Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Cold Kiwi Christmas

Being an orphan in a foreign country often makes the question of what to do at Christmas time rather interesting. For the five I have had over here I have spent one in Edinburgh with some Aoteoroa-n friends, one in the Lake District with the same friends plus Wendy, Dave, Muzz, Jo and Gareth and that was rather memorably concluded with an emergency call to Dyna-Rod as excrement was spraying all over the back porch, the third was spent in Luton with my brother and his fiance's family, and last year was spent in Farringdon with Mike and Sarah's family. On that occasion I had goose rather than turkey for Christmas lunch. Make no mistake about it, goose is an infinitely superior option for your fowl eating. But at £70/bird, it is really a posh person's bird.

This year I started thinking about Christmas around July (about three months ahead of the shops - how scary is that) and around October Jane came up with a solution, which would see us go to a cottage in Wales with some of her school friends. This was attractive on a few levels. Firstly it required little effort from me, other than to say yes, secondly it would be in a part of the world I hadn't been but wanted to go to, and thirdly, Jane is a good mate and I like to spend time with my mates.

So on the 23rd I found myself driving down the M40/M25/M4 to London to collect her and her flatmate Emily and all their assorted foodstuffs. After a small detour to find a petrol cap as somehow I had left mine in Benson earlier on in the week we were on our way. How I managed to contort all of our stuff as well as the three of us into my Micra is a small miracle. We set off with very low expectations about holiday traffic and the initial experiences on the A4/M4 seemed to reinforce this. However, with a sudden expansion of motorway we shook free the burdens of neighbouring cars and somehow five hours later we left the A4244 and pulled into Bryndrefail in Snowdonia National Park. Thanks to the wonderful i-pod (we worship at your temple, O Great Apple), Jane's DJing skills (if not her mixing skills - Karma Police must ALWAYS be played to the very last chord), and some liberal interpretations of the 70mph speed limit, the trip was a blast.

Waiting for us was Mike and Rebekah. Rebekah is one of Jane and Emily's school friends and Mike is her partner. Mike was to turn out to be the only non-kiwi amongst us. Introductions were done and the first bottle of wine cracked open. Shortly afterwards Sarah and Marty turned up. This was an extraordinary achievement as when we were about 20 miles north of Birmingham they were still in Ealing. Yet somehow they arrived only an hour and a half behind me...

Wine drunk, we disappeared to our rooms and, in the case of Jane and I some really uncomfortable beds. The beds we slept on were rubbish. They were short, the springs were, well, they were absent and the room was damp. It has been so good to get back to my own bed! Christmas Eve was spent buying papers from the local post office (a thirty second walk but one that required a fifteen minute discussion with the postman about, oh, I don't know, um, the state of the Welsh Assembly, the EC and the colonial bastards that are Britain, France and Germany, the career path of his brother in law (Nottingham-Canada-New Zealand to the Emirates before retirement in Taupo), pronounciation of Welsh placenames and a whole series of other things that escape me now) replenishing beer and coal stocks (Marty had brought along a box of Paulaner, an oustanding beer, and despite the girls pledge that they would drink wine, they soon renegged and clearly we needed some supplementary stocks) and visiting Llanberis, the nearest big town. Llanberis is about an hours walk along the shores of Lyn Padarn. On the way back we had to negotiate a field of cows and cow excrement, which saw a very comical walking style from an anonymous member of the party... Later in the evening a sixth kiwi, Rachel, joined the posse.

Christmas Day rose cold and frosty but absent in snow. While Rach and Emily slumbered Marty, Sarah, Mike, Rebekah, Jane and I wandered up a small path to a view over Llanberis and Snowdon and away to the west we could see Anglesey. From there we wandered back to the cottage for secret santa, where £5 gifts were diced for. I ended up with a garlic bread dish and a metre long tube of jaffa cakes...

Numpty in desperate need of a shave but with an excess of Jaffa Cakes. Note the malformed forearms.

Finally we tucked into a huge lunch of ham and chicken and roast veges and the finest mashed potato I have ever had, or made for that matter. Oh, and someone had made and cooked brussel sprouts. The amazing thing was that we had somehow cooked a wonderful meal with everyone pitching in and without there being too many cooks to spoil the broth. The kiwi camaraderie mixed with Mikes overwhelming generosity made for a fine meal and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Richard/Rebekah/Mike/Sarah/Marty/Jane/Emily. Rach is behind the camera.

After the indulgence. Stuffed Kiwis from left: Richard/Marty/Rach (this time behind the glass)/Rebekah/(stuffed Englishman) Mike/(back to the stuffed kiwis) Sarah and Jane. This time Emily is hiding behind the camera.

