people out there who use the Internet, may I say that it is a pleasure to welcome you to the programme.

Mr. Merriweather: Thank you, Stuart. *coughs, moves in chair*

Stuart: Let's start with the educational benefits that the internet has brought about. Much as with the advent of moving pictures, the educational potential of the Internet has been widely trumpetted.

Mr. Merriweather: Yes, indeed. The potential is in fact infinite. There is no limit to what can be done with the new media emerging as a result of the internet. Interactive content, instantaneous encyclopaedia referrals, specialist websites, it's a young media, but already it is so developed. *shifts in seat*

Stuart: Yes, and as I understand it you yourself have been bettering yourself online?

Mr. Merriweather: Yes, that's right. *crosses legs*

Stuart: Tell us about it.

Mr. Merriweather: Well, due to the ease with which communication can be carried out on the Internet, I recieved a number of emails from educational establishments inviting me to enrol, and, after shopping around a bit, I did. After a registration fee and some administrative duties, I was able to begin working towards qualifications. *fidgets nervously with ring on finger*

Stuart: Amazing! Have you completed any courses of study?

Mr. Merriweather: Yes, a few. *crosses legs in other direction*

Stuart: Really? How many? To what level?

Mr. Merriweather: I currently hold sixteen degrees in subjects ranging from psychology to economics, and four postgraduate degrees; Social Science, Medicine, Opthalmic Optics and Astrophysics. There are also a couple in the mail, but they're not official yet, obviously. *recrosses legs*

Stuart: Amazing! How long did you have to study to achieve this incredible level of qualification?

Mr. Merriweather: Oh, it takes about ten minutes to fill in the forms, usually. No real study involved. You see through the power of the internet, I am able to recieve qualifications for what I already know. *wriggles in chair*

Stuart: Extraordinary. Congratulations.

Mr. Merriweather: Thank you.

Stuart: You also found love online, did you not?

Mr. Merriweather: I did.

Stuart: Tell us about it.

Mr. Merriweather: I came to know about a website dedicated to helping people find love...you know, life partners - nothing seedy. A lot of the girls on there were lonely Eastern Europeans - very pretty. I started chatting with a few of them, but there was one with whom I really felt, a...a..connection, you know? *changes posture*

Stuart: Your present wife.

Mr. Merriweather: Yes, Olga. She sent me some photographs of her on holiday by the Black Sea, and she listed computers and computer games as one of her interests, and it all took off from there.

Stuart: How long have you been married?

Mr. Merriweather: Four months. Yes. We're very happy. Olga's passport should be coming through any week now. *shifts uneasily*

Stuart: Marvellous, marvellous. So; you've bettered yourself educationally, you've found a wife...what about the smaller things in life - shopping, for instance? How can our listeners make use of the internet in their day to day lives?

Mr. Merriweather: Well, there's all sorts of websites dedicated to shopping. There's really-cheap-cds.com, buy-stuff-online.co.us, secondhand-military-hardware.ru, the lists are endless. Just send your email address to a few of these sites and you'll have special offers filling your mailbox in no time. *coughs, changes sitting position*

Stuart: So what else have you used the internet for?

Mr. Merriweather: I've bought music, insurance, *shifts in seat* clothes, books, videos, DVDs, Olga...I mean, I mean, I met her online, obviously, not bought her hahahaha...um...banking, weather, stocks and shares...as a matter of fact I have a very interesting proposition currently going through with a gentleman in Uganda...um...*shifts in seat again*...I read newspapers...*changes sitting position*...er...

Stuart: Are you quite all right, Mr. Merriweather? Are you uncomfortable? Is there something the matter with the chair?

Mr. Merriweather: No, no, it's okay, it's just that I have a terribly large penis.

Satyrday

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I met the ever cheery and grandiloquent Dave in Trafalgar Square on Saturday morning. The sun was shining, Boeing 747s drifted by serenely and comparatively silently overhead, a small boy with a large cumbersome black plastic visor attempted to return the serve of a virtual-reality-based Tim Henman, a spongey running track wove through the yellow plastic corporate banners, athletic types wandered around in purple spandex, and a really irritating man with a microphone nattered gratingly through loudspeakers above it all.

