Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Accidental New Toy

If you've been following this blog assiduously (and if not it's about time you started), you may remember that my laptop can be a bit temperamental. I'm talking about bouts of screen flickering mainly, but also suffering from a severe shortage of free space. So I've been expecting to have to replace it any time now, and I've been keeping my eyes open for laptop bargains.

Anyhoo, yesterday afternoon the screen failed completely. I can still use the laptop with an external monitor, but the only spare one we have weighs far more than I would risk placing on our glass-topped dining table. So my plan this morning was to buy the cheapest flat-screen monitor I could find. You can now pick these up for under Dhs 700, and the smallest size that can be had is 17". I made my selection and the guy from Géant went off to find it in the warehouse.

While he was doing that, I had a quick look at their laptops for future reference. Prices start from just under Dhs 4,000. But wait! Here's one for Dhs 2,499! Fujitsu-Siemens, 60 Gb hard disk, 512 Mb RAM, DVD-writer, wide screen, looks nice. When my salesman comes back I ask him why it's so cheap. He says that basically it's a discontinued model and this is the last one they have: so it's been fingered a bit by punters, but otherwise unused and comes with a full one-year warranty. I have a quick consultation with BetterArf, and she tells me to buy it.

So I bought it. Yeehaaa!

Monday, August 28, 2006


OK, so the ad's about how they have eight different ways to pay, not about how you could maybe choose a telecoms provider that gave you full access to the Interweb and didn't rip you off, but hey.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Save Water For God and Country

I've just received this SMS from Dubai Electricity & Water:

Conserving Electricity and Water is a patriot and a religious responsibility. Save now for a better tomorrow

So I guess this doesn't apply to expat non-believers...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Old. Peculier.

We tootled off to Scunthorpe the next day and had a minor scrape with the ticket inspector who said our tickets weren't valid but he'd let us off this time. BetterArf's mum and dad both live in Scunthorpe, separately. First stop was mother-in-law's, and after a quick cup of tea we headed off to a nice local pub for lunch. This pub has Theakston's Old Peculier on draught and I thought I'd try it. I've had OP in the past, and enjoyed it, but I really wasn't prepared for this. It was absolutely superb! I emptied half the glass with my first sip. Two more sips and it was all gone. The barmaid was still doing the rest of the order and looked with puzzlement at my empty glass. I ordered another one. Oh it was marvellous!

We spent the afternoon doing a spot of shopping, and I made a tortilla in the evening. This was the only cooking that I got to do on the entire trip.

The next day we headed across town to the daddy-in-law's. He's an excellent cook with a well-stocked drinks cupboard and a broadband connection. What more could anyone ask for! He very kindly drove us over to the house of our writer friends, but they were out. We left a note to let them know we were in town and gave them the phone number at daddy-in-law's. We didn't hear from them till the next day though because that's when they found the note.

So the next day was our last full one in England. We went to see 'Kate Walker' and her husband that evening and had a lovely time. As always, we came away laden with books - our wedding present from them was a copy of every book she had published. We only see them every two or three years so there were about six new titles to catch up with. Plus, hubbie has recently started getting published so we got three of his books too! Of course I wasn't worried about the damn baggage allowance!

And that, dear munchkins, is about all I have to say about our holiday. Apart from it was totally fab and I loved it. Farmer-girl loved it too.

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A Week In England

What we needed to do was get from Liverpool to Doncaster on the first day, hop over to Scunthorpe two days later, and then get to Manchester Airport three days later for our flight back to Dubai. My first thought was National Express coaches. I called them and heard a sharp intake of breath. The guy said he could get us to Doncaster, but it would involve changing at Nottingham and it would take eight hours! No thanks. So we opted for the train, and one hundred pounds later we had our tickets.

So, off we go. We have to change at Manchester Picadilly. This station has always been a major pain in the butt because the Liverpool trains come in on platform 14 which is across a road from the rest of the station. So you have to lug your aptly-named luggage up a load of stairs, and then lug it down more stairs and walk a helluva long way to get to your connecting train. So imagine my surprise. We are walking towards an information office when a guy leaps through the door to find out where we are going. We say 'Doncaster' and he tells us it goes from platform four in thirty minutes' time. And here's a brand-new shiny lift. We take the beautiful brand-new shiny lift, walk over the bridge and then have the choice of taking another brand-new shiny lift down, or using the elegant travelator ramp. We opt for the latter. We arrive at the main station concourse which has been completely utterly and totally rebuilt. It is fabulous - absolutely unrecognisable from what it was before. There's even a wi-fi zone so I try to fire up my laptop but the battery is 99% empty.