Seeing as we had indulged, Boxing Day required Penance. So on Boxing Day, we climbed Snowdon. All of us knocked the bastard off. Amongst the ice as we ascended the zig zag towards the summit and despite the freezing wind on the summit cairn, we did it. More pictures of the walk can be seen here. The view was underwhelming. The freezing fog saw to that. Is it just me, but how ridiculous is it that the highest mountain in England and Wales has a railway line to the summit? That is mountaineering for the bone idle. Although at 1085m, Snowdon struggles to be called a mountain. Once below the fog, the view was astonishing. The view across to Y Lliwedd and Llyn Llydaw is outstanding. It was worth every penny and every calorie consumed. On the shores of Llyn Llydaw Marty and I stumbled across the fabled Toffee Pop Tree and there we worshipped.

Because it was there. Kiwis on top of England and Wales. Much like it is in Rugby.

Worshippers at the Toffee Pop Tree

The view back to Snowdonia. We all climbed that brute.

The evening was spent loosening limbs and soothing pallets in the Snowdon Inn. Emily, Marty and I acquanited ourselves with a dartboard and played round the world. I was rubbish, but when I discovered a cat that would happily perch itself in my arms while I threw my darts I discovered that I could enjoy it a lot more, if not be more accurate. Later that evening Ma and Pa spent my inheritance by calling my work sponsored mobile phone and I got to talk to the whanau.

Tuesday morning Jane and I said goodbye to the horrible beds in the attic and very fond farewells to the wonderful people we'd spent Christmas with. Quite frankly, these people were some of the highest quality. I know Jane very well and have a lot of respect and time for her, so I guess this should not have come as such a great surprise to me. It was a few days spent in very relaxed company and amongst people who willingly contributed to the enjoyment of all. And when I discovered that Mike had quietly washed all of our boots after the trudge through the cow muck, I could have hugged him. Mike, if you ever read this, it might seem a little thing to have done, but it was an act of great kindness, so thank you so very much. And to Jane, Marty, Sarah, Rach, Becks and Emily, thank you too.

So an orphaned Christmas with the Kiwis turned out to be a great Christmas amongst the an extended whanau.

Kia Ora!

Those Oxford Dons

For a minute I lost myself

Not sure what the crack is, but here you can find and download the '97 Glastonbury Radiohead set. This is widely regarded as one of the finest live gigs of all time. This was recorded back when sets at Glastonbury took place over more than 45 minutes.

I am loving this!

How I Earnt my Christmas Lunch

En route to the summit of Snowdon on Boxing Day:

Olaf and I on the summit of Snowdon:

Marty and I enjoying a Toffee Pop, or three:

And in the valleys on the way back to Bryndrefail for more indulgence:

Reclaiming my blog: At the risk...

...of sounding too personal, of making myself vulnerable, and of appearing too desperate (or, God forbid, being too teenage angsty), being single is really starting to get on my tits.

And there is the wonderful irony that a missive like this makes me oh-so-attractive to the opposite sex! Don't think I didn't spot that.

Apparently I am

This moves me.

You're the Ducks Nuts of a friend. Thankyou and hoping you had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you every Joy in the New Year.
Sarah, Mike, Alex, Mari + Caragh

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Last Minute Dot Com

Because we can, on Tuesday Chris and I are flying to Malta for four nights.

Feeling really physically, emotionally and spiritually drained and worn down today. Often is the case when I've enjoyed something so much that when it ends it's probably akin to coming off a night on E. I had a great time in Snowdonia over Christmas. Like my time in Norway I would like to bottle that feeling and live off it.

But I can't.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

And sometimes it is like this

Shivering with doubts that were left unattended
so you toss away the cloak that you should have mended
don't you know by now why the chosen are few?
it's harder to believe than not to

-Steve Taylor

But not so much at the minute.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Things I wish I'd done

Two stories here: The first relates to Chris and his bad day at work and the second relates to a guy I know and his experience at a supermarket. Somehow these two stories go a long way to making the world a better place.

Chris' story requires that you read his blog entries, read this one first and then this one. Will's story can be found here and also below:

Weird thing happens

I was in the supermarket queue and the guy in front of me is with his ?wife and she is paying when he decided to go and get some more booze, maybe because it would be free or something. He says to the checkout guy

Him: "Can I go and get another one?"

and I respond and I say

Me: "no".

Him: "I'm sorry?"

Me: "no, you can't"

Him (looking at me like he's going to hit me): "why not?"

Me: "because I'm next in the queue"

At which he walks off, gets another bottle of booze and comes back. He looks me in the eye and I am expecting him to say "you are a f***ing twat" but he does not.

Him: "I apologise."

Me: "That's ok mate it happens to the best of us"

And he proceeds to pay, and look!, as he is leaving, he says

Him: "Do you drink red wine?"

Me: "Sometimes"

He gives me a bottle of red

Me: "Thanks mate, that's very kind of you"

End of story

I think this is remarkable because i) it was in Didcot where I expect people to be thugs ii) he was with his partner and I thought he'd probably want to show off how hard he was to her iii) I was being a bit of a twat.

