Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dinner out at a Chinese restaurant dahlink?

So as you know, I have embarked upon a healthy deating diet in order to lose weight after I accidentally put on 14lbs after eating a pizza only diet for three months.

But I've encountered a dilemma. I love eating out, but I am not sure if I am 'allowed' (I say that figuratively speaking) to do it. So imagine the flurry I got myself into when the telephone rang this week.

"Hello Annie, is that you?" I recognised my friend on the end of the line.

"Yes, it is you lucky devil," I replied.

"Ermmmm, yes... quite," came the response, "just wondered if you fancied eating out at a restaurant in Oxford this evening."

"Oooh, which restaurant?" I asked.

"The Rice Box, on Cowley Road."

"I don't know if I can, because I am on a diet," I said.

"Ah," came the reply and we both pondered for a while.

"I suppose if I steer clear of the lardy stuff it can't hurt," I replied.

"Cool, I'll pick you and Izzy up at 6.30pm."


By 7pm, we arrived at the Rice Box. From the outside it looked pretty basic, but as the old adage goes; don't judge a book by it's cover. We opened the door and entered, and shiver me timbers, the inside was all pretty basic too.

"Where have you brought us?" I hissed through my teeth, surveying the bolted-down formica tables and benches, and strip lighting.

Pic.No.1. The interior of the Rice Box on Cowley Road. It was not sumptuous

"Shut your mush and give it a go," I was told uncategorically. Upon closer inspection of the restaurants's clientele, I noticed something promisng. Most of the patrons seemed to be of Chinese origin. Surely it's gotta be a good sign if a Chinese restaurant is good enough to attract Chinese diners?

I perched myself on the edge of one of the benches and proceeded to study the menu. The dishes were all pretty much what you would expect from a Chinglish restaurant, and I tried to guess which ones were going to the most complementary in terms of my diet. In truth, I had no idea, and the dish I selected (Chicken Chow Mein) was a stab in the dark in terms of the amount of calories it was going to yield. Crikey, I really am not cut out for this dieting healthy eating game.

And then something suspicious happened. Our meals were literally served within three minutes of handing over our cash. How the bloody hell did they manage that? They couldn't have got 'em quicker if they had served them by catapult.

But as it happens, the food was actually very tasty, so I am surmising that the restaurant had just decided to employ a National Fast Cooking champion or something similar.

Pic.No.1. Me wielding a spring roll as though it was an offensive weapon. I like doing things like that. Later on in the meal, I pretended that a sweet and sour chicken ball was a shot put

Pic.No. Izzy insisted that her teddy join us for dinner. He normally goes by the (imaginative) name of Cuddly, but when he is in superhero mode, we have to address him by his alterego; Fat Cat Supercat

So all in all a very pleasant night out - good food at reasonable prices. But the Rice Bowl is not somewhere you should go if you are trying to impress a date. They would think that you were penny pinching and would dump you after the first date, and then they would text all their mates saying... 'I just went out with the tightest date ever tonight. He was so tight that his butt cheeks squeaked.' And you wouldn't want that happening would you?

So back to this diet thing, yeh I am a bit confused about eating out now. Should I not do it because I am on a diet? Given that a diet is meant to be a permanent change of eating habits, does that mean I can never eat out again? I mean, that's not an option - I would quite simply perish if I couldn't eat out. I would be like a Gremlin exposed to bright light. There's gotta be a solution?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

My new Nigerian friend.......

 I was reading a blog post yesterday where the topic was those bloody Nigerian email scams. Which reminded me, that not so long ago, I instigated a Skype conversation with one of those scammers because I was a bit bored on that particular day. Let me see if I can dig it out for you? 

Ah, here it is .....

[15:31:48] michealbahati: Dear Friend,

I want to ask you this, can you help me as a family friend and also help my clan? My late father always praise your country and said that I should ask you for a letter of invitation to come and stay with you for my education? I am living alone,they killed my father and Sister,

if you can give me your trust then you has nothing to regret,I am 18 years old BOY,I want to be a Doctor when i come to your country. I have gone through your profile and i am interest to be your family friend. the fund that my late father left me in his will contained $5M,and i am his next of king as his only survival son in the family.

If possible we can have a joint venture business when the fund comes to your country,or you take 15% of the total sum of the money as your effort doing the letter inviting me to your country.
update me on your kind intention. my email address if you are serious to help me, Reply

Your Truly
Micheal Bahati.

[15:35:44] Anne Dickens: Yes of course. Come and live at my house. I will send you my bank details as well so that you can book a flight, or alternatively, I can send you my credit card details.

[15:36:53] michealbahati: Thanks for your kind response. Please, this business that i am offering you is very very genuine and honest and trust is my watch word

[15:37:18] Anne Dickens: Yes you sound genuine.

[15:37:59] michealbahati: What i seek most is to see that you receive the $5M fund in your bank account to enable you to write and send me letter of invitation for my education to complete in your country

[15:38:27] michealbahati: .......... mum

[15:39:18] Anne Dickens: You aren't from Nigeria by any chance?

[15:39:19] Anne Dickens: ............... son

[15:41:46] michealbahati: am not from Nigeria

[15:43:01] Anne Dickens: Thank god! I heard that there was a scam going round that involved Nigeria. Now I know that you aren't Nigerian, I can properly celebrate the fact that I will be a millionaire! Woo Hoo!

[15:43:10] Anne Dickens: Of course, more importantly, I am gaining a son.

[15:44:19] michealbahati: ok

Unfortunately, the conversation ended with an abrupt 'ok'. I couldn't coax another word out of him. He must be one of those people with no social skills. I mean, he told me I was going to be a millionaire, and then let me down without a 'by-your-leave'. If I was an emotionally vulnerable person, I could have been very scarred by that and tortured a squirrel as revenge. But thankfully I didn't. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Crikey, someone has written a blog about me being rude

Blimey, would you believe it? Someone has written a blog post about me calling people rude names! How cool is that? It has actually made me feel a little bit famous, although I wish I had more of a crowd outside my house, maybe a few paps. In fact I actually wish I had a crowd, period. Even one person would do.


Anyway, I thought you might like to read the post about me name-calling. It was written by Ron Reed, from the blog, 'If I had a Blog', and the post is called 'Mom! Anne Dickens called me a "Numpty"!' - click on the link to read.

Pic.No.1. Definition of a numpty (my favourite rude word)

So, my somewhat tenuous fame is based on me being rude to people. That is ace. It is my own particular differentiation strategy, and I am like the Russell Crowe of the blogosphere. Bad, mad and rad. That's me.

P.S. If anyone has any rude names that they would like to add to my current arsenal, please let me know. I am always on the lookout for fresh ways to insult people.

P.P.S. Numpty was voted Scotland's favourite word. Superb.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Shhhh don't tell anyone what I'm up to

Hello dahlinks. Blimey, I have been a bit tardy at posting recently, but I have a perfectly good excuse. Which is.... errmmm, what is it? Oh yeh. I have been working.

'Working?' I hear you cry. Yeh, I know. Me. Working. It just doesn't go. I am one of those delicate creatures designed to be a 'lady-who-lunches'. At a stretch I will stoop to pick up a rose thrown at my feet by an admirer.

'So what is this so called work that you refer to?' I hear you ask in disbelief.

Well, I don't normally talk about work, but I am going to tell you at little bit about it because it is actually quite amusing how it all came about.  Needless to say it does not involve me going to the office 9-5pm.

About a year or so ago, I applied my knowledge of aerospace engineering to come up with an idea for a secret squirrel (if-I-tell-you-what-it-is-I-will-have-to-kill-you-until-you-are-dead) product. I was so chuffed with this super secret squirrel product that I wondered if would be possible to progress it beyond merely an idea. 

