Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Notting Hill Carnival, Round 2

Last year we excitedly went to the Notting Hill/Ladbroke area and got right into the Carnival - watching the parade, drinking a lot of Red Stripe lager, sampling some of the food stalls, and strolling around the southern part of the Carnival area listening to the various sound systems setup. In hindsight we'd probably had a pretty tame day, not really knowing what was happenning.

But this year I wanted to get well and truly into it. So after a few invitation emails during the week, a small team of us met up yesterday morning for a solid breakfast at our favourite Greasy Spoon - the Caffé Caffé next to West Kensington tube - then after loading up with beers from our little corner off-licence we headed up there on the No. 28 bus. Very classy indeed!

We started off at Notting Hill Gate, and walked our way through some of the same areas and same sound systems we were around last year, then across towards Ladbroke Grove, and then northwards up Portobello Road towards the Westbourne Park/Southern Row area of the Carnival where some of the big sound systems are. On the way we came across some amazing streets lined with smoking food stalls cooking all sorts of Afro-Carribean foods to eat on the go, all sorts of free flags and stuff for Carly to collect, drinks vendors with wildly varied prices for cold beers, and some fantastic DJ's and which often kept us dancing in the street amongst the crowd for a while before we pushed onto the next one.

Good Times indeed

We never made it this far north last year, and we were not disapointed with making the effort to get all the way to Norman Jay's 'Good Times' sound system on Southern/Western Row. The street intersection was jammed when got there, but we managed to find a space near the bus to watch the crowd, soak up the music, and have a bit of a dance around enjoying the Good Times sounds that he has been playing at Carnival since 1980. The music they played was the best we heard all day, eminating from the top deck of the bus to the massed crowd. It was definitely the place to be for Carnival! (And this year's Good Times 6 CD is a must-buy, along with the one I got last year)

That's for you Matt!; and, Me and Pete heading home

With the Mas Parade still winding its way around the route and the sun starting to get low, we opted to head back towards Notting Hill to begin our trek home. The streets were even busier by this stage, the soundsystems still entertaining the dancing crowds, and the beer prices even higher by the time we made it back to Portobello Road and then eventually onto the bus for a recovery pub dinner back near our place.

So yes, we had topped our previous Carnival experience, and were very glad that we'd made the effort to do it again.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Haggis farewell

Last night was the last hurrah for what is affectionately known as 'The Haggis People' or 'the boring Haggis couples & Pip' - our group of friends we met on our Haggis Christmas tour of Scotland last year is finally splitting apart as the first of us leaves London to move elsewhere.

So to celebrate what has been a great 9 months meeting up and having some great times, we met in a pub in Mayfair to consume a lot of wine and many many beers while having a good laugh and catch up since we've last all got together.

(photo coming soon)
l-r: Pete, Sueanne, Trish, Santana, Toni, Vaughan, Carly, me, Jenna, Richard, Pip

They're a great bunch of people which we'll really miss getting together with - but I think everyone will try their best to keep in touch as we all spread ourselves across the globe after our time living here together. Pete & Sueanne are of course staying in London for a while longer, after some Europe and U.S. travels Trish and Santana are moving back to New Zealand ("back to where the sound of Te Awamutu has a truly sacred ring" I recall Trish!!?? Ha ha!) but then in January they're coming to live in Brisbane which will be great, Vaughan and Toni are hanging around London for a bit longer, Pip too is staying in London for now, Richard and Jenna are heading back to Perth after some European travels like us, and of course we're Brisbane-bound later in the year. So it was the last time for a while that we'll all be together like that.

Goodbye for now Haggis crew, but no doubt we shall meet again soon.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday Jay

Today is my youngest brother's 16th birthday. I spoke to Jay on the phone last night our time before he dashed off to the train to school, and again this morning before he went out for some italian dinner with the parents. It sounds like he had a good day..

I made him take the above photo on his birthday and email it over, to compare it with the one below taken only 11 months ago when he was in London with me - he looks so different! He also informed me that he is now 1.73 cm tall. That now puts him only inches below me! Whatever happened to my little brother who could walk underneath the overhang on the kitchen bench and we could hide in cardboard boxes?! Madness!

One of my favourite photos

He told me that he'd scored a set of number plates for his birthday, which is a bit of a tradition in our family to get them on your 16th./17th birthday to put on that first car. So stay well out of the way of JAY-090 when you see it racing around Brisbane in the next few years. And in a big surprise for me - he's apparently recently got contact lenses, so the Harry Potter-esque glasses we all loved are gone!

those plates!

Happy birthday from us mate!


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Football is back!

Summer is fading fast, the days are shortening, and all of the teams have released their new strips for the coming season - yes, football is back to dominate the press and the office kitchen conversations..

This year the Arsenal have moved into their huge brand new stadium in Highbury, North London - Emirates Stadium - and have already played a friendly testimonial match there against Ajax to celebrate the retirement of Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp.