Anyway, this has restored some of my faith in "other people"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fush un Chups

This little piece is doing the rounds in the expat kiwi community in the UK. If you need a translation, just ask...

Update: Sometimes the link misbehaves so if in doubt type into your browser and if anybody knows any good way of storing audio files on the web I'm open to suggestions!

Friday, December 16, 2005


My niece Charlotte has a blog. She also has a big polar bear that is also called Olaf. I gave it to her but I don't think she realises it was to match the little one that I have. I bet it also hasn't been photocopied like the little feller was.

Not Waterstones

I have been sent this email from someone attached to Hammer and Tongue. I'll let the email speak for itself:

"I have just heard that the former Classics Bookshop in Turl Street is scheduled to close down in the New Year if business does not pick up.

It is the last of three independent secondhand booksellers left in Oxford (not counting Reservoir Books in St Aldates which is closed for refurbishment)

Aside from secondhand and secondhand academic, it also sells the most excellent prints and various tasteful gifty type things (was forced to diversify).

So if you have not already purchased your Christmas gifts/any forthcoming birthdays, can I please urge you to join me in supporting them as much as possible?

Please also spread the message as I'm sure none of us want Oxford to end up just being chain stores and coffee shops

So if you're buying books this Christmas, don;t buy 'em from Waterstones.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't have a cow, man

My colleague Idris has a stuffed cow. In October I moo-napped it and took this picture in Tromso.

While in Tromso I bought a small polar bear called Olaf. Then last month I went to Indonesia (again taking the cow). While I was in Indonesia, Idris made photocopies of Olaf.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Changing Perspective

One of my favourite Father Ted moments is where Father Ted is explaining perspective to Father Dougal. You come in part way through the scene and the two Fathers are in a caravan somewhere in the Irish countryside. Father Ted is holding up a small plastic cow and says to Father Dougal; "small", and then, pointing out the window to a cow in a distant field, "far away". Father Dougal frowns for a minute before declaring "No, Ted. I just don't get it". On the train home from Edinburgh yesterday I saw a mother and child undergoing the same battle.

Which brings me rather conveniently to my trip to Edinburgh. Once upon a time (2001-2002) I lived in Old Reekie and made some rather good friends up there. In late 2002 I was offered a job in the 'shire, and took my leave of her. Initially I made regular trips back up but, as often happens, those trips became less and less frequent. The last trip was one for work and that was in August 2004. More fool me. Even so, I've managed to keep up with a few people, notably three fine women by the names of Ruth, Wendy and Rebekah. There's also been some somewhat looser friendships with some others. Anyhoos, having worked like a dog these last two weeks I thought it best to go and have a rest and renew those friendships. So on Friday I caught the 10.30am GNER from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly. Thanks to the Guardian, my i-pod and the sensational Mulatu Astatke's Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974, the four and a half hours flew raced by. The jazz I was loving features in the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. Seriously, if you get your hands on it, it is phenomenal.

The lovely Wendy met me at Waverly and took me home. She had her work do that night, so after dressing herself up she took me to cocktails before setting me loose on the Edinburgh night. As she left me she mentioned that Hejira were playing at Whistle Binkies. As I looked somewhat vacant she told me the where (music hall on the corner of South Bridge and the Royal Mile) and the what (an acid jazz funk band featuring Adam Archibald and Phil McBride, both of whom I know loosely). Having nothing better to do I wandered up and in the process arranged to meet Rebekah there. Hejira were great, but then by playing to my love of funk they were always onto a winner. One of the essentials of being a great band is to clearly enjoy what you are doing and they were certainly giving the impression they were, although as Phil confessed the following night that wasn't strictly true... Rebekah turned up towards the end of the gig and we nattered away the midnight hours in some random Royal Mile pub.

The walk home was very an obstacle course of drunk Scots and the material that drunken Scots leave on the streets. Some of that material is pre-digested, and a whole lot of it isn't. I'd forgotten how different the late night crowd in Edinburgh is from the Oxford crowd. Given the facts that it is Christmas party season and that Edinburgh is just a wee bit bigger than Oxford this was still extraordinary. When I got home I put on a free CD I had got with Uncut magazine. I'm such a sucker for those... This particular CD was a celebration of the late John Peel's Festive 50. The Festive 50 is a chart that he would release each year based on his listener's votes. Some of the artists I recognised (The Wedding Present, who I saw late last year, Billy Bragg, who I'd like to see, and The Fall, who I wouldn't like to see), but much of the others were a mystery to me. However, part way through, in fact Track 9 of 15, I suddenly realised that I was really really enjoying a track. Some group called the Bhundu Boys were playing something called My Foolish Heart/Waerra. Looking at the sleeve notes I saw that Peel regarded the Bhundu Boys as some of the most perfect music he had ever heard. The BB come from Zimbabwe and combine African rhythms with, I guess, the blues. This resulted in me vainly scouring Edinburgh music shops all Saturday afternoon in the hope of finding an album. The scouring finally ended on Monday in Oxford's Virgin Music Store.