Pic.No.1. The fact that it has 'Top Secret' stamped on it, makes me want to read it more

I stumbled at the first hurdle, when I realised that unfortunately, my modest 15th Century cottage didn't possess the high-tech equipment needed to develop the product, so I needed to come up with an alternative.

Now I am not one of those people who is shy when it comes to pursuing an opportunity, so I jumped onto the Oxford University (Oxford University is ranked as the 5th best university in the world) website, and had a look around. After half an hour or so, I came across a Professor who specialised in the area of technology needed to develop my idea.

So I telephoned him.

'You didn't?' I hear you cry, 'blimey, you've got front.'

Yes I did, and yes, I have! And would you believe it, the Professor said he liked my idea, and arranged a meeting with me for the very next day. We formed a collaboration and have been working together on it since. And it's bloody interesting. 

Pic.No.2 One of the colleges at Oxford University

So that is how I got involved in a secret squirrel project with Oxford University, and that is what I have been working on this week. One day, when we have finished the development work and submitted the patent, I hope to do a 'big reveal', but until then, I have to be a big tease.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

I'm like Torvill and Dean except that I am not two people

Blimey, today unexpectedly turned out to be 'retro' day. It wasn't planned or anything, it just happened that way.... and it began with me having porridge for breakfast.

'Porridge?' I hear you cry, 'isn't that the food that was force-fed to Victorian orphans living in squalid London workhouses?'

The answer is, I am not sure about the orphans, but what I do know is that porridge is a recommended food when you are on a diet ( said so), because it is low in fat, sugar and calories. It's gotta be good right?

I boiled up the oats, added the milk and water and let it bubble for ten minutes before spooning the resulting gloop into my breakfast bowl. I eyed it suspiciously before taking the plunge and eating a spoonful. I instantly recoiled; Holy Mary, Mother of Christ! It was vile! It was brown and flavourless, and each spoonful was like chewing through the contents of a golf ball.

I gagged my way through the full bowl, vowing that once I had completed my final mouthful, I would never, ever eat porridge again. It was the devil's food and could stay retro as far as I was concerned.

And then, just as I was recovering, the telephone rang. It was a chum inviting me to go ice-skating. Ice-skating! How bloody retro is that? The last time I did that, I must have been in my teens, and I remembered really enjoying it, so I accepted like a shot.

Fast-forward two hours and picture me in the Oxford Ice Rink .... all booted-up in my ice-skates and ready to glide around the ice like a swan, doing the odd pirouette here and there.

Unfortunately, the ice-skating looked like it was going the same way as the porridge; everything was good on paper, but the reality was quite different. The minute I set foot upon the ice, my left skate shot off leaving me hanging onto the barrier for dear life. I tried to stand up, but both skates kept slipping backwards away from me.

Ok, it wasn't the coolest start in the world and several youngsters were pointing and laughing, but I decided to persevere and after 45 minutes or so, I began to get more vertical. I still had one hand on the barrier the whole time, but I was getting there, and I was thinking, "sod pirouettes, I will be happy if I end up looking like a duck on ice."

Pic.No.1 Lowly beginnings..... skating with one hand on the barrier

As my confidence grew, I started to take in my surroundings a bit more, and hey yeh, it was properly like taking a trip down memory lane to my youth. For a start, the whole rink was filled with teenagers, all posturing and doing snazzy moves to try and impress the opposite sex.

Pic.No.2 Me doing an ice-skate shuffle walk thing on ice

Even more retro than that, there was a DJ ensconsed in a booth at the side of the rink constantly playing 80's dance tracks, and occasionally using his microphone to interrupt the proceedings and wish 'Hannah who is 15 today, a very happy birthday.' Man alive, even though I was probably the oldest person there, It was like getting a snapshot into what it was like being a teenager again.

It was aboslutely great fun, and was with a heavy heart that I drove home, stopping off at the supermarket to buy dinner. I had decided to buy something retro to eat, so I scanned the shelves before finally deciding upon 'Gammon and Pineapple'. Oh yeh! Give me a high-five! There is nothing more retro than gammon and pineapple, with the possible exception of Black Forest Gateau or Prawn Cocktail.

So my dahlinks ..... have you done anything 'retro' recently? Pray, do tell!

P.S. You know that I am on a diet that I am managing through a website called Well I was on there today, and I saw a most bizarre advert.

Pic.No.3 This is the advert that I saw on a dieting website

Thursday, 21 October 2010

I unwittingly embarked upon the rubbishest diet ever

About three months ago, I noticed that some of my jeans were starting to feel a bit on the tight side, i.e., I was in danger of turning into a bloater. Appalled at the thought, I decided to embark upon a calorie controlled diet for the first time in my life. It was uncharted territory, and being a diet 'rookie' I decided to hark the words of DaVinci; "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

So, in order to keep things simple (because I am so bloody sophisticated dahlink), I decided that every day (until I hit my normal weight), I would have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a ham salad roll for lunch, and an Asda pizza for dinner. All for under 1200 calories a day - perfect. And the double bonus was that the lack of variety meant that no menu-planning was required. Kate Moss! Bring it on! Give me three months and I'll be able to hide behind a lamppost.

Except that things didn't go quite to plan... after two and a half months, my clothes weren't feeling any looser, so I decided to jump on the weighing scales. It was with abject horror that I noticed that I had actually put on a whole stone.. yep you got it - bloody 14lbs! What the blazes was going on there?

 Pic.No.1. All I had was a small slice of pizza... nom... nom...nom

And how the bloody hell did it happen? I was still reeling from the shock when Steve turned up at my front door in order to blag a free coffee.

He took a seat at my kitchen table, and I proceeded to tell him about the "diet" I had been on, and how I had only managed to achieve putting on 14lbs.

"What have you been eating you monkey?" he asked, perplexed that anyone could be so inept.

I explained my simple (yet highly sophisticated), three-step daily diet.

He listened carefully and noted, "You've been scoffing pizza every night?" which prompted me to go and get one from the freezer to show him. He studied the nutritional information on the side of the box, and blurted ..... "Shit! have you been eating one of these everyday?" he asked in horror.

"Yes, there are only 450 calories in each one - it's a dieter's paradise," I said, pleased with myself.

"Look again," Steve said, pointing to the box. "It is 450 calories per HALF pizza, and you have been eating a whole one every night. I am surprised that you can still fit through the front door .... give it six months and you'd have had to be craned out through the roof."

Bloody hell. It transpired that what I thought was a sophisticated diet, was in actual fact a lard infested nightmare. I was a feeder, and I was unwittingly feeding myself. Things needed to change, and fast. And Steve needed to help me because he loves all that nutrition and exercise shit.

"Please, I need you to help me!" I pleaded.

"Ok," he replied, "on the condition that you don't do that gobby thing where you constantly ask me why I am making you do something."

"Deal!" I replied, and we shook on it.

The first thing he did was make me enrol with My Fitness Pal; a website where you log all your eating and exercise habits. He did it because apparently (*interesting fact alert*), people who monitor their daily eating and exercise habits, generally lose double* the amount of weight than people who don't. Umm ... interesting statistic. I love statistics.

Pic.No.1.  The My Fitness Pal website (click to enlarge) - easy to use and gives you an amazing insight into how food and exercise affects your body

So, for the last couple of weeks, I have been logging all that I exercise and eat on the website above, and I have to say, that it is brilliant. It provides you with daily calorie and fat goals, and if you don't meet them, it shows you the effect that shovelling crap down your neck has on your weight. And it has got an App too so that you can update your food intake whilst out and about.

On top of that, Steve had mandated that I also have to embark upon a fitness regime consisting of 11 miles of mountain biking for five days out of each week ..... until further notice. But I have to say, that is more of a treat than a punishment.