Emirates Stadium; Highbury, London (photos from arsenal.com)

But last Saturday (Carly's birthday) the Premier League season began with the first Premiership match at their new home against Aston Villa, which ended in a 1-1 draw. We were away in Belgium for the weekend celebrating our birthdays so there was no way I could have visited the stadium and then watched the game in a nearby pub as I had hoped to do - but my workmate and fellow Gooner Andrew A. did go to the ground, and purchased for me a souvenir Match Book from the first Premiership match at the new stadium! I was well impressed when he gave it to me yesterday as it is a going away present to me from the big Ghanaian.

So it has been carefully wrapped for safekeeping for our trip home - and I've promised him that the included poster insert that came in the booklet will be going up in my back shed at Northgate.

It is going to be a long season trying to follow their matches from afar - no doubt plenty of late nights watching Champions League on SBS and streaming Premiership games on the web.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

off to Brussels

You just can't beat the Eurostar. It is one of my favourite things that I have done while living in the UK, and I will miss it terribly.

You book it a little in advance, and the non-flexible ticket is still a reasonable price compared to flights out of a London airport plus the cost of getting there. You take your travel bags to work on Friday morning making sure the house is locked up as you leave. Towards the end of the day you simply make your way across London to Waterloo station via the Underground. You arrive at the check-in area where you collect your tickets from a machine, swipe your ticket, clear security in a couple of minutes, clear both sets of Passport Control (for both departing the UK and arriving into France or Belgium at the other end, all at once), and then if your timing's right you can walk straight through to the train.

There's no long airport transfers, no need to get to the airport hours in advance, no long queues to deal with, no onerous security requirements which the UK has been implementing in the last week, you can use your mobile phone (except in the Chunnel), and best of all no annoying safety demonstration that you sort of feel bad about ignoring!

Potentially within an hour of leaving the office you are making your way up onto the Platform and boarding this sleek, impressive train. If you've thought ahead you've brought with you a nice bottle of Champagne or wine which is fantastic to have while the train trundles its way through South-east London and into the countryside - everyone around you is nice and jealous at this when they realise they should have done that too! This time around we had a fantastic french white wine I got from my work collegues for my birthday - it was damn good and the perfect way to start off the trip..

At the comparative time that you are racing across Kent and into the Channel tunnel, you would still have been waiting in the departure lounge at Gatwick or Stanstead, or possibly even still clearing security. You just can't beat it..

As I write we are travelling at what feels like full speed across the Belgian countryside towards Brussels Midi station, and our traditional weekend away to celebrate our birthdays. I'm really excited to be heading to what feels like the most under-rated city in Europe - only my boss at work, Richard, seems to really like the place, so it will be good to develop my own opinion of it over the next day or so. It seems a bit surreal to be heading to Belgium and its bars, which I am sure will be nothing like the mocked up Belgium Beer Café we used to spend a lot of time in in Brisbane.

More to come tomorrow after we have a night out tonight to see in Carly's birthday..


Thursday, August 17, 2006

i'm 28

Yesterday I turned 28. And I had a fantastic day!

Waking in the morning I got given some small presents from Carly - a beautiful book called The London Companion, which is full of short tid-bits, stories, and facts about this great city. As well as that she had brought me a new Arsenal Home jersey, as they've changed shirt sponsors for this year and have reverted back to their red & white after last years special edition commemorative maroon strip. So now I have both game shirts from when I've been supporting them here. During the morning I got some great text messages and emails from all over the place, and of course a call from my mum and brother Jay.

My day at work was great. My team organised a great Arsenal-themed card for me, and put in for a very good bottle of French chardonnay which we'll take with us this weekend to Belgium. Tasty!

The best was yet to come - after work Carly picked me up from St Katharine's Docks and we walked over Tower Bridge to morechampagne in the More London complex next to City Hall. When we got there we spotted iconic cricket commentator and ex-Australian captain Richie Benaud, who was there with what looked like a table of ex-players from his era having a few bottles of white.. So we took the table next to him and had a laugh to ourselves about seeing him here, especially since he isn't commentating the UK season anymore..

After a bottle there we headed over the river to the City, where Carly surprised me with a booking of the best window seats available at the Tower 42 champagne bar, Vertigo, overlooking the Thames, St Pauls, the Tate Modern, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and off into the distance West London and home. Originally built by the NatWest bank, it is currently the tallest building in Central London and the view over the capital is breathtaking. So we got a bottle and sat back, chatting away as the sun set over the West End and all of the lights slowly came on. It was spectacular. I was so impressed with her secret planning to finally get me up here.

As you'd expect we never made it to dinner after spending hours up there in our prime spot, but I had myself a brilliant 16th of August.

Now, off to Belgium tomorrow for Carly's turn.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Travel plans and moving across the planet again

On the day before we headed off to Croatia, we took a few actions which sealed our fate as far as leaving the UK goes. 1. With a lot of regret and after turning down offers from them to extend my working visa, I resigned from my great job at the LDA... 2. And on the same day we gave our notice to leave our fantastic flat in West Kensington.

