Sunday, 31 August 2008


It's a strange thing, being 30. Yes, it's just a number, just a convenient marker point. There's plenty of thirtysomethings that are funnier, more energetic and more irresponsible than many twentysomethings. I know more than a few.

But still. 30. There's been a change in the way I think of myself, which I've not quite got my head around yet. I can't really think of myself as a beginner anymore, or someone who is unconditionaly young. OK, I'm young - but in comparison, like to a pensioner. I'm a grown up. Teenagers probably think I'm old. Especially if they saw me with my new walking poles.

In Wales, smiling through the pain of creaky knees.

But if the number feels a bit weird, the process of turning 30 was great. As Lauren's blogged already, we had a really excellent party here in Ealing, then a trip to Ireland that saw us relish the New Zealandesque scenery and flexibility of a car. Thanks to all our friends, especially those who came from far away to get to London's Mild West for drinks. Extra special thanks to:

Erica, for the yummy cake.

Flatmate Jay, for the Airbornes. Evil man, evil drink.

Supercooks Megan and Clint, Flash the rental car and Horace the tent for making camping in Ireland one of the best things we've done since leaving home.
Lauren, for not realising how close she was to the edge of Inishmore.

The ancient Aran Islanders, for building Dun Aegnus, an awesome hill fort whose back door is always open.
Ireland, for being almost as gorgeous as you-know-who.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

That's nuts

I was eating a bag of nuts earlier to take the edge off my pre-dinner hunger and decided to look at the bag of nuts as I munched away. I didn't know whether to laugh or roll my eyes when I read the packet:

"Warning! May contain nuts!" followed by "Not recommended for children that choke on nuts".

Heh. That's nuts.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Land of the Dragon

As last weekend was a "Bank" holiday, Tane and I decided to make the most of the day off work and join Erica and Sarah for a few days in the stunning corner of the world that is Snowdonia, North Wales. (NB: in the UK, for some reason unknown to me, all of the public holidays seem randomly assigned and are all called Bank Holidays. But, that's another blog entry for another time.)
Given the children speaking Welsh on the train there and the dual language signs, I had a moment of panic when I realised I'd left my passport at home before remembering that, technically, I was still in the same country

Rural Wales is somewhere that I have always been interested in as not only were my mother's mother's people from there, but a place with a dragon on the flag has to be worth a look. So, we braved the unpredictable beast that is UK National Rail (we learnt on the way home that "no assigned seating" on the train tickets really means "sitting on the floor of the luggage compartment with a disproportionate number of antipodeans for two hours") and travelled up for a fabulous weekend of fresh air, staying in the middle of nowhere, trees, walks up hills and deliciously stodgy pub meals.
Being at one with nature near our hostel in Betws-y-Coed

The highlight of the weekend was a climb up Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, and the highest peak south of Scotland. It's a little more than 1000m high, and we decided that while there is the option of taking a train to the top (?!?!) we were hard New Zealanders and would climb it instead. It was a fabulous day walk - challenging in parts but on the whole not too difficult, and the fog at the top gave it all a slightly creepy other world quality.

Gorillas in the Mist
Once the flog cleared, though, there were some excellent views of the national park on the way down, not to mention rocks made for posing on.
The only negative thing about the climb was the realisation Tane had when coming down Snowdon that his knees aren't so up for it anymore, and he'll need to use sticks when doing such walks in the future. That was easily remedied as we were staying near a town with probably one of the highest outdoors shop per head of capita in the world so he was able to buy a pair of silver sticks for walking/prodding me when I am going slowly, but is one of those things that we'll have to watch in the future. All up a great weekend though and I thoroughly recommend North Wales as a place to visit.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Tane's Reviews: The Dark Knight

Believe the hype.

Christoper Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins really is all that, and Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker isn't being praised to the heavens just because he's up there.

The Dark Knight opens with Batman (Christian Bale) on a roll as Gotham City's criminal syndicates struggle against his attacks and the prosecutions of new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Then a new player appears - The Joker.

Like Batman, The Joker has seen a lot of different incarnations over the years: camp clown in the '60s TV series, Jack Nicholson's wicked, wise-cracking crime lord in Tim Burton's Batman movie and now an unhinged urban terrorist. I'm a big fan of Nicholson's Joker, but Ledger's performance is on another level. With his smeared makeup, scars, toxic green hair, lurching mannerisms and psychotic genius, he is - along with Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men - one of the two scariest villains in recent film. Like Chigurh, Ledger's Joker seems more a force of nature than a person - unknowable, unpredictable, unstoppable. He's less the Clown Prince of Crime than chaos personified.

This darker Joker fits with the gritty, more realistic tone of Nolan's Batman films. The Dark Knight is not a happy movie and it is filled with violence that - while not graphic - is very nasty. It is not one for the kids.

