Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Does it reflect badly on me that when I was standing on the steps of Capitol all I could think about was the many episodes of The Simpsons where they visit? Is it true then, that there is a Simpsons moment for every occasion? I think that there is - especially in Washington D.C. I haven't yet decided if that enhances or takes away from the experience of being here though!

Arlington Cemetery

There is something very eerie about being in a place where hundreds and thousands of people that fought in various wars are buried. Whatever your politics, it is impossible to be in a place like Arlington and not agree that war is tragic. Nonetheless, Arlington Cemetery is still a fascinating place to visit. JFK is buried here, and you can see the eternal flame that sits on his grave. Bobby Kennedy is here as well, as is the tomb to the unknown soldiers.
The highlight for me, however, was the Iwo Jima statue. When I was at Otago I used to have the photograph on my wall, and have since seen the cheesy-yet-interesting-although-in-need-of-an-edit movie about the men in the statue, Flags of Our Fathers. So, while I know that the original photo was staged and the statue itself in an odd location in the cemetery (it almost felt like it was in a parking lot, I'd be interested to find out why it's not with everything else) it was still cool to see it with my own eyes.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Dr Pepper and D.C.

Yesterday I travelled to the USA for the first time in over seven years. It is great to be back though, and not just because of the Dr Pepper and pizza. I'm also hanging out with Dad in DC for the first time in almost two years, and getting to be shown around Washington D.C. by someone who lives here at present courtesy of the Fulbright Scholarship system.
Dad at the back of the White House. No sign of the Obamas, alas, although the town is still filled with inauguration memorabilia.

Washington DC is a lovely city, The Mall awesome to walk around as is seeing so many sights that I've seen millions of times before at the movies. No disrespect to Cheese-heads from Wisconsin, but already I like DC an awful lot more than the American Midwest I became familiar with last time. That's not just because of the frequency of hot dog stands for us to fill up on Dr Pepper and hot dogs at either.

Unfortunately, Tane isn't here with us but joining me here next week. Just to show he's not forgotten, though, I wanted to post this pic Dad took of me texting him while standing outside Capitol.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A day trip to Windsor

Yesterday Tane and I decided to make the most of the glorious beginning-of-Spring weather and join Patti for a visit to the Queen at Windsor Castle. Well, maybe not the Queen herself, but we did visit her house and she was home and that's probably as close as we hois-palois will ever get.
At least I got close to some men wearing fluffy hats the remind me of toilet plungers on their heads

Windsor Castle, a short trip from Ealing, is remarkable. The castle is amazing to look at from the outside, and the interior that is open to the public filled with so many treasures and works of art it took us a good two hours to look around. The highlight was Queen Mary's Dollhouse, complete with running water and bespoke portraits on the walls. This was followed by the worst part of the Castle in my opinion, a room filled with treasures plundered from the Empire which I felt was not remorseful enough about the circumstances in which the goods were acquired. These objections aside, however, it can't be denied that the castle was filled with goods worth more than I could ever hope to earn in a millennium. With Heathrow close by, though, it is amusing that you may be the Queen of England and still be in a flight path.

The flag in the photograph flies when the Queen is in residence. Given the number of planes flying around while we were there I am also curious what the Queen thinks of the proposed third runway ...

Monday, 16 March 2009


Jane Austen hated Bath apparently. After finally making it there last weekend I struggle to see why, however, as it has edged ahead of York by a nose to win the much-coveted Lauren's Top Place in England award. In fact, I liked it so much, Bath had me jumping for joy. Pity I didn't have the foresight to take my handbag off first.

Injury by handbag aside, it was a glorious weekend in a fabulous place. Bath isn't a nice town with some pretty sections, it is a pretty town with some spectacular areas. I spent much of my time there wishing that I was wearing a round gown and resident for the 1821 ball season. Especially as this is where the wealthy people stayed:
I would like to imagine that my ancestors had the means to live in these apartments and danced in the Bath assembly rooms, although I suspect that if they did they were more likely to have been the people cleaning out the chamber pots and loitering in the kitchens.

Tane at the Roman Baths with the Abbey in the background. You can't actually bathe in them though, so calling the entire town Bath really is a case of false advertising.

Bath was so lovely a town I am unable to write more about it as am running out of adjectives. One thing worth mentioning, though, was what seemed to be cunning revenge on Bath's most famous ex-resident for criticising it. It is true that no-one is sure what Jane Austen really looks like, but I would like to think that she didn't look as bad as the Jane Austen replica outside the Jane Austen centre. If I knew that future generations of my town would make me look like this, I probably would have criticised the town also!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Bra-zil, Bra-zil, Bra-zil

Last month my football-watching mates Lewis, James and I went to see two of the three most successful nations in football history clash in London. Brazil, five time World Cup winners, against Italy, four time champions. It was my first international football match and it was amazing.