All in all, I have got to lose 25lbs (which means 2 stones to us English types) and I want to do it within approximately 4 months.

And the first weigh-in is tomorrow.... Eek!

P.S. After a lot of Internet research, I thought you might like some interesting statistics relating to dieting:

1. A study of 1700 people found that those who have a 'daily log' of their diet and exercise lose double the weight compared to those who don't

2. If you regularly eat breakfast, you are 75% more likely to weigh at least 9lbs less than someone who doesn't eat breakfast

3. If you fancy joining in the weight loss challenge... let me know and we can share goals. Woo! Everyone whoop like an American!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Come and experience a traditional English Sunday

I am going to rename myself, Country pursuits R Us. As you know, I had the outlaws (called Sue and Paul) staying last weekend, and in preparation, I had a weekend of proper country stuff lined up.... like the Bird Watching yesterday. But I was crap at that, so I decided that I wouldn't be donning a pair of binoculars again in a hurry. It's not like it was up to much anyway. I mean if you think about it, most birds look pretty much the same; a bit feathery, normally a browny colour with two wings and a beak. Except flamingos ..... they are pretty cool, but we don't have flamingos in Oxfordshire, so I'm not expecting Bird Watching to get exciting any time soon.

'So what country pursuit did you do instead?' I hear you cry.

'Well it's obvious isn't it? ...... Eating. It's the way forward,'  I say, tapping the side of my nose.

I had decided that we would indulge in that great British tradition - the Sunday Roast. But after cooking dinner for everyone on Saturday night, I decided that I had had enough of the kitchen ..... hell I normally never go in there unless I am on my way to the garden. The plan was that we were going to eat out.

As if that wasn't reckless enough, I was going to take everyone to a pub that I had never been to before. It was like putting my life's savings on 'red'. Ok, I may have over-dramatised that a bit, but the situation easily had the potential to go to rat shit pretty quickly. All it takes is something as mundane as an undercooked gammon steak, and tempers can get frayed.

We all piled into the car and drove fifteen minutes to a small Oxfordshire village called Tetsworth. The pub that we were booked into was called the Old Red Lion and it overlooked the village green where a cricket match is played every Sunday throughout the summer. Oh, how typically English dahlink!

Pic.No.1 The Old Red Lion pub in Tetsworth

The Old Red Lion was a place of contradictions. From the outside it looked pretty unprepossessing, but once inside it really came into its own. It had recently been taken over by an eccentric but friendly English lady wearing a crisp white apron, and she had remodelled the inside to encompass rich fabrics, bookcases, chandeliers and quaint little dining nooks and crannies. It was ace - like being in the corner of someone else's dining room.

Pic.No.2 From left to right (Sue, moi, and Paul inside the Old Red Lion, Tetsworth)

So what about the food then? Well, because it was Sunday, they had laid on a carvery. Which (for the benefit of my foreign readers), is a buffet counter with a selection of delicious hot roast joints; in this case ham, a leg of roast pork, and a jumbo joint of beef. In addition to that, there was a huge selection of vegetables, including cauliflower cheese, broccoli, roast potatoes, courgettes (aka zucchini) in tomato, fresh green beans, and carrot and swede mash. All topped off with a homemade beef gravy and horseradish sauce. You can't get more English than that. Huzzar!

Pic.No.3 As usual, Izzy showed understated appreciation of the meal

So was it any good? All the meat was grade A and cooked to perfection; Slightly pink tender beef, moist pork that was gently scraped off the bone, and ham that brimmed with flavour. Ok, some of the vegetables were a bit 'iffy'; the broccoli was a bit of a mush, the mashed swede and carrot had a funny flavour, and the stuffing balls were a bit soft, but I could forgive that, and all in all, it was a very enjoyable meal, and at a very reasonable price; £7.95 per person ($12.48).

To be honest, I really enjoyed the experience, and as such, ended up being a bit of a pig. I must have eaten virtually double my body weight and as if that wasn't obscene enough, I had a dessert..... called Spotted Dick, and it was served with custard. Yeh baby, only in England are we bold enough to call a dessert Spotted Dick and then devour it with gusto *wink*.

Once lunch was over, I sat back in my chair, and then suddenly panicked that I would never be able to move again without the aid of a mobility scooter. I was a bit like Mr Creosote in that Monty Python sketch, except that I didn't puke or indulge in a 'wafer thin mint'.

You will be pleased to hear though, that after a period of recovery, I was able to walk once again! Huzzar!

Once lunch was over, I had planned on taking everyone for a short walk across the village green to a place called The Swan, a 15th century ex-coaching house which houses the UK's 'best antiques centre'. 

Pic.No.4 The Swan in Tetsworth .... you want to buy antiques? You can do that in abundance here

I love antiques I do, and I reckon it's because I live in a country that dates back thousands of years. And from every period, The Swan had some amazing pieces for sale, but one in particular caught my eye.

I turned to Sue; "hey, I absolutely love that cabinet. What do you think?"

"Yes, it's really nice," she said, before adding, "are you going to buy it?"

"Dunno, how much is it?" I asked as we both started searching for the price tag.

Pic.No.5 I fell in love with this dresser / cabinet

Sue found it. It was positioned on one of the shelves in the upper glazed half.

"I've found the price!" she hollered to me.

"Cool, how much is it?" I asked with mounting excitement.

"£45,000," Sue replied (that's $70,614 USD to all you overseas readers).

"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed, "are you sure you have got that right?"

Sue checked the price again, "Yep, totally sure. Apparently it is a signature piece designed by Thomas Sheraton which makes it incredibly rare."

"Ermmm, I won't be buying it." I said definitively, aghast at the price.

And so it was with a heavy heart that we left the Antiques Centre empty handed.

Never mind, we had had a proper 'Country' Sunday day out .... all food and relaxation and easy fun. Bring on more Sundays like that!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Welcome to my new Autumn-Themed Blog!

So what do you think? Do you like it? I've tried to embody everything that is Autumn (or 'Fall' if you are a Johnny Foreigner) ... funny coloured leaves, misty mornings and a general embracing of the colour brown.

Lots of people say that they love autumn because it is so vibrant, but I bloody hate it because it signifies the start of winter.... at least six months of cold, grey miserable-ness.

Pic.No.1. An autumnal view of Oxford from Boar's Hill

I would rather be a sun-bunny any day. So come on, let's have a chat about autumn.... starting with you leaving a comment below... !

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Bird Watching is one helluva weird sport

Me, I'm like a social chameleon. With seeming effortlessness, I can morph and blend depending upon my circumstances and who I am with. Let me give you an example. This weekend I had the out laws in laws (Izzy's paternal grandparents - called Sue and Paul) over to stay, so instead of my usual merry-go-round of drugs, alcohol and loose men, I transformed myself in a country bumpkin with wholesome interests.

'Did you?' I hear you cry dubiously.

Damn right I did. I even wore wellies, that's how good I am at morphing.

Sue and Paul arrived at 11.30am on Saturday morning, and before they had even got out of the car, Izzy had spotted them through the window, and run to the front door, flinging it open and jumping up and down as though she was on an invisible pogo-stick.

After 15 minutes of 'hello dahlink, how the devil are you?" we finally sat down for a spot of lunch .... wholemeal rolls with hand cut ham and organic salad. Bloody wholesome or what? (*wink* told you I was a good).

"So," said Sue, chomping on her roll, "what plans do we have for today?"

"Well," I said nonchalantly, "I thought we could make our way down to the Otmoor Nature Reserve and partake in a bit of tweeting."

"What's tweeting?" Sue asked.

"It's the technical term for Bird Watching*," I replied [* a hobby that seems to be particular to Europe and involves spotting as many different species of bird as you can].