On the extremely comfortable TransPennine Express I was astonished when I found a power socket for laptops and mobiles attached to the underside of our table. Free electricity! But no wi-fi unfortunately. When we got to Doncaster I really wanted to find an Internet cafe before heading off to the wilds of my dad's village, so I abandoned BetterArf with the luggage and went for a little scout around. Nothing doing. I asked in a computer shop and was told they'd all closed down since the Public Library had started offering free interweb access. 'What, to anyone? Or do you have to be a member of the Library?' Well, of course you have to be a member. Crap.

Onwards. We should have headed for the South Bus Station but we opted for a cab instead. Arriving at the village was slightly problematic. My dad stays with his 'girlfriend' most of the time now. I've been there a few times before but I don't actually know what the address is. I think I'm at the right place but I ask the nosy neighbour standing on his doorstep if this is where my dad's girlfriend lives. He's quite emphatic: 'no'. I phone the house. No reply. So once again I abandon BetterArf with the luggage and go for a look round. I happen upon Maggie, a long-time acquaintance, and she walks me back to where I'd started from.

My dad and his girlfriend are sitting in the back garden enjoying the sunshine and of course they can't hear the phone ringing. Deaf old gits. A certain amount of beer is consumed and I get into trouble for putting empty cans into the main dustbin instead of the recycling box. Night falls and it doesn't look like anyone's going to cook so we head off to el chippy.

me: Small cod and chips please.
chippy lady: Is that small cod and small chips or small cod and normal chips or normal cod and small chips or what?
me: Small cod and small chips
chippy lady: Do you want to upgrade to the supersaver meal?
me: What's that?
chippy lady: You get curry sauce or mushy peas and a drink with it for three quid.
me: No thanks.
chippy lady: Would you like a drink with that?
me: Bloody hell this is like Starbuck's! Just gimme the food.
chippy owner: Hahaha.
me: Too much choice is a bad thang.

The next day we took the bus into Doncaster. I had my laptop with me just in case I found a wi-fi zone. The bus arrived at Doncaster and drove right past the South Bus Station, which I noticed seemed to be full of cars rather than buses. Nobody else on the bus was panicking so we went with the flow and discovered that Doncaster now has a brand spanking new 'interchange'. It's right next to the railway station (I wished I'd known that the day before), and is connected to the extended Frenchgate Shopping Centre. The new bus station is wonderful - there's a glass wall with sliding doors separating the people from the stinky buses, the concourse is bright and clean, and once again I was impressed by England spending money on infrastructure.

BetterArf found an information desk in the Frenchgate Centre and asked about Internet places. Result! There is one! We headed over there and I asked the guy if I could connect my laptop. Hmm, I guess I could enable the wi-fi, he says. Great stuff, but we couldn't get it to work. Then he gave me a LAN cable and bunch of IP addresses and we were sorted. I'd been a bit anxious because I hadn't been online for three days and I had some stuff to do for a couple clients. Anyhoo, jobs jobbed.

Leaving Valencia

On our last full night in Valencia we stayed up very late - reluctant to miss anything that was going on. Actually we spent quite a bit of that day and night wandering around and shooting bad video - if I ever get time I'll edit it and stick it on me blog. Staying up late was, of course, a baaaaad idea; we had to be up at six to get to the airport. Valencia's airport is only about a ten minute drive from the town centre. There's a direct bus that goes from behind the railway station, about a five minute walk from our hostal. But we had several gigatons of luggage so we took a taxi.