So naturally we sat down and had a coffee there.

We caught up on news, gossip and international marriage visa applications, as old friends are wont to do, and then we went into the National Gallery to look at some pictures which were hanging on the walls.

We noticed that the little annotations besides the paintings were written in a similarly senseless and diverting style as Doctor Pockless; occasionally writing something bloody obvious, or something which actually seemed to be contradicted by the paintings themselves, and when we passed one containing the phrases 'magnificent beaver' and 'caressing her fox-fur muff' in the same sentence, we concluded that writing painting blurb must get pretty dull at times.

From Trafalgar Square we meandered down to Embankment and then walked along and over the river to the Tate Modern where the resounding memory is of standing watching a film of Punch (and his friend, Joey) stroking, prodding and feeding a guinea pig (before they fought to the death over it). People make livings out of this sort of thing. I applaud their audacity.

Over the river again and wandering up Fleet Street, we discussed the need, now that we were feeling suitably cultural, for shopping and beer.
In the Walkabout near Covent Garden we discussed, tentatively, what might be my Stag Night...I'm not a big one for the whole rowdy male troupe event, and a fair proportion of my friends are very female, so I think it will morph into 'Deer Night' and 'Stuart! Get The Fuck Out Of The Country Already!' party.
We shall see.

Dave bought a caribena. For his climbing. In a climbing shop. Everyone else in the shop was very skinny, whereas I looked like I had made a meal out of the people in the last skinny-person-shop I had walked into.

We went to Tin Pan Alley so I could buy a new set of strings for my 28 year old Spanish acoustic guitar (who will probably need a name at some point - suggestions, anyone?) and we passed, of all things, a small, open-fronted café bar with a jazz duo playing. They seemed, in fact, to be exactly what the White Stripes would have been, had they formed circa 1953. We gave in to our raging need to look cool and enjoyed a couple of pints sitting at a table outside on the pavement, listening to the bouncing, bassy jazz, and watching the lively visual spectacle that is a street with twelve guitar shops, two drum shops and one Jobcentre.

"To Camden!" we cried.
We emerged onto Camden High Street and wandered up to the lock past the markets as they were shutting down, and the watered mews. Frowning men stood nonchalantly next to stalls of magic mushrooms as police cars cruised by, the streets buzzed with a hundred different fad followers, and we searched briefly and in vain for a pub still doing food. In the end we ate in a dirty, decrepit joint called Tasty Corner, which, as Steph pointed out later, is 50% right - it is on a corner.
After Dave and I had enjoyed a pint of Kronenbourg 'Blanc', which had an eery hint of fruit, as though there was a pineapple chunk dissolving at the bottom, Mark, Steph and co arrived and joined us on the balcony overlooking the canal.

More drinks were had, the national rail system was blamed for prostitution, and vague wishy-washy plans made for coming weekends.

All in all, a Saturday well spent.

It Ends, Sort Of

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Five years ago today, a battered and dusty pair of blue sneakers, attached, incidentally, to my feet, walked a gangplank from a nippy little catamaran onto the end of a long pier which stretched for half a mile over rippled sands.

I had come home from two and a half months of travelling around Europe; as documented this summer over at The Gap Year Diaries.

I set out, in publishing that journal to show how the daily jottings and descriptions of our journeys and the sights we saw changed my writing style - from two line bare-boned entries when we first arrived in Paris in May, through to the reflections on the trip as we sat in the same gardens in August, after travelling thousands of miles, meeting hundreds of people, eating new foods, learning new things, walking in new lands.

That was the change I liked to see in the writing - that was the change I like to remember in myself. Now I think nothing in life is worth doing if it doesn't change you, somehow.

I arrived home five years ago, but the real end of the trip happened five years and one day ago, sitting on a wall on a bank of the River Seine, watching the sun go down...

1930hrs: Banks of the Seine, facing the Eiffel Tower and the bridge between Avenue Winston Churchill and La Palais des Invalides with the huge winged golden horses.

I thought I’d liked Paris as much as I could last time. I was wrong. This is more a case of love at second sight. The sun is still quite high in the sky, but it feels like sunset. the shadows are long and the light is golden.