"I thought the technical term was Twitching?" queried Paul, as Sue nodded in agreement.

I shuffled uncomfortably for a bit. "Nah, us country folk call it tweeting, it's our slang," I said before quickly adding, "Are you ready to go?"

They both nodded, and we all jumped into the car and drove the short distance (10 minutes) to Otmoor Nature Reserve. To be totally honest, I hadn't been to Otmoor before, nor had I been bird watching ... so the experience was as untapped as one of those weird trap-door things that they keep finding in episodes of 'Lost'.

I had high hopes. The Otmoor Nature Reserve website had sold me a dramatic wetland landscape, oozing with at least a hundred million rare species of bird wondering about.

In reality, it appeared to be a big flat field that had recently been flooded (is it me, or were there too many f's in that last sentence? It was like I was aspiring to alliteration or something).

Pic.No. 1. A picture of Otmoor Nature Reserve - the Wetlands

Izzy surveyed the scene, and concluded, "it's a field with a puddle in it."

"Here, here!" replied Sue and Paul (mind you they are townies). 

"No it's not," I emphasised to everyone, "it's wetlands ..... a habitat for lots of different bird species. And it is those birds that we are going to tweet this afternoon."

"Twitch," Paul corrected.

"Yeh, whatever," I said before adding, "and now we need to find the Hide*." [* for those of you that have never been bird watching, the Hide is a wooden structure that you hide in, and observe the birds from. It prevents our feathered friends from being scared off.]

Pic.No.2. The bird Hide at Otmoor Wetlands

The Hide in this case was a large wooden shed, and as luck would have it, the heavens opened and the rain starting falling just as we arrived. We ran inside laughing, only to be confronted by five serious Bird Watchers peering intently into their binoculars which were poking out of the narrow windows of the Hide.

"Shhhhhh," they whispered at us before turning back to their binoculars.

"Sorry," I hissed back, making my way to one of the windows at the other side of the Hide. Right, that was it; I decided that I was going to spot some bloody birds if it killed me. So for an hour, I stared intently at the wetlands making a note of the birds I spotted.

Once the hour was up, I turned around and was confronted with this...........

Pic.No.3. It appeared that in a very small space of time, Izzy had turned pro on the bird-watching front ... here she is with a tweeter ... she had nicked his telescope

"Bloody hell Izzy, you have got a telescope and everything!" I said to her, before asking, "what birds have you seen?"

"An Aquatic Warbler, a Lapland Bunting, several varieties of swan and a Spotted Redshank," she told me with a grin on her face. "What birds have you seen Mummy?" she added whilst I reeled backwards.

I referred to my list; "errrm, a duck and a sparrow," I replied, and all of a sudden I wasn't proud of my list any more.

Forget this Birdwatching milarky, I had a plan..... "Everyone back to my house for dinner!" I shouted. And that was how I saved face.

We all got back to the cottage slightly damp because the rain had really set in, and because I was a domestic goddess, a Cottage Pie was already sitting on the worktop ready to go into the oven. Yes, you got it, I had even homecooked some proper country fare!

Pic.No.4. Sue and Paul Wainwright sitting in my kitchen ... aka Nanny Sue and Grandad Paul

So after a hard day Bird Watching, we sat and had a long dinner washed down with a bottle of red or two. Ahhh, the country life eh?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Hello my little blogski, I am back!

Blimey, this week has been bloody hectic. On Tuesday I was Ron Reed's guest blogger in America, then yesterday I visited Brahm in Canada, and today I finally got back to my Oxford blog in time for the weekend. I am a cyber jet-set I am ... which is like a proper jet-set but without the carbon footprint. Jeez, I am virtually an eco-warrior. I'd better watch out or I might find myself trying to fashion a wind farm out of eggboxes and a pipecleaner.

There is one downside to guest blogging for other people..... it takes a lot of computer time. It's because there is a whole new audience, and it takes time to create a post that appeals to them. Even then you can't be sure that it will work, as I found out once I had upset a couple of Brahm's readers..... you can read their comments here!

After all that cyber jet-setting, I was feeling totally 'computered-out', so I decided to throw myself into doing some physical stuff (ooh arr).

No not that kind of stuff you tinker! I decided to go on a moutain-bike burn-out ....... fourteen miles of cruising through the Oxfordshire countryside by pedal-power alone, and it was fabulous.

Pic.No.1. Moutain-bike trek - me outside a pub built in 1450AD

But hell, did my bum hurt by the time I got back? The bike I was riding (I had had to borrow one for various reasons) had a man's saddle on it and it looked a bit like a razor blade with air holes in it. It was harsh, but never fear; I got to the end of the ride with no problems. Luckily, the only side effect was that my gait slightly resembled that of John Wayne carrying a telescope in his pocket. Give it a couple of weeks, and I will have buttocks like miner's helmets.

So once back in Oxford, invigorated from the ride, there was only one task left for me to do..... pick up Izzy from her dad's house because it was my turn to spend the weekend with her. When I arrived, she looked like this................

Pic.No.2. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter had morphed into a vampire

"Jeez Steve, she looks like a bloody vampire, what's going on?"

"Dunno," he said, "but she refuses to take the teeth out."

"So I am gonna have to drag her around all weekend looking like that?" I asked.

"Probably," he said, before adding, "look on the bright side, at least she isn't insisting on wearing a Spiderman outfit."

Bloody great ........

Anyway, the day's exertions are starting to catch up on me, so I am off to bed for an early night. Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehn!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Do you want to come and visit Brahm's blog with me?

On your knees, subjects! I am the High Priestess of guest blogging. As if writing for Ron Reed this week wasn't enough, today I had a special request.

I was asked to write a guest post for Brahm's blog 'Alfred Lives Here'. Woo hoo! How exciting is that? Of course I ripped his arm off (figuratively of course because if I had done it literally, he wouldn't be able to drink his Costa coffee, and it would take ages for him to type his posts).

So, please visit Brahm's blog and read my post; "A trip to Canada where Everything is Big."

Just to give you a little taster, it involves BIG trucks ....... hah, see. I knew that would sway you!

 Pic.No.1. A taster of things to come on Brahm's blog

See you over there! And get commenting away! Or if you prefer, you can read the post in full below:

A trip to Canada where everything is big

Woo hoo, it's me! Lady M (aka Anne Dickens), from The Day after Yesterday! I am guest blogging for 'Alfred Lives Here' whilst Brahm is off gallivanting on holiday. So here I am inside his blog, and it's all a bit echoey in these parts with no one here. And in case you were wondering, I can tell you that it is also very organised. Below me (all neatly stacked up) are the posts that Brahm has already published, and above me are all his scheduled posts, ready and waiting to be go like tightly coiled springs. Crikey, I wouldn't like to see the results of his Inkblot Test.

To be honest, I've always been a bit wary of Canadians ever since I first met one whilst partying in London with some friends a few years ago. The music was pumping, the beer was flowing and everyone was in a jolly good mood. Then a group of three tourists made their way to our table; "hey" said one of them in a funny accent, "can we join you?"

"Sure," I said, smiling and motioning towards some empty chairs, "we welcome all types of Johnny Foreigner here you know."

"Thanks," replied the guy, before adding, "you come from London?"

"Yeh," I said, "and, judging from your accent, I take it that you guys are from America?"

The expression dropped like a stone from all three of their faces, and they slowly turned to face me. Although I wasn't entirely sure, I think the music in the bar also stopped, and all the other party-goers paused, regarding me with horror.

"What?!" I asked perplexedly holding my hands up and looking around the bar, "It's not like I accused him of being a member of the Taliban or anything."

"No, you did way worse than that," the guy spewed, "we are Canadians not Americans." I was surprised that he didn't finish up by saying; "you speaking to me, or chewing a brick? Either way you are gonna lose your teeth girl."