In view of the ongoing security mess as a result of the alleged terrorist plot we wanted to get to the airport as early as possible. But the check-in desk was only going to open two hours before the scheduled take-off time so we had an hour and a half to kill before joining the extremely long queue. We had seen posters at the airport explaining that US bound passengers could take nothing on board, but there was no information about UK-bound flights. Eventually, through a combination of the queue grapevine and BetterArf going and asking somebody, we learned that no hand baggage would be allowed on board. Bugger. I had one backpack containing my laptop, the video camera, BetterArf's camera and a couple of mobile phones. I absolutely did not want to lose sight of that bag, and the thought of it being hurled about various baggage-handling areas and then placed in a freezing cold hold did not inspire me with confidence. When we got to the check-in desk we were not surprised that we were overweight. We explained that two of the bags would have been carry-ons but they charged us for four kilos extra anyway, which begs the question 'is stuff heavier when it's in the hold than when it's in the cabin?' - in the cabin they would not have charged us, but in the hold they did. Theiving barftuds.

Getting through security was the next, very slow, process, and we didn't have time for anything because we had to get straight on the plane.

The flight was OK though, and pretty soon we were at Manchester Airport. The baggage took forever to come through, having been screened yet again, but I was pleased to see that none of the cops or customs peeps wanted a chat. Buddy Brian was waiting to chauffeur us to Liverpool, only slightly worried that we might have been arrested. We spent a couple of days in Scouseland, got rained on a bit, and tried to organise transport across the Pennines.

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Buskers and Beggars

Buskers (street musicians) are one of the things that add life to any street scene. Which is why Dubai doesn't allow them. Valencia has a fair collection of buskers, most of them not very good. The preferred instrument of torture is the accordion, followed by guitar and voice. One guy caught our attention as being particularly bad - he could barely play his guitar, and his singing voice was just awful. He always tried to play Beatles songs, but I don't think he knew any English so he was just approximating the sounds of the words. One day he turned up at the beach, accompanied by a fiddle player. The fiddler was pretty good and we were contemplating throwing some money at them. But then matey-boy launched into his Beatles repertoire and we quickly changed our minds.

Beggars are always a pest in any city. Valencia has some interesting ones. There's the well-dressed guy who kneels on a little cushion all day long, head bowed in prayer and cup held out. There's a fair number of old gypsy ladies who tell you sob stories that you can't understand of course because you don't spikka da Valenciana, and finish up by going into whiny mode. I should tell you that if I was ever going to beat someone up it would be because they whined at me. One day a troupe of three young gypsy girls emerged from their stretch limo and began their shift. The one that reached our table first was immaculately dressed and had a cream leather handbag with matching shoes. When she spoke you were dazzled by the solid gold teeth. She quickly got into whiny mode and so she was sent on her way. Half an hour later she was back and I explained that I gave already.

One strange character that we saw around town most days or nights was a middle-aged woman. She wore a smart sleeveless black dress that got more dusty and shapeless as the days went on. When we first saw her we thought she was just drunk and trying to find her way home. Later it seemed that maybe she had no home any more. But she was still drunk. She never asked anyone for money, but she did like to have a good old shout at no one in particular. Most odd.

There were also two or three guys who would patrol the town centre trying to sell assorted trinkets - bangles, silly hats, furry dice etc. I've never wanted furry dice in my car, so of course BetterArf bought me some. They look very nice dangling from the rear-view mirror of my Beemer. Tasteful, like.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

¡Hola, Chicos, Chicas!

(This post was written on August 12th)

Now that we've finished our course we have a couple of days just to hang out without worrying about getting to school on time, do homework or pretend to be able to speak Spanish. So today was Saturday, and you realise that the Spanish do weekends a bit differently. I don't know quite what they do, but they certainly don't swamp the town centre and do shopping on a Saturday, and the place is pretty quiet on Sundays too, although there is a bit of a flea market in the morning. I had to do some internet stuff this morning while BetterArf visited a laundry (what a star!). Then we met up for lunch and headed off to the beach. Lunch was a bit tricky because we were too early - Spaniards don't think about eating lunch until 1.30 pm at the earliest. We were about an hour early and both starving so we hit on the idea that El Corte Inglés might serve food on an all-day basis. We were right. El Corte Inglés, by the way, is a hugely popular chain of department stores: they have five massive stores in Valencia alone. We finished our lunch with a slab of This Chocolate Cake Will Almost Certainly Kill You.