The game was at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's superb new home ground, which holds about 60,000 people and had almost every seat ocupied. The atmosphere was incredible. Both sides had hugely passionate fans, with chants of "Bra-zil, Bra-zil, Bra-zil" and "I-tal-ia, I-tal-ia" roaring out. The Italian fans, whose team had two goals disallowed, got particularly fired up.

This guy was brilliant. We almost watched him rant and rave as much as we did the game.

Some true greats were playing in both teams. Ronaldinho, Robinho, Buffon, Cannavaro - some of the best players in the world. It was also the best game of any sport that I've seen live. Brazil were fabulous in the first half, taking a 2-0 lead and playing the kind of football that has made them legends. Back heels, flicks off the side of the boot, flashy dribbling - it was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play a competitive game.

That's Italy in their famous azure blue and Brazil in their even more famous yellow and blue.

Italy came back and scored in the second half, but Brazil were the worthy winners. I'll never forget Robinho's second goal - the footwork and finish are absolutely stunning. Check it out (with French commentary!) here.

James, Lewis and I had a great time. I'm doing my irate Italian fan impression.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Technology, stop now please

Today I read that more people now use social networking sites than email. My first thought was "???", but then I realised that it's true in my case - I am just as likely to get contacted through Facebook than direct to my email.

This got me thinking, however, about Internet technology and how I find myself wishing it would just stay still. I like MSN and I like blogging, and it makes me a little sad that these two forums seem to be getting left behind already. Of course blogs are still very popular, but I have noticed that the number of people reading ours did seem to drop off after we signed up to Facebook. That is natural of course, I too am guilty of not checking the blogs of people who update on Facebook regularly as I feel I already know what they are doing. Facebook is fine and has its place, but I have reached the point when I would be happy if internet technology and social networking just stayed still for a while. I don't feel the need for more change, especially in the Twitter direction as knowing what Lily Allen had for dinner will not enrich my life.

Do you agree? Does this make me sound like an old fuddy-duddy?Some technology, however is good - I wouldn't want to put this in my pocket!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Movies, movies, movies (and sometimes other stuff)

Hi, as with Lauren's books (see below) I've set up a separate blog for my occasional movie reviews and reviews of other things, like books and concerts. That way my long-winded essays won't clog up the main blog! The reviews blog is:
I've started with a review of the latest superhero blockbuster, Watchmen.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Books books books

Last year I decided to start writing short'n'sweet reviews of books I've read. It's a little random, and the books I have reviewed are only the ones I had read in the weeks before writing. As I read about two books a week it is unlikely that I will review them all, but here is the link nonetheless to the blog! I am interested in your thoughts ...


A Killer concert

It was perfect timing - the night before Lauren's birthday, so us old people could sleep in. It was also the best rock concert we've been to. The Killers killed it.

I've been to shows by better artists - though The Killers are great - playing better songs with better sound. But I've not enjoyed anything else more. One of the main reasons was because as soon as The Killers came on stage and Human started pulsing out, everyone got to their feet and stayed there for the whole show, clapping, swaying, hopping and singing. It's frustrating being at a rock concert when you can't move for fear of upsetting the grumps behind you. Like during The Rolling Stones' Wellington concert back in '05. Bloody hell, it's Jumpin' Jack Flash, you should be jumpin'!

It wasn't perfect. The sound was fine for the softer and faster tunes, but it was rather muddy for the couple of mid-tempo tracks from the latest album, Day and Age. And they didn't play my favourite song from the album, Neon Tiger. But those are just a quibbles. Here's a few reasons why it was such a good gig.

Cracking songs: For Reasons Unknown, Somebody Told Me, Read My Mind - Brandon Flowers and co write some damn good tunes. It's hard to pick the highlight on the night, but I'd have to go with the mass euphoria when they played Mr Brightside. Mr Brightside kicks ass.

Surprises: The violins on the downbeat versions of Smile Like You Mean It and Sam's Town. Nice.

Discoveries:Wow, Dustland Fairytale is an American epic. Springsteen, eat your heart out.

Performance: Huge video screen, a storm of bubbles, the literally explosive finale - there was more than just sound to admire. True, Flowers' voice barely manages to carry the songs and the rest of the band don't do much, but they pull it off.

Seats: We were waaaaay down the back of the O2 Arena for Leonard Cohen, but close to the stage this time. It ruled.