Paris seems to welcome us like an old friend, one that remembers us well. It is good to see somewhere that is known to me from this trip, so that it is familiar, but familiar in a personal way. This Paris belongs to me. When I get home tomorrow everything will be familiar, which, oxymoronically, will seem strange. It won’t be personal familiarity – it’s shared by my family and the people I know, so for this personal quality I silently thank Paris.

I can see now one of the differences between Paris and other European cities. The stark differences between the two Tuileries – the Tuileries of May, and the Tuileries of August, depressed me, but Paris has an enduring quality. Whereas other cities are swamped and weighed down by the feet of the multitudinous tourists, they break over Paris like a wave, present only for a time before flowing away...Afterwards, underneath, is still Paris. It cannot be changed by tourism. It caters for it, but it a few more weeks of high season and the fair will be dismantled and the dust will settle.

Rome was vibrant and steeped in history, it was alive and thriving. Athens was a maze of thundering traffic, with all the culture and identity it needed poised gracefully on a rock against the sky for all to see. Madrid sweltered, but it is justifiably its nation's capital – there wasn’t one single identifiable mark of the evolution of a global culture (over and above the usual McDonald's and 'Coke' adverts). You could crush Madrid and it would bleed Spain. It is Spain through and through. Rabat was a meeting of two cultures, a melting pot that challenged the senses and intrigued my mind.

Paris seems to know that all it needs to do is to be Paris, and everything can only be well. it is the most self-assured and confident city that I've been to. It doesn't threaten – if you are here, then you are a part of Paris. There are no peddlers, no aggressive beggars and no real malevolence – nothing to cultivate a 'them and us mentality on either the visitors' or the Parisian’s side. It rests easy on the mind.

Perhaps you see in each city how you feel at the time, perhaps a mass of humanity only reflects what you are, so you leave with your memories of the city with how it made you feel as one whole. That would say a lot for my second impression of Paris, and how I have changed in the last few months.

There is only one other city I've been to which made me feel the same way, and I'm moving there.

Ventnor, August 2nd

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2nd August 0322hrs, Monday. Ferry, somewhere in the English Channel.

I’ve just carried out my first transaction in pounds and pence for over two and a half months, and felt distinctly odd. Especially conversing freely in English with the lady at the till, and hearing strange voices onboard ship. Not foreign tongues, but different accents of English. Not American English or Canadian English or English from someone who learned it as a foreign language, but Mother Tongue type English. I know it will take me all of a day or two for this to wear off, but for now it is a very eerie feeling.

I’m really looking forward to walking up the path to the front door without anyone expecting me back until tomorrow! (I hope someone’s in – that would just take the piss) I also hope that they don’t take it the wrong way. I’ve missed them so much that to come back to a disgruntled family would probably knock me for six.

The really annoying thing is that despite travelling overnight to arrive in the morning to have to the day to talk and stuff, I’m going to arrive home and have to go to bed, because the evening has been so disjointed )bus from Paris Bagnolet at 2200, stop-off mid-France around 0000, at ferry by 0200....), there has been very little time for sleep. I’ll try when we get back on the coach shortly. Due to the time difference, it’s now 0243hrs. Handy, but tiring! According to memory, the bus arrives in Victoria at 0655hrs. I don’t know why it takes four hours to London from Dover, but that’ll be the main sleeping opportunity of the day.
It hasn’t quite dawned on me yet that I’ll be at home later today. It doesn’t seem to fit in my head.

0650hrs: Victoria Coach Station, London
We arrived here in London about an hour ago, and the first coach to Portsmouth doesn’t leave until 9am, so we’ve a couple of hours to kill yet.
I still haven’t contacted anyone at home to let them know I’m coming! I’m bloody knackered and looking forward to being reunited with my bed.
It’s getting stuffy, I’m sticky and on the far side of dirty. There aren’t any showers here, so I’m going to arrive home smelling.

Mmm, great.

The Space At The Top

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Muchos kudos to Shivery Timbers for the new optimistically star spangled Autoblography banner.

Cheers Shiv!