Then we visited the music department of El Corte Inglés to see if we could pick up a CD. One of our Spanish teachers had challenged our intellects by playing us a couple of songs by Spanish band Amaral: she gave us the lyrics to some of the songs with odd words missing. Our task was to guess what the missing words were. We had no chance of working out the answers, but we quite liked the sound of Amaral, so we wanted to see if we could get one of their CDs. As it happened our quest was ultra-succesful - the CD Pajaros En La Cabeza (Birds In The Head?) was on special offer, reduced to €6.90 from about €18.

Having completed our shopping expedition we took the Metro to the beach. Valencia has beautiful beaches, but today it was also having a bit of a hurricane. It was somewhat unpleasant so we left and returned to town. Back at the hostal, BetterArf had a snooze while I read The Guardian (which by some magic of technology is available from about 10am on the day of publication), and had a glance through the weekly Costa Brava Times. This is an English-language rag that will be very useful for us, but the letters page is just like that of 7Days! It's full of stuff from whingeing Brits. Ick.

One of the recurring topics on our Spanish course was what and when the Spanish eat. And drink. Basically they just nibble at stuff all day long, and then stuff themselves silly just before bedtime. Interestingly, people in the Valencia region have the longest life-expectancy of anywhere in Europe. This is attributed to the diet: hardly any meat, lots of olive oil, no butter, plenty of salads, lots of garlic, and, most importantly, plenty of good red wine.

Well, I know why they don't eat a lot of meat in Spain: they have no idea of how to cook it. I had a steak at a supposedly decent restaurant during our first week. I don't recall ordering warmed-up shoe leather, but that's what I got. If we managed to get to the University an hour before the class started we could get a good lunch for about €5 at the Campus Caff. But the evening nibbles make up for any shortcomings in the meat department. Tapas are one of the world's great culinary inventions, and the other one is pintxhos. There is a bar called Lizzaran that sells these. They are a Basque speciality consisting of a slice of stick bread (baguette) topped with pretty much anything you can think of - a slice of ham or salami with a couple of olives or potato chunks - smoked salmon with cream cheese or blue cheese - a red pepper stuffed with tuna - a hunk of tortilla. Lizzaran has at least thirty different combinations and the one thing they have in common is that the toppings are stuck onto the bread with a toothpick. You fill your plate with as many pintxhos as you want, and at the end they count the number of toothpicks and charge you €1 each.

Valencia's main claim to fame in the food department is, of course, Paella. I'm going to be a bit heretical here and say that I am not very impressed. We already knew that the 'paellas' you get at most tourist restaurants are rubbish. If the restaurant has a poster or menu featuring photos of the different types (including a curry one), you know that you will get factory-made junk that is rapidly heated in a special machine. We mentioned this to one of our teachers and she recommended we try La Rosa or La Pepica at the beach.

So we took the tram down to the beach one day after school and walked a long way in the wrong direction until we came to a tourist information office. They sent us back the way we had come, and eventually we arrived at a terrace of about thirty restaurants. La Rosa was the second one on the terrace and it was closed. We walked along the whole length of this terrace, and everything was closed. This was about 8.15 pm. The last restaurant was La Pepica where a waiter told us they would be opening at 8.30. So we went away for a bit, and returned at 8.45. The place was heaving, but they gave us a little table. It's quite a smart place that has been going for about 100 years and has a picture of the owner with King Juan-Carlos. The waiters are all very smartly-dressed, and mostly in their fifties.

We ordered Paella Valenciana and when it was ready the waiter showed it to us in its pan and then took it away to stick it on plates (our table being too small to accomodate the huge flat dish). I manage to eat about one-third of mine, and the waiter seemed to be personally insulted that I'd left so much. Well, two things. A: there was far too much and when I am full I stop eating. And B. I didn't really like it. Ah well.

Some of the work we've had to do on our course is to compare our home town/city to Valencia. Odious I know, but our teachers and classmates have been very interested to hear what we have to say about Dubai. And I have been very interested to see how much emotion I keep bottled up about life in Dubai. You all know that we made the decision to leave Dubai last summer when we visited Valencia and Barcelona. And you know that we will be leaving next summer and moving to Spain. This is a city and country that works. Traffic management and public transport are superb. The place is steeped in art and culture. The people are happy and relaxed. The environment and way of life are very healthy. It is a true democracy. It is vibrant. Pensioners are called 'jubilantes'. Life is for living and enjoying. I love it.

