I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I just don't know what to do with myself

Hah! Take that, Halloween sleep patterns! Turns out this isn't my last day of freedom after all. Had a chat with my new boss this morning, and for various reasons -- he wasn't sure of the date; this week is busy; team meeting and a new starter arriving; my desk isn't ready; I may have failed a loyalty test -- my return to work has been postponed 'til next Monday. So that's fantastic news, but it has blindsided me a little. I've got 4 days spare now! Including today that is. My only plans for today were to chat to him about tomorrow and make a phone call or two, and I've done all that.

Maybe I'll go for a walk. I should sort out another 8 mile trek just so I can get an Eminem reference in 'cos I forgot to do so yesterday. Something about my palms being sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy, losing myself in the music, the moment, etc. Except now I've ruined it by using it all up here. Pfft. Not doing no Proclaimers version instead though.

I'm going to spend some of today and tomorrow listening to my Samhain box set I think, since it's all appropriate and stuff. It being fucking superb helps 'n all.

This night, anything goes

Dead bodies hanging from poles 'n all that. Oh, except it appears to be "this day anything goes, burning bodies hanging from poles". Shows what I know.

Bloody Halloween, anyway.. My stupid mind/body is being an arse to me now. It's just gone 4am and I've been awake since 3.30am, when some crazy "wiggle waggle" kids' nonsense on radio 4/the world service disturbed me (both from my sleep and in a deeper psychological sense). I've put on 1xtra which is playing some FILTHY drum and bass right now, but it's not helping me get back to kip. :-( My sleep patterns are messy at the best of times but one day before going back to Yahoo! isn't the best time to develop pseudo jet lag. Hopefully this, and the miserable mood that enveloped me last night, are just symptomatic of the return-to-work nerves I've been feeling recently. The blues suck.

Could be worse though -- at least this drum and bass show is a decent listen.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rage against the machines

Last but one day of freedom today. Got up late :-( but still managed to get out of the house at just after midday. Only 2 hours or so after I had originally planned, bah.
First machine rage: my new Karma. Volume control works. Scrolly wheel works. Sound only comes out of the left earphone. Tried a couple of pairs to make sure it's the Karma's fault. Fucking hell. Means I don't have a proper mp3 player any more :-(
Figured I'd go for another walk today. I'd decided to go to Kew Bridge and pick up where I left off on Friday. So after leaving the house I bought 3 drinks, a lottery instant, and got on a 281. The bus dictated the route and I thought I'd stay on until Twickenham and then get a bus or train to Kew Bridge from there. It also gave me a nice long journey so I could get online.
Second machine rage: my phone was fucking playing up. ssh connections were being proper shit, and when I finally got online the phone then crashed and rebooted after I SMSed Loz (ironically enough about the ssh client I was using). Grr!
Off at Twickenham and onto the platform. Actually I failed to read the signs and went down to the wrong one.
Third machine rage: damn trains. I went up/across/down to platform 3, by which time they'd made a platform alteration, and I had to go up/across/down back to platform 5. Gah!
So here I was. On the devil's side of the river, I made my way back to the south and set off Chiswickwards. Today's weather forecast said it was going to be 18 or 19 degrees celsius, but as of tomorrow or Wednesday it's going to be a few degrees lower. "Welcome back to work!" temperatures, innit. Anyway with weather like this and still no work, I figured this was the last time for a while I had no excuse not to (a) walk a decent distance (b) wear shorts.
Kew railway bridge

Kew Bridge. Chiswick Bridge. Barnes Bridge. Hammersmith Bridge. Putney Bridge. Wandsworth Bridge. That was my route today, all on the south side of the river and mostly on the Thames Path. Actually it may all have been the Thames Path, but there's a bunch of it between Putney and Wandsworth that isn't actually by the Thames. Bah.

The whole route from Kew to Putney is really nice. The bridges themselves are quite cool, the greenery is great, there's the Harrods Furniture Depository and the Stag Brewery and Craven Cottage to look at, and a bunch of pubs to stop in if you're so inclined. I imagine it's great when the sun's out but I wasn't that fussed. It seems to me that walking is just, well, fun. Really. I mean I guess I'm a latecomer to this but I've discovered, realised, whatever, that walking as an end in itself is really quite enjoyable. It's all liberating and stuff, not trying to get somewhere specific by a particular time or anything, I have the freedom to just stop wherever and whenever I want or, more often, just keep going and see how far I can get. Today I really only thought in advance of getting as far as Hammersmith. But once there I just though, fuck it, carry on to Putney and get the bus home. And at Putney I thought, why stop now?

Mind you the answer to that question is actually "because Wandsworth's all shit and stuff". The walk between those two bridges is barely next to the river and fairly unpleasant, especially towards the end with all the timber yards and civic amenity sites and all that nonsense. When I did finally reach the bridge I decided against going on, 'cos it was getting a bit dark and I'd stopped for a few minutes to stare at the flocks of birds flying around like swarms of bees. Quite a cool sight that. But it was the first time I'd stopped for longer than it takes to take a photo and when that's done, fuck it, I'm not starting again.
Harrods Furniture Depository

Oh, and Wandsworth to Battersea is a shit walk 'n all. I did get halfway across towards the north thinking I'd pop in the nearest enemy territory pub, but turned back after being overcome with a "north of the river? Are you fucking mental?" revelation/stench. So that was it really, I made my way to Wandsworth Town station (rather circuitously, because I got lost) and got a couple of trains home.
Fourth machine rage: there was another power cut in my flat. Thankfully only for 2 minutes, I was almost out of the door and off to the pub when it all came back on.

Fifth machine rage: when the power came back on -- not when it went off, when it might have been more understandable -- my laptop crashed and rebooted.
Once the power came back I again sought out gmap-pedometer.com to work out how far I'd walked. Turns out it was just over 8 miles. Not bad that. It means in the last 4 days I've walked a marathon, pretty much. Not quite 3h30m but still...

So, Mastodon, Blood Mountain. What a fucking odd album that is. Only given it a couple of listens so far, but I can't really categorise it as metal, or in fact as any one genre. It jumps all over the fucking place. In fact listening to it is like eating with chopsticks: you can get into it for a few seconds at a time, sometimes even half a minute, but then it all goes totally wrong and you can't get a grip on anything at all. Everything goes all over the place and you're left wondering when you'll next get your teeth into something.
In December 2004 I posed the somewhat rhetorical question on my old blog "What kind of fucking road name, or word, is Yeend?" after having come across a road called Yeend Close in Molesey. Well colour the question no longer rhetorical and me enlightened, because as of yesterday I know exactly what kind of road name and word it is. In West Molesey there is a church called St Peter's and for 53 years the Reverend John Yeend was its vicar, and the aforementioned road was named after him. The name/word itself dates from at least the 1500s, is from the Gloucestershire area, and possibly dervices from "Ye Ende". I know all of this thanks to an email from a guy named Dave, in whose direction this part of this blog entry constitutes a doffed cap.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

complete and utter walker

As if I wasn't living in the past enough, today I walked home* from high school. What the hell is going on with me? I seem to have become addicted to walking. It surely won't last, but really, it's a bit odd. My addictions are rarely healthy.

The only thing on my plate was visiting me old man for lunch, sometime between 1400 and 1500. But the trains are all fucked (no services at all thanks to engineering works) so I expected to get 3 buses. Ended up getting just the one. First off I walked 1.75 miles to the outskirts of Kingston, taking a pretty odd route, on which I discovered the Eight Bells is now called the Honest Cabbage(!). Got a 131 from there, supposedly to go into Wimbledon but I wasn't getting on with the bus at all. Too many people, too bumpy, stopping too much, and I was in desperate need of a drink. So I got off in Raynes Park, just near Krispy Kremes, (ie one stop before RPHS) and walked the rest of the way, taking a route I trod weekdaily from 1987-1990. Hold up, let me shove it into gmap-pedometer.com and see how far it is.

Hmm. 2.4 miles. I thought it would be more than that. Anyway, there we have it. Another 4.15 miles walked. I hope I lose some weight from all this. I even briefly considered walking part of the route home, but got as far as the bottom of the hill when I happened to be at the bus stop the moment a 93 arrived. Bussed all the way in the end, along with every urban savage and skaghead alcoholic around. Fucking North Cheam, jesus.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

These boots really ARE made for walking

Feet felt fine this morning. So fine in fact that I've been out and walked for another 2 hours or so already today, into and around Kingston and back.

Felt pretty rough last night though. But rough might not be the right word. I just felt ... strange. I dunno, can't really explain it really. I didn't have a headache or stomach ache but couldn't finish the pizza I ordered; my legs and feet felt OK; but I just didn't feel right. So odd I can't even honestly say whether it was physical or mental. Fuckin' weirdo.

My sleep patterns are a bit screwed too. I got to sleep at about 0100, and woke up just before 0500. Went online for a bit, chatted with Phil, and decided to read me brother's blog. I'm terrible with blogs -- I write and write and write but hardly ever bother reading anyone else's, and for some reason this was on my mind. Maybe my ears were burning, 'cos it turned out the most recent post at the time was in reference to one of mine. No death but a bit odd if you ask me...

Got back to sleep some time approaching 0630 IIRC, waking up again at 0900. Not really in the mood for getting up I stayed in bed reading Fortean Times until a fairly sudden mood change enveloped me and I decided to go shopping. For metal. With my feet and legs showing no signs of having been put through any punishment I figured I'd walk again, and headed into Kingston. Didn't have much of a list, other than wanting to buy the new album by Converge, and the one by Death Breath.