Gulp. Reading between the lines, it appeared as though I had unwittingly poked a nerve. You live and learn, and I was just bloody glad that they didn't kill me until I was dead.


Fast forward five years, and I was invited on a snowboarding holiday to Canada. I was hesitant. My encounter with the Canadian in London had scared me ... plus I didn't know how to snowboard ..... but I decided to make like a lion and give it a go anyway.

Because I am a bit like Mother Theresa (except that I'm not dead), I decided not to bore you with the details of the whole vacation. Instead I am merely going to focus on two things: 1. Canadians are cunning opportunists; and 2. Everything is bigger in Canada than it is in the UK.

1. Canadians are cunning opportunists

We arrived in Canada as a wet-behind-the-ears group, and hired a car so that we could drive to our destination; a chalet in the ski resort of Fernie. Our journey was well under way and things were looking good. The sky was sunny, the scenery was amazing and the long empty roads were flanked with lush green vegetation. Then Fat Bob decided to engage in some scaremongering. He was sitting in the back seat reading Fernie's small print; "It says here that we will need to buy tyre chains if we hire a car to get to the resort," he shouted out. Lanky Jim contemplated the clear sunshiney day, and given that there wasn't so much as a snowflake to be seen, retorted, "bugger off, I noticed that tyre chains cost $20 at the last Service Station we stopped at. I ain't paying that"

As the car climbed the mountains towards our destination, we noticed that the road had started to accumulate a light dusting of snow, which quickly became a blanket of snow as we got higher. And still we continued to ascend until the car was slipping and sliding and bumping into drifts at the side of the road. Visibility was virtually nil as the snowflakes hit the windscreen; it was a bit like the Starship Enterprise going into warp speed.

"We need tyre chains!" screamed Johnny Red the driver as he narrowly avoided yet another collision with a tree. This time everyone nodded in agreement, and Fat Bob shouted, "I told you so." So it was with relief that we saw the green lights of a service station ahead.

We pulled slowly onto the forecourt and ran inside the garage to procure some tyre chains. THANK GOD! They had some tyre chains! We were saved! But they had no price on them. Ommmmm. dodgy.

Fat Bob picked them up and went to the cashier, handing over $20.

The cashier looked Fat Bob up and down, then looked at the cash and grinned ....."Sorry," he said, "but these tyre chains are $130.00."

We had been backed into a very cunning corner. Blimey, we needed those chains and we had been 100% totally gibbed. Opportunism... I love it, but I prefer it when it works the other way round.

Everything is Bigger in Canada

I am not going to lie, because I am sure you will see through this section for what it is: A blatant excuse for me to post some of my holiday snaps of Canada. I may be shallow and transparent, but that doesn't change the fact that everything in Canada is bloody big and amazing.

Pic.No.1. Blimey. The hills in Canada are a lot bigger than the ones in Oxford

Being a novice snowboarder, I would like to have said that the size of the mountains struck a note of caution with me, but alas, they didn't. I mean how hard can snowboarding be? I'd seen it on TV and there didn't seem to be much too it. So on the first morning, I put all my gear on and informed my chums that I was going to tackle the same slopes as them.

Johnny Red eyed me dubiously, "are you sure?" he said, "I didn't think you'd been snowboarding before?"

"I haven't," I replied, "but I have the physique of an athlete, and the grit of ermmm .........unwashed spinach."

Johnny Red eyed my physique even more dubiously, and then reluctantly agreed, pointing towards the chair-lift. We made our ascent and I was pumped and feeling proper gnarly dude, "bring it oooooon!" I shouted to Johnny Red even though he was sitting next to me. We reached the top and both jumped off the chair-lift onto the exit ramp.

My snowboard instantly took off (with only one foot attached to the bindings), and I desperately tried to regain control by speed hopping with my free foot. It didn't work and within seconds I ploughed head-first into a group of German skiers all sporting moustaches and wearing fluorescent all-in-ones.

They looked derisively at me as I attempted to stand up, but failed, falling back into a crumpled heap at their feet.

"Dumbkoft!" one of them shouted, before gliding off.

Not one to be deterred, I got back onto my snowboard and launched myself down the mountain. For about ten feet, everything went swimmingly..... but then I noticed that a tree was rapidly coming closer and that I had no mechanism with which to circumnavigate it; i.e. I didn't know how to steer. I had two options: 1. hit the tree, but that could be painful, and 2. throw myself to the ground, but that could be painful. With split second timing, I chose option 2 because snow is softer than trees.

I crouched down and threw myself backwards into the snow. Everything would have been hunky dory if my snowboard hadn't caught an edge, catapulting me fifteen feet forward and causing me to land heavily on the base of my spine (I think it is called the cocyx. I like that word because it sounds rude but it isn't. Like flange).

For several minutes, I lay on my back, heavily winded.

"Jeez!" shouted Johnny Red, who had watched the whole spectacle, "are you ok?"

"I'm not sure," I said struggling to my feet, "but I want to get down now."

Pic.No.2. It soon became apparent that I was over-stretching myself as a novice

It took me two hours to descend the mountain, and the vast majority of it was spent on my knees. If that wasn't enough, the pain in my lower back was getting more intense as time marched on.

Pic.No. 3. The houses are all bigger than in the UK, and this is our Chalet. It is made out of wood like a dog kennel

It was with relief that Johnny Red finally hauled me into our chalet and dropped me on the sofa, by which time my back had completely seized up. I tried getting up from the couch, but winced and fell back down.

'So, sicknote', I hear you cry, 'did you eventually get back to snowboarding?'

Did I heck! For a full three days I couldn't move without assistance (yeh, I needed help to get to the bathroom - how humiliating), and thereafter I was only able to undertake was a pitiful hobble. My high hopes for snowboarding had been deflated with a squeak.

But coping with life as an invalid has its advantages as the next picture demonstrates.......

Pic.No.4. Keeping a girl amused: ordering a pizza in Canada is a very different affair to ordering in the UK

What with snowboarding off the agenda due to serious injury (nay, near death), the rest of the week was spent doing non-strenuous sight-seeing and taking pictures of all the big things in Canada. Like this.....

Pic.No.5. Even the trains are bigger. But they are painted a dodgy pink colour

But my all time favourite has to be this picture of a truck that I took just outside Fernie (just to clarify, I took the picture, not the truck). I was like... this can't be for real, it is bigger than my bloody house! But it was for real, and I took a picture of it just to prove that it really existed.

Pic.No.6. My 'p'iece d'resistance. The bloke that owns this has obviously got a very small nob (and yes that is two people you can see next to the front tyre)

So the big truck / small nob brings my time at Brahm's blog to a close. I have to say, that I've had a blast..... I don't know if thinking this is wrong, but once you take the reins of someone else's blog you kinda of get a big gung-ho - "yeee haaa! I can write whatever shit I like and it won't affect my blog readership or ratings one bit!"

Ha ha!

Thanks for reading dahlinks ...... love and kisses,

Lady M x (aka Anne Dickens, The Day after Yesterday)

P.S. I know you are missing Brahm and are probably wondering what he is up to, so I thought you might like to see this email I got from him today: "Hey Lady M, have seen two shows so far, Rock of Ages (liked) and Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes (loved). Tonight is the new David Mamet, starring Patrick Stewart and TR Knight - looking forward to that one a lot. That is it for now... off to grab healthy good (I think pretzels).... B"

Read my final guest blog for Ron Reed: A Trip to China: Final Installment

So yesterday was my third and final guest post for Ron Reed on his blog If I had a Blog. was all about the final part of my trip to China.

I have to say, running riot in someone else's blog has been a blast and I would definitely do it again. So please, visit Ron and read my final post A Trip to China: The Final Installment.