Some critics have complained The Dark Knight lacks the fund a superhero movie should have. I disagree. Comics aren't all about bright colours and heroes who make quips while flinging punches at the villain. This film is true to modern Batman comics, which are packed full of shadows and death. Indeed, the film's title is a nod to The Dark Knight Returns is the title of a seminal story by Frank Miller, a key moment in the change to a bleaker Batman.

While Ledger is the standout actor, as you'd expect from a cast featuring Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, the rest of the performances are also strong. Eckhart is especially good and, as Batman's old flame Rachel, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a major upgrade on Katie Holmes.

The actors are given room to show their talents by a complex, compelling story that touches on big issues like the nature of heroism without being pretentious or forgetting that it is an action movie. And as an action movie it's outstanding - wait for the big chase scene.

So, is it the best superhero movie of all time? Well, it does have flaws - to mention them is to spoil the plot, so I'll include them in a comment. I'd rank The Dark Knight above the excellent X-Men 2, Spiderman 2 and Superman Returns, and level with Batman Returns.


Monday, 18 August 2008

The Olympics

Like many people the world over, I have been enjoying the Olympic Games. I love the Olympics. I love the inane water cooler conversations about the Olympics (“Well I heard that Phelps has a freakishly long torso”, “Did you see the Jamaican sprinter?”) and I enjoy watching sports you hardly ever get to see. One thing I don’t love, though, is watching it on the other side of the world from your home country and every now and then seeing a competitor flash past wearing black and white and having nobody to tell me who they are. Last Saturday we were glued to the television as NZ won those 5 medals. It was a frustrating experience – we saw the British pair that got a Bronze to the Ever-Swindells' Gold be presented with their medals, but the channel cut to something else and we never even got to see the Kiwis on the podium. When the NZ cyclist rode to silver behind a Brit we had to endure a ridiculous and patronising commentary about how great Britain is. I have been told that TVNZ has replays online, but alas, these are only available to those currently in NZ.

To put things in perspective, though, on Saturday afternoon I did a trawl of some international websites. While the British press talked about their “goldrush”, the NZ papers wrote about our wins on Saturday, the Sydney Herald opened with an article about Australian gold medal winners, and CNN about Phelps. For a laugh we also looked at a Ukranian paper and the top story was about a Ukranian gold medallist that I’d never heard of before. I suppose it’s natural for a country to big themselves up and not report other country’s successes, but it’s just a little annoying when you are living on the other side of the world.

I am sure this woman we met in 'Nam only cares about Vietnam's silver medal. I imagine she also thinks that the NZ rowers are soft for using their hands not feet.

How is everyone else’s Olympics going?

Sunday, 17 August 2008

A meandering entry about museums and Roman stuff

London has so many museums I sometimes feel that even if I spent all of my free time visiting them it would still take four or five years to see all of their displays. Nonetheless, over the past month of "summer" I have done my best to see at least a few. I learnt all about the history of medicine while joining Ngaire for a trip to the Science Museum, as well as also finding out that even though I declared science to be my arch nemesis aged 15 it can actually be interesting. A trip to the Natural History Museum yesterday made me glad that I will never see a dinosaur face-to-face, and a visit to a special exhibit at the Imperial War Museum last month on the real James Bond was an excellent reminder that I would make a rubbish spy.

Stephen and Tane on the other hand have the stealth moves down

As part of my "I am such a museum buff right now" phase, Tane and I also went to see an exhibit on Emperor Hadrian at the British Museum. It was an excellent exhibit, and and a good reminder that not only were the Romans in Britain (I pity the poor Italian born sods that were sent to cold and miserable Britain) but that I saw an old Roman town last month and had totally forgotten to blog about it.
Being a used toga salesman in Verulanium
St Albans is less than an hour from London, and is famous for its Norman church. What I didn't realise was that it's giant park that we spent a decent amount of time wandering around on was covering the Roman settlement of Verulanium. Most of the old town is buried, but you can see the old amphitheatre there as well as some of the mosaics that have been dug up - those that weren't sold off for a penny a square by a dodgy 1930s archeologists that is. I never really appreciated how massive the Roman Empire was until I saw the mosaics there and thought about the Roman mosaics I saw in Turkey and Italy, as well as the Roman ruins we saw in Bulgaria. Among other things, the extensive Roman Empire means that there is always something really old for history geeks like us to enjoy. Awesomeus excellentus.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Super Slovakia

Jeez, it’s been a busy few weeks, with a wedding in Slovakia, Ngaire’s visit and my 30th birthday. It’s been really good, but I must admit that we’ve enjoyed a nice quiet weekend hanging
out in London.

One of the consequences of being so busy is that blogging has slipped down my list of things to do a bit. So I thought I should do a catch up, starting with the wedding.