Oh, bollocks, in the course of looking up Converge's URL it seems the album I just bought (No Heroes) is available in its entirety, officially, on myspace! Bah. Not to worry. But anyway, yes I managed to buy that album. I also got:
  • Blood Mountain by Mastodon. No idea what these guys sound like other than this album is supposed to be superb.
  • Stench of Redemption by Deicide. Heard one track off this, read some reviews, and just generally wanted some death metal. In fact I'm listening to this album as I type this.
  • American Hardcore: The History Of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 by various artists. Didn't know this album existed, despite owning the book. Turns out it's not an accompaniment to the book though, but a soundtrack to the movie inspired by the book(!). I wish the difference were subtle, but judging by the tracklisting it means no Dead Kennedys and no Misfits. Not too bad for the album, they'd almost certainly be tracks I own, but it means the film is unlikely to be as good (for me personally) as the book. Oh well.
4 albums all less than a tenner each is quite a result. Although it seems to be the norm these days. Which is even more of a result, I guess. No Death Breath in HMV though, but my shopping wasn't over. I had a quick scan over the rest of the shop and found Lady Vengeance on DVD in a 3-for-20-quid sale, or as individually priced. The individual price was 19.95. I wanted the film anyway so looked for 2 others worth parting with 5p for, and ended up with Hostel and Syriana.

Left HMV and got most of the way out to the pedestrianised bit where a proto-Hayseed Dixie were putting on a bit of a show before remembering I had books to look for too. Well, book: after reading a review in Fortean Times I've decided I want to buy Skipping Armageddon: [subtitle I can't be arsed with]. Basically a demolition job (I think) on some crazy-ass right-wing religious nutjob. But Waterstones didn't have it, and neither did Borders. Well, I guess they might have, but I couldn't actually work out what section it'd be in. I had a look at religion, and politics, and social science, and biography, but no luck. Nearly bought a Mark Thomas book (this one), thought 18 quid was a bit steep for John Hartson's autobiography, but left empty-handed. I've got about 6 books I'm either halfway through or yet to start anyway FFHS.

I nipped to Banquet Records after Borders. I'm sure last time I went there they had a decent metal selection, but it's pretty piss-poor right now. Loads of punk/emo nonsense but barely any metal now. I'd gone in there really to look for Death Breath, but no chance of them having it really. Shame. :-( In fact it sparked off a bit of a lament. Why is Kingston so rubbish for music shopping now? Back in the day we had HMV, Virgin, The Record Shop, Beggars' Banquet (as was) and Tower Records. Can't remember if all 5 ever existed at the same time, but nonetheless it was until fairly recently a lot better than it is now. Virgin turned into some fucking clothes shop, Tower is half clothes, half PC World, and The Record Shop is now a knitting machine place (if I'm remembering where it was correctly). Actually, didn't TRS have two shops once upon a time? Ah I dunno. Anyway, record shopping in Kingston is shit now :-(

Enough about that though. Came home on foot (although I did wait for a bus for a few minutes, admittedly) and my feet still don't hurt. WTF?

Friday, October 27, 2006

These boots are made for walking

the Thames at Surbiton
Specifically, these boots are made for walking. I've mentioned them before and it turns out people really do read this blog, because since I've been back a bunch of people have asked me about them. I've told them all the same thing: yes, I fell for the marketing spiel about all the extra muscle use you get and the better posture and all that, but I really do believe it. My knees feel better, in a whole I-don't-feel-my-knees-a-lot these days kind of way. I'm convinced my calf muscles are a bit beefier, and at the very least I'm aware of my posture when I stand and am making a genuine effort never to rest all my weight on just one leg. The soles help with that a lot.

Anyway today they got a proper work out. Like a lot of my best plans, the one I'd come up with yesterday/this morning failed dismally. First thing I did when I got up was watch an episode of Seconds From Disaster, for fucks sake. It wasn't even one narrated by Mr Excitable, so fuck knows why I bothered watching it all the way to the end. Inertia's a powerful thing. But I do have some semblance of resolve, and I had a shower in ostensible preparation for departure after it. Of course I sat around afterwards for a bit, cursing at another Seconds From Disaster being on with the decent voiced bloke. I expressed my annoyance at this on IRC:

-me <dsf> fucks sake @ good voice bloke

'cos I just knew I was going to stay in and watch the episode, and then the flat suffered a power cut. Everything down. No TV, no lights, no Internet. So there's my decision made: go the fuck out.

Before losing power I'd done a little bit of research into boating options. I figured an open-top bus tour in town wouldn't last masses of time, and a ride along the Thames would be a pleasant way to start my sightseeing. Unfortunately I gauged from the Turks and TfL river websites that no services operate in October that go anywhere near here. I hoped there was a private service I could get from Richmond, maybe, and while searching I'd come across this write-up of a Thames Path walk some people had done in the opposite direction. Interest piqued and my hand forced, I shoved on some shorts and a dark shirt and headed out.
the Thames

Truth be told I never really thought I'd walk to Richmond. Ham's about my limit really, having done that once before. I went to the newsagent and bought a couple of Diet Cokes (one with cherry, one without; y'know, in America there's such a thing as Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke... I know because the website told me), then headed down the well-trodden path of St James's Road, Maple Road, Cadogan Road and onto the path by Raven's Ait.

Good start this. Great weather, and very few people around until Kingston town centre. A nice walk. A little bit of urban savagery going on under the bridge -- it is half term after all -- but nothing too off-putting. The tunes on my karma were keeping me happy and I figured, what the hell, might as well carry on to Ham.

Come the road up to Ham, just after Boaters, I thought, hrm. Do I really want to go get a bus, or should I carry on walking? Richmond's not that far from Ham, really. The river was looking gorgeous and the weather was still top, plus my feet weren't aching at all. I could always give up somewhere in Petersham or whatever, or even cross the river at Teddington. Yes, Teddington, there's my escape hatch.

Meh. Can't be bothered crossing the Thames at Teddington. I mean, why should I? I was on the right side, the south of the river. Besides, having got this far I thought I should take a look at the lock, 'cos I'd never been there before. And I did, crossed over onto the little island (didn't spot David Essex though) and had a wander around the immaculate little garden there. I thought I could cross back over onto the path at the end, but couldn't -- but the walk to the end wasn't wasted because the amateur/disinterested (delete as appropriate) ornithologist in me was impressed to see a parrot in the tree. Damn thing hid so I couldn't get a snap of it though.

Teddington Lock has some history. Apparently 100 boats made by a guy named Doug Tough were used in some massive famous battle or manoeuvre or summat in World War II. Dunkirk, that was it. Teddington saved us from the bosh! Etc. It's also got a TV studio where a litany of dreadful shows have been born.

Back onto the path and onwards to Richmond. OK, so it was a little further than I'd anticipated... geography was never a strong point and buses do kinda make things seem a bit closer together than walking does, but still. I got a little distressed when I reached the big corner in the river at Petersham, but hey, this was the home straight now. At Richmond I'd find a boat, maybe, and if not just go get a train. Although actually I was more thinking of grabbing something to eat and a pint, and/or do some CD shopping in HMV. I once bought an R&B album called More! Bump & Grind in Richmond HMV, y'know. Yes, that's More! as in More! magazine.

When I reached Richmond I thought, hold on, I don't like Richmond. It's a shit town, clogged up with traffic in streets that are too narrow and it's full of expensive pubs and wankers. So despite being knackered (but not yet knowing how far I'd walked; I'd SMSed Chris but the google maps pedometer thing wasn't working) I just carried straight on through. Thoughts of Brentford or even Hammersmith came to mind. There wasn't going to be a bus tour, but I might as well carry on to somewhere I don't mind and see just how far my legs would take me. Good things these shoes.

Turns out my head gave up before my legs. An opportunity to cross onto the north bank was at Richmond lock, or somewhere just beyond Richmond at least. In fact beyond Twickenham bridge I think. But anyway, I decided against it. South is where it's at, dude. Unfortunately the walk from there to Kew Bridge is mostly not very interesting. A lot of vegetation hides the Thames from you, inland there's a disgusting algae-filled stream or summat, and the path was all muddy and puddleful.

Ah well. Fuck it. In for a penny and all that. The Karma was still going strong and I did see some amazing autumn colours in the trees, plus I was underneath Heathrow's landing flight path. And after a while the vegetation went away and it was all river on the left, Kew Gardens on the right. Yeah, the real Kew Gardens. Not that I wanted to visit it, but it was kinda cool to be next to it I thought. It also meant the next bridge was close. Kew Bridge, innit.

Not that close, mind. I guess Kew Gardens is pretty big. Hmph. But I got there eventually... and there were signs. Being quite adept at navigating the Thames Path by now, what with it just being this big path that goes next to the Thames, the sign wasn't that important in terms of what it pointed to -- but what was handy was the mileage. The implication -- explication? -- that the next bridge was Chiswick Bridge, and more than 2 miles on, was enough to make me call it a day. My feet or legs weren't exactly giving out, but there were definite signs of tiredness. And I was really quite thirsty, and not far from the Magpie and Crown in Brentford, a short walk from the north side of Kew Bridge. Oh, and far from actually going strong, my Karma's battery had died just before the bridge. I guess I really will have to start using my "new" one soon -- around 3 hours life when it's supposed to last 11 sucks.

So, across to the dark side I went and turned left. Oh, bollocks. See, in my mind, Brentford's just, like, right there. Over the bridge and you're there. 10 yards to the Ealing road where the 65 goes and surely no more than 500 yards to all the shops and the pub and stuff. Except no, I'm wrong. It's actually quite a way. The Waterman's Arms, Albany parade, various other bits and bobs were all this side of Brentford whereas in my head they were the other side. Bollocks. Waterman's Park is quite nice but having got in the whole "that's it, the walk is over" mindset I was now getting a bit pissed off.
Kew Gardens

Actually, I guess I wasn't pissed off really. Could have done with some music but the walk didn't really matter, especially given how far I'd already gone. A bit more wasn't exactly going to kill me. And I wasn't lost; in fact I've decided being lost in London is almost impossible, considering to my mind "lost" means not having a clue how to get from where you are to where you want to be, and the public transport is such that that can't really happen.

Anyway, I got a bit of cash out and went into the pub. The Magpie and Crown does decent beers, both English and foreign, and I had a Cornish one called Sharp's Cornish Coaster. Bloody nice it were 'n all. Sat down with it and got online for a bit, although the power cut hat trick came along fairly soon as my phone died too. That's my fault for not having charged it overnight though.