And a few weeks before this we booked in our flights from London to Brisbane via Los Angeles.

So that's it. We've committed ourselves to a move from London to Brisbane, which will happen a bit over 2 years since we made what seemed like a very scary move away from our very secure and stable lives in Australia. How time flies when you're having the time of your lives!

So over the next few weeks we will be working out how much crap we will have to sell, giveaway, or throw out, and calculate how much we can or will want to take with us on our relocation to Brisbane. I think its only the fact that we've been living in a one bedroom flat that has stopped us from accumulating any more.

And once the packing up is organised, we are embarking on the start of a fantastic trip across Europe from Poland to Spain, through the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain (roughly in that order) before returning to London for a day or so to repack and head to Cairo for a tour of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

Once that's over we will be saying goodbye to everyone in London, collecting all our possessions, and boarding a British Airways plane at Heathrow bound for L.A. and Brisbane, back in time for Christmas. Then we start all over again looking for jobs and setting up a home again, just like we did here in September/October 2004..

So much to do in just on 3 months. But so very exciting.

We're off to Brussels & Bruges in Belgium this weekend to celebrate our birthdays - it should be a great last European weekend away and I will be savouring my last trip on the Eurostar for a while. I plan to eat a lot of frittes with mayonnaise, and consume plenty of strong Belgium beers.


Friday, August 11, 2006

The Workman Wedding

We're in an internet cafe on the island of Hvar at the moment, sending some e-mailed Telegrams to Brisbane congratulating our friends Renee & Shane on their wedding which is being held this Saturday the 12th of August in Brisbane (Saturday morning our time).. We'll be sailing from Hvar back to Split at that time so I've sent off a few Telegram messages from Carly, myself, and Willow, and also a special message from Dan (which we wrote) for (I assume) their Best Man to read out on the night at the reception.

So from all of us on the boat in Croatia, congratulations Renee & Shane.. we hope it all goes well and that it is a beautiful afternoon in the botanic gardens in Brisbane, and that you have a fantastic night partying on the rooftop of Rydges Hotel overlooking the city skyline. We're pretty sad we couldn't make it there, but we'll celebrate when you get back to London.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Payne pops the question!

This afternoon, a few of us on the yacht received a short text message from Karen W. who is in Australia at the moment, saying that:
Andy proposed in the moonlight on the beach tonight!
Very exciting news!! Andy had proposed! We got the message just as we pulled into the beautiful port town on the island of Korcula, so (assuming that she'd said yes) that night we had a toast at a fantastic bar which sits atop the old city wall overlooking the sea and then again over dinner to celebrate their engagement!!

Congrats from Korcula!

We're all looking forward to seeing Karen when she returns to the UK to hear the whole story of this much anticipated proposal, and catching up with Andy with some e-mails and on Skype once he's back working in Sri Lanka following their Australian trip for the Workman wedding..

We're also pretty chuffed that our suspicions about Andy selling his Porsche to fund a ring purchase have come to fruition!! We knew we were right!


Thursday, August 03, 2006

More Spargo, this time at the Bedford in Balham

Earlier tonight we headed to the Bedford pub in Balham, to see Melbourne band Spargo, who we'd previously seen in Liverpool last November. Carly spotted their line-up of UK gigs on their website, and because of our Croatian trip next week this was the only one we could get to which is a shame because the headlining gig they're doing next week in Putney would be great. Fingers crossed they'll come back to London before we move back to Brisbane in December.

The Bedford live music set up is an interesting one - they have 6 or so bands/performers on one night, and cycle through them using the same stage set up and each band plays 2 songs before moving off and another band coming on to play their 2 songs - after they all have a turn they have a short intermission, before they all come out again and play another two tracks.. It makes for an interesting and diverse range of music coming to you in quick succession - basically its all about the music at the Bedford which is great!

Spargo came on midway through the first sets, and belted out two great tracks. During the intermission I went up and said hello to the guys, not expecting them to remember me at all from when I'd met them in Liverpool - surprisingly they recognised me and we had a chat about what they'd been up to over the last 6-7 months since the last UK trip and also what they have planned for this stint in the UK. I also got one of the first of their new UK tour EP - Adult Cinema - and was lucky enough to get off of them a rare copy of their first self-titled EP which had previously been sold out - so I now I have the complete set! They came on last in the second round of performances and played two excellent songs to finish off the night before we had to dash out the door to get the tube home.

If you want to check them out, their newly updated website is www.spargomusic.com, and their MySpace page is at www.myspace.com/spargomusic. They've also updated their website gallery pages to include some great shots of them at various gigs.

I think they're a great band (the name has nothing to do with this opinion!), so be sure to check out their websites and download some of their demos and give them a go.

Now after walking in the door half an hour ago, I have to pack my bag for our Croatian trip, as we leave for London Luton Airport on the first tube at 5:11am.