Thursday, 8 November 2012

I may be home but that doesn’t mean that the fun should stop!

Bloggers, how long has it been? Well, I will tell you!
It has been 6 months to the day since I arrived back in the UK resulting in the inevitable break in the blog posts.
I did say that I would update you with my UK life and so here we go.

My previous post came from my temporary residence in a millionaire’s row in Chelsea that ended up being our home for about 5 weeks.
Our time there was most enjoyable and our hosts were most hospitable – I mean let’s be honest, how can you not appreciate a great house, great company, endless BBQ’s producing the best game meat, what seemed like endless socialising / gatherings and how can I leave out the hot tub!
Greg and Isla – respect!

However, after 5 weeks we were ready to get into a place of our own. Don’t get me wrong, life in Chelsea was grand but everyone needs their own space.
Fortunately, by week 3 in London we had both found jobs – take that you stupid recession – so we were able to jump straight into the flat hunting and after 5 viewings we found the place we were looking for, even if it wasn’t our fist choice.
We do not need to go into work as such, all you need to know is that after 5 months of being back in the City (for me) and classroom (for AJ) we are desperate to get the f*ck out again. I do not need to tell you that work is purely overrated - seriously, who decided that the week should consist of 2 days for the weekend? I must Google this!

I actually did just Google this and apparently the American concept of the weekend has its roots in labor union attempts to accommodate Jewish workers who took Saturday instead of Sunday as their Sabbath. The first five-day work week was instituted by a New England spinning mill for just this reason.
True or not, I don’t know?

So let’s have a brief chat about Chez ALAJ (that’s our initials in case you were wondering).
It isn’t pretty, it isn’t new and the landlord is a complete div but the location is perfect and it seems bigger than it is due to the split level. (It isn’t really split level, there are just a few steps up to the boudoir, but AJ insists it is split level)
We live close to Borough and we are a 10 minute walk due south from the River Thames, our nearest point being Tate Modern. Add to this that our nearest big ‘supermarket’ is Borough Market, I can walk to work everyday and every major London attraction is in sight and I just can’t find anything not to like about where we live.
The area is a real eclectic mix of private tenants, council housed tenants and general drop outs who you can see everyday boozing on the street and generally getting up to mischief – I love it.

So what have we actually been up to? Looking back on all that we have done I now know how the past few months have passed in a blur and we currently find ourselves on countdown to UK departure date number 2.

It seemed that everything was coming in on top of each other such as the weekend of 23rd June 2012. The Saturday was not only our moving-in day into the new gaff but once we had signed the lease and gone to pick up the keys we then had to get ourselves up to Knebworth to watch the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in concert.
For me there were 3 memorable things to come out of that afternoon / evening, Chilli Peppers aside:
1)      Of all the people there I run into a mate from university who I had not seen for 10 years
2)      Whilst watching Dizzie Rascal AJ turned to me and declared “I don’t like Dizzie Rascals, they’re rubbish”.
I have no idea why that is funny but it tickled me and I have probably put it in here so that I can laugh some more at her when she has a go
3)      Come the end of the gig it absolutely pissed it down and we had to walk for an hour to get to the train station – not fun!

The next couple of weeks were a case of settling into work and the flat and catching up with a few faces that I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and during this time we were also able to start enjoying London for what it was now that we had some cash coming in.
For example, the weekend of 13th July consisted of a Friday night concert, outdoors in the middle of London to watch The Enemy – yes of course it rained but this time we were prepared with our wellies and cagoules (it wasn’t a cagoule but I haven’t used that word for years so thought that I would) and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the gig was brilliant.
The Saturday was also a good day out after a so so start – Shrek the Musical (that was the so so) followed by drinks and nibbles overlooking the skyline of London Town from the top of Tower 42 and then the inevitable further drinks.