The Space Down And Off To The Left A Bit

In another addition, a random selection of my recently uploaded flickr photos are displayed in a natty little trio down in the 'weblinks' section.
If you haven't already checked out flickr, then I suggest you give yourself a brief beating, and then head along. It is a photo-sharing site, a chat site, a social networking site and uses the neatest, coolest, instinctive flash interface I've ever seen.

Go flickr.

French Countryside, August 1st

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1st August 99 1805hrs, Sunday. Jardin de Tuileries, Paris. Facing the Louvre.

It’s been about two and a half months since we sat here last. It’s a startlingly different scene. The fountain in the pool in front of our seats is on, projecting water 10-15 feet into the air. The sound of it could only have added to the tranquillity of the gardens in May. Now it is the only tranquil sound. The gardens are packed with people. Tourists from around the globe, and the odd Parisian attempting to enjoy a book are sharing the same ground.

It’s so busy that a haze of dust hangs over the gardens, and a huge fun fair with the largest Ferris wheel I’ve ever seen has been erected on the side of the gardens farthest form the river. I prefer it as it was.

1930hrs: Banks of the Seine, facing the Eiffel Tower and the bridge between Avenue Winston Churchill and La Palais des Invalides with the huge winged golden horses. Okay?

I thought I’d liked Paris as much as I could last time. I was wrong. This is more a case of love at second sight. The sun is still quite high in the sky, but it feels like sunset. the shadows are long and the light is golden.

Paris seems to welcome us like an old friend, one that remembers us well. It is good to see somewhere that is known to me from this trip, so that it is familiar, but familiar in a personal way. This Paris belongs to me. When I get home tomorrow everything will be familiar, which, oxymoronically, will seem strange. It won’t be personal familiarity – it’s shared by my family and the people I know, so for that personal quality I silently thank Paris.

I can see now one of the differences between Paris and other European cities. The stark differences between the two Tuileries – the Tuileries of May, and the Tuileries of August, depressed me, but Paris has an enduring quality. Whereas other cities are swamped and weighed down by the feet of the multitudinous tourists, they break over Paris like a wave, present only for a time before flowing away...Afterwards, underneath, is still Paris. It cannot be changed by tourism. It caters for it, but it a few more weeks of high season and the fair will be dismantled and the dust will settle.

Rome was vibrant and steeped in history, it was alive and thriving. Athens was a maze of thundering traffic, with all the culture and identity it needed poised gracefully on a rock against the sky for all to see. Madrid sweltered, but it is justifiably its nation’s capital – there wasn’t one single identifiable mark of the evolution of a global culture (over and above the usual McDonald’s and ‘Coke’ adverts). You could crush Madrid and it would bleed Spain. It is Spain through and through. Rabat was a meeting of two cultures, a melting pot that challenged the senses and intrigued my mind.

Paris seems to know that all it needs to do is to be Paris, and everything can only be well. it is the most self-assured and confident city that I’ve been to. It doesn’t threaten – if you are here, then you are a part of Paris. There are no peddlers, no aggressive beggars and no real malevolence – nothing to cultivate a ‘them and us’ mentality on either the visitors’ or the Parisian’s side. It rests easy on the mind.

Perhaps you see in each city how you feel at the time, perhaps a mass of humanity only reflects what you are, so you leave with your memories of the city with how it made you feel as one whole. That would say a lot for my second impression of Paris, and how I have changed in the last few months.

This afternoon we went to the Musée D’Orsay, which I enjoyed immensely. Works of Monet and Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh and countless others, some familiar and others pleasingly new. The D’Orsay used to be a train station, and it makes a magnificent museum. I made new discoveries for myself in the world of art – I enjoyed the temporary exhibitions as much as the standing shows of the greats. I couldn’t have faced the Louvre afterwards though. I had been tired to begin with, then enthused, and then made weary.
Since then we’ve food shopped, and sat both in the Tuileries and here.

Time has passed and the sun will set soon.

Gemma and I have to be at the coach station at Bagnolet by nine, so we’ll have to leave this panorama, our last of the European continent, and travel overnight AGAIN.
Only this time, we’re going home...

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