Or you can now read the full guest post below:

A Trip to China: Final Installment

So as you know, after a few erm, technical hitches (ok, I missed my bloody flight), I finally managed to get myself from Guangzhou to Beijing by taking the train which was a very different affair from taking a train in England. It was on-time for a start. And it was fast... very fast. And it was cheap. And if that wasn't enough, the cup of green tea that I ordered from the buffet car was drinkable. So by the time I got to Beijing I was feeling pretty relaxed in readiness for the final leg of my journey the next day.

Pic.No.1. Beijing Train Station. Beware! No English spoken here

I had booked to go and visit a potential supplier located in Ji'an in the Jiangxi Province of China. The supplier had organised me a hotel for the night in Beijing, and had arranged for a taxi to pick me up at 8.30am in the morning. I know! 8.30AM - that's virtually the middle of the night! The things I do for business eh?

Morning arrived, and with it the Beijing smog and overpowering humidity. So it was with a heavy heart that I abandoned the cool comfort of the air-conditioned hotel foyer, for the cramped rear seat of a yellow taxi. The drive to Ji'an was scheduled to take eight bloody hours; the first taxi was going to take me halfway, and then I would transfer to a second taxi where I would be met by my supplier and a translator to complete the final four hours of the journey.

Man alive. That was gonna be a shit day in anyone's book.

Once I was ensconced in the back seat, the taxi took off as though it was being pursued by something carrying a big gun; ducking, diving, and weaving through the Beijing traffic until gradually, the buildings became more suburban and then we left the city altogether.

And that's when things got really hairy. We were now on increasingly winding country roads, but to my horror, it appeared as though the driver had set his cruise-control to 90mph. After overtaking on blind bends, hitting several pedestrians with his wing mirror (I kid you not), and beeping his horn at every vehicle he came across, it was with abject relief that we finally came to a halt. I felt queasy as I extricated my fingernails from the headrest that I had been clinging on to for dear life.

I WAS ALIVE! But I didn't have time to fully restore my stomach equilibrium before realising that the second taxi was parked just ahead, and the boss of the factory that I was visiting and his translator were making their way over to introduce themselves.

The Boss nodded at me and we shook hands as the taxi drivers swapped my luggage from the old taxi to the new one. 

The translator said; "Boss says welcome."

I kept my eyes on the Boss, but said to the translator, "Please tell your Boss that I am pleased to meet him."

Translator then jabbered away at the Boss for what must have been two minutes, before turning to me and saying, "Boss says thank you." WTF?

We all got into the taxi and set off for the final leg to Ji'an. Unfortunately the mentalism of the second driver was on a par with the first ....  and all I could do was cling onto the passenger handle in the back for dear life in the back, uttering terribly rude words such as f**k, shit, and arse every time we had a near miss. What was bizarre, was that the whole time, Translator and Boss were chatting congenially to each other with complete disregard to ongoing and immediate danger we were being subjected to. Barking.

The only consolation was the scenery. The further we drove, the more spectacular it got, and as we neared Ji'an, I asked Translator if we could stop so that I could take a photograph.

He looked a bit nervy and not at all happy with my request.

"Be careful," he said, pointing at the river we were parked next to.

"Why?" I asked.

"Over river is North Korea," he said, "they shoot you if you take pictures... you are in enemy.... "

Not one to be deterred by evil communist dictators, I jumped out of the car and took this picture of the spectacular mountainous China / North Korean border. Considering that it was a conflict zone, it seemed remarkably peaceful and I didn't get killed. Cool! Hey waiter! add an extra shot to my next espresso. I'm reckless like that.

Pic.No.1. On the left of the river is China. On the right hand side is North Korea

The translator virtually drop-kicked me back into the taxi once I had taken my picture, and as we sped off, he assured me that we would be in Ji'an within twenty minutes. And so we were. We pulled into the village at 5pm, and the taxi came to a halt outside a tiny but picturesque "hotel" where I was scheduled to stay the night.

I say hotel, but really it was a small building with a tiny guest room in it. And it was furnished in typical rural Chinese style... i.e. it only had a bed in the room. And a phone ... which didn't work. It was no more luxurious than a tent made out of brick, and you know what I think about camping. I decided to take a (communal) shower to recover from the stifling taxi journey, but I had to run around under the slow drip of the showerhead in order to get wet. No worries, at least I felt fresh again.

And then I realised something. My suitcase was sitting in the corner of my room, but something was missing...... my laptop bag. Ah! Shit!!!! All of a sudden my head spun round, my knees felt weak, and my stomach bunched itself in a knot. Let me explain. My laptop bag contained my passport, my flight tickets, my mobile phone, my purse, all my credit cards, all my cash, and my itinerary. And it was gone - blatantly pilfered by the first taxi driver.

Jeez. What a bummer. I was stranded on the war-torn North Korean border with no means of getting home. Things were not looking as rosy as I would have liked. I perched myself on the bed in my room and pondered my (rather narrow) options. I came up with two: (1) I could hitchhike from Ji'an to the British Embassy in Beijing (although it would probably take two days); or (2) I could ask for help from the translator and his boss.

I decided to go with option two. Luckily, the Translator had given me his business card, so I ran downstairs to the hotel reception. Upon encountering the receptionist, I pointed at the card, then pointed at the phone. She did that blank-looking thing for a while before saying; "you want me to ring this number?"

I nodded vigorously whilst she dialled. The translator obviously answered because the receptionist embarked upon a lengthy fifteen minute conversation. Ignoring me completely, she nodded, gesticulated, and wailed before finally hanging up.

"What did he say?" I asked her with bated breath.

"He will be here in 3 minutes," she replied. WTF? Was that all?

I paced up and down outside the front of the hotel waiting for the translator, and within exactly three minutes his car pulled up. How do they do that?

He opened the door and approached me; "you have problem?" he asked.

"Yes, my laptop bag has gone missing," I said to him, "I think the first taxi driver took it."

"No problem," he replied.

"Well actually, it is a bit of a problem," I said to him, "I'll be stranded in Jiangxi if I don't get it back."

"I will get Boss to sort it out," replied the translator enigmatically but authoritatively, "and I will pick you up tomorrow at 9am."

That was it. Everything seemed to be under control.

But even so, I slept rather fitfully that night, not believing that things could be so easily solved. But look on the bright side, my motto in life is; 'there is always a solution'.

The next morning, I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast which seemed to solely consist of a chow mein dish with a rooster's head in it and some chicken claws. I picked out some of the noodles and pushed the chicken's body parts to one side, but to be honest, it wasn't that appetising, so by 8.45am I was waiting outside the hotel ready to be picked up.

At exactly 9am, a black car with blacked out windows cruised into the carpark. The rear door opened and the boss emerged into the early morning daylight. And in his right hand he was carrying my laptop bag!

He walked gravely up to me, handed me the case and said something in Chinese which sounded like; "Wah nah. Eeh wah nah. Hisee. Ricky ticky tavi."

To be honest, I wanted to kiss him, but that would have been so culturally wrong that I didn't. Instead I nodded to him several times and then turned to the translator who had appeared from the driver's door.

"What did he say?" I asked him.

"He want you to check nothing is missing," replied translator. I unzipped all the compartments and everything was intact.

"It's all here," I said, before adding incredulously, "how on earth did he get it back?"

"My boss, he drive for four hours throughout the night to visit the company who own the first taxi," the translator said, before continuing, "My boss said he would have taxi driver killed if bag is not returned. The taxi driver thief has brought dishonour on our village because he steal from our guest."

Blimey. A dude nearly got murdered for nicking my laptop bag, and the only thing that saved him is that he anonymously dropped it off outside the taxi office before scarpering. You don't these kind of shenanigans in Oxfordshire I can tell you .... being called "a bloody cad and a bounder," is about as radical as it gets. 