The pub has sold 1713 different guest ales since January 4th 1996. Currently they sell Stiegl lager instead of Stella, and haven't had (m)any complaints about it. Quite right too, because Stiegl is fucking great. So great I had two pints of it.

Brentford has a tattoo parlour called "Ouch". Not sure I'll be going there. Mind you it's quite an amusing name, and marginally less shocking than the BBC using the same name for their disability website.

Brentford also has a carpark called "The Butts". Snigger. Beats Kingston's "The Bittoms" hands down.

The nuts and jelly beans machine in the pub was broken. A guy came in to fix it, armed only with a can of WD40. He's earning his money.

The latest issue of London Drinker has a letter about BITE in it. Someone's angry at negative comments disappearing for some pub or other.

I felt quite isolated without my phone. It was worse than any time during my holiday, in fact. Despite being in England and enjoying understanding both the language and content of the bar conversations going on around me (Hard-Fi's lead singer is a Brentford fan; some rival karaoke bint "doesn't even have Sexyback"; Oldham's Boundary Park is a cold ground in which to watch football; etc) I was really pretty alone. No matter what timezone I was in I knew I could get hold of someone online or by SMS, and spent a fair bit of time being kept company in one way or t'other. But here, in Brentford, I had nowt. Very isolating, as I say, and not at all liberating. I love and need my phone.

The only solution to this isolation was to go home. Plus it wasn't a bad idea anyway, since I was half-pissed, still hadn't eaten, and it was getting a bit cold outside. Bought some food and diet coke, staggered along to the 65 stop (where I got asked if I'd been waiting long about 10 seconds after thinking "I wonder if she'll ask me how long I've been waiting?) and got the bus to Kingston. Fell asleep on it! But since missing my stop was an impossibility I guess that wasn't so bad, and no-one stole anything from me.

Back home and I set about working out just how far I'd walked. Mark had SMSed me on request earlier with the fact that Surbiton to Kew is 7.2 miles by road, which is more direct than the river. gmap pedometer worked for me though, and I used it to work a few things out. Turns out I walked 10.3 miles (click for the route -- need to zoom out 3 times!) and burned 1732 calories. Fucking hell!

I wonder how my legs are going to feel tomorrow.

Hello, hello, it's good to be back

skyline 3
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
I've had a whole bunch of "glad I'm back moments", hell I even blogged about some of the things I missed, but yesterday gave me another good 'un. I left the house -- way too late, after frying my brain with a load of dreadful TV -- because I was meeting a couple of people for a couple of drinks in town and I'd wanted to do a bit of CD shopping beforehand. But I never made it to Virgin or HMV, because halfway across Waterloo Bridge on the bus (I was already cursing myself for not walking) I just had to get off.

It's the skyline, see. I love it. It's one of my flimsy justifications for getting the bus from Waterloo to work rather than walking; the view from the top deck of the 176 going across the Thames is astounding. I guess it's probably half-decent from the other buses that go across Waterloo Bridge too, but anyway, yesterday I wasn't actually on the top deck, stood on the bottom one instead. Managed to get a look out East though and that was it, time to get off.

See, the weather was fucking amazing. Behind me the sun was setting, in a cloudless sky. Shining brightly, in fact too bright really to go stare west towards Jubilee bridge and parliament, but that's OK because it wasn't what I wanted to look at. What was best about the weather was that view to the East.

Unlike the cloudless sky to the West, East there was a backdrop of really dark cloud. But the sun was lighting up all the buildings, making the contrast stunning. What's more, the dark cloud's edge was cutting the city in two, creating yet another contrast. Ah fuck it, I'm rubbish at describing this shit really. Good job I took some photos. As it happens this was one of the rare moments I wished I had a real camera and some photographic nous, but I don't and I don't. Hopefully the 5 snaps give a hint though. The real thing I'm trying to say is just that London's skyline is fucking ace and I was lucky enough to spot it on a day when it was really fucking ace. In fact I didn't just take the snaps and fuck off (like I do with a lot of sights), I stood there for probably 15 minutes just staring at it and having a think. I absolutely adore this place.

Today I'm going back into town. Not to try and fluke another great sight or two -- is it even possible to "try and fluke" something? "You make your own luck" is a bollocks phrase -- but to go on an open top bus tour of London or summat. I've done enough of this in other cities, perhaps it's about time I saw this place through a tourist's eyes 'n all. Plus I desperately need to get out of the fucking house and do something vaguely active and debatably worthwhile with one of my last days of freedom. Switch Off (my) Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead, innit.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Special ho fun and other items

One of the local Chinese restaurants sells a dish called "Special ho fun". Its menu number is 121. One-to-one special ho fun. Excuse me?

Young's have stopped making Kew Brew. That sucks. But they are selling a limited edition beer called 175. Unfortunately their website makes no mention of either of these facts, bah. Anyway, it was vaguely amusing to get the "you do realise this is 7.5% don't you?" treatment when ordering my second 175 yesterday. I hadn't realised, but it didn't stop me. My word it's nice stuff.

FIND THIS RAPIST. Who could it be?

BA have given me 10,000 extra miles after I complained about the in-flight entertainment not working for half of the flight to Sydney last month. Go BA! And BMI have indeed given me silver membership of their frequent flyer programmer despite not having flown with for years.

Talking of miles, anyone fancy a weekend in Amsterdam or Dublin? I fancy going (I've just enough Virgin miles to get myself there for free* with BMI) sometime in the next couple of months. Has to be one of those two cities though I think.

I bought Tekken for the PSP the other day. First game in a while but something I'd been waiting for for a long time. The first twenty minutes were frustrating and I thought I'd be taking it back a la OutRun and Midway Arcade Treasures, but then I realised I wasn't on stupid-piss-easy-just-batter-fuck-out-of-the-buttons-and-you'll-win mode. Once I activated that I fell in love with it. But I'm thinking of buying Syphon Filter already. Damn it. I blame Yahoo!.

Oo-er. Dick Van Dyke is in this episode of Scrubs!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Snakes on the brain


No death overnight but a bit more unpleasantness. This morning's dream that had me stressed when I woke up related to snakes. I was in a room that kept morphing between my current bedroom and the one I had in my parents' house. Someone was in the room with me but I don't know who he was. He was a friend in the dream, just not someone from real life. Anyway I was sorting out all the cupboards, differentiating between stuff that's mine and stuff that's not mine.

Not sure what category it came under but the 3 fucking huge snakes were a bit worrying... except they weren't. I wasn't scared of them. Slowly I managed to take each one out of the wardrobe and put 'em down, 2 on the bed and 1 on the floor. I let them slither over me, and they were proper big fuckers, the types you get handlers draping over their shoulders and holding with both hands. I wasn't scared of them, just a little, I dunno, intrigued. Odd really, while not exactly familiar with these things I also wasn't totally freaked out -- yet I was also acutely aware of how freaked out I should be, what with hating snakes (and wanting to eat them).

Then, fairly suddenly, I freaked out. Nothing particularly triggered it, I was just sat between two of 'em on the bed, letting one of 'em slither around my hand (I was also totally sure these things were neither aggressive nor poisonous) and all of a sudden I thought, hold on, this ain't right. These are motherfucking snakes. Eek. Fuck. Snakes. Fuck. Get me the fuck out of here. Really. I'm not fucking having this. So I pegged it out of the room, past whoever-it-was, who was holding a snake in the aforementioned handlers' technique, a snake who flicked his tongue out at me on the way past. And once outside the room I woke up.

Seconds From Disaster is brilliant. I wasn't that impressed when I first saw it but a couple of episodes in and I'm hooked. It's the format (go over entire disaster, then go over it again detective style) combined with the voiceover guy's massive enthusiasm for disaster and tragedy that won me over. I really love the way the breaks seem to be timed to give him a bit of a rest, a chance to calm down and have a glass of water. Yesterday he was terribly excited that "the crew of the Kursk were seconds from NUCLEAR DISASTER!!!!!"

When I was in Japan I realised just how ignorant I was being by knowing none of the language, so I thought Yahoo! or Google could rescue me. All I wanted was a couple of simple phrases translated from English to Japanese, and both obliged, but unfortunately the translated responses were in Japanese script. Useful if I was after the sign for "Exit" or "Gents" or summat, but I wanted to be able to say stuff, like "Thank you" or "a beer please". The latin version would have gone down well, or even an audio version. Bah.

Also, Tokyo has Big Issue sellers. That surprised me a little. Turns out it's been around for at least 3 years.

New York City has a "department of health and mental hygiene". Mental hygiene?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Things I missed about the UK while away

  • Sky+. I'm addicted to watching Airline, Airport, Air Crash Investigation, Seconds From Disaster, Sky Sports, Sky Movies, pausing/rewinding TV, etc. Not being at work my addiction as plunged new depths, as I've been sat on me sofa for hours and hours on end watching the same shows at the same time as Chris while chatting to him about them on IRC. Good job I'm going out today.
  • My sofa. Sky+ might be full of awful TV shows but watching them is so enjoyable when done from my sofa.
  • Radio 4. I only discovered the wonders of radio 4 about 3 weeks before I went away. Today, the shipping forecast, even the Archers!
  • Football. Only managed to catch one game while away and I was drunk when it started. Sky Sports and Match of the Day 2 are superb. I might even turn up to an AFC Wimbledon game soon if I can be arsed (Exeter is tempting but the transport is shocking).
  • Ordering beer in confidence. Only one of me and the barman might be a native English speaker, but in London I'm the one in the right.
  • Englsh beer. I had some corking drinks while away, and Victoria Bitter too, but Bombardier and Spitfire are winners.
  • Drinking beer with friends. The speed at which I drank while away was quite terrifying. I tried to slow down, to engineer some distractions (Liverpool -vs- Bolton on TV, note taking for blog entries, SMS conversations with people) but it was still difficult not to drink at a rate of 3 per hour. 1.5-2 is much more agreeable and affordable.
  • Sterling. No branded notes, no dual-sizes-same-denomination coins, no dollars, no walking around desperate to spend leftover money on crap in airports, no filling up Unicef envelopes with change (although I shouldn't complain about that, heh).
  • Gambling. One of my favourite things to do with money: piss it away on scratchcards and in fruit machines.
  • Swearing. I fucking love swearing. Being at home gives me ample opportunity to engage in it.
  • Music. I didn't take an mp3 player with me and the only time I listened to music properly was in the lounge at JFK. I love my music collection though. Think my second karma might finally have to come out of its wrapping as the original's battery is dying, but the best news is a karma-replacement (in terms of features) is about to hit the market finally.
  • Magazines with free CDs. Terrorizer, Uncut, Metal Hammer, Rock Sound, etc etc. The best way to increase my collection.
  • Surbiton. This town's ace. Even if there are hobos taking a piss in the street by the bus stop, and the recycling bins behind Hawes have been taken away.
  • Dominos Pizza. But despite Chris's insistence I'm not going to have 3 in 8 days. Not even 3 in 12 days. Maybe I'll get one this Sunday though.
  • Being in the same timezone as my mates. Although the hangovers this leads to aren't so good.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dreams dreams, sleep on a bed of dreams

Dreams, eh? What're they all about? Gabrielle said "Dreams can come true". "Any Dream Will Do" said that gay bloke from Neighbours that definitely isn't gay at all, while dressed in a rainbow coat. "I have a dream" said Martin Luther King, reported as "I had a really weird dream last night" by The Onion.

