Monday, 30 June 2008


Tane and I are lucky to have friends that live in both Oxford and Cambridge. That way we can visit them both, get a local insight to each of the two cities, and hear about why each of the "Oxbridge" University towns are better than the other.
With David and Holly in Oxford earlier in the year

Now, don't tell them we said so, but on the face of it they don't seem all that different. They both have fabulous architecture, stone buildings, impressive colleges, and a high hit- rate of overhearing a really plummy accent. They do have differences. Oxford has a smaller river, but a lovelier centre. Cambridge has a great river for punting. But, in general they are very similar, and both worth a day trip from London.

We went to Cambridge last weekend, which was a fabulous day out. As well as having a good look around the city, we went punting. I don't know who thought up punting - it's a strange water activity, cruising down a river at about 2 km an hour with a giant stick and a boat that is hard to steer and prone to getting in traffic jams. Tane got the hang of steering fairly quickly.

Well, mostly got the hang of it.

I, on the other hand, could only go around in circles, and decided that it was much more fun to sit in the punt eating strawberries rather than make an effort. It was a great day out, and I recommend punting. My only regret was not getting a photo of Dean when he fell in the water. But, unfortunately, I was too busy eating strawberries to reach for the camera in time.
With Dean and Deborah in Cambridge

The perfect sporting storm

Poor Lauren. She's been a sporting widow for these last few weeks, as Tane's perfect sporting storm came together. Down at the pub on a Saturday morning to watch the All Blacks thumping England, obsessively trying to find out the score in New Zealand's cricket tour of England, spending almost every third night in front of the tv watching the greatest tournament I've ever seen - football's European Championships. Well done the Spanish! Nice to see attacking flair come out on top, for once. And nice to see the horribly dull, defensive Italians leave early.

It's been great. I've done much male bonding while swilling beer, scoffing chips (or crisps, I should say) and playing armchair critic. The highlight though was been some actual live sport - Wimbledon!

It was one heck of a memorable event - even for the queueing alone. We arrived at 9.30am, and got into the ground about 1.30pm. We queued for a queue card, then we queued for tickets, then queued to watch an actual game. Crazy. Fortunately, this was the first year that organisers had decided to start the queue in a nearby park. So most of the wait was, almost literally, a picnic.

Lewis and Johnathan chill out in the queue.

The English take queueing very seriously indeed. Surely only at Wimbledon would do you a guide to queueing, as well as an official queue card. Mine was number 9482. Yep, that's a lot of people waiting.

Fortunately, we managed to get to a court in time to see the end of up-and-coming Kiwi Marina Erakovic's third round match. It was a tight and entertaining third set, but sadly, she lost.

Marina Erakovic gives it her all on Court 11.

The next game on that court was a thriller. This was the first time I've seen top quality tennis up close, and it was amazing. They're sooo fast. Even the women hit with enough power to make my forehands look as strong as wet noodles. Especially scary giant Russian Davina Safina. Her arms were like my legs.

Wine without cups. We were the classiest people in Wimbledon.

After a couple of sets of that, it was off to "Murray Mountain", where thousands were watching the new British hope, Andy Murray. He won, to much cheering, but today lost to Rafael Nadal.

Then, as the evening wore on, we rounded out watching some doubles and men's singles. What a great venue, what great sport. I'll be back again next year - and with Lauren. Sporting widow becomes sporting wife!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Why aren't we going to New Plymouth?

For those of you on Facebook, you'll be familiar with the "Cities I've visited" function. This is one of my favourite parts of Facebook, as it allows you to map places you've visited all over the world. The other day Tane and I were having a look and discovered that you can see the top 20 places that my Facebook friends have been, as well as the top 20 places all users of Facebook worldwide have been. I know that this is not exactly a great sample group as Facebook users are more likely to be English speaking and under 35 than any other demographic group, but taking that into consideration the top 20 destinations were:

Where my friends have been

Where Facebook users have been









New York















Las Vegas



San Francisco






Washington DC















San Diego



Miami Beach










Tane and I have been to 9 of the top places Facebook users have been, and of the list of where my friends have been I have been to 17 of them, and Tane 15.

The thing that struck me the most about these lists was the fact that in the list of places my friends have been so many NZ destinations were much lower in the list than European cities. What's that about? Why have so many Kiwis visited London, Rome, Prague, Vienna, and Amsterdam when they haven't even been to New Plymouth? Not to mention Dunedin, Palmerston North and Nelson. And how on earth did Hamilton get to number 14? Was bribery involved?

Travel around the world is fabulous because you experience so much variety. Travel around NZ, though, is great as well as you see variety within your own country. In many ways small NZ towns like Ruatoria, Murupara and Te Kao have given me more of an insight into a different way of life than Paris, Rome or any other European city that is crawling with tourists. Is it because of cultural cringe that Kiwis travel around Europe but not NZ? Or is it because they think NZ is boring? I have mentioned this list to a few NZers in the last little while, and at least three of them blinked at me before saying "Um ... I've never been to New Plymouth."

How many of the cities on the lists have you been to? Have YOU been to New Plymouth? If not, why not?

Saturday, 21 June 2008

A shout out to the parents of the world

Right at the moment, it seems that half the women we know either have recently had, or are about to have, a Zorg, a Tiny, another Jardine-Langston or mini Margenau - in short, a baby. Not that we've had the pleasure, but as the elder children of large families, we've seen plenty of maternity clothes, pooey nappies and bleary-eyed, short-tempered parents. It ain't easy.