During this time we also started our Spanish lessons for the South American journey ahead, although they have currently stopped due to conflicting diaries. It is fair to say that we have learnt the basics and understand that to conjugate a sentence in Spanish is no easy feat but let’s face it, no matter how much we try to learn here we should improve tenfold once we are living and breathing the language on a daily basis.
(That’s what we are telling ourselves at any rate)

We are now at Friday 27th July and for the next 3 weeks London was to be transformed into something unrecognisable – people were smiling and acknowledging each other, the sun came out and the general atmosphere was something to behold – The London Olympiad of 2012 had come to town.
I had already watched the Olympic flame pass by the office but now it was show time!
I do not care what the pessimists and anti-Olympic brigade may have said, if you were living in London or just visiting you could not help but feel uplifted by the energy that was flowing around – it may sound gay but it was magical. Never have I or will I ever again experience a period in London quite like that.
It all began and ended with multiple bangs which could be heard and seen from the flat.
I did not experience as much as some but I can say that I did get to take in a good amount of live actiont:
  • The men’s cycling road race – Wiggins, Froom, Cavendish et al
  • Football – Men’s Team GB at Wembley
  • Football – Men’s games at Coventry with dad / Phylis / Pippin (you choose the name)
  • Football – Women’s Gold Medal match – a really good game
  • Marathon – Men’s and Women’s – the course passed just 15 min walk from the flat so that was easy!

Apart from the live action Hyde Park was also transformed into a viewing arena for those that struggled to get tickets, which was fantastic. The area consisted of 5 different screens showing all of the events, eateries, bars and an assortment of live music – add the warm summer evenings and the world’s people coming together to this mix and you had a winning combo.
One night that will forever stay with me was a Friday night where AJ and I met up after work and took a stroll to the park to watch some of the sport and then stood at the front of the stage drinking good red wine and watching a favourite Aussie band, The Temper Trap followed by a quality acoustic set from Ocean Colour Scene.
I already knew that life was good but a text from my boi Moggy in response to watching OCS confirmed this when he told me that at that exact same time he was food shopping in Morrison’s.
That night actually ended circa 4am in New Cross – battered!

We would be back at Hyde Park a couple more times throughout the Olympics and the final time was to enjoy the closing ceremony concert. I give myself a big pat on the back as AJ had 2 major bands on her list of ‘must sees’ and this summer I took her to see both of them.
On this occasion it was to see New Order who rocked the place especially when they revived their Joy Division roots and sang ‘Love will tear us apart’. I was hanging out for ‘World in Motion’ with a cameo by John Barnes but to no avail, but it was ok as they were sandwiched in between The Specials and Blur on a very cool night of British music.

During this time I also attended the BBQ of some good mates, lads that I travelled with to Frankfurt for the 2006 World Cup. It actually took place on Super Saturday when we won 3 track and field gold medals in 45 mins but the real success story of that night was AJ making it to the final of a very competitive table tennis competition.
We also attended the drinks for Muzkins who did very well in getting himself engaged to the lovely Lottie – punching, above and weight comes to mind. (Not really son!)

But, and it is a big but, no sooner had it begun it was all over. You could literally feel the collective sigh and upset that it had come to and end and would never come again in our lifetimes.
But never fear, the Para-Olympics was on its way and that meant that we would now get to experience the Olympic Park. Whilst everyone was scrambling for spare Olympic tickets I decided to forgo these in favour of Para tickets and was rewarded with the following:
  • Athletics at the Olympic Stadium – non sporting highlight was booing George Osbourne; there really is no place for politicians in sport
  • Fencing, Volleyball, Table Tennis and Boccia at the Excel Arena – the sporting highlight for me were the wheelchair fencers that got up for a walk around to stretch their legs during a break!!!

And then it really was all over – but not quite.
I found myself wondering around one lunchtime just to get out of the office for some air and before I knew where I was I had stumbled upon the beginning of Olympic parade that would see an estimated 1million + plus people line the streets of London, 20 people deep trying to get a glimpse of their newfound heroes.
They should’ve come with me because there was hardly anybody around the Guildhall and I just stood there for an hour or so as every Olympian walked by to climb or wheel aboard the floats.
I saw more medals that you could hope to see and if you named an Olympian then I saw them all bar the one most guys would want to see, Jess Ennis.