Slovakia is kind of the Burkina Faso of Europe – if you don’t live in the region, you probably haven’t heard of it. It also has the misfortune of sounding almost the same as fellow European semi-obscurity, Slovenia. Which is all a shame, as it’s well worth visiting.

I was in the country for the marriage of Marty - a friend from uni - and Janka, his lovely Slovak bride. I landed in Bratislava, the capital, a pleasant city in the now familiar Eastern European mode – pretty Old Town with a main square and narrow streets, castle on the hill above the river, ugly Communist outskirts. The Communist architecture was brilliant – either outstandingly hideous or wonderfully bizarre. Or both. Fellow wedding guests Chris, Gareth, Daniel and I had a lot of fun exploring the place.

The national radio centre - Slovakia's answer to the Pyramids.

The lads do their best Communist impression.

"Just what I like in a woman - biceps strong enough to crush capitalism!"

Then it was off to Banska Bystrica in the centre of the country. To be honest, I thought it would be a bit of a backwater – after all, it’s not in the travellers’ Bible (Lonely Planet) – but it was gorgeous. Surrounded by forested hills, it has a recently repainted main square that is my favourite in Europe. The likes of those Prague and Brussels are more splendid, but have a zillion more tourists.

The nuptials were, of course, the highlight. Marty and Janka met in Germany, so it was a multinational affair, with people coming from Romania, America, London, Germany and New Zealand to be there. I doubt there’s ever been a reception featuring a haka, the groom carrying the bride through a giant heart cut out of a sheet (a German tradition), Slovak plate-smashing (the number of pieces of crockery left over after the couple sweep up is the number of kids they’ll have – about a dozen are in store for Marty and Janka) and everyone doing the Chicken Dance. It was most excellent.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The past year in numbers

As of last weekend, Tane and I have been away from New Zealand for ONE year. This is the past year in numbers:

NINETY FOUR: The number of bites counted on Tane in Bergama, Turkey.

TWENTY SEVEN: The number of flights we have been on.

TWENTY: The number of countries we have visited in the past year - Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Austria, United Kingdom, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal (Lauren only), Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, France, Poland, Egypt, Slovakia (Tane only).

Lost on the very first day of our trip in Hanoi, Vietnam

FIFTEEN: New country patches Tane has been able to sew on his backpack.

THIRTEEN: Airlines that we have flown.

TWELVE: Day trips we have done from London.
Arundel - a lovely day trip AND a castle!

TWELVE: Castles we have seen.

: Guide books and phrase books we own.

TEN: The number of war-related sites we have seen. Sounds kinda geeky when you put it like that ...

NINE: Months we have been settled in London.

The number of pairs of shoes we have bought. I refuse to say how many pairs were mine as opposed to Tane's ...

SEVEN: Countries in continental Western Europe Lauren has yet to see (Spain, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland).
Luxembourg: one of the smaller and prettier places we've seen

SIX: Times we have been on the lovely Eurostar.

FIVE: Foxes Ngaire and Tane spotted the other evening.

FOUR: Incidents of Delhi Belly. Although none of these have strictly occured in Delhi but you get the picture ...

THREE: Species of beast we have ridden - donkey, camel and elephant.TWO: People that are slightly ashamed of the size of their carbon footprint.

ONE: House deposit we could have afforded had we stayed home and spent all that money on a house instead. But then, we wouldn't have had half as much fun.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Ngaire takes on London

As I write, my sister Ngaire is sitting in the middle of a pile of clothing attempting to re-pack for her trip back to NZ after two weeks in Western Europe and one in London. In a moment, she will top off her week here by going down near bye Fox Lane with Tane in the hope of seeing a fox, the one thing she has missed out on while here. It's been great having her visit (in spite of us getting lost in Primark while shopping and not finding each other 30 minutes and 60 million piles of cheap clothes later), as it has allowed Tane and I to see London through someone else's eyes, not to mention also getting all the bags of of NZ lollies that my family sent over with her. Mmmm.

These, though, were the 5 main highlights of her visit:

1. The Lion King musical. This was amazing. To quote Ngaire "everyone should see the Lion King before they die".

2. Giving the lions in Trafalgar Square a good riding with Stephen. Hehe.

3. Making it up the London Eye, accompanied by a token Englishman that was also able to take us to an excellent restaurant afterward. And only after we had eaten told us the story of how rats were known to fall from its roof in the past. Lucky the food was so good we didn't care.

4. Ngaire meeting Prince Harry.
5. Going to the pre-industrial and very very cute Cotswold Villages, a few hours from London.
It's been great having her visit, and I look forward to the next time someone comes to stay. I have learnt my lesson and won't be introducing them to Primark, but look forward to more visits nonetheless! Especially is the person visiting brings a suitcase filled with NZ lollies.