Well, Gabrielle, I don't want my most recent dreams to come true. Any dream but those dreams will do me tonight, Jase. And Martin? I had a pretty weird dream last night meself, and one the night before 'n all, beat that. See, somewhat annoyingly, I woke up both yesterday and today having just fucking died, or about to die, in a dream. The details are sketchy because I didn't immediately note things down upon waking, something I've been meaning to do for years, but I just about remember the last couple of minutes of each.

On Saturday, I wasn't having fun. People were just being arses to me, several different groups of people that I encountered. Can't remember if I knew them or not, but anyway, you know the sort of dream, I was just kinda wandering through town. Kingston I think. The end came courtesy of a pretty threatening group of goth/metal kids. Not proper kids, I'm talking 18-22 years old or whatever, studenty types. Long hair, long black coats, that kind of rabble. Heads bowed, eyes up, staring through their fringe types. Bit of a mad look on their faces, vaguely Clockwork Orange style. For some reason I had to turn around to go past/through them, and the one nearest me, this fucker in an Opeth shirt, he whipped out a knife and slashed me across the chest, and then stabbed me.

Cheeky fucking twat.

I looked down at me chest and held me hand to it. Quite bloody it was. Then I looked back up. And then I started to feel a bit emotional. It was like being in some rubbish US drama with a deep message. No soundtrack, but time started to slow down and I engaged in a bit of regret/repentance/promise making. It was this kind of "I'm going to die and should/shouldn't have done X, Y and Z", "if I live I'm going to change a few things, put right P, Q and R" mix, with a dash of "better to regret what you've done than what you've not done". Not that any of X, Y, Z, P, Q or R were real things from real life, at least I don't remember them being so. I woke up right after thinking them thoughts, so presumably I died rather than lived, and for a minute or two I just laid there, with those kinds of emotions lingering. In the film depicting this I'll no doubt grab a pen and paper, make a list of things to sort out, get on the blower to people telling them stuff I'd meant to tell them for ages, and all that stuff. In reality I got up and went to the loo, and then watched Soccer AM. Ah well.

This morning's dream was a bit less emotionally interesting, but considerably more violent. This time I had been tortured like fuck, most of the skin having been burnt on my torso (which was way more buff than in real life, hmph!) but in a moment of extreme ingenuity I'd managed to distract my captors and give 'em the slip. Go me! They noticed pretty sharpish but I was by then absolutely pelting it like a madman through town, this time central London I think. Near Covent Garden. I flew down this alleyway, but couldn't get through the crowds, got caught and, I dunno, shot or electrocuted or summat. I died whatever. Woke up at that instant with my heart absolutely racing (I had been running very fast) and generally not feeling too great about things. Fuck knows who the people torturing and killing me were, but there was definitely no emotion attached this time. I had no sense of having wronged them or any reasons behind the grief they were giving me, nowt like that. Bastards.

So, what a load of bollocks that all is. I could do without starting the day like that tbh. Fuck knows if there's anything in the whole dream-interpretation business, I've not bothered to look anything up, but frankly I'm going to bed in about an hour and I won't be bloody happy if I wake up tomorrow morning having been fucking killed again. Got that, subconscious/alternate realm?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

that's a wrap

So that's it then. I got back on Sunday. Not a terrible flight on BA, I'd chosen the best seat available in World Traveller Plus (BA's premium economy class), the very front row of that class in the aircraft which meant it had masses of legroom. The entertainment was good, even if I can't quite remember what it was, and the flight was less than half-full which meant the service was great, non-hurried, and they offered me 3 beers at once when serving(!). The descent from luxury was completed with a 285+281 bus combination to get home. Back down to earth in style, that.

So here's a map of where I went, not including Gibraltar and Dubai.
map of the trip
Maps generated by the
Great Circle Mapper -
copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Quite mad that. Here's some stats. Should I include Dubai and Gibraltar in these? Hmm. Maybe I'll do both.

  • Don't know how many countries, technically. Is Gibraltar part of the UK? Is Hong Kong SAR part of China?
  • 7 or 9 cities. Gibraltar, Dubai, Sydney, Auckland, Perth, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, New York.
  • 11 or 15 flights. All but one in business class. Fatcat bourgeoisie scum that I am, a proper champagne communist. Business class is great though.
  • 4 or 5 airlines, depending on whether you include GB Airways as separate (BA franchise who fly to Gibraltar). Them, BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines. The oneworld alliance, innit.
  • 5 different aircraft types I think. Not sure about this one. I think I flew on Airbus A320s, A330s, A340s, plus Boeing 747s and 777s. Not really sure tbh!
  • 34349 miles on that map above; 43360 miles including Gibraltar and Dubai, 43444 miles if you include the diversion to Abu Dhabi.
  • 16 lounges visited. BA Terraces Heathrow terminal 1, Gibraltar peninsula lounge, 2 x BA Terraces terminal 4, BA Terminal 4 arrivals lounge, BA Terraces lounge Dubai, shared Qantas/BA lounge Singapore, Sydney international terminal Qantas lounge, Auckland Qantas lounge, Sydney domestic terminal Qantas lounge, Perth international Qantas lounge, Hong Kong Cathay Pacific "The Wing" and "The Pier", Singapore Cathay/shared Skyview lounge, Narita (Tokyo) American Airlines Admirals Club, JFK BA Terraces terminal 7.
  • BA Executive Club silver tier achieved. Can't report on how many tier points and miles I earned because some of them haven't shown up yet, and I'm still in dispute about the points 'cos my account has been dicked around with (I think... the maths are quite complicated). And now I've joined BMI's frequent flyer thing too, straight in at Silver because they match BA status, heh.
  • 8 hotels. Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, Mercure Auckland, Crowne Plaza Perth, Harbour Plaza Hong Kong, InterContinental Singapore, Novotel Citygate Hong Kong, Marunouchi Tokyo, Hilton Garden Inn JFK Airport New York.
  • 12 forms of transport, I think. 15 planes, 1 private car, loads of cabs, 2 funicular railways, 4 cable cars, 1 monorail, a bunch of buses, 4(?) coaches, a few trains, 9 boats (although I'm really not sure about this), some underground trains, and 1 gardeners' buggy.
  • 8 currencies but only 4 denominations: Sterling, UAE Dirhams, Australian/New Zealand/Hong Kong/Singapore/US Dollars, Japanese Yen.
  • THOUSANDS of Diet Cokes.
This is doing my head in a bit so I'll stop there, at least for now. These aren't stats I noted down during the trip, I'm coming up with them on the fly and it's all a bit much for a Saturday morning. And Soccer A.M. is on making it difficult to concentrate anyway. Oh, shit, I also need to get a bit of a shift on and head round me Dad's. I bet the journey's going to be a mare thanks to South West Trains engineering works 'n all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I hate New York

[no photos in this entry so it might be a bit of a twat to read, sorry]

I really really hate New York. Like I said before, the only reasons I was there (and there for so long, 3 nights) is because it was a cheap place to get back from while breaking my odyssey into 2 trips, and because I thought I'd need a chance to get over the mad timezone issues and jetlag before going back to blighty. I deliberately stayed near the airport because I didn't anticipate going to Manhattan, instead I just wanted to chill.

It was a Hilton Garden Inn, and I chose it primarily because it has a pool, free wireless internet access, and offers free "stay fit kits", which are weights sets and stuff that you can get from reception for use in your room.

As it happens the first impressions were good. Enjoying the fact I could watch multiple channels of English language TV for the first time in 3 weeks or so, I explored all the pay-movies and entertainmet options and found Snakes On A Plane on the movie system. Result! But on that first night I just went to sleep pretty early, it had been a long day. I might have had something to drink were it not for the first hint of something being a bit wrong: no minibar at all. Not a whisky-only one a la Tokyo, but nothing.

As it happens I only managed 4 hours kip or so, waking up at 11pm local time. And I stayed awake all night. Watched a lot of TV, Family Guy and stuff like that until 6am until I flicked onto CNBC for the next ages. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I bloody love CNBC. It's a 24 hour channel except it's not, it's more like three 8 hour channels. Asian markets, European markets, US markets, and repeat. Sure it's a financial news channel and I barely understand a lot of what they say, but I'm intrigued and addicted. They touch upon every industry in the world, literally, because there's a financial aspect to everything. They scratch the surface of tech, oil, banking, food, pharmaceuticals, everything. It's great. And I find it very visually appealing too. Bloomberg's main section is too small and the tickers are distracting, but CNBC has it right, at least for my eyes.