Then it really, really was over – or was it?
I was out for dinner with some antipodeans (as seems to be the norm these days) and I found myself sitting next to Tina, a friend of a friend who also happened to be a genuine Para-Olympian who had just won a silver medal in the wheelchair basketball. Not only had she won a medal at London 2012, she has also won medals in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and apparently had a habit of misplacing the said medals in bars after a few celebratory sherberts. (another word you don’t use that often)
What followed was inevitable – me asking if she had the medal and could I wear it!
She did and I did – brilliant. Great work Tina!

And then it was over.

Between the end of the Olympics and the beginning of the Para-Olympics there were 2 weeks to kill so we had to keep ourselves busy.
Weekend 1 saw AJ finally getting to realise the birthday present that she got from me back in February – tickets to V Festival.
We had no choice but to buy the tickets that included a mandatory coach trip to the site in Chelmsford and I have to say that it all worked out perfectly.
The coach left from Embankment opposite the London Eye meaning that within 2 tube stops from home we were there but all I remember about the coach was that the female driver was slating somebody for one thing or another in her broad Essex twang, yet she was the one who was visibly pregnant and smoking a faaaagggg!
Pure class.

By Friday 10:30am our tent was up, we had some prime real estate with a decent sized front ‘garden’ and the sun was already beating down on us.
Next task was the walk back to the drop off point with our empty backpacks to catch the bus into town to stock up on the booze and nibbles.

By 12pm we were back in our chairs, watching the masses struggle with all of their kit into the campsite (including many an Essex girl in tears as either she was regretting bringing her entire wardrobe and having to carry it, it was too hot or she had broken a faackin nail) and sipping on our first beverage.

By 2pm the Port came out.

By 5pm we were both p*ssed. Gin & Tonics, beers and 1.5 litres of Port had been consumed in hot sunshine and possibly 1 litre of the Port by AJ alone.

By 7pm the main arena had opened for business so we headed for the fairground.

First stop was the Waltzers – if you are drunk why would you not try to exacerbate the effect?
I thought that every country would have the waltzers at their fairgrounds but obviously not because as the ride slowly went around to enable it to fill up AJ was slating it asking if this was it? I told her that yes this was it and this was a key part of my childhood so accept it.
Then the ride began proper and the carneys at this fairground knew what it meant if you screamed to go faster!! We were pinned to the back of the carriage absolutely pissing ourselves as we span out of control for what seemed like an eternity and Arancha’s faith in me was once again restored.
We followed this up with a couple more stomach churning rides until we felt sick, so we stopped.

All in all a great first festival day and the rest of the weekend would follow in the same vain – booze, fun and blazing sunshine.
Saturday morning was a hazy one – both in memories and weather and there is nothing worse than waking up the morning after the night before in a tent that doubles as a sauna.
There was little else to do but grab some brekkie, crack open the beers and take a swig of Port – true dat. Well that was me, AJ just stuck to the bacon and egg sarny.

Saturday’s line up was more for Arancha and this day would end with her watching her number 1 band to see of all time – The Stone Roses.
The other performances throughout that day were decent with Keane and then Noel Gallagher raising the bar after we had just sat in the Shisha bar watching the setting sun but it was the Roses who blew me away. I didn’t really know what to expect but the hype around their reformation was justified – they were brilliant and AJ was ecstatic so all was good with the world.

Sunday followed (as it naturally does) and this day’s music was for me a better all round day. We had Shed Seven, who not only sang great songs from my teenage days but also entertained us with some hilarious banter, followed by The Enemy who as usual set a high standard. There was also a visit to an oxygen bar which I think is just a con as it did nothing for me except rob me of a few quid.
Then came Snow Patrol who belted out a number of classics as the sun set over the festival for the final time and provided one of those ‘perfect’ moments where you know where you are and you are intoxicated enough to take it all in and feel it. (Plus you also get a couple of great snaps that capture the essence of it all)
The festival then reached a fitting climax with The Killers – a great weekend and a pleasure to be back home enjoying what the UK does best.

By Monday 10:30am we were back in the flat – easy as peas.