For Saturday evening I watched a stunning sunset (alhough to call it evening when sunset happens at 3.30pm is streching 'evening' a bit thin) from the Elephant House before meeting my old housemate/landlady Kirstin at the Filmhouse to see the movie The Devil's Miner, the story of a fourteen year old boy who mines silver in Cerro Rico, Bolivia. Cerro Rico is a mountain that has been mined for 400 years and the mining has cost an estimated eight million lives. The irony is that even though the conditions are horrific and that the mine is running out of silver there is still easily accessible silver there, that is if the miners were able to knock the top of the mountain off. But... the site is a UNESCO world heritage site and it can only be mined if the shape of the mountain isn't changed. So the miners dig deeper and more dangerously and thus more of them die each day.

Somehow I ended up Saturday at the house of Ian Braithwaite in Polwarth. I have never met Ian before, but he had mince pies and mulled wine, and Rebekah, Wendy, Phil and Fi were there and that seemed a good reason to go.

Sunday was spent hanging out with Wendy, mostly sitting in Costa Coffee on Prince's Street and avoiding the thousands of people below, and then exploring the German markets that spring up each winter in the Prince's Street gardens. We decided to take a ride on the Ferris wheel beside the Walter Scott monument (aka Thunderbird 1), and it was only as we started up that I remembered that I don't do heights all that well... Finally, I rounded up the day by taking a bus ride down to Portobello with Ruth to her cottage by the sea for tea and soup. We took it upon ourselves to walk along Portobello beach, me in my bare feet as I didnae need sand in my only pair of shoes...

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out with the people I know in Edinburgh. It's another place where I love and am loved in. Overwhelming to have three such places in my world that this is the case. Makes for a very comforting Christmas.

Time to run off now for more mulled wine and more mince pies. This time at the house of Sarah and Mike. Who have just asked me to be the Godfather for one of their twins. Again I remain overwhelmed...

Currently enjoying (as well as the Bhundu Boys), the Band, Everything But the Girls' Back to Mine (the second finest one after Groove Armada's majestic 2000 album) and Paul Weller's Stanley Road.

To brighten up my darkest day,
and the world fades away,
With her smile
-Wings of Speed, Paul Weller

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Silent Nine, Holy Nine

On Sunday the 18th of December hOME is having its carol service at St John's, Iffley Road. I've checked out the space that this is going to be held in and it is a very very cool space. This site has some info about the church, although fer some reason the images don't load in Mozilla so it's best viewed in IE (but you can use one of the funky 'view this page in an IE tab within Mozilla' extensions to do this).

I'm supposed to be finding a creative way to do Matthew 2:1-12, which is the tale of the wise men. I'm open to suggestions....

Anyway, everyone's welcome and for some strange reason I am rather excited about this service. Odd.

Propaganda is below:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lost in the Plot

I'm completely addicted to Lost. It shames me to admit to being sucked into something as trivial as television programme, but I have to confess, Lost has me hook line and sinker.

In September Chris went to Canada and brought back the first series on DVD. Watched them all in far to short a space of time. Now someone is dealing me downloaded episodes from the second series, as soon as they screen in the States. Dealing being the key word. It feels like a drug, but it is so damn good...


Two quotes on community, one from Naomi and one from Wendy, although the one from Wendy comes via Justice so is somewhat paraphrased.

From Naomi:
"But in some cases it feels to me more like looking for new ways of doing things for the sake of it, a loss of confidence in the gospel (so other religions are seen as a source of inspiration, not a form of deception) and the power of the Spirit, an obsession with style over content to please ourselves and the intellectual in-crowd that we respect, with no real reference as to whether this glorifies ourselves or God more ... and an attitude that actually seems to communicate very little grace for those who don't 'get' it - including the very people who the gospel is supposed to be for - the outcasts, the uncool, the disabled, the poor (which every time God catches my attention I am reminded that I am part of... my spiritual poverty is embarrasing). We will 'do' things for 'them' that don't cost us too much (I'm especially talking about myself here) i.e. give money, write letters, but I don't see space for those we perceive to be these things to go and ask them to become friends with us, to be part of our communities, for the Spirit to give us the grace to be changed and challenged by their presence in our midst day to day..."

And from Wendy:
"Often when we're after community, what we are actually just after is a cool group of friends. Community isn't the goal of what we do in life, it's the fruit of what we do in life."

And a random paraphrased quote from Sayid in Lost:
"I came here with hopes, not expectations."