Before breakfast I took a shower, except I didn't. I couldn't actually work out how to get the water to come out of the shower and not the taps, but even if I had it wouldn't have mattered because the plug(hole) was fucked and water didn't drain. The fitting to pull the plug out didn't work. Sigh. So I went for breakfast, an All American Buffet affair full of omelettes and potatoes and stuff, then told reception about the bath and asked if someone could come and fix it. While there I figured I'd ask for a stay fit kit, and was told they didn't have any and weren't getting any. People kept nicking them in part or their entirety, so they've given up on them. Despite having posters up about them and stuff. Sigh.

They did come and fix the plug but the shower just didn't work, at least I think that's what they said, so I settled for a bath. A while later I thought, well, no stay fit kit but I can at least go and use the pool. Headed on down there and stared at the sign saying that it doesn't open until 4pm for a minute or so, waiting for the hallucination to be replaced with something a little more believable. Turns out it was real though. No pool until really late in the day. For fucks sake.

After a lot of CNBC I started to get restless. I wanted to get out. But I wasn't really in a neighbourhood of any description, just this hotel next to a big motorway and an airport. There's no minibar, and in fact no hotel bar. Well, the breakfast bit turned into a bar at 5pm... no stay fit kit and no pool, fucking hell. So against my better judgement I decided to go to Manhattan after all, specifically for a pint in a bar called Stout. (I had considered going to see Iron Maiden, but that would have been dumb)

At the desk I asked about the best way in and was told a cab was pretty much the only way, "the only safe way at least". So he called a cab for me and off I went. Driver was a nice enough bloke and talked a lot about cricket but tried to get me to pay him to drive around for 2 hours giving me a tour. It also ended up costing $80 but I only had $60 in me pocket so he had to find somewhere to park while I went to an ATM. As I got out there was a thump, and another car had smacked into the cab, its wing mirror landing at my feet. Nice one.

I fucking hate Manhattan. I can't deal with the road system at all, it just makes me feel lost. I want names, not numbers. And I don't want a system of streets and avenues that you're expected to learn, I just want to know names and I'll piece it all together in my mind thanks very fucking much. And Manhattan is crazy claustrophobic too. I like big cities FFHS, but most, if not all, that I've been to other than New York have got bits of greenery every few blocks, to break things up a bit. Not just one hoofing great park at the top. The buildings are so tall and roads so narrow that it's just really intense, plus the streets are always mad busy and I couldn't relax. I really don't like it.

Typically enough, then, I got lost on the way to the bar. I'd looked up the address and got dropped off as near to it as the cabbie could get (while being near that ATM) and was really trying to make an effort to get to grips with the grids and numbers and streets and avenues but no, I couldn't. I went the wrong way and got lost. It probably took me half an hour to get there and I really needed that first pint.

The first pint was shit. Horrible. It was an oatmeal stout and just gross. Tasted neither of oatmeal nor stout. But the next 2 or 3 drinks were quite nice, so it wasn't all bad. I couldn't help but be wound up by all the people surrounding me though, and they were legion. See, this pub had a bunch of TVs on showing sport, mainly football. Proper football too. Soccer. But unfortunately for me, two New York sports teams were playing in New York that night. The Rangers and the Mets, I think, one at Madison Square Garden and one at a place reachable by train from Penn Station.

The bar is just across the road from Madison Square Garden, which is next to Penn Station. Stout was filling up rapidly with thousands of New York sports fans before their games and all haters of football, loudly so. And their choice of drink was winding me up too. Here we were in a bar called Stout, with a menu containing something like 40 types of stout. Duh. So what were they ordering? Budweiser, except that wasn't on the menu. So Bud Light, which was. Of all the people I heard order a stout, they ordered Guinness. For fucks sake, not Guinness! You can get that anywhere, especially in New York! Have a fucking different stout! You're in a bar called Stout! The only thing that didn't wind me up was the guy ordering 2 pints of Stella, and saying to his mate "be careful with this, you can't drink it quickly, it's lethal stuff!".

I'd had enough. Going to Manhattan was a mistake. I'd rather have been bored to tears in the hotel than here. But I wasn't prepared to get a $80 cab back and with 3 or 4 (US) pints inside me I figured I'd make a stab at getting public transport back after all. To hell with the danger.

So, to Penn Station and a ticket machine. I managed to pick single, and pick my destination, but then it asked me whether I wanted a peak or off-peak ticket. Well, it's 7pm, so surely I want off-peak. I saw no indication of what hours the two terms referred to, nor could I understand why it would offer me the choice really, but anyway. Bought the off-peak ticket and then got to the platforms, where all the "next train" signs said PEAK. Oh. Back to the back of a queue and a second ticket bought, I made my way to Jamaica, then the SkyTrain to the airport, then the shuttle bus back to the hotel. Back to my room and to bed. A fucking terrible day.

On Friday there was no way I was going anywhere. I was bored to tears for a lot of the day but just sat there watching CNBC or other crap, dicking around on t'internet, and just being miserable. Actually I spent a lot of time looking up the possibility of flying home a day early but never ended up doing anything about it. ba.com wasn't letting me do anything with my booking, and I got close to redeeming my Virgin Flying Club miles for a one-way flight to London... until I remembered that if I didn't take my BA flight, I'd lose the return leg, which I need to use next May. So I resigned myself to staying the distance. At about 7pm I went down to the hotel bar and looked at the beer menu. In a special Samuel Adams holder thing, on Samuel Adams printed paper, the top beer listed was Samuel Adams. Ordered a pint of that and was told they didn't have any. So I had 2 bottles of Budweiser, and a burger, then returned to my room. Watched Snakes On A Plane (what a fantastic film!) and went to bed.

Checkout was at noon. I checked out at about 1155, and by 1235 I was in the lounge. The flight wasn't until 2001, although it left an hour late. Such a ridiculous amount of time at the airport isn't everyone's cup of tea but I was happier than a pig in shit. Airside equals no longer in New York so far as I'm concerned, and obviously lounge equals free food and beer. I listened to a bunch of music (thanks to my new headphones) including the new Trivium CD which I bought in the airport, wrote an entry on here, chatted to Chris on IRC, and just generally prepared myself for coming back home and flying in non-Business Class for the first time in 14 flights.

In a perverse way, New York was the perfect way to end this part of my holiday. If I'd been going home from Tokyo, say, then it would have been a real wrench. But being stuck in a place I hated for 2 days gave me the opporunity to think about what was ahead in a massively favourable light. I was really looking forward to catching up with friends, my sofa, Sky+, English people, but most of all NOT BEING IN NEW YORK.

October 11th: a very long day

October 11th started much the same as the previous four days, what with me waking up in the Marunouchi hotel in central Tokyo. But it wasn't a normal day. No, October 11th was the last day of my trip, really. True, I wasn't getting back to the UK until October 15th, but the few nights in New York that were on the way, I wasn't really counting those. The stop there was borne out of necessity more than desire, a "cheap" place to get home from on a separate ticket (my round the world ticket continues on with a few more US + Canada destinations next May...) and a chance to get over the physiological effects of time travel. Yeah, time travel... more of that later.

The first thing different about the day was breakfast. I skipped it. I wasn't too late, just too lazy. Instead I packed up, booked a place on the 1330 limousine bus to Narita airport, left my luggage with the concierge and buggered off for a walk. I'd remembered aborting my gawp at the Imperial Palace back on Sunday and figured it would be a shame to not see it properly, since it was only 2 blocks away and stuff. Plus I'd virtually met ol' Akihito too, so I could at least go and have a look at his house.

So the route I chose was the same as the first one; I was just going to extend it. Turns out this is stupid, because walking clockwise from that starting point around the grounds is basically one long walk (something like 4km) around the perimeter, mostly on roads. Oh, and it involves dodging a lot of joggers. I know it was lunchtime but the sheer numbers astounded me, there were bloody hundreds of the bastards. And mostly not jogging either, but going at it full pelt. Lunatics, it was boiling!

Come 3/4s of the circuit and I finally came across an entrance into the inner gardens. Free, but you get a ticket, and then you can walk around all kinds of stuff. I assume. I didn't go in, because by the time I'd got there I only had about 40 minutes until the bus. So I just kept on going round the perimeter and then back to Tokyo station. 15 minutes to go I thought about buying some clothes, went into a department store, got confused, couldn't find any t-shirts, and went back to the hotel. Down came the luggage, along came the bus, I was on me way.

The Admirals' (or Admiral's?) Club lounge, American Airlines' thing in the airport, was quite nice. They reprinted my boarding pass to get my BA number associated with it, and I looked for beer in the fridges. Couldn't spot any, only glasses.. because the beer comes from a tap. A really cool tap too, one that you put your glass under and just press a button. The tap drops down to the bottom of the glass and starts dispensing, then it slowly rises as the beer fills up. Tops it off with a nice head. It was almost as entertaining to use/watch as it was nice to drink, heh. I made a decent stab at emptying them of food too. Went for a wander with about 45 minutes 'til boarding because I had some yen I wanted to spend, and bought some noise cancelling headphones. Not that I was going to use them on board -- AA give their business class passengers them shit hot Bose "we don't put prices on our adverts" things.

When boarding started they announced that people should go in via groups. Seems most people's tickets had a group number on, similar to a sequence number I guess, and they were saying "group A, board now" etc. Perhaps mine was just missing it, or perhaps business class passengers could get on any time, but I just hung back for a while and got on almost last.

I'd never been on American Airlines before. The business class seat is... rubbish. They're upgrading their fleet so presumably the new ones will be less rubbish, but this one was rubbish. To begin with I was astonished with the legroom, but quite quickly thought that sucked because I couldn't reach the stuff in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. I struggled with the seat controls too, they were nowhere as advanced as the ones on BA, Cathay or Qantas. Oh, and my seat was fucked, that was the real problem. It reclined, but wouldn't come back up. Then when I made it come back up, it just slowly reclined and I had to keep readjusting it. For the whole damn flight.

I also took a long time to work out how to get the TV out too. Managed it after a while, and before they turned on the entertainment too, so no great shakes. Unfortunately for me the films were all shit, I didn't want to watch any of them. Not great for a 13 hour flight, I instead watched the episodes of Frasier and King Of Queens on the comedy channel. To my surprise I enjoyed the latter, I could have sworn I'd seen some before and thought it was rubbish. Anyway after finishing all the TV I thought I'd give the music channels a go. Normally I don't bother because airline radio tends to be awful, but on AA it was superb! I probably listened to the entirety of something like 4 channels, one of them twice. And to keep my eyes busy I either read my Disney book -- which I finished by the time we landed -- or watched the map channel.