As I mentioned, we had 2 weekends to kill before the start of the Para’s so the very next weekend we jetted off to Madrid (as you do) to catch up with some of Arancha’s familia (that’s Spanish for family – oh yeah, the lessons are working!!) that she has not seen in some years.
We stayed with her auntie and cousin who reside just a few kilometres from the centre of Madrid and from the moment we arrived to the moment we left it was all about Spanish hospitality ie. Amazing food and plenty of drink and saying ‘No’ actually meant ‘Yes, of course you would like some more’.
This was a chance for us to try out our very broken Spanish and my conclusion was that it was more non existent than broken. At least Arancha could pick up the odd word that was being spoken; the family must’ve thought that I was both deaf and a mute.
Arancha’s auntie was a real character, zooming from room to room in her wheelchair speaking only in Spanish and her cousin embarrassingly confessed that his English was not good so he was very sorry. If I could speak Spanish the way he spoke English I would be well chuffed!!
The first afternoon passed in a blur as we were fed until stuffed full and plied with alcohol meaning that a siesta was in order – bye bye most of the day!
We ventured out in the evening to look around the city and to watch the sun set over the palace before meeting up with Arancha’s cousin and his partner at a famous food market to eat and drink some more because we obviously needed the feed again. We ended the night with a walking tour around some of the more touristy sights that Madrid had on offer.

Early the next morning we set about actually seeing some more of Madrid and did the usual city break stuff. We went to the Reina Sofia Gallery to view some masterpieces by artists such as Goya, Picasso, Dali and Raphael and followed this up by a walk around some more of the sights such as the Plaza del Espana and the Plaza Mayor.
After a day of culture we again met up with AJ’s cousin and partner and they took us to one of their favourite restaurants, the sort of place that I love because only the locals know about it.
We followed this up by a night on the lash that took in a couple of gay bars and a nightclub before retiring to bed for the night at about 4am.
Why is it that on the day that you are recovering from a cold sore you stand in the middle of a bar that is lit with UV that acts to light up the monstrosity on your lip like some beacon that declares you are infected, you are dirty and you should be avoided at all costs – glad I am not single as that would not have been a successful night!

It is fair to say that we were feeling a little seedy the next morning so the best way to recover was to head to the Parque del Retiro to lie on the grass under a tree and snooze the day away before heading back into the centre of the city to gorge ourselves silly on more classic Spanish tapas. I will state that I did all of my ordering in Spanish and it was understood – however, if and when the waiter would ask me a question in response I was stumped.

Before we knew it, it was Monday morning and time to say ‘Adios a Madird y la familia’ (sh*t, I am good). It was a fun time but I would say that you can do Madrid in a weekend and the only reasons that I would go back are to see the family and check out the Bernabeu Stadium that is still on the list.

Post Para-Olympics we found ourselves back at Hyde Park for another day of fun and frolics in the sun and this time it was to celebrate my mum’s birthday at the Proms in the Park. This also would mean that I would be reunited with my older sister who I had not seen for exactly 2 years.
I say older sister because on more than one occasion now we have been asked who is the oldest sibling? Ha ha, she hates it. Beck, would you like some Botox for Xmas?

We parked ourselves perfectly between the stage and the amenities and set about demolishing the cider, red wine and picnic along with the Devon contingent of the family and one of AJ’s best friends Emily – a much welcomed addition to my circle of mates.
The sun was out, mum was tipsy and waving her union jack about like a demented mental patient and we were all having fun, especially the oldies once Bjorn Again took to the stage to belt some ABBA ‘classics’.
The special guest singer on the night was Kylie Minogue and she was good, not as good as previous guests such as Bazza Manilow and my boy Lionel Richie, but good nonetheless.
The live link up the Royal Albert Hall followed and I think given the summer that had just come to pass ala Jubilee and Olympics the usual deafening chorus to Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory and the National Anthem was notched up by another decibel or 50.
National pride at its very best.

So what else has been going?
Well I have been reunited with my Spurs season ticket and I have really enjoyed being back at The Lane although I have to confess that it isn’t quite the same as it was before.
I don’t want to sound like a dick and I am not preaching but after the poverty of India, the daily struggles of the other inhabitants in SE Asia and add to that the heroics of proper athletes in the Olympics I cant help but sit in the ground and feel anything but contempt for these jumped up scumbags that would surely be unemployed bums or in prison if it wasn’t for the fact that they can play football better than the rest of us.
I also am not forgetting the average footy fan that sits around me and has nothing to do except to expel a literary string of vicious bile at whoever may be on the ball at that time or boo their own team if they aren’t playing well.
Apart from that I am enjoying watching the team again and I must add that Ashley Cole and John Terry are exempt from the paragraph above about the fans – they deserve everything they get.