So a big shout out to the new and about-to-be-new mums and dads. You guys are awesome.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Inconvenienced by the Luftwafe

As a rule I think that the tube is fantastic - it gets me pretty much anywhere I want to go in London, and is a public transport system that I think should be replicated elsewhere to cut the New World reliance on cars. When antipodean Londoners complain about rising petrol prices, it's because the cheap flights to Europe are going up in price, not because they are struggling to drive to work or supermarket. That is largly because of the tube.

Living in London, however, you get accustomed to tube delays. Signal failures, passenger alarms being activated and engineering works often conspire to make me late for work. On the weekends in particular it's not unusual for trains to be delayed or stations closed because of people throwing themselves on the tracks.

Last week, though, I was late to work due to an unexploded World War Two bomb being found in East London. Apparently it started ticking so a tube station was closed until it was removed, causing delays to the entire District Line. I hadn't realised that over 200 unexploded bombs are still in East London, and that these are being discovered as the London 2012 Olympic site is being prepared. This one was in particular was 5 ft long and known as a "Herman", named after the stout Luftwaffe head, Goering.

I always thought that I was born 35 years too late to be directly affected by World War Two, but now I can say that the Luftwaffe made me late for work. Heh.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Relaxing in the shadow of a Norman castle

Summer is here, the sun is out, and pubs suddenly have outdoor beer gardens that I never noticed before. After spending a glorious day in Arundel (West Sussex) with friends yesterday, though, I think we have found one of the best places within 2 hours of London to relax yet. Glorious.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Travellers in an antique land

There's two main reasons why Westerners go to Egypt - the ancient ruins, or the beaches in the Sinai Peninsula. Geeks that we are, we were there for the former - though as Lauren wrote earlier, turns out when the temperature headed upwards from 30 the appeal of lazing around by and in the water became a lot stronger!

But anyway, the history. It's awesome. Our tour began in Cairo, with the step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, the oldest standing structure built by humans. Hearing that made me tingle with history geek happiness.

Saqqara, where the ancient Egyptians developed the most amazing technology of all - making Coke with zero sugar.

Next up was the step pyramid's most famous descendants. We've already stuck up a bunch of pics of us and our faithful camels Michael Jackson and Moses, but I couldn't let this entry go without putting up this.
After getting our fix of big triangles (and the Sphinx, which was a bit underwhelming. Asterix comics led me astray on how big it is.) it was down to Aswan in the other end of Egypt.

The overnight train was ... memorable. Kind of like a long haul flight, but with Arabic ringtones and a guy with drinks coming up and down the aisle every quarter of an hour or so. The words "chay, chay, coffee, tea, Cola Light" will haunt us forever.

Outside the train, Egypt passed by. Palm trees, mud brick houses, the domed pastel tombs of imams. Men and women in grey or brown robes tending fields of stubbly grain. Skinny cows, oxen, the odd camel or horse. Donkeys. Many, many donkeys. The desert. And, of course, the Nile.

Looking out the window, you realised just how utterly crucial the river is. It's all that keeps the country going. Beyond the river and the tiny belt of fertile land it supports, there's nothing but stone, sand, dust and heat, all the way to the sea.

One of the other things to hit you in Egypt is how poor the place is. There's plenty of wealthy people there, but the glory days are long past. It's worst in the slums of Giza, right next to the Pyramids, where kids watch over flocks of goats grazing on rubbish dumps. Everywhere you see piles of rubble, and the ugly, unadorned apartment blocks, that are the next generation of wreckage. The countryside is usually prettier - all those palms - but not much richer. Aside from the pickup trucks and sattelite dishes, things probably looked much the same in the days of Saladin.

A country village

Egyptians seem a cheerful, friendly lot - appreciating their sense of humour is crucial to spending time in the markets without biting someone's head off - but when you look at the future, I'm not sure how much there is to smile about. Simply put, there's too little land and too many people.

Still, there's always that history to take pride in. From Aswan we headed back up along the Nile to Cairo, stopping off at various awesome temples along the way. There was Kom Ombo, then the best preserved one in the land - Edfu.

Spot the guy in the Netherlands football team shirt.

Luxor though is the ultimate for ancient Egypt addicts. Our guide said it has one third of the archaeological sites in the world. Bliss. The highlights were:

The painted walls of the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, and Temple of Hatshepsut. These really gave you an indication of how beautiful the other temples must have been before the paint wore off.

Best of all, the stupendousness that is Karnak. Man, those guys thought BIG.

All the temples and ruins in the desert brought to mind one of my favourite poems, Ozymandias. Especially Abu Simbel, one of Ramesses II's many monuments to his ego.

Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

But two of my favourite memories of the place have nothing to do with old stone. First, there was watching the European Cup Final in a coffee bar with our guide, three tour friends and a horde of young Egyptian men. Talk about atmosphere. I've never been anywhere where they yell Allah! Allah! when someone misses a penalty.

Mohammed, Juan and Juliana enjoy a quiet sheesha before the game.

The other is when I wandered away from the main bazaar in Cairo and found myself in a market where only the locals go to shop. The traders didn't depend on tourists, so there was no hassling to get you to buy some cheap souvenier. People asked where you are from, with no motive other than curiosity. Everyday life. I hope they have more to smile about soon.