Ah, the sky map. Addictive things on any airline, but pretty much the same too. I think the same company provides the software for them all. But there are customisations possible it seems, and the one difference on AA than on any other airline I've ever used was that it told you the time where you were in the world. Generally you get the time at your origin, and the time at your destination, but not this. Makes sense I suppose, where you are is pretty irrelevant when you're going to be airborne for the next 10 hours, but for this first-time-International-Date-Line-crosser it was superb.

See, the flight took off at 1755 on October 11th. 3 hours later it was 2055 in Tokyo, obviously. But it was 0055 on October 12th where I was - just before crossing the IDL. About half an hour later it was, erm, something like 0755. On October 11th again. I had experienced a taste of the 12th but had another 17 hours or so before I'd see it again. Indeed the flight was meant to land at 1715, 40 minutes before I left Tokyo, yet 13 hours later. MENTAL. Timezones are crazy things; I found a map of them here which shows just how crazy they are. Like there's a +14; there are pockets of Q either side of P; there are pluses the minus side of the date line; Japan is due north of Australia yet doesn't share a timezone with any part of it; etc etc. Just go look at the map. It's my desktop background now *cough*

AA's business class food was superb. Truly superb. Best food I had in the air all trip I reckon. The cutlery was so cold it almost gave me frostbite though, sheesh. Bit odd that sushi was part of the "Western" choice though. The only problem I had was the "midnight snack", supposedly offered to passengers who aren't sleeping, didn't materialise. Ah well. And because I wasn't sleeping it really annoyed me when the reading light went off, presumably turned off globally by a flight attendant or something. It happened twice :-(

Lots of time to spend thinking onboard this flight. Not much to watch, finishing the book, ... things started springing up. Like a couple more examples of why "'a' before a consonant, 'an' before a vowel" doesn't work. Previously the only one I used was the word 'European', but now I can also cite "a useless bastard" or "a one-hour presentation". And my ears were pricked by one of the DJs saying "countries such as Africa". I asked for a beer off one of the flight attendants at 1pm New York time, which was some obscenely early time of day in Tokyo and about 7am where I was. Heh.

Staying awake was quite a feat I thought. It was a long bastard flight, we were landing at around 6am Tokyo time. As it happens I started to doze off with about an hour to go, but then they served us breakfast so I was perked up. Landed and managed to get to the immigration queue pretty sharpish, quite near the front. Handy that, because it appeared that I was the only person who had managed to fill out the immigration and customs forms. They'd been handed out on the plane (although I got mine at check-in) and the only trouble I'd had was fitting in "Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan" in the "countries you've visited on this trip before the United States" box, heh. But it seems none of the Japanese people had managed to do it, and loads of people were having to fill them out while at the desk or in the queue. So yeah, thank fuck I was near the front. Not so quick as to not give me time to watch CNN on the TVs though. Latest news: plane crash in New York. Welcome!

Got a couple of SMSes when I turned me phone on too. Robinson had made a right cock-up in the game and we'd lost 2-0. :-( Bring back Sven! Or something.

Through immigration, my bag came off pretty much first, and I was out through customs and into the terminal. Oh dear fucking christ JFK is a shithole. It was either terminal 8 or 9, can't remember, but it was really nasty. Worse than Mumbai and Taipei, and they weren't nice places. No signs to hotel shuttle buses so I asked at an information desk and was told I had to go get a train to a different place, Federal Circle, and get it from there. Thankfully it was really bastard pissing it down so I got soaked wet through just walking to the train. FFHS. Just one stop to FC, downstairs and the shuttle bus was there waiting. Superb. From touching down to my hotel room took about 90 minutes.

a day in Hakone

The first thing I'd done on Monday was buy a ticket for a day trip outside of the city, before I'd really got the hang of Tokyo. So having had such a belting day and evening, I was a tiny bit disappointed to not be spending my last full day in town, but hey, Hakone wasn't supposed to be that bad a place. I got to Shinjuku station way too early but that was cool, because with it being the first working day since my arrival I got to see what the place was like for real, and bloody hell it was manic. I found somewhere to stand and just watched everyone going their way. Awesome. It's a double-decker station too, two levels of platforms.
um, quite.

The ticket I'd bought is the Hakone weekday pass. This is a return ticket on a private train (as opposed to Japan Rail) to the edge of the Hakone area and then a ticket for unlimited travel on various forms of transport. And because I was going on the "limited express Romancecar" "SUPER HAKONE 17" service I was looking forward to a fast trip with decent views.

Well, it was fast. But I had an aisle seat, which sucked. And I was the only westerner and only male in the carriage. The mad chattering women didn't give a monkeys about looking out of the windows -- in fact when we left the city and entered countryside, they drew the blinds so this poor western bloke couldn't see a bastard thing. Even when they announced "you can see Mount Fuji out of the right hand side of the train". Sigh. Good seats on the train though: you can swivel each pair around so you can always face forwards, or have 2 pairs facing each other.

So with no opportunity for sightseeing from the train I exaimned the little guide pamphlet thing I had, the map of the area. The ticket is actually valid for 2 days but I was on a day trip, and there was a suggested itinerary which I decided to follow. There was also a big list of all the sights and shrines and museums and stuff around, and I have to admit the idea of visiting the Museum of Steamed Fishpaste did have some appeal. I had also wondered about visiting the Tobacco and Salt museum in Ginza. What the hell is going on with these mental museums?
trees, lake, fuji

Anyway. Got to Hakone-Yumoto and struggled to get out of the station. Turns out that as well as the only westerner, I was the only person that had the faintest idea what to do when getting off the train. Everyone else was going crazy for maps or at the staff or just milling and getting in my way, while I crossed the underpass and got on the bus. This was taking me to Motohakone-ko, on the side of Lake Ashi. The journey took about 40 minutes and as far as I could work out from my map, was going the wrong route. It was also constantly climbing. I wondered if I'd be struggling with the oxygen when I got out.

In this small town miles out from the city, I was very glad to discover that the ubiquitous vending machines were still ubiquitous. Stocked up on liquids, put me hat and some factor 50 on, and headed off on the next part of the journey: the walk to Hakonemachi.

Unfortunately there were no signs to Hakonemachi. Well, there might have been, but not in English or latin script. IIRC it was supposed to be a walk through a 2km or so tunnel of cedar trees, something like that anyway. But I wouldn't know a cedar tree from my elbow, and there were a bunch of all kinds of trees around. Basically I didn't really know where I was going, but I figured that if I just hugged the side of the lake I'd end up somewhere useful, if not actually Hakonemachi.

So after getting to the end of a car park and with no-one else around I was starting to think, hmm. This is wrong. But the path which looked like it was finishing didn't, and in fact got bigger and gave the appearance of heading somewhere interesting, so I persevered. Leaving the lake's side but coming across a little pond/inlet thing and a bridge, I crossed that and was confronted with two signs, pointing left and right. No idea what they said, I picked right. I think left may have said "this way to the lift, avoiding the 206 step climb to the top". Bah.

Worth it at the top though. I was in some kind of gardens/park, with a specific viewing area at the summit for looking over the lake and towards Mount Fuji. Great weather, I could see it perfectly. Since I was knackered I took the opportunity to just chill for a while anyway, staring out at the the mountain for a few minutes.

After that I carried on, 'cos I still saw no sign of Hakonemachi. And in fact the trail seemed to be getting colder, and full of puddles. But again there was light at the end, and this particular light was some kind of Hakone museum or other. I forget exactly what it was, and didn't hang around anyway because to see anything you had to pay to get in and I wasn't really in the mood for a few displays that wouldn't mean a lot to me. So I carried on through and it turned into a little harbour thing with a restaurant next to it. Quite a result I thought, because the next part of my journey was meant to be a boat. Only problem was there were no boats about, and the ones I could see on the lake weren't coming towards me. Hmm. They do seem to be going just over there though, a few hundred metres to the left... so I went on a bit further, the street turned into streets and a town with a big sign saying HAKONEMACHI. Woohoo!

Found the boat terminal and a shitload of people and a shop selling ice creams. I queued up for a bit before giving up when realising that you had to get a ticket from somewhere else first and then exchange that for an ice cream, and I'd already wasted enough time. Bah. Went back and queued up for the boat, a big-ass pirate ship, with shivering timbers and all that gubbins. Yarr?

There was a snack bar on the boat and the staff spoke passable English. That was mightily surprising. Despite having an English map/leaflet I still got the distinct feeling this whole thing was something Japanese tourists did and westerners didn't, 'cos I ran into none. Actually that's a bit of a lie, throughout the rest of the day I did occasionally run into one or two. But my feelings were torn and conflicted. When alone I was thinking, sheesh, I could do with another westerner on the scene just so I feel a bit safe in numbers; then when I saw another one, I was thinking oi! Hop it! This is my patch, I'm the bloody odd one out here, stop diluting the pool!
cable car view

Anyway. The boat sold me some crisps and a muffin and I stood on the deck taking loads of photos of water and shoreline and stuff. I bet they really piss off Loz 'cos they're so samey, but really there wasn't a lot else to do. And it was really cool and peaceful and stuff. There was a dual language commentary too, so at various points they announced what it was we could see, but I failed to remember any of it at all. So to my mind, the photos are just of stuff.

Nice journey though. Arrived at the other end just as another pirate ship was doing the return, and I did briefly ponder just hoping back on that one. Mainly because the boats had a first class compartment that I could have paid a supplement to go in, and my addiction to fat cat travel was nagging at me. But I resisted, and instead followed the crowds to the bus service taking us all to the Hakone ropeway terminal.