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City of Arts And Sciences

Of course, Valencia is not all old stuff. This collection of new stuff is Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The building above is the Palacio de las Artes. It's covered in white ceramic tiles and I think they've been having a bit of a space shuttle experience because a lot of them are being replaced right now.

The blob in the middle (above) is called the Hemisferic. I don't actually know what goes on in there. In fact I don't really know what happens in any of these buildings because I didn't have time to explore inside any of them.

I love the way the shallow pools that surround all of the buildings cast a blue-green glow onto the white walls.

The structure at the rear of the picture above is called the Umbracle, and it exists solely to create a bit of shade for the trees and plants. Oh, and also to look gorgeous.

The building on the right, above, is the Museo de las Ciencias.

There is another section to the City of Art and Sciences devoted to Oceanography - more buildings in the same vein - but I didn't have time to get to them. Amazing stuff eh? Actually one of my reasons for wanting to move to Spain is that public services are excellent, and the authorities don't seem to have any qualms about spending money to get outstanding results - if this was in the UK it would be a collection of concrete-block warehouses with maybe a few scruffy lawns around it and miles and miles of car park.

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Keefieboy Returns

Yayy! 3.30 am and we is back in the sandlands. The idiot Keefieboy left the balcony door wide open and the house is full of sand.

Our journey was somewhat blighted by the ridiculously over-the-top security now in place at airports as a result of the alleged (very British word) terrorist plot. The queues for hand baggage x-ray at Manchester Airport were phenomenal but I have to say that the security folks handled it with good humour and incredible efficiency and we got through it in just under an hour. I desperately needed a fag after doing that, and found the naughty corner - an unventilated room containing the world's longest chain-smoke. As part of the security malarkey, all lighters and matches were confiscated, so you had to bum a light from somebody who had a ciggie on the go.

We changed at Istanbul and had to undergo another x-ray check at the gate. This one involved everyone with a laptop switching it on to prove it was real, and caused our flight to leave about half an hour late.

There was a huge queue at passport control in Dubai, yet more x-raying, and then we hit the street. At 3am the temperature was 32°C and the humidity was unbelievable. It's great to be back!

More holiday blogs tomorrow...betcha can't wait.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Old Valencia

We are staying in the Historic Centre of Valencia. It's packed with beautiful old buildings, most of which have been sensitively restored. On many sites you can see façades (and in some cases side-ades and back-ades) that are being supported by complex steel mechanisms while the entire inside of the building is demolished. Then they build new floors and walls, and incorporate modern plumbing, electrics and lifts. This process in the UK is called 'façadism' and is much despised by architects. But here it works to preserve the visual unity of a beautiful old city while at the same time providing usable office and residential space.

And while the work is ongoing there is no reason for it to look rubbish. In the pic below, the pinkish facade is actually a full-size print of what the finished building will look like, complete with people waving out of windows and probably a dog peeing on a lamp-post.

One of the main features of old Valencia is the Plaza Del Ayuntamiento - Town Hall Square. In any city, it is always worth looking up at the skyline: this is where the architects go crazy, and they've certainly done that in Valencia. We have domes, towers, turrets and all manner of bizarre stuff. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the Central Post Office building which is a magnificent example of corporate ambitions expressed on the building itself - we are talking statues of wingéd runners, trains and ships. Magnificent!

Another main feature of old Valencia is the Cathedral area. The cathedral itself was built in a series of phases, several centuries apart. There are plazas on three sides of it, and networks of narrow streets all around. Gorgeous.

In my next post we'll see a complete contrast: the City of Arts and Sciences.This is a set of buildings that would not look out of place in Dubai.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Here Is The News

Apart from the major stuff involving Israel/Palestine/Lebanon and the meltdown of the British aviation industry, I have a couple of things to report.

1) We finished our Spanish course today, got a fancy certificate and theoretically know a fair bit of Spanish (hasn´t sunk in yet though).

2) Some arsewipe has nicked my fancy new camera. I am not a happy bunny.