But hey! I was saved, and it was with a spring in my step that I commenced my tour of the boss's factory. In case you were wondering what it looks like inside a Chinese furniture factory, I took a picture for you......

Pic.No.2. One of the production lines. This one was making drawers

I was going to give you a bit of narrative about the furniture factory, but then I thought, 'nah, that's boring, I bet you would rather hear about the toilets instead'. Yeh, I know I'm right! After my tour of the factory had finished, the translator asked if I would like to use the bathroom before commencing my journey back to Beijing.

I nodded, and he led me to a small brick hut situated to the rear of the factory. From the outside, it looked like a whitewashed pigsty. I opened the door and to my horror was blasted with the most nauseating smell I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, and if that wasn't bad enough, I was simultaneously engulfed by a huge swarm of flies. I dry-gagged and looked inside. The 'toilet' was a small hut with an open pit dug into it where you just 'did your business'. There was no running water so nothing was ever flushed away. It just sat there in a big steaming heap, to be shovelled out once the pit was full. Crikey, I have got a strong stomach, but it seriously tested my mettle. Don't ever whinge about Glastonbury toilets again!

Needless to say, my bladder suddenly developed steely control as I backed out of the door. There was NO way that I was going to be gracing that latrine, in fact I would go so far to say that a lesser person may have needed counselling to get over it.

But the good news? After the toilet incident, I was finally on my way back home. The taxi had turned up on time, and I was winging my way back to Beijing ready to catch my flight back to the UK.

Pic.No.3. My final picture of the North Korea (left) and China (right) border

Crikey, it had been a bit of a week all in all, so 24 hours later, I was pretty chuffed to finally touch down at Heathrow airport. I was safe! I was back in the UK!

As I waited two hours for my luggage to arrive on the collection carousel, I heard the beep of a text on my mobile phone. It was one of my best friends: "Did the trip go ok?"

If you are like me, you probably hate texting... so I simply replied: "trip good. Let's meet for beer next week."

After all, who wants to hear about the nitty gritty of my trip to China?!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I've been illusive like the Scarlet Pimpernel

This is just a quick post to let you know that I am not dead. Nor am I abandoning my blog. This week, I have been guest blogging all over the place. I feel like a bit of a whore actually. And that doesn't feel as bad as it ought.

Tomorrow, I will give you all the links to the blogs that I've written, and then we will all celebrate by jumping up and down, eating a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle, and chilling out to watch the latest episode of Downton Abbey on demand. Bloody perfect.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Yoo hoo! Over here! You want to come to China with me?

Why hello! I know it's been a little bit quiet in here, but I have been hanging out at Ron Reed's blog for the last couple of days you know, doing some guest blogging and all that. I love it. It makes me feel slightly famous, and gives me hope that one day, maybe one day, I will be signing some young chap's pectoral with a permanent marker.

So come on over and have a party with me and Ron. And whilst you are there, you can read my latest post about travelling in China ...... it's all in here .... If I had a Blog: A Trip to China Part Two.

See you there! Don't forget to bring a bottle. Preferably Bollinger ..... chilled of course Dahlink. Or if you prefer, you can read the post in full below:

A Trip to China: Part Two 

There is one thing that I always find quite stressful when travelling in China.... my next meal. 'Your next meal?' I hear you cry, 'but Chinese food is super-tasty!'

Now let me tell you that real Chinese food is far removed from the anglicised (and for want of a better word), sanitised version that you pick-up at your local takeaway. Let me elucidate; there is a Chinese folk saying that states they can eat everything that has four legs, except tables; everything that flies, except for airplanes; and everything that is found on water, except boats! And horrifyingly, it is bloody true. If that wasn't bad enough, when you factor in the fact that no one speaks English and all the menus are written in Chinese Han characters, eating out becomes a real lottery... a lottery where the prize is usually pants.

Past exploits in restaurants have seen me being served (amongst other things); snake, duck soup (complete with whole dead duck floating in it), a skewer full of whole grilled baby chicks, deep friend insects and roasted chicken claws. So as you can imagine, it was with a heavy heart that I stepped out of my Guangzhou hotel in search of an eaterie.

Pic.No.1. A shopping street in Guangzhou

It was hot and humid in the street, and a fug hung over the busy six lane highway. As I strolled up the street, I could only liken the experience to being illiterate. Brighly lit signs were hung everywhere, but because I couldn't read them, I didn't know what they were offering. I was stopped a couple of times by people who wanted their photographs taken with me (it happens all the time in China if you are a Westerner), and then suddenly, I saw it. At first, I thought it was a mirage (like seeing an oasis after weeks of being trapped in the desert), but as I approached I realised that it was real........

Pic.No.2. Huzzar! I had found myself a Pizza Hut.... smack bang in the middle of the Guangzhou Industrial district!

I was saved from having to eat stuff with heads and feet on! Yeh, yeh, I know I sound like a bit of a heathen, nay a non-culture vulture ... but seriously, eating something with a beak is grim. So it was without hesitation that I entered the air conditioned restaurant. It was heavenly. After being shown to a table, I was handed a menu that had pictures of the dishes on it (so that I knew what I was ordering woo hoo!), and I sat back with a diet coke and observed the other diners in the restaurant.

Shortly after my arrival, a group of six students entered the restaurant and were seated at the table next to me. The waitress approached them to take their order, and from what I could work out, they had only ordered one salad bowl between them. The way the salad bowl works is that you take your empty bowl to the salad counter and as a one-off deal fill it with your choice of salad.

What I saw next astounded me. The students took the single bowl to the salad bar and then painstakingly built up what I could only call a 'salad mega structure'. Man alive, they managed to get enough salad into the bowl to easily feed all six of them. I laughed at them uncontrollably as I watched them carefully carrying their creation back to the table.

I jumped up and asked them if I could take a photograph. Actually, that's not strictly true; in reality I pointed at my camera nodding....... and managed to capture their salad on film as the students laughed and clapped with me. That's the thing about China, sometimes you get lulled into thinking that the place isn't really that crazy, but then something barking happens to remind you that it is.

Pic.No.3. Six students created this salad structure using one small salad bowl 

The salad sums up the Chinese work ethic. They are devastatingly efficient, apply themselves to everything they do and aren't vaguely phased by the scale of projects, be it building a skyscraper or constructing a salad.

Oh, by the way, I thought you might appreciate this picture of a chap riding his bike. I captured it from the window of the Pizza Hut restaurant. What I always find amusing about China is that it is commonplace to have bikes laden like this (and other dubious forms of transport) all weaving in and out of one another on the highways. It's bloody mayhem on the roads, second only to the roads I encountered in India.

Pic.No.3. Bloke on a bike. Old and new China are continually juxtaposed in this country of contrasts

In total, I spent five days in Guangzhou, and after visiting an international furniture exhibition (a bit disappointing), and eating at Pizza Hut ten times, I finally set off for the airport where I was scheduled to catch a flight to Beijing.

I checked in my baggage and made myself comfortable with a coffee and a book whilst I waited for my flight. After glancing at my watch, I reckoned that I had an hour and a quarter to kill before embarking. I decided to double check this on the illuminated Departures Board that shows the status of outbound flights.

Imagine my horror when I saw my flight number with the words 'FINAL CALL' flashing next to it. Crap! How did this happen? And then it dawned on me - in the last couple of weeks, I adjusted my watch several times as I passed through various time zones, and I had accidentally set my watch one hour fast when I arrived in Guangzhou. SHIT!

Pic.No.4. The departures area at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport

I gathered up my belongings, abandoned my coffee and sprinted through the departures lounge to my gate, much to the amusement of the travellers I dodged. Panting, I arrived at Gate 15 at 4.17pm, just as they were closing the flight doors.