The Hakone ropeway is a cable car system. It looks like they're extending it from the current terminus all the way down to the boat bit by the lake, but right now it's a shuttle bus ride. Got there, bought an ice cream and some drinks and got in the compartment. Bigger than the Singapore one, smaller than Hong Kong, less scary than both. A pretty tame ride but good views again, of Fuji and some natural spa things and a whole lot of trees. I thought it was supposed to stop at a place where you can buy black eggs, but actually it just went to a change point where you can board the Hakone cable car.

Unlike the ropeway, which is a cable car system, the cable car is a railway. Funicular I think, not sure. Steep though, almost as mad as the Peak Tram (which isn't a tram) in Hong Kong. I couldn't get a seat but didn't want to wait for the next one. Turns out as well as a tourist thing, this is also a commuter route. It stops at a bunch of places down the hill, with platforms that are so steep they're stepped. I think. But I stayed on all the way to the end, which was another change point, this time onto a train that was actually a train.

This was actually the last stage of the journey, train back to Tokyo notwithstanding. Definitely a commuter route, actually this one filled up with schoolkids on their way home. But I had managed to grab a seat on this and settled down, trying desperately to not get confused. Since I was on the way down the huge hill (mountain? something is telling me that Lake Ashi is actually a lake formed in the crater of what used to be a volcano, but that might be bollocks) that the bus had climbed earlier in the day it was no surprise that the journey was still steep. But what really freaked me out was that we kept arriving at a station travelling in one direction, and leaving it by reversing back out. We basically zig-zagged our way down, finally coming back to Hakone-Yumoto.

Hakone-Yumoto was actually a decent-ish sized town, and I considered looking for somewhere to have a pint. But instead I bought a reservation for the next train (required, on top of the price of the pass, for the faster trains) and bought some food and 2 cans of lager from a stall at the station. Stood at the end of the platform waiting for my train to arrive and took a few photos for Mark's benefit. I thought perhaps I'd got a seat in the front carriage, which would be fantastic as the whole front is a window (the driver sits up top), but I was in the first row of the second one. Oh well, it gave me the chance to write a load of notes and drink my beer.
bar at the Rose & Crown

Until I got interrupted, that is. This train wasn't a full-on no-stop train like the first one. Wait, no, that first one had stopped once, but this one was stopping about 4 times. Anyway. Some people got on and the train filled up fast. And a Japanese couple had got on having been unable to get reservations next to one another; one of them was next to me, the other in a different carraige. Through a little English and a lot of gesticulating and staring at tickets it transpired that they were asking me if I'd mind shifting, taking the fella's seat so they could sit next to each other. Sigh. I SUPPOSE SO, here, you take my seat ticket and I'll take yours.

Oh, yours is in the front carraige and is considerably better than mine. Ace! No, it's no problem, the pleasure's all mine, enjoy this rubbish seat with your missus next to you.

Heh. So it wasn't the best seat in the world but definitely better, even though it was now an aisle seat. Mind you that got fixed when the bloke in the window seat got off at another intermediate station and I shuffled across. That would have worked better had another Japanese businessman got on with the window seat reserved, but he let me stay in it. Probably part of that whole "forgiving foreigners anything" thing. Heh.

Back in Tokyo I grabbed another drink before the tube home. I had an awful lot to drink from vending machines throughout my stay, but FFHS why did virtually none of them sell diet coke? Not a single one in the entire Hakone region had any, and I swear only about 4 or 5 -- out of hundreds! -- had it in the city. Grr!

After dropping my bag off at the hotel I thought I'd go out and try to visit one last bar. Near BIC Camera when walking back from Ginza on Sunday I'd found a place called The Rose And Crown, a good old British boozer. I thought perhaps they'd speak English in there. I was wrong. Still managed to have 3 pints and a plate of fish and chips though, plus I spent an hour or so chatting to the Japanese guy sitting next to me who actually lives in Acton. He was amazed that I was so comfortable with the Tokyo subway system, impressed with the beer I told him to drink (some oatmeal stout or other IIRC, a decent microbrew of sorts whatever), and generally a nice bloke. Kinda showed up my appalling pronunciation though as he couldn't understand any of the placenames I said I'd been to, despite being actually from Tokyo (22 years there, 3 years in London so far). Oh well.

I liked Tokyo. I got on well with it. I was ashamed at my ignorance and the way I'd picked up none of the language, but after an initial 36 hours of being a scaredy cat I felt like it was somewhere I could visit again, and wanted to. Not like Singapore, that's for sure. The day trip to Hakone had actually been recommended to me by a user on FlyerTalk and I made sure afterwards to say thanks, as I'm convinced I'd have never known about it otherwise. Turns out that having beautiful weather and a good view of Fuji is a pretty lucky combination. So yeah, Tokyo, cool.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Every day's a holiday

Hmm, I should listen to some Mordred.

So, quite obviously every day was a holiday (day) for me, but I didn't half have a knack for being in a country/place where something big(gish) was going on. Back in Australia there had been the Steve Irwin memorial (it really was an enormous event); in Auckland it was the tail end of Heritage Week; Singapore had been preparing for Deepavali; Hong Kong celebrated its National Day and commenced a week-long public holiday; and in Japan it was sport-tastic. On the day I arrived the Tokyo Open was being played -- not one of the majors but Tim Henman got to the final. Sunday was Japanese Grand Prix day, and then Monday was a national holiday: Health and Sports Day.
temple water garden

Oh, there was also the small matter of typhoons affecting Vietnam the day before I flew directly over it (that was a turbulent one), North Korea testing a nuclear weapon and Japan's new Prime Minister giving it the large one in the media, saying how he wanted to rip up their pacifist constitution and start getting all nationalist and stuff, even taking pre-emptive strikes against the aforementioned North Koreans, etc etc. Was that it? Hmm. Oh, I think the day before I arrived in Tokyo there were typhoons causing loads of flight problems, and the day after I left Singapore the government ordered everyone to stay indoors because a vast smoke cloud from Indonesia or Malaysia or somewhere was engulfing the island.

Anyway anyway anyway. Health and Sports Day. Starting off with breakfast I arrived a bit later than on Sunday and found the restaurant to be full. Had to go sit in a little side room off the side to wait for a seat to come up, a few other people in the room too and one of them decided to talk to me about my shoes. He recognised them(!) and was considering buying a pair himself so I did a bit of sales spiel on him. He apologised for the quality of his English despite it being superb, the silly arse.

A public holiday which meant the daytrip I wanted to take out of town might be mad busy, so I'd resolved to go and bloody see Tokyo properly today. However I did want to go away for the day so I started off heading to Shinjuku station to buy the ticket. Shinjuku station is mental -- 3.4 million people use it a day. I assume that's an average and weekdays are worst, but it was pretty damn crazy when I got there. The recommendation had been to get a map of the station just to be able to work out where to go, and this was advice I ignored. Instead I'd just vaguely remembered the location of the desk and was going to wing it.

Turns out winging it was simple. I guess the guidebook's scaremongering about the scale of Shinjuku station isn't specifically meant for Londoners, or someone who uses Waterloo on a regular basis. It wasn't all that scary really... anyway I found the desk and bought the ticket, then went off for a wander. Shinjuku's not just a station but a vaguely touristy area (including some apparently shady bars, but I didn't spot those) and I walked towards what I think is the tallest building in Tokyo, the municipal government building. If it's not the tallest it's getting there, and anyway it's supposed to be one of the best vantage points to get a view of the whole city, and it's free to go up there. Truth be told though my inability to find the entrance wasn't exactly stressful, because I was less than enamoured with the idea of going up yet another huge tall building for a gawp at whatever city I happened to be in. Let's face it: I'm scared of heights and that's not going to change.

Anyway, I found a vending machine that sold Diet Coke, some discarded porn mags on the floor next to it, and a nice park to walk around. A few fountains, a bunch of statues, and people doing their washing, loads of makeshift clothes lines and stuff. I thought that was pretty cool really, people heading down to their local park on a nice day to read their books or just meditate on life while waiting for their washing to dry, using the public space because the density of the city meant there was precious little space to do so at home. Then a few minutes later I realised that wasn't what was happening at all, the people doing their washing were homeless and living in tents made out of tarpaulins in the park. Eek.

Right. Time out here. I'm getting really fucking wound up atm. Someone keeps phoning my home phone but it only rings once each time. Actually not quite each time: once it went all the way to answerphone, but they didn't leave a message. FFHS though, just fucking stop ringing me you fucks.

Ahem. Back to Tokyo. A slow stroll through this Shinjuku park was very pleasant and I took a few photos, especially of the shrine and its gardens. I didn't manage to get as good a photo of the main shrine as I'd liked because some selfish woman turned up to bloody worship. C'uh, I ask you. Couldn't she see I was trying to take photos? Heh.

Back to Shinjuku and on to Roppongi. Getting there was nowhere near as easy as it should have been. IIRC the stations are on the same line so I figured it would be simple, at at Shinjuku I followed the signs to that line. Ended up though in some not-quite-Shinjuku station, but nonetheless there was an English sign saying which platform to use for Roppongi. Got on the train on that platform and got kicked off at the next stop 'cos it turned out this line is some kind of not-quite-circle line, there's a station where trains terminate in both directions but the circle isn't quite completed there: to carry on you have to change. And this station is right by the park I'd wandered around, bah. And finally the first stop on the second leg was... Shinjuku! Grr. Maybe it is a complicated station after all.

Roppongi is a district full of two things, bars and embassies/consulates. I was just aiming to explore, but in particular there was a bar called Rock Factory that I wanted to find so I could return there in the evening. It seemed to be the only thing approaching a metal bar in the whole city, according to the English speaking internet anyway. I did manage to find a sign on the main drag that pointed to it, saying the entrance was just down a side road behind Subway, but I went along that road and couldn't find it. Probably in a basement or something, I dunno.

Roppongi was a good district though. Back in Shinjuku I'd realised just how non-cosmopolitan Tokyo was, as I could barely remember running into another westerner other than that guy near the Emperor the day before. Sting's "Englishman In New York" came to mind, as I muttered to myself "New York? New York??? Try bloody going to Tokyo you tantric cunt". Anyway Roppongi shattered it a little bit. Probably because of all the embassies and stuff, a lot of which seemed to have residences attached to them, but there I saw a whole bunch of non-Japanese folk hanging around. I also saw a road about to close, some military types standing near an intersection waiting for summat. My map said the Russians were on that road so I'm guessing it was them.