Apart from that, I might have time in the next couple of days to post some stuff. We are supposed to fly to Mancunia on Monday - if the airlines manage to get all their ducks in a row.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Joé Qué Caló

When we arrived at school for the second day my shirt was absolutely soaked. BetterArf heroically went and bought me a new t-shirt, bearing the legend 'Joé Qué Caló', which apparently meant 'oh, isn't it hot'. Maria-José saw it, pointed it out to the rest of the class, but did not explain what it meant. Llorenç saw it, and at the end of the class, when the other students had left, explained to BetterArf and I that it means 'fuck, it's hot!'. Jajaja.

Students Again

Monday morning, we were due at the school at 8am. They do a Sorting Hat thing to decide who's intermediate and who's advanced. Beginners can usually sort themselves out, but we had to wait till midday to see what class we were in and get our timetable.

We had a hell of a time getting to the school. We knew it was in the Galileo Galilei Building on the campus of Universidad Politecnico, and we knew that there was a Metro station called U Politecnico. So we tried to get to that, but we had to change Metro lines and we messed it up. We started walking, but time was running out so we took a taxi. This proved to be a wise move as the campus is gigantic, and actually has four Metro stations that serve it!

We arrived at 0815 and were a bit confused that all the signs were for Don Quijote. We had booked through Estudio Hispanico - we'd seen Don Quijote, but EH were somewhat cheaper. However, it turned out the EH are merely agents for DQ. We were given an introductory chat and a tour of the campus while the timetables were being sorted out. Finally (at about 1230) we learned that we were in the afternoon session, and our first class would start at 1pm.
Our first teacher was a young lady named Maria-José, and she just started talking at us in Spanish. We all introduced ourselves, in Spanish that we just learned a few minutes earlier (yo soy Keefieboy - ka-eh-eh-effeh-ee-bay-o-y grecia). In our group of eight there are two English, one Welsh, one Indonesian, two Germans, an Italian and a Luxemburger. Six are girls, two are boy. Four are left-handed!

We belted through a whole load of stuff, had a half-hour break, and then we met our other Profesor, Llorenç (pronounced Jorence). This is where we discover that that the school operates on the good-cop, bad-cop principle. With a twist. Maria-José looks and sounds cute, but does the hard grammar, gives us lots of homework and expects us to do it. Llorenç looks and sounds a bit dodgy, but tells us all about the rude stuff, gets sidetracked into lots of conversational cul-de-sacs and is generally a good laugh.

Our first day ends with a welcome party. We have to assemble at the school, and then we walk to a bar. BetterArf and I were quite happy because we had just discovered that instead of spending € 1.20 apiece for each trip, we could get a multi-use ticket that is good for 10 trips and costs € 5.60. Yeeha!

The venue for the party is called El (la?) Amsteleria. I don't know if it is owned by Amstel, but you can't get a Carlsberg or a Cruzcampo or an Estrella Dam there. They have a bunch of tables equipped with metered pumps, so you don't have to go to the bar: you do it yourself and pay at the end. Beer, sangria and Agua de Valencia was all free for the first couple of hours. Near the end I wanted a bit more beer and was more than pleasantly surprised to be charged only € 2 for half a liter - regular bars would charge about 5. The joys of studenthood!

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Meet Me In Valencia

I had to be at Manchester Airport no later than 6am, so I'd agreed with Brian that we would rise at 5. I set the alarm on my mobile phone for that time, and jumped out of bed as soon as it went off. Made myself a cup of tea, and was getting a little bit worried that I wasn't hearing sounds of anyone else stirring. I was about to go and wake Brian when I noticed that the kitchen wall-clock was saying 0210. Damn! I'd forgotten to change the time on my phone!. So I went back to bed for another couple of hours, but didn't really sleep well. Hey ho.

Anyhoo, the appointed time came and off we went. No problems at all, until I was at the Jet2 check-in desk. They have about six desks and were open for passengers for all of their destinations except Valencia. Valencia passengers got the message 'wait in lounge'. The queue was enormous and it got to about forty five minutes before we were due to depart. I asked at the info desk what was going on and they told me to get in the queue. I did, and it crawled along. After twenty mnutes of not moving very much, a Jet2 staffer arrived and pulled all Valencia passengers out of the queue and sent us to a different desk where we were processed in a hurry. I was mighty pissed off because I really needed some caffeine and a little bit of food. No chance, no time. Straight on the plane and off we go. This being a budget airline, there's no actual food, but I did buy a small bottle of water and a miniscule pack of Pringles for about 98 million quid.