I felt hopeful, and ran up to the desk begging to be admitted onto the flight. The attendant looked at me blankly and pointed to a sign written in both Han characters and English; 'Please note that this gate closes at 4.17pm. No admittance after that time'.

"Please can you just let me sneak on?" I pleaded. The attendant shook her head again and said; "you can cowwect bag from main hall."

Ok, I was a bit peed off that I had missed my flight, but I had to yet again admire the Chinese efficiency: In the time it took me to walk from Gate 15 back to the main hall, they had located my bags in the hold of the aircraft, removed them, and transported them to the main hall .... where indeed they were waiting for me. How do they do that? And could they please teach someone in Heathrow how to do it too, because I have often waited more than an hour for my bags to hit the collection carousels.

Amazement aside, I was faced with a bit of a problem. I needed to get to Beijing, and enquiries at the airline ticket desks revealed that all Beijing flights were booked up for the next three days. Ah shit. Houston we have a problem.

Then I came up with a bravewave. I would get a train to Beijing! I dragged all my luggage outside the airport and was instantly faced with a problem opportunity for improvement. All the signs looked like this.......

Pic.No.5. As you would expect, the road signs aren't exactly handy if you don't speak Chinese

Which meant that hiring a car to drive to the station was out of the question. Secondly, I didn't know the Mandarin word for 'trainstation' which would make hailing a taxi somewhat difficult. Hell, I didn't really have much option, so I had to flag down a yellow cab that was passing. 

The driver peered at me through the window. 

"Train-station?" I asked. The driver shrugged. 

"Train?" I repeated and the driver shook his head blankly.

I resorted to doing an impression of Thomas the Tank Engine, complete with my arms moving like pistons and an accompanying Choo! Choo! sound. I looked a total prat. 

On the plus side, the driver suddenly seemed to know exactly what I meant, "oh, you want the train-station?" he asked me in word perfect English. Dammit don't you just hate it when that happens?

Once my bags were loaded in the taxi, it took off at breakneck speed, weaving in and out of cars, bikes, tuck tucks and other bizarre forms of transport, until eventually it ground to a halt next to a large emply plaza. 

"Train-station," said the driver, helping me unload my bags, taking his money and driving away.

Pic.No.6. I was dropped off at a large, virtually deserted plaza somewhere in Guangzhou

I sighed despairingly as I viewed the vista. None of the buildings resembled a train-station. Dammit. Things didn't appear to going to plan. I dragged my suitcases to a bench and sat down to formulate some cunning ideas. But then I saw it...... a sign on top of a building that looked like an office block.

Pic.No.7. Guangzhou train-station! Huzzar, I was saved!

I felt like an African gorilla. One minute I was facing extinction, the next I was thrown a lifeline in the form of a vigorous in-house breeding programme. Except that my vigorous breeding programme was a train station. Don't you just love it when that happens?

Ok, my woes weren't completely over - it took me a little over an hour to buy a ticket due to language malfunctions, but within three hours I was safely ensconced on a train to Beijing. I was due to spend one night in Beijing, and then the final leg of my journey would commence. It was going to be very different affair compared with my time in Guangzhou. I was going to be picked up from the train station and whisked to the Ji'an in the mountainous border regions of China...... more to follow.......

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Oh Lordy....... guess what I have ended up doing?

Guess what?! I am bloody honoured, that's what. I have been asked to do some guest blogging over at Ron's place, called If I had a Blog.

It's quite scary really, because the pressure is on to do a really good job when you are writing for someone else's blog.

Anyway, it took me ages to select a subject to blog about, and in the end I chose to do a series of three blogs about one of my trips to China.

The first posting on Ron's blog is here: A Trip to China: Part One. Please pay a visit, and I hope you enjoy it! Or you can read the post in full below.

A Trip to China: Part One

I quite like travelling to weird places I do. Like the year before last, I went on holiday to Cambodia. If you were careful to avoid the landmines, it was an intriguing place to visit..... but hey, that's another story.

The reason I bring weird places up, is because I have to travel to China quite a lot with my business, and I can say with 100% certainty that China is the most barking place I have ever been to. Yep, it is absolutely Sarah Palin mad.

And last year, I embarked upon probably what can be considered my most erm, interesing, trip to China. The schedule was innnocuous enough. I was due to fly from London to Guangzhou (southern China) to attend a furniture exhibition, then get another flight from Guangzhou to Beijing, where I would be miraculously transported by car to a place called Ji'an in the Jiangxi province of China.

Simple eh? And all I had to do before that lot started, was sit through the thirteen hour flight from Heathrow to Guangzhou. Now for someone like me, long haul flights are particularly arduous; mainly because I find it incredibly difficult to sleep on aircraft, meaning that I need to try and keep myself entertained for 13 hours to prevent myself from dying of boredom. Eventually the battery was dead on my laptop and my iPhone, so imagine my relief when we finally touched down in Guangzhou (prounounced Goo-ang-joe)..... bet you couldn't help pronouncing that out loud could you?

The first thing I needed to do after my arrival, was to find a taxi to my hotel. Now bear in mind that virtually no-one in China speaks any English. At all. Zero. Zilch. But there are no flies on me (although you can see where they've been); being an experienced traveller, I had already printed out the address of my hotel in Han characters (Chinese text). 

After fifteen minutes spent running up to cars that resembled taxis, and pointing at the destination printed on my piece of paper, I finally found a driver willing to take me to my hotel. He was going to charge me about a million dollars, but have you ever tried negotiating in a language where the only words you can say are, 'hello' and 'thankyou'? It's a tricky one, I can tell you. 

After 30 minutes of driving at breakneck speed through Guangzhou (the third biggest city in China with a population of circa 10 million), I was finally deposited outside of my hotel, with my knees still a-trembling from the journey. My bags had hardly touched the pavement before the taxi screamed off, leaving me free to survey my accommodation.

Pic.No.1. My hotel in Guangzhou. What is all that green shit wrapped round it?

"What the blazes is going on here?!" I thought to myself. It appeared to be nothing short of a building site. In order to check that I had been dropped off at the right place, I rooted around my bags to dig out my hotel booking form. Being an organised soul when it comes to travel, I managed to find it pretty quickly; but herein lies one of the problems with travelling in China. My booking form was in English, and the sign on the hotel was in Han characters. Bummer. 

I decided that there was only one thing for it. I needed to go into the hotel and talk at the Receptionist very slowly and loudly in English, waving my arms around to make myself understood. Bizarrely, my caveman tactics worked, and it it wasn't long before the nodding and bowing Receptionist handed me a room key.

Luckily, numbers are actually written as numbers in China, so I was easily able to work out that my room was on the 23rd floor. In reality though, my room was actually on the 22nd floor, but that is because the Chinese are so superstitious, that they never have a 13th floor. Yep, if you look at the numbers in the lifts, they go directly from 12th floor to 14th floor. See, I am full of interesting but useless crap. That's my speciality that is.

Pic.No.2. The inside of the hotel was a dog-hole. This was the view of the lifts

Unfortunately, the interior of the hotel was not much better than the exterior, and the exterior looked like a building site. In fact, if you look at the photograph above, the staircase you can see is supposed to be the emergency exit. It was just dangling in the air, swaying slightly when a breeze rippled. Hardly what you would welcome as your last line of defence in the case of an inferno.

Pic.No.3. The view of Guangzhou from my hotel room

After a disappointing start to my trip in China, I unpacked my clothes, and decided to go and find something to eat. Now, travelling in China is never easy; quite simply because no-one speaks English, menus are written in Mandarin and the things that indigenous Chinese people eat, are very, very different to the things that would be eaten in England...... Part two coming soon!

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