I walked a long way almost into a different district whose name I can't remember, because I could see the Tokyo TV Tower and wanted to get a photo of it. Unlike that fella at the end of The Untouchables though I couldn't get a good shot, and turned back when it became apparent the view was getting worse not better. Having a bit of a thirst on now I took the safe option and went in the Hobgoblin pub. A genuine Hobgoblin, serving Hobgoblin and done out like every Hobgoblin I can think of, I got served my pint by an Englishman and settled down to watch BBC World or News 24, not sure what it was. There was only one piece of news though, 'cos this was the day that North Korea went NUCLEAR. Pfft. The Japanese were leading the charge with the angry responses and I was thinking, look, can't you just bloody wait until I'm not here before starting a war? Sheesh. Then it occurred to me that maybe the road closures meant the North Korean embassy was nearby and there was a hoo-ha expected. (Actually that's a lie, that possibility has only just occurred to me while writing this)

Roppongi has a boozer called BOOZER. Heh. It also has a place called the Venus Cabinet which I perhaps uncharitably assumed was an example of bad English, and that they'd really meant Venus Cabaret. Who knows?

Back to the station and on another tube I headed towards Ueno. The Hobgoblin had actually been a really handy tourist information centre as it goes, being the only place I'd found that had a bunch of pamphlets and maps and stuff all in English detailing cool places to go or what stuff was near what stations. I should have gone there on day one :-( but better late than never, innit. By now I was a master of the subway system and the journey to Ueno was simple, and I even allowed myself a snigger or two as I kept being confronted by locals who were studying maps and getting confused and rushing off trains as they realised they'd gone the wrong direction etc etc. Hah!
stage 4

Mind you I was on occasion operating more by luck than judgement. The biggest problem with the subway system that I had was finding my way out, back to ground level. Not that exits were hard to find, more that they were way too numerous. Each station tends to have exits marked by numbers. Then when you get closer they are subdivided into letters. So you go to exit 4, then the signs start saying 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, ... and then in one place -- it might have been Ueno actually -- they got subdivided further and I was having to pick between 4a1, 4a2, 4a3, etc! But I just winged it again and came out directly opposite the entrance to Ueno park which is what I'd been looking for.

Jesus, Ueno park was packed! I know it was a bank holiday but my word, it was crazy. So so packed, but I could understand why: it was really pretty and there were a bunch of museums and a zoo and fountains and stuff, and of course it was a public holiday so people weren't at work. I did head towards the zoo but when I got there there was only 1 minute left before the stopped selling tickets, half an hour before the place shut, and I wasn't really in the mood for that much of a lightning trip around. So instead I explored the whole park, taking many fountain photos and a few of the Rodin scultures outside the museum of Western art. It might be really good and stuff but Rodin's Adam doesn't half look like, in 80's playground vernacular, a spazz.

Ueno took quite a while actually, by the time I finished there it was just starting to get dark. At the station I considered trying to get an overground train to Tokyo station (despite not knowing if they were even on the same line) but once again the machines confounded me, and then I thought about going in the Irish pub in the station but decided against it. So back on the subway it was and this time to Ginza.

The Tokyo subway was starting to wind me up a bit actually. Not because of the maps and confusion or anything like that, far from it in fact. I was impressed with the system in place because it was actually pretty easy to get to grips with. Pick a colour or letter, and a number, and it was easy to get there. By number I mean station number: as well as a name each station was numbered in sequence and those numbers are visible everywhere, so if you want to go to T9 just change onto T, find out what number you're at and go the right direction. Simple. No, the thing that annoyed me the most was that EVERY SINGLE TIME I stood up I hit my head on the handles used by people who stand. Bloody things were way too low. I blame it on the Japanese being short people. 'cos they are, actually. Whenever I was in a crowd I was almost always an inch or two taller than everyone else, and I'm not exactly tall.

Oh, there are women-only carriages on the subway too.

Are any of the symbols in Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Vietnamese punctuation? I kept seeing a bunch of text in both Tokyo and Hong Kong that had a '!' at the end, or a comma in the middle. It seemed out of place but really, did the inventors of these silly writing systems not bother with punctuation? I can't believe that. Can I? Hmm.

Ginza was cool. I thought perhaps the shops would be shut, or shutting, but instead the place was ram packed. The main road in Ginza is a huge shopping centre full of neon signs and stuff. I was just happy to soak in the atmosphere, which I did. Turns out the day before I'd not quite made it to the proper centre of Ginza so I wasn't on home turf either, and as it goes I was feeling pretty happy with myself at this point. I'd managed to "get" Tokyo, visit 4 different places and have a great time exploring without running back to the safety of my hotel room. I'd had something to eat and drink (albeit in an English pub) and was being proper touristy, go me. The only downside was that I'd already booked my daytrip for the following day, just as I'd become comfortable with Tokyo itself. D'oh! Not to worry.

Introspection aside I thought I'd go back to the safety of my hotel room. Back to Ginza station I briefly thought about going in the Lion Beer bar for a pint first, changed my mind, and then spotted a sign to the Sony building. So I went in there. I dunno if it's their HQ or anything but it's a curious place, just a showroom for Sony gear but you can't buy it. Although maybe you can buy it in the LIFE PLANNER CLINICS they have. Like a self-help guru, these places seemed to be populated by Sony experts who could help you sort out your entire life by providing you with Sony goods for every room in your house, and on the move too I guess. Bit freaky that.

The Sony building also has a pub in it, an Irish one. I went in there and had a Guinness, which wasn't bad actually, and a plate of nachos. A tiny plate. And it cost me 5 pound 63. Eek. The barman was making ice for drinks by constantly chipping away at a huge block, and there were 11 customers and 7 staff (one barman, 6 waiters). Bit overkill that, although I guess the pub was a bit empty. Mind I don't think you could fit more than about 30 people in there, it's not a big place. Paying involved being shephereded to the till by the door, rather than paying the barman or waiter. While sat at the bar I'd been trying to hide the cover of my guidebook a bit, make it look like I was just reading any old book. The complete idiocy of this did occur to me though, what was I thinking? I was hardly likely to convince anyone I was a local just by hiding the book FFHS.
beer menu

After the Cardinal I really did go back to my hotel. The Marunouchi's main reception is on the 7th floor but they do employ people to greet guests off the limosuine bus and relieve them of their luggage. Indeed, I spotted a Japanese bird taking it up the tradesmen's entrance when I got there.

This bloke Chris's brother lives in Tokyo and online for a bit I asked Chris if he had any advice for places to go drinking. In particular I said I was going to Roppongi and was after metal. Turns out the advice was (a) don't go to Roppongi (b) there are no metal bars (c) oh, thanks for letting me know about Rock Factory, that sounds interesting. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the plan I'd made, that combined with my inability to find Rock Factory in daylight meant a hasty change was required. The Internet to the rescue, I ended up deciding to go to Popeye's.

Popeye's is in a district called Ryogoku. Apparently the only reasons to go to Ryogoku are the Sumo stadium/museum, and this pub. Unfortunately it's the other side of a river from where I was, just outside of the areas covered by any of the maps I had. A little more disconcerting than going somewhere by train without a map, I looked at the directions on the website and once again thought, ah fuck it, let's just give this a go eh? Truth is I wasn't even sure the place would be open, since it's shut on Sundays and I equated Sundays with public holidays. In for a penny though.

Down to Otemachi station and I instantly got on the wrong train. Not going the wrong direction as such, I in fact got on the totally wrong line. Quite a mistake to make that: the lines don't share platforms like the district and circle or whatever. Heh, go me! Thankfully it was an easy mistake to rectify, change at the next station and I was on the line to Ryogoku. Came out of the station and there was nothing. I was expecting to be at the train station, ie that the tube and train were in the same place, but no, they're not. I was not only outside of the maps, but outside of the map I'd remembered from the website. But I could see train lines and figured they could be followed.

Follow I did, down an unlit side alley next to the lines and past lockups and bike racks. At the end there was a load of lights, 'cos there were eateries and gambling houses (pachinko places) and gaudy neon and Ryogoku train station. Result! Still not really sure what direction I had to go in though, I took a guess at the main road of left, then on the next side road spotted some lights. Wondering if that could be the pub I walked and hey presto, it was. So there I was in a seemingly shady-ish suburb of Tokyo, outside of the maps I had, on a dark side road standing in front of a pub whose premises comprised the ground floor of a block of flats. It was like being in Stockwell but thousands of miles from home. Had I done the right thing here?

I so had. This pub was fucking superb. No-one spoke English but they seated me at the bar and handed me an English beer menu and kept me watered for the next 2 hours or so. They served masses of Japanese microbrews as well as a few foreign beers and I sampled, I think, 5 different ales. They were all really nice and the price wasn't as horrifying as anywhere else. Again with the waiter service, I pointed and gestured and he shouted and shouted. The place was full and the atmosphere was great. When I finished the last one and paid up I muttered the word "Domo", my sole attempt at Japanese all trip so far and the waiter's eyes lit up like I was some total hero. Perhaps I'd expressed a little more gratitude than I'd meant (I thought I was just saying "thanks") but he was so pleased to get a word of Japanese out of me, I got this total "don't go! or at least, come back soon!" vibe from him and the other staff, who were all saying goodbye (or "fuck off"?) to me too. They let me keep the English beer menu and also gave me a 50% off beer voucher should I go back. Popeye's, I salute you.

Managed to get back to Ryogoku tube station but was too pissed to get a diet coke out of the vending machine, instead getting some kind of fizzy water. Second attempt worked though. Got the wrong train and just generally had an arse of a journey home because I was drunk, but I was also on a massive high for having enjoyed myself so much that day and that night in particular. A fucking blinding day, that. Only thing I was worried about was having a twat of a hangover and/or sleeping too late to go get my train to Hakone the next day.