I had called Offspring to make sure he'd met his Mamá: he had, but she'd gone off to try to sort out some accomodation for us. By the way, my Vodafone chip from last year that still had ten quid of credit on it, no longer works. So I got me a Virgin Mobile one instead.

The flight to Valencia only takes a couple of hours, and after I'd picked up my suitcase (yeehaa!), I got a bus into town. As it happened, this bus terminated at the Railway Station, which was where I'd agreed to meet the fambly. And there they were! Marvlious. Slightly less marvlious was that the hostal we'd stayed at last year (39 Euros a night for the three of us) were now asking for 75 Euros - claiming this to be a special rate because we had now become regulars. But BetterArf had found another place. Very centrally located, air-conditioned, 45 Euros per night. And as a bonus for our get-skinny campaign, up four flights of stairs and no lift.

Gifts were exchanged. Offspring seemed less than thrilled to recieve a cuddly Modhesh ('I wanted a mosque alarm clock'). BetterArf had got me the Espanol version of Pterry Pratchett's Feet Of Clay- Pies De Barro, on the basis that I know all of his books word for word, and it would be easy for me to understand. Sadly Feet Of Clay is one that I had read once or twice, but do not actually own a copy of. Well, I do now.

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A Grand Day Out In Liverpool

I don't know if I've ever told you this, but BetterArf and I first met in Liverpool, and we got married there. I love the place to bits, but when we left there in 1987 it seriously seemed like it was a city that was on its last legs with virtually no hope of recovery. This picture shows a scene that is typical all over the UK - a street of Victorian-ish terraced houses. Streets like this were obviously never designed for cars, so you get parking on both sides and room for one car to move in either direction.

This graffiti has nothing to do with anything, it just made me laugh.

We spent a tiring day walking around Liverpool and taking photos for a project that I'm working on with Brian. Naturally, this finished at a pub, and we were joined by one of Brian's sons. It's a strange thing, but I've known these guys for about 22 years. The kids were kids - aged 3, 7, 11 and 14. And now they've grown up a bit but to me they are little kids who just happen to drink beer and smoke the odd fag. Wierd.

Happily, it seems I was wrong about the impending demise of Liverpool - there is a lot of urban development going on now, especially in the area between Bold Street and the Dock Road. It's very heartening to see this rejuvenation, and some of the architecture is of strikingly high quality. One of the things I love about older places (unlike brand-new places like Dubai), is that you virtually never get a greenfield site. Practically everything has to be designed to fit in with neighbouring buildings, and this can bring out the best in some architects: they have to design something modern without destroying the visual harmony that already exists.

I'm quite proud of this Liver Bird close-up pic: it was taken using max zoom (12x optical), hand-held with magic image stabilisationm on. Cool huh!

¡Hola, Mi Chicos!

Yow, what a week! Today is Sunday, the Day Of Rest. Or, if you're a sadgitonholiday like me, the Day Of Blogging. I've spent a couple of hours preparing some stuff in the hotel room. And yesterday I finally found an Internet Café that allows laptops to connect to El Internet. I spent most of yesterday lugging my laptop around, trying to find a Wi-Fi Zone (Zona Wi-Fi, pron. thona weefee). I finally got connected to one, but it belonged to Teléfonica. They wanted me to either enter my Teléfonica phone number, or my PIN number. Turns out this PIN number is what you get when you pre-pay for some time. Guess what: you can only buy time at a Teléfonica office. And these are very firmly closed on Saturdays and Sundays. I think they might turn out to be as good as Etisalat, but at least they are losing their monopoly to real competition.

OK, sit back, relax, new stuff coming up...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Greetings From Valencia

OK, we´re all here! Having a great time. In total shock from four hours of intensive Spanish every day. No time to blog - maybe at the weekend (bit weird, it´s Saturday & Sunday!).


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