We have also been to a few concerts as that is a major thing that I missed about my time away.
There has been Hot Chip, The Temper Trap and my favourite band Muse who I took Latner (the skank – more on that soon) to for his birthday and another welcome
antipodean addition to the group Michelle joined the fun.

Add to this high tea, trips to the IMAX to watch some good films, trips to the theatre plus various nights out in London and Leicester with the lads and it has been a very busy time.

We also spent an evening at a comedy club and when one comedian asked if there were any Australians in the house a lubricated Arancha was straight up with a ‘yeah’ and she was the only Aussie there – which is a surprise in itself in central London.
She made a lucky escape though as he was quite kind and didn’t completely tear her apart as I would’ve hoped and expected.
This leads nicely on to one week that became an ‘Aussie’ week. Firstly there was an impromptu visit from the gayest of all Aussie’s Nick Burt and his now lovely fiancĂ© Sam (as per previous posts I used to work with Nick and stayed with him in Melbourne on a couple of occasions) – and he is yet another mate who is definitely punching above his weight!!
This night out was then followed 2 nights later with a reunion with Winslow – my fellow English teammate from my football team in Melbourne.
Winslow was over for the publication of his first book and this night was its official launch night.
I am proud to say that I was the first person to get a copy of his book, ‘Barmy Army – Despatches from a cricketing foot soldier’ signed by the big man. I am not really into cricket but I have to say that this book about his life and times travelling with and working for the Barmy Armey is actually a really good read – honest. 

So that is it; you are now up to date with my life in the UK since my return in May.
So what’s next I hear you ask?
Well; in the coming weeks we have:

  • A weekend to Paris (a birthday present to myself)
  • A weekend in Toledo (also a birthday present to myself)
  • My 33rd birthday (someone else can buy the presents)
  • A weekend in Bordeaux (I like having a half Spanish, half French Aussie girlfriend who has family dotted about the place)
  • More footy matches and live music
  • And Xmas of course

Last but not least December 1st will see us all waving a teary goodbye to the cornerstone of the Leicester contingent. Latner has fallen in love with Greenall – my friend in Sydney who I introduced to Lats when he came to visit in November 2011, and he is moving over there to begin a new life with her.
Whilst we (the lads) will be sad to see him go (we won’t really) we are also very pleased that he has actually found the perfect girl as we did fear that he would be a lifelong bachelor given some of his previous antics!!
Dec 1st promises to be a very boozy affair.

That is 2012 taken care of but what of 2013 and beyond?

January 2013 will see the commencement of the next part of the world tour. The first stop is Canada to hit the slopes and enjoy the ski season with AJ and a fellow Melbournian, Becs.
I have also managed to secure some tickets to see Muse again in Calgary in February so that will be great.
March / April will then be a quick stop over in San Francisco to stay with Rachael Moore – blog readers will recall Rach as she stalked me through 5 different countries – before continuing south across the border into Mexico to begin the Central and South American adventure.

How long we will be gone, we have no idea, it is literally a case of for how long we can stretch the cash, but ideally I hope to be gone for another 18 months or so.
I am currently doing a course that will enable me to teach English abroad so the plan is to circumnavigate the continent, find a place that we both like and then secure a teaching role of which there are quite a few and see what happens. Who knows?
All that I do know is that I want to push the boundaries more than I did on my last trip and take in as much as I can from the people, the wildlife, the beaches, the jungles to of course our happy place, the mountains.

It is going to be epic and through the blog I will try to keep you amused and rub your nose in it as much as possible unless you fancy just jumping on a plane and joining me along the way?

Speak soon and peace out.


Ps. Well done to Moggy and Tor on the impending birth of your first child.
I didn’t know you knew how